First off, what they were authenticating was not the validity of the text, but the piece of
paper papyrus it was written on.
The fragment has a dubious history. Its chain of possession can’t be accurately tracked back past 1999. The scholar who first studied it thought it may have dated back to the 4th century AD; others scholars who investigated it felt the 7th or 8th centuries AD were more likely periods for its origin, though one dissenting scholar still thinks it is a modern forgery.
This authenticity has kicked off a bit of a kerfluffle in both the Christian and skeptic camps because of how the translated text reads:
It’s important to note what the authentication of the document means.
It does not mean the information contained on it is accurate or even bona fide.
It means the fragment of papyrus did physically originate sometime between 699 and 899 AD, and was written on during that period with an ink common to that era, and in a language that was used at the time.
The text could be:
- An authentic teaching of some Christian offshoot (possibly Gnostic)
- An inauthentic teaching written for some unknown motive (possibly profit)
If “1”, the fragment either:
- Accurately reflects what it appears to reflect (i.e., that there was a debate among Jesus’ disciples and followers as to whether women could be disciples, and Jesus said, “Well, duh, look at my wife…” [paraphrased])
- Or that there was a debate and Jesus was using a rhetorical device (as in “the church is the bride of Christ”, etc.)
- Or that it was an entirely different topic of discussion and Jesus was not referring to an actual real woman he was married to but was making some other reference that is now impossible to follow due to the missing portion of the manuscript.
No matter: Some folks have appeared eager to glom onto interpretation “1a” and insist this is proof that Jesus was married despite lack of reference to a wife in the four gospels, the book of Acts, or the various epistles (including those written by his brothers; more on them in a moment). They correctly cite that in first century Judea all men were expected to marry and at least try to produce children, and only after producing at least one male heir were they allowed to slack off.
Their argument is that if Jesus was indeed a first century Judean, then logically he should have been married.
Well, that ain’t necessarily so…
Jesus was not an only child, at least not for Mary. The Bible indicates a minimum of six siblings: Four brothers (James, Joseph a.k.a. Joses, Judas a.k.a. Jude, and Simon) plus a minimum of two sisters (as they are referred to in the plural).
We know very little about Jesus’ life prior to his ministry’s start, but we do know at age twelve he accompanied both Mary and Joseph on a yearly pilgrimage to the temple in Jerusalem for Passover.
We know they traveled in what must have been a fairly large group of extended family and friends. While no siblings of Jesus are mentioned, one can assume if any had been born by that time they would have been in the group as well.
The charming story in the Gospel of Luke has the party getting a full day’s journey out of Jerusalem before realizing Jesus is not with them but back at the temple chatting it up with the rabbis.
Anyone who’s seen Home Alone
can appreciate how easy it is to
misplace a kid in the bustle
of holiday travel.
The next time we get a glimpse into Jesus’ home life, he and Mary are attending a wedding in Cana where mom twists his arm to perform his first public miracle and turn water into wine.
Joseph is not mentioned in that story, nor anywhere else in the gospels, so it is presumed he has died by this point.
Somewhere between his twelfth year and the start of his ministry at about age 30, Jesus became the head of his household by being the oldest male son after his father died.
The oldest male son with not one, not two, not three but six younger siblings to care for.
The boys, once they reached thirteen, would be out of his hair:
At that age the would be leaving home to enter apprenticeships, or if at home would be earning money to support Mary and their siblings while simultaneously socking something away for the day when they would marry.
The girls, however, presented a different challenge:
They would require dowries in order to find suitable husbands, and that would mean setting aside some nest egg from the family budget.
Jesus, in this position of responsibility, would have a good reason not to seek marriage himself until the last sister was married off. While his brothers could be expected to contribute something to the extended family coffers, they would also have families of their own to look after.
No one would have looked askance at Jesus for not marrying under those circumstances; rather they’d have pity and respect for the young man trying to do right by his widowed mother and younger sisters.
But they would have also assumed that after the youngest girl was married off, Jesus would start looking for a wife of his own.
Remember that wedding in Cana?
Whose wedding was it?
