A recent Boston Globe article reads: “Harvard professor identifies scrap of papyrus suggesting some early Christians believed Jesus was married.” And so it seems another old 4th century papyrus has created quite the stir in the news. While we are always seeking to support the Bible with new discoveries of ancient texts, finds like this one make Biblicists cringe, wishing that it would not have been found in the first place.
While the news outlets need a sensational story to catch attention, the review of the piece by Harvard’s Dr. Karen King is reasonable and tempered. She has published a draft of her review article with more of the technical details where she states “This is the only extant ancient text which explicitly portrays Jesus as referring to a wife. It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married.” Harvard has a very helpful overview of the find and its implications over at their research site.
So what should we as Bible believers do with this new discovery? How are we to handle this “new” old text that appears to contradict what is revealed in Scripture and only encourages people to read between the lines when they do read the Bible? What does this mean for the authenticity of the text we hold to be truth? I would like to offer some general principles that can be applied whenever we learn of “new texts” that come to light.
- We can be perfectly and ultimately assured that no matter how people may twist the story, God has His “original copy” in heaven there it will remain untainted forever (Ps 119:89).
- We can be assured of the fact that God has preserved His word on earth as it has withstood the test of time in spite of human neglect and attack (2 Kgs 22:8-13).
- We should not be surprised when we see things twisted (or made up) to lead people away from the truth (2 Pet 2:1-2).
There will undoubtedly be more discoveries like this one in the future which will detail beliefs of people who claim to follow Christ. Ultimately we know that we have to take time to perform due diligence when new texts are found. We rejoice when such texts support the Biblical accounts. We understand that not all will, for some elements of Christendom had departed from the truth early in the history of the church and we already have numerous examples of unbiblical teaching and thought from the first few centuries after Christ. We are confident, however, that God made His Word readily available to the world, back then and now. And in that we can place our trust.