by Lita Cosner

It seems the only time Christianity makes the news is when there is a discovery which might change the way early Christianity is viewed. A few years ago, the lead codices made headlines, with breathless exclamations that these may be the earliest Christian documents. When a fragment of an alleged fourth-century Coptic text was announced that put the words “My wife … ” in the mouth of Jesus, it took only days for it to be named “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”.

In fact, there are convincing reasons for taking this to be a modern forgery. However, in the interest of helping Christians to think through issues like this biblically, we will deal with the fragment in detail, explaining the sort of reasoning people should use when they are confronted with these sorts of finds.

The find

The find consists of a papyrus fragment, smaller than a business card, with writing in Sahidic Coptic (Coptic writing in Greek characters used in Upper (South) Egypt from the 3rd–7th centuries) on both sides. One side has eight lines of text, the other side is too faded to read.

The translated legible text reads:

… “[can]not be my [disciple]. My mother gave me life” …
… “The disciples said to Jesus” …
… “deny. Mary is worthy of it” …
… “Jesus said to them, “My wife” …
… “she can be my disciple” …
… “Let the evil man swell up” …
… “I am with her, so as to” …
… “an image” …

Designation and characteristics of the find

So why is this called a ‘gospel’ in the first place? Michael Kruger remarks, “At first glance, the document appears to be composed of gospel-like text that contained stories and sayings of Jesus. In fact, Jesus seems to be doing what he often does in other gospel texts: he is having a conversation with his disciples.”1 But Larry Hurtado questions whether such a designation is helpful. “Assuming that the fragment is genuine, and is from a larger text, I reiterate that it is injudicious to refer to that putative text as “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”. Prof. King says in her essay that this is simply for convenience. But it would actually be better simply to refer to what we have, which, for convenience, we could call “The Jesus’ Wife Fragment”. That’s actually all we have.”2….

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