You’ve probably heard that Jesus had a wife. Okay, he didn’t really have a wife. There is a text fragment about the size of a business card that reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife is so fat, when she sits around the house, she sits around the house. Good night Jerusalem!'” I’m kidding, of course; he was in Bethany.
The actual quote is, “Jesus said to them my wife.” It is a 4th century Coptic translation of a 2nd century Greek text containing just 33 words. So it could mean anything. Before I get into the weeds here, let me explain something akin to Platonic ideals.
In The Historical Jesus: Five Views, Robert Price writes a chapter called “Jesus at the Vanishing Point.” In it, he argues that any discussion of the historical Jesus is meaningless, because the actual man has been so soiled by myth as to no longer exist. What I take away from this is that the argument as to whether Jesus the man actually existed doesn’t matter because when people talk about Jesus they aren’t talking about him. Instead, they are talking about the guy in the Bible.
And given this, I tend to side with the Catholics over the Protestants. Jesus is what the religious traditions say he is not what this or that upstart claims he is—because there is no him to uncover apart from the church traditions.
Thus, when another apocryphal text shows up, I’m of two minds: “So” and “Interesting.” The “So” part relates to how it ought to affect modern Christians: not at all. The “Interesting” part relates to what it says about the evolution of the church. I know that this is explicitly uninteresting to most modern day Christians, because they want (Need?) to believe that as the word of God, the religion was born fully formed. The truth is far more interesting with various factions fighting over what the new religion would mean. For example, I find the Gnostics and their mystical beliefs far more compelling than modern Christianity.
What is interesting about these apocryphal gospels is not what they tell us about Jesus but what they tell us about Christianity. Early Christian thought was so diverse that I would not be shocked to learn of a text that read, “Jesus said to them I am a woman.” Clearly, such a text would not mean that Jesus was a woman—only that some Christians thought so.
In the end, this calls the question of what religions are good for. I believe that religions are good for helping people search for Truth. But they mostly fail miserably at this because they too often claim to know Truth. And that is as silly as Jesus saying, “Take my wife… Please!”