It has long been believed that Jesus was single. Every detail of Scripture indicates this. When he was in ministry, there is no mention of a wife. When he was tried and crucified, there is no mention of his having a wife.
After his death, there is no mention of a wife. Whenever Jesus' family is referred to, it is his brothers and sisters who are mentioned, but never a wife. Nor is there any indication that he was widowed.
This is not an argument from silence in the classic sense, as there were numerous opportunities to make the point about Jesus being married had he been. There also are other texts that show Jesus supporting a single lifestyle for some of his followers, an example that seems to have included himself.
Beyond this, it is clear that the Gospels present Mary as an exemplary follower of Jesus and a witness to his resurrection, but she has no authoritative, official ecclesiastical role in the church.
In light of the respect that she held but her lack of any official office of authority, there was no need for the church to "degrade" her role, as some have suggested, as there was nothing to degrade.
Was Jesus Married At All?
As was noted in the ABCNEWS special, we can contrast the marital status of Jesus to the rest of the apostles, Peter, and the brothers of the Lord, all of whom are said to have had wives (1 Corinthians 9:5).
This passage shows that the church was not embarrassed to reveal that its leaders were married — or to suggest that they had the right to be. The same would have been true of Jesus, if he had been married. In fact, had Jesus been married, then there was no better place for Paul to say it than here. It would have clinched Paul's case that he also had the right to be married. Paul did not mention it, because Jesus had not been married.
What About Mary Magdalene?
Attempts to suggest that any of the many women associated with his ministry were, in fact, his wife are empty speculation. This includes the woman with the alabaster container who anointed Jesus (read Luke 7:36-50).
This woman's act was shocking and would not have been nearly so surprising had she been his wife. It is clear the woman here is not his wife, but someone else. Neither is she Mary Magdalene, because Mary is introduced as a new figure in the very next passage, in Luke 8:1-3. Had she been the woman who anointed Jesus' feet in Luke 7, then a reference back to her act just described would have been a natural thing to do, not to introduce her as a seemingly new character in the Gospel as Luke 8 does and make no mention of an act that Luke had just noted Jesus had praised.
One of the most interesting facts about the discussion about whether Jesus was married (and then whether this marriage was to Mary Magdalene) is that the vast majority of liberal and conservative students of the Bible agree that he was not married. This is one of the few points where there is such substantial agreement among biblical scholars.
The first to connect Mary and the sinful women was Gregory the Great in A.D. 591. He did so apparently on a false inference of the juxtaposition of Luke 7 and 8 and perhaps on the basis of confusion by identifying Mary Magdalene with Mary of Bethany in John 12, who also anointed Jesus' feet during Jesus' final days. (The Bible mentions seven Marys total, making confusion possible).
Mary Magdalene is always mentioned as either one who received an exorcism through Jesus or one who saw the crucifixion, burial, or experienced a resurrection appearance from him. That is all the Bible tells us about her.
Would Jesus Being Single Be Un-Jewish?
Now it is often suggested that because Jesus was a teacher and functioned like a rabbi that he would have been married as well, since that was the Jewish custom. Sometimes it is noted that the apostles called him "rabbi" (Mark 11:21).
However, two factors make this argument weak. First, Jesus was not technically a rabbi, nor did he portray himself as one. The apostles addressed him as such to say he was their teacher, not because he held any kind of official Jewish office.
The Jews asked Jesus "by what authority" he did certain things because he did not hold any kind of formal office within Judaism. He did not have an official position that would have permitted him to do things like act within the temple (Mark 11:28). As far as the Jewish leaders were concerned, Jesus had no recognized role within Judaism.
Second, the example of the call to be "eunuchs for the kingdom" appears, in part, to be rooted in Jesus' own commitment and example not to be married (Matthew 19:10-12).
When Jesus makes this "hard" statement with regard to not being married, he is swimming against the culture and giving advice he has chosen to follow himself. In fact, the rationale for the Roman church's later view that priests should not be married partially stems from the view that Jesus was not married and taught that highly dedicated kingdom people should be prepared to live similarly.
