Scott S. Mitchell
It may seem odd to some readers that I’m providing evidence that Christ wasn’t married when most Christians consider this conclusion already too obvious to require proof. But I, having grown up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “LDS Church” or “Church”), am writing to a sizable number of members of said Church who, because of other LDS doctrines, suppose it likely that Jesus was indeed married. Remarkably enough, they believe this was necessary for even Jesus, in order to attain the highest level of exaltation of the highest kingdom in heaven (which doctrine of different levels of glory with the highest kingdom of glory is another belief peculiar to the LDS Church). This doctrine originates from one of the Church’s own unique canonical works, the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 132, verses 15-21 of that book not only requires all people be married to be exalted, but that said marriages be performed by priesthood authority possessed exclusively by worthy male members of the LDS Church. Thus, the reasoning goes, Jesus had to have been married or he couldn’t qualify for the highest level of exaltation.
In an essay elsewhere on this website entitled Jesus’s Failure to Endorse Eternal Marriage in the Bible and Book of Mormon, I have pointed out that the Bible and Book of Mormon contain no endorsements by Jesus of the LDS doctrine of “eternal marriage.” Indeed, I set forth therein several arguments which not only demonstrate why Jesus wouldn’t, and didn’t, include eternal marriage as a teaching of his church, but also that he himself wasn’t married during his earthly ministry. This essay expounds on that latter point, providing compelling scriptural evidence confirming Christ’s earthly bachelorhood.
I. THE BIBLE FAILS TO MENTION JESUS HAVING A WIFE
The first, and most compelling piece of evidence for the proposition that Jesus remained single is also the most obvious. And yet, it’s invariably overlooked by those maintaining that Christ was married. It’s this: The Bible doesn’t say anything about him being married. That’s enormously important. In fact, those who study this issue should not suppose that the significance of biblical silence on this point is neutralizedby the fact that the Bible also doesn’t say that he wasn’t married. For one thing, as I will argue below, both in the Old and New Testaments, the Bible does affirmatively make plain that Jesus remained single. But even if it didn’t, the New Testament’s failure to inform the reader that Jesus was married should be considered in light of the fact that it does report a massive amount of intimate details from Jesus’ adult life starting from the point when he was about 30 years old. It tells us where he walked, where he stayed, whom he stayed with, what he ate, what he drank, what he said in private conversations, whom he touched, who touched him, whom he healed, the other miracles he performed, his relationship to the family members who waited outside for a chance to talk to him, when he tired, when he slept, when he wept, and when all these things happened in relationship to each other (though the dedication to events chronologically varies with the writer). Most importantly, the New Testament names the people whom Jesus associated with in a diverse variety of roles — his mother, stepfather, brothers, publicans, Pharisees, apostles, other prominent followers and students, and disciples of both sexes. This joint effort by the writers of the four gospels to pay so much attention to any religiously significant episode of his life, then, is the proper context within which to consider those writers’ failure to make any mention of Jesus having a wife. If Jesus had had a wife, she would have been the most important person in his life, and if the existence of anyone he associated with were to be mentioned, it would be hers.
II. OTHER SCRIPTURAL FIGURES ALSO DIDN’T MARRY BECAUSE OF THE SPECIAL MINISTRIES TO WHICH THEY’D BEEN CALLED
It requires no great scrutiny of the scriptures to conclude that numerous prophets down through time, both before and after Jesus, were definitely not married. The Scriptural descriptions of the lives of Elijah, Elisha, John the Baptist, John the Beloved and Paul (and most likely Jeremiah) so clearly establish their lifelong bachelorhood, this author has been unable to find a single scriptural scholar outside the LDS faith who thinks otherwise. Those LDS Church members who have been willing to teach that Christ or Paul were married, for example, constitute a very small minority of writers, and even they, apparently cognizant of the nonexistent scriptural support, have rarely been willing to publish books or papers to that effect. (For more on Paul’s voluntary celibacy, see arguments hereinafter.) In the author’s experience, said individuals hold such views only because they deem it impossible to be fully “