Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Christology and the Coptic Church

The big news in Christendom as of late is the the discovery of a papyrus scrap written in 2nd century Coptic, which purportedly alludes to Jesus' wife.  Naturally, questions about authenticity, context, and meaning have been replaced with more serious theological undertones: does this undermine the person of Jesus Christ?  Does this undermine the Bible, thus working to disprove the existence of the messianic Christ?  And the list goes on.

The Bible makes no mention whatsoever of any wife or companion to Jesus other than his twelve disciples.  While there is no irrefutable text that flatly denies that He was ever married, the scriptural silence on the issue coupled with 1) prophetic allusions to His ministry and Personhood, as well as 2) the symbolism of Christ as not only the head, but the Bridegroom of the Church, is sufficient evidence for us to believe that Jesus never had a spouse.

The discovery is so-called "significant" because it offers basis for contradiction to the most widely read and discussed text in human history.  But circumstances affirming the papyrus scrap's veracity are dubious.  The Coptic writing dates the scrap back to the 2nd-century early Egyptian church, long after the completion of the Biblical canon.

Two scenarios are possible with the scrap's content-- either 1) the allusion to Jesus' wife reflects an intersection of Christological speculation in the early church (prior to the ecumenical period) over the binarial natures of Jesus as God and man, where a corporeal wife might have seemed compatible with the latter, or 2) the scrap is a translation of early Gnostic texts, which were written long after Christ's ministry and the apostolic church, and have been primarily centered on contrived reactionary doctrine countering the orthodoxy of the Biblical canon.

While the latter is more plausible, the bottom line holds that something was indeed "lost in translation."  If the Coptic scrap truly does refer to a physical wife in human form, it may be nothing more than the result of severe theological schisms and the accompanying speculation over the full nature of Christ in His Personhood.  However, the reference could just as well be an analogical portrait of Christ and the Church through the husband-wife relationship (John 3:29), thus affirming conventional orthodoxy over the relationship between Jesus and His followers as a corporate unit.

Whatever the origins are of the papyrus scrap, the infallibility of Scripture has not changed.  The papyrus discovery is just one of many countless examples used to undermine empirical basis for Christianity.  Regardless, nothing in human history has yet to prove or disprove the existence of the Lord God and His resurrected Son, leaving faith as still the central tenet to our belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

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