Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
As predicted, many continue to interact and respond to the news about Karen King’s translation of this newly released manuscript
King’s paper may be found here to read, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”: A New Coptic Gospel Papyrus,” (Forthcoming Harvard Theological Review 106:1, January 2013).
I am also including a couple of additional reports below. The first, the Smithsonian, is sympathetic; the second, Al Mohler, raises significant concerns and concludes that this is “sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. . . . an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith.”
Ariel Sabar, “The Inside Story of a Controversial New Text About Jesus,” Smithsonian (September 18, 2012)
Sabar, the author of this article, describes the presuppositions of Dr. Karen King, who translated this text in question about Jesus referring to “his wife.”
Her scholarship has been a kind of sustained critique of what she calls the “master story” of Christianity: a narrative that casts the canonical texts of the New Testament as divine revelation that passed through Jesus in “an unbroken chain” to the apostles and their successors—church fathers, ministers, priests and bishops who carried these truths into the present day.
According to this “myth of origins,” as she has called it, followers of Jesus who accepted the New Testament—chiefly the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, written roughly between A.D. 65 and A.D. 95, or at least 35 years after Jesus’ death—were true Christians. Followers of Jesus inspired by noncanonical gospels were heretics hornswoggled by the devil.
Here are the questions raised by Sabar, which are good questions but asked with a revisionist tenor:
As 20th-century scholars began translating the texts from Coptic, early Christians whose views had fallen out of favor—or were silenced—began speaking again, across the ages, in their own voices. A picture began to take shape of early Christians, scattered across the Eastern Mediterranean, who derived a multiplicity of sometimes contradictory teachings from the life of Jesus Christ. Was it possible that Judas was not a turncoat but a favored disciple? Did Christ’s body really rise, or just his soul? Was the crucifixion—and human suffering, more broadly—a prerequisite for salvation? Did one really have to accept Jesus to be saved, or did the Holy Spirit already reside within as part of one’s basic humanity?
Al Mohler, “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife? When Sensationalism Masquerades as Scholarship,” Albert Mohler Blog (September 20, 2012)
Mohler explains what King has stated about this document in this way:
This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. One British newspaper notes that the claims about a married Jesus seem more worthy of fans of Dan Brown’s fictional work, The Da Vinci Code, than “real-life Harvard professors.” If the fragment is authenticated, the existence of this little document will be of interest to historians of the era, but it is insanity to make the claims now running through the media.
Professor King claims that these few words and phrases present a different story of Jesus, a different gospel. She then argues that the words should be read as claiming that Jesus was married, that Mary Magdalene was likely his wife. She argues further that this is evidence that the question of Jesus’s marital status, even as she asserts that this does not mean that Jesus was actually married. More than anything else, she is arguing against the claim that Christianity is a unified body of commonly-held truths.
Those familiar with Karen King’s research and writings will recognize the argument. Her 2003 book, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala: Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, argued that another text from the era presented Mary Magdalene as the very model for apostleship.
Like my reference above to a revisionist understanding of history and texts, Mohler points to King’s presupposition in her interpreting/translation texts.
The thread that ties all these texts and arguments together is the 1945 discovery of some 52 ancient texts near the town of Nag Hammadi in Egypt. These texts are known to scholars as Gnostic literature. The texts present heretical narratives and claims about Jesus and his message, and they have been a treasure trove for those seeking to replace orthodox Christianity with something very different. . . . Karen King, along with Princeton’s Elaine Pagels, has argued that the politically powerful leaders who established what became orthodox Christianity silenced other voices, but that these voices now speak through the Nag Hammadi texts and other Gnostic writings. Writing together, King and Pagels argue that “the traditional history of Christianity is written almost solely from the viewpoint of the side that won, which was remarkably successful in silencing or distorting other voices, destroying their writings, and suppressing any who disagreed with them as dangerous and obstinate ‘heretics.’”
And here is Mohler’s conclusion:
The energy behind all this is directed to the replacement of orthodox Christianity, its truth claims, its doctrines, its moral convictions, and its vision of both history and eternity with a secularized — indeed, Gnosticized — new version.
Just look at the attention this tiny fragment of papyrus has garnered. Its few words and broken phrases are supposed to cast doubt on the New Testament and the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. A tiny little fragment which, even if authentic, dates from the fourth century, is placed over against the four New Testament gospels, all written within decades of Jesus’s earthy ministry.
“The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife?” Not hardly. This is sensationalism masquerading as scholarship. Nevertheless, do not miss what all this really represents — an effort to replace biblical Christianity with an entirely new faith.