For several years now, ever since Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” became a bestseller, there has been much speculation concerning the marital status of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Now, with the movie about to come out, the topic is again popular. So what is the evidence for and against? And why is it so hot a topic?
Part of the problem is that nowhere in the New Testament is it stated that Jesus was celibate or married. If one looks at the context of the times in which Jesus lived, an unmarried man was considered incomplete. Typically, all Jewish holy men – teachers and prophets alike – were married. It would have been highly unusual for a recognized rabbi (teacher) to be single. Originally, Christianity was a Jewish spiritual movement, and Jesus primarily taught Jewish individuals. Bearing that in mind, it would have been easier for students to accept that Jesus was married than to accept a rabbi unwilling or unable to sustain a marriage.
On the other hand, 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.
One reason the question of marriage with regards to Jesus is a taboo subject among modern day Christians because it implies sexuality. In the 2nd Century, however, the theological reasons were different. There was a tradition among various heretical sects back then that Jesus was married. It was taught that Jesus Christ symbolically entered every critical stage of human existence and sanctified it. Since family life, including sexuality, is central to our lives, it seems logically consistent with the mission of a Savior to redeem and sanctify this aspect of our experience, as well.
In response, Justin Martyr and Clement of Alexandria believed that a married Jesus was inconsistent with His role as the Savior of the world, not that marriage would have Him sinful, but rather, that His mission was too demanding and heavenly to allow Him the opportunity for marriage.
It was only later when the Catholic Church’s dogma became more established that the ideas of the marriage and offspring of Jesus became taboo topics due to their inconsistency with church doctrines (a celibate priesthood, ritual defilement of seminal emissions, etc.).
The true answers here cannot be known. If you know where to look, you can find biblical ‘evidence’ supporting both views. What is truly interesting here is the fact that as time has gone by our ides of Jesus have changed. In the early church there was much discussion as to the very nature of Jesus. Was he a man, or the son of God? In the Islamic tradition he was a great prophet – but definitely not God on Earth. Traditions grow and change with the times. So how important is it to know the facts? Are they threatening? Would they change what you believe? Would they change your belief in God itself?