Monday, March 25, 2013

Was Jesus Married? And Does it Matter?

Dr. Karen King of Harvard Divinity School discovered a fourth century CE Coptic papyrus in which a scribe writes “Jesus said to them my wife." When some Christians read or heard about this discovery, their first reaction was, “what difference does it make?”. The papyrus fragment discusses issues of discipleship and family in general. In fact, one of my Facebook connections and a friend asked more specifically what difference the possibility of Jesus being married makes for salvation.  Dr. King is careful to note that the papyrus does not explicitly say that Jesus was or was not married.  In fact, the papyrus is of a quite late date compared to some other New Testament manuscripts dated in the second century CE.  But the papyrus does raise questions as to when early Christians started raising questions or talking about Jesus’ marital status.  Below is a video of an interview with Dr. King of Harvard University:

I think Christians should be interested in the papyrus fragment, and other such archaeological finds as well, for the following reasons: (1) They are historical documents. And as historical documents they give us a glimpse into the history of Christianity.  We ought to know about our history, how it impacts the present, and how it may inform the future. Christians who belong to denominations that require their pastors to obtain a theological education are exposed to church history for the prior-mentioned reasons; it makes good sense to be able to understand things in their historical context.  Without context we have no meaning or meaning is distorted.  Members of Christian churches should want their pastors and teachers to be able to place things in their proper historical context, in as much as it is possible.  Nothing happens in a vacuum. (2) Some Christians base their understandings of marriage and singleness in general, as well as the impact of marital status on ministry, on whether or not they understood Jesus to be married.  In fact, some Christians place a higher value on being single over being married with regard to commitment to Christian ministry, relying heavily on Paul’s statements in First Corinthians chapter 7. Other Christians have believed and some still believe that all clergy should be married (as well as all men and women!). Such a discovery that Jesus was married might certainly impact how we understand ministry and the Christian life. (3) If Jesus had been married, we would certainly read differently some of the canonical and non-canonical witnesses that preserve the sayings of and about Jesus.  For example we might read differently the two somewhat contradictory testimonies at Matthew 5:31-32 (when Jesus says in Matthew that no man should divorce his wife except if she is unchaste.  If he does so for any other reason and remarries, he has committed adultery) and at Mark 10:10-12 where Jesus takes the position that there is no exception or excuse for divorce (anyone who divorces and remarries as committed adultery).  Or we would at least expect that Jesus definitely set the example in his own marriage and was, as the author Hebrews writes "touched with all the feelings of our infirmities." If he could maintain a good marriage, certainly we can. If we see it as a bad thing for Jesus to have been married, then it may be that we place a low value on the institution of marriage in general. Again, however, the fragment does not say he was single or married.  I personally think God would be fine with Jesus or anyone making the choice to be married or to remain single, as long as they lived a life pleasing to God.
We should not be so readily dismissive of new finds and evidence.  It was not until the middle 1940s (1947-1956) that the over 800 Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves thirteen  miles east of Jerusalem. That archaeological find yielded invaluable manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible (written in Hebrew and Aramaic), not including the book of Esther (as well as other nonbiblical texts). The Isaiah Scroll, found relatively intact, is 1000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah. It also contains never before seen psalms attributed to King David and Joshua. The scrolls are the oldest group of Old Testament manuscripts ever found! I don’t believe that our salvation is threatened by keeping an open mind and being humble about what we know and don’t know. God probably has quite a few more surprises for us.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Practicing Initiative. More Than the Minimum.

This Psalm Sunday I am reminded how Jesus exercised initiative in his early life, in his ministry, and during the final days of his life. Despite knowing that he would die in the Holy City because of the purposeful, inclusive, compassionate, and power-filled life of ministry he practiced, Jesus headed toward Jerusalem; he did not wait for his adversaries to come after him (Luke 9:51). As womanist biblical scholar Raquel St. Clair asserts in her book Call in Consequences, it was not Jesus’ purpose to die but to live; his suffering was a consequence of his ministry.  This historical Jesus was God with us (Matthew 1:23).  Jesus lived a life in which he continually exercised initiative; he took charge of his life.  Jesus chose to go to John the Baptist so that John could baptize him even though John thought himself unworthy to baptize Jesus; that Jesus should be the one baptizing him.  Jesus followed the Spirit’s leading and spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness fasting, praying and being tempted by the adversary in preparation for his ministry (Matthew 4:2).  Jesus, like his forerunner John the Baptist, did more than the minimum required to fulfill his purpose. Perhaps, because he believed that with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). Jesus understood that to exist in and exercise a God-like perfection or wholeness means exceeding what is required and allowing possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion to compel us (Matthew 4:43-48).
In order to pursue our lives and vocations in excellence, we will exercise initiative that is motivated by possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion. This means that we won’t wait for others to compel us or overlook us, but we will step up to the plate and do what needs to be done and more.  Too often people wait to see if someone else will do a task rather than doing it themselves.  This lack of initiative occurs in situations from helping people in distress to asking questions in a classroom. Many people won’t ask questions that can help them to understand a particular topic because they are waiting to see if someone else will ask the same question. Meanwhile, nobody asks the necessary questions. So like the majority, they just show up, which is the minimum required of them.  I don’t want to minimize the importance of showing up; showing up is half the battle, but only half the battle. Too many people set the example of only doing the minimum required for a task or project. Some students will only do the homework a teacher assigns, even when it would greatly benefit them and increase their knowledge to do more. But those motivated by possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion will exercise initiative. We can exercise initiative by thinking about and researching our options beyond the obvious ones, by asking questions, and by doing more than is required. For example, if an executive asks her assistant to reserve a room at her favorite hotel in a certain city and the hotel is booked, then the assistant should take the initiative to, (1) ask her employer at the time of the initial request if she has a second or third option if the hotel is booked; (2) search for comparable alternatives, and (3) ask the hotel to notify her in case of cancellations.
We value initiative in others; therefore, we should cultivate it in ourselves.  Most parents and adults value initiative in children. If we ask them to take out the trash, and they only empty the trash in the kitchen and not in the rest of the house, we become annoyed with them. To do only what is required of us will only assure that we are average or mediocre.