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A biblical response

The Case for Jesus As a Single Man

By Darrell L. Bock, Ph.D.
Dallas Theological Seminary – Excerpt from Breaking the Da Vinci Code

Chapter Two: Was Jesus Married

Most scholars have long believed that Jesus was single, and we will examine three arguments supporting that belief. No early Christian text we possess, either biblical or extrabiblical, indicates the presence of a wife during His ministry, His crucifixion, or after His resurrection. Whenever texts mention Jesus’ family, they refer to His mother, brothers and sisters but never to a wife. Furthermore, there is no hint that He was widowed. To paraphrase Crossan, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck!”

1. Mary Was Never Tied to Any Male When She Was Named

The first argument for Jesus being single takes us back to passages from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John where Mary Magdalene was named (Matt. 27:55–56; Mark 15:40–41; Luke 8:2; John 19:25). In these texts other women listed were connected to prominent or well-known males in their lives. It was an important clue, and here is where that clue applies. If Mary had been married to Jesus, this listing would be the place to mention it, as had been done with other women who were connected to sons or husbands. No listing of Mary Magdalene or any other woman does this to say that Jesus was married.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written within a generation or two of Jesus’ life. Most scholars date the last biblical gospel, John, to the A.D. nineties. There was no “plot” yet to keep the details of Jesus’ life a secret nor was there an established precedent that ministers might not have the right to marry. Later in 1 Corinthians 9:4–6, Paul, a minister of the gospel, believed he had a right to certain things—such as marriage—rights that he did not use but that were possible for him.

2. A Minister’s Right to Marry Was Cited Without Reference to Jesus

First Corinthians 9:4–6 may be the most important text for this topic. It reads, “Do we not have the right to financial support? Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I lack the right not to work?” Paul noted in this aside that the apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas (Peter) had the right to a wife. In other words, they had every right to be married. It would have been simple for Paul to add that Jesus was married—had He been. Such a point would have sealed his argument, but he did not make that point. Some might object by suggesting that Paul cited only people who were alive. But the response to such an objection is that Paul was discussing precedent and rights. To raise the example of what someone did would be possible and logical, had Jesus had such a status. The conclusion is that Paul did not make the point because he could not make such a point.

This 1 Corinthians 9 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, there would have been 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.

Some will reply that 1 Corinthians 7 could be made to make the same point in reverse. This entire chapter affirmed that remaining single is advised. Why did not Paul make the same point with Jesus here that one argues for in chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians? He could have well said that Jesus was single and made Him the example. That would have sealed Paul’s point, but he did not say it. The point would be that such arguments from silence prove nothing.

The point is well taken, but a reasonable reply is possible. The difference in the two situations of 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Corinthians 9 may well show that not all silence is equal when it comes to noting differences in the nature of the evidence. Paul did not need to make a point about Jesus’ singleness because it was well known, assumed, and not debated. More than that, and more important, Paul’s view was not that one must be single, but that singleness was advisable. To bring up Jesus as the example would make the point about being single in too strong a manner. He wanted people to take seriously the option of remaining single, but he did not suggest that marriage was wrong. So he did not mention Jesus.

3. Jesus Showed No Special Concern for Mary Magdalene at the Cross

As we examine the scene of the cross, we see a third and final argument indicating that Jesus was single. At the cross many believing women, including Jesus’ mother, gathered. If there was an occasion where family would be present, it was there as Jesus was dying. Yet no wife was described. Jesus was most concerned about His mother as He gave her into John’s care (John 19:26–27). In addition, had Jesus been married, His wife would have been present with His mother to celebrate the Passover festival that brought them to Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’ arrest. Once again, no wife was mentioned because there was no wife.

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Darrelll L. Bock, Ph.D., is a research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. He also serves as professor for spiritual development and culture for the seminary's center for Christian leadership. His special fields of study involve hermeneutics, the use of the Old Testament in the New, the historical Jesus, and Gospels studies. As well as being a corresponding editor for Christianity Today and past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Bock serves as an elder at Trinity Fellowship Church in Richardson, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Sally, and their three children.

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