Journalists hoped that the Jesus-wife story offered by feminist Karen King could be used to bash traditional Christianity, but it was later exposed as a forgery. A recent article by New Testament scholar Peter Williams has an after action report on the affair, and he explains why it was shot down so quickly. (H/T Tweet from J. Warner Wallace)
Peter Williams of Tyndale House, Cambridge, follows through on a recent claim about Christ
On September 18, the news broke of a small fragment of papyrus purporting to record words of Jesus. It contained the striking phrase, ‘Jesus said to them, “My wife …”‘ and then the text breaks off at the right hand margin.
The scholar making the announcement decided that this credit-card-sized scrap was a ‘gospel’ and gave it the bold title ‘The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’. The announcement was made simultaneously at an academic conference in Rome and through pre-arranged media channels by Karen King, Professor at Harvard Divinity School and holder of the oldest endowed chair in the USA. Dr. King said she was not at liberty to identify the owner and that the papyrus was of unknown geographical origin, but had spent time recently in Germany.
King claimed that the papyrus was from the fourth century, but that its content came from the second century. She was careful to state that this had nothing to do with the Jesus of history. Naturally, the media went into a frenzy and began to link it with debates about the ordination of women (BBC), or claimed it was ‘one of the most significant discoveries of all time’ (Smithsonian Channel, subsequently deleted), while Yahoo News led with the headline ‘Jesus had a wife, newly discovered gospel suggests’. The blogosphere and social media were wild with excitement, though some of the most sceptical realised that they were not at liberty to believe in the marriage of Jesus when they doubted his existence.
In my previous post about this, I talked about how Karen King is affiliated with the radical extremist liberal atheist Jesus Seminar group, how reputable scholars immediately found problems with the discovery, and how the mainstream media pushes these sensational discoveries because they have an agenda to discredit Christianity, and Judeo-Christian values. But this time I want to say something different, based on what Peter Williams says here:
[I]t’s noteworthy that British and British-educated scholars like Watson, Bernhard, and Goodacre mentioned above, along with evangelicals Simon Gathercole and Christian Askeland, played a significant role in exposing the problems with the manuscript and claims about it on blogs and in the media. Andrew Brown of The Guardian was commendably quick to notice and publish the doubts being raised.
It is worth reflecting on the progress here. Evangelicals now make up a significant proportion of those with the technical expertise to tackle a subject like this, and some of them had an intellectual firepower on the subject considerably exceeding that of the Harvard professor. I was contacted by Christians in touch with the media and was able to refer them to Simon Gathercole, a leading evangelical expert on apocryphal gospels. The rapid and informed response by Christians probably went a considerable way to deflating the story.
It is now well known by many who are not believers that there is a vigorous conspiracy-theory industry propagandising against the Christian faith. If Christians are seen as standing on history while others follow spin, even what seems like adverse publicity will ultimately end up glorifying God’s name.
I think that we have to understand as Christians that some Christians are more effective than others, because of their knowledge and skills. Instead of sort of going through life willy-nilly (doing whatever feels good, or whatever attracts more people to our church, or whatever makes more people accept us), and making excuses about why we are justified in not studying anything hard, maybe we need to focus more on what actually works. We need to ask ourselves “what actually works in order to honor God and defend his reputation?” and “what kind of knowledge is useful in a debate about the facts and evidence for and against Christianity?”
Belly-dancing for Jesus and poetry-writing for Jesus and worship-leading for Jesus are not as good for Jesus as astrophysics for Jesus or New Testament scholarship for Jesus or philosophy of religion for Jesus or even hedge fund management for Jesus (a job which can pay for many willing students to complete their Ph.Ds). That’s the way the world really works. The sooner we start making our decisions about what to study based the needs and feelings of God instead of the needs and feelings of man, the better off we will be. We need to be careful about spiritualizing our desire to be happy and calling our emotional hedonism “God’s mysterious will”. We have to do hard things, because doing hard things puts us in a position to be effective and influential when it counts.
We have to study things that don’t make us feel happy so that God will feel happy. God’s happiness doesn’t depend on whether we’re happy. Feeling happy is not how we serve God. Feeling happy is not as good for God as debunking lies about him with the authority that comes from studying the issues and knowing the evidence. God is happy when more people people acknowledge his existence, his actual character and his good actions in history. We need to choose to study things that can contribute to those goals. I think we just need to stop projecting our emotions and feelings onto God, and stop thinking that the point of life is for us to have happy feelings of well-being and health and peer-approval. That’s not Christianity, that’s just narcissism.