In the fall of 2012, Harvard historian Karen King announced she’d been given a fragment of a manuscript that mentioned Jesus’ wife. It’s in the news again because studies have indicated it’s not a modern forgery. But whether or not it was a forgery isn’t the main issue. The date of the manuscript is what’s relevant, and even in 2012 when the announcement was made, it was considered to be a few centuries after Jesus—and long after the New Testament documents were written. So it presented no authoritative rival to those documents about Jesus. The recent studies date it to 669-859 CE. And the analysis suggests that the original might date back to the third century, around the same time as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary. Still long after the eyewitness testimonies were written about Jesus. All this fragment may tell us is what some people thought or wrote about Jesus centuries after His life on earth; whereas the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses not long after Jesus.
Here’s what we wrote about it in 2012:
A faded piece of papyrus refers to Jesus’ wife. Just read the first paragraph of the story and, fortunately, it leads with the most important piece of information—it’s from the 4th century. That’s 300 years at least after Jesus ministry on earth, and centuries later than the New Testament documents were written.
The gnostic gospels were rejected by the church because they knew they weren’t accounts written close to the time they report, as the New Testament documents were. The gnostic gospels date at least more than 100 years after Jesus, most of them much longer than that. They weren’t considered authoritative because they were far removed from Jesus life and the authorship couldn’t be traced to an eyewitness. Someone close to Jesus’ life was in a much better position to report accurately about his life than someone three centuries removed.
Even if authentic, this fragment is dated way too late to take seriously. Even Karen King, the scholar who revealed the fragment cautions that.
We also don’t know what kind of document the fragment is from, what kind of literature it is. There is so much unknown here and the response is way overblown.
Michael Kruger cites some key differences between the gnostic gospels and the New Testament documents.
Read what textual scholar Dan Wallace had to say about the text of the fragment when it was discovered.