Luke doesn’t specifically say it was the wedding of Jesus’ youngest sister, but the time line fits. Men were expected to establish themselves in the world before seeking a wife, but girls tended to get married off ASAP. If Joseph had died when Jesus was 16 or 17, nobody would have thought it unusual that his eldest son hadn’t married yet. An infant sister at that age would mean Jesus would have reached his 30s by the time he was ready to hand her off to her husband.
The story of the wedding at Cana (a.k.a. Jesus turns water into wine) occurs within three days of Jesus being baptized by John. Jesus had clearly been talking to and recruiting his band of followers in the days preceding that; while more were to join afterwards he already had a core group who were willing to follow him as their teacher.
Further, while Mary seems to have been a key participant in the wedding feast, Jesus and his disciples are considered less important guests.
Jesus’ youngest sister no longer needs him to look after her or build up a dowry. Once freed of family responsibility, Jesus begins spending more time with the men who will become his first disciples; maybe he lets one or more of his younger brothers take over the carpentry shop (and no one begrudges him this; hey, he’s been bearing a man’s burden since his teen years).
But he is starting to get a tad flakey, and his own family is beginning to wonder if his interest in religion isn’t making him go a little funny in the head just like it drove his goofy cousin John out into the wilderness to preach like a wild man.
So Jesus and his best buds get invited,
but nobody wants them to be too
deeply involved in the affair.
Towards the end of the feast the bridegroom hits a major faux pas: The party has run out of booze. For some reason this is A Big Deal to Mary, who promptly tells Jesus he needs to do something about it.
Why would Jesus have any obligation to save the bridegroom from embarrassment for his own failure to adequately plan ahead?
Why would Mary get her kethōneth in a twist?
Who was this bridegroom to them that saving his face was so important?
Well, who was the bride?
Jesus’ kid sister?
The Gospel Of John doesn’t say, but it’s easy to imagine that apostle being eager to tell this story of Jesus’ first public miracle but at the same time not wanting to hurt the feelings of the holy brother-in-law or kid sister so he opts to refer to them anonymously.
This first miracle done, Jesus realizes there’s no point putting off the inevitable any longer, and heads out into the wilderness for his 40 days of fasting before launching his full time ministry.
 Though perhaps “kerfluffle” is too strong a word. “Ado” might be a better substitute, possibly “blather” though it certainly doesn’t reach the proportions of a full-fledged “brouhaha”.
 Judaism having a couple of lines of rabbinical thought that same sex relations between men was excusable provided the men were doing their religious / cultural duty by marrying women and producing children.
 Outlaw theologian Matthew Fox has speculated Jesus was a widower who had no offspring, which helps explains his enlightened view of women and children in his teachings. There’s nothing in scripture to specifically refute that, but neither is there anything that indicates it, either.
 Roman Catholic and some Orthodox Christian churches hold these were not biological children of Mary but either Joseph’s children from a previous marriage left orphaned, or cousins who for some reason were counted among Jesus’ household. There is nothing in the Bible to support either of those two ideas; they spring from the argument that Mary remained a virgin her entire life.
 And we’re presuming a sudden death, not a lingering malady that may have rendered him incapable of supporting his family and having to rely on Jesus to run the carpentry shop on his own.
 While Matthew and Luke report that subsequent to this Jesus went into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and be tempted, only Mark indicates it happened “at once” after Jesus emerged from the Jordan river. “At once” is one of those terms that seems to mean one thing, but in reality is highly subjective and can be legitimately interpreted in a variety of ways; ask any mother / toddler combo what “pick up these toys at once” means and see what you get.
 From the frequent mention of wine and drunkards in the gospels, we can only assume that first century Judeans — Jesus’ followers in particular — were one hard drinkin’ crew.
 Indeed, Jesus later tells the parable of the Ten Foolish Virgins who get shut out of a wedding feast because of their lack of preparation.
 John jumps abruptly from the immediate aftermath of the wedding feast to a point two or three years later when Jesus’ ministry is in full bloom and he enters Jerusalem for his final week of confrontation with the Pharisees. Did John write a longer account and the middle was lost in transcription? Or did he just assume the three synoptic Gospels covered that part of the story well enough and chose to focus more on the death and resurrection? Good question, and one I have no answer for…(yet)