So if we ask what the hard evidence is that Jesus was married, there really is a very short answer. There is none.
By the way, Jesus' view here was not without precedent in Judaism. Traditions encouraging a dedicated single life also existed elsewhere in Judaism. Members of the ascetic Jewish sect of the Essenes were known for their emphasis on celibacy (Josephus, Antiquities 126.96.36.199; Jewish War 188.8.131.52-122; Philo, Hypothetica 11.14-18).
At Qumran, most appear to have been celibate, although a Dead Sea Scroll about the community suggests some possibility (1QSa 1:4-10) of marriage, woman, and children in the messianic times. For those Essenes at Qumran, the point about remaining single also reflected a singular, undistracted dedication to God.
So Jesus was single. His marital status was one dimension of his dedication to God. At least, that is how many Jews would have understood his status. As Jesus faced rejection, it was of benefit that he did not have a wife or children. Jesus had a singular focus on preaching the kingdom of God, and his choice to be single underscored that calling.
What About the Gnostic Gospels?
All of this renders the discussion of Gnostic Gospels for this issue irrelevant. Once again the ABCNEWS special made it clear that there is no text that suggests Jesus and Mary were married nor that they had a sexual relationship.
The only sliver of evidence even moving in such a direction involves a Gnostic text that says "Jesus kissed Mary on the …".
In other words, the text at the key point has a gap in it. So we do not know if he kissed her on the check, which was possible in the culture as the "holy kiss" of Scripture might suggest, or on the mouth, as The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown claimed.
Gnostic Gospels operated on the fringe of early Christianity as they are in all likelihood second century, early church documents from groups that tried to syncretize Christianity with forms of Gnosticism. However, even the fringe nature of these texts is irrelevant, as even such sources do not make the point that Jesus was married.
How Does One Explain Mary's Honored Role?
But what of the honor Mary supposedly had as an "apostle to the apostles," as one early church text puts it? Does this not hint at a family relationship? Who else could be elevated to a place above the 12 apostles?
Again the answer is negative and the premise is incorrect. The phrase "apostle to the apostles" does communicate that Mary was honored as a women and witness to the resurrection of Jesus.
The term apostle here means "one sent to give a message for another." Jesus did appear to her and called her to be a messenger of his resurrection to the apostles. This fact is important because her role as witness indicates that she was an exemplary disciple, an important role for a woman in the first century culture where women tended to be totally dismissed.
In fact, the fact that Jesus appeared to women first in each of the Gospel accounts is one of the major indications that the church did not "create" these appearance scenes for in the larger culture women could not be legal witnesses. To create such a scene would be culturally unpersuasive. It was the reality of the appearances to women that etched itself into this tradition. The church passed this fact on against the drift and expectation of the culture because it what they held took place. So Mary was honored and given an honored exemplary role in the biblical Gospels as the ABCNEWS special accurately pointed out.
However, this role did not involve any authority on here part. She was not one of the 12, nor did her role as messenger mean she bore any official ecclesial authority. This authoritative and technical sense of "apostle" is defined for us in Acts 1:21-22, as involving a man who had been with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry and had seen the risen Lord.
Mary failed to qualify for this more technical office of apostle on two grounds: She was a woman and she had not been with Jesus from the start. Rather she joined him after he performed an exorcism on her behalf (Luke 8:1-3). To claim Mary had a role over the 12 because she was a family member and was called an apostle reads too much into this messenger-witness role even as it is described in these ancient texts.
All the evidence, both in the Bible and outside of it, tells us Jesus was single. It also tells us Mary Magdalene was a devoted and respected follower of Jesus to whom he appeared upon his resurrection. To say anything more about their relationship lacks defensible historical support.
Darrell L. Bock is research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He disagrees with the arguments brought forth in the novel The Da Vinci Code and was consulted for the recent ABCNEWS special Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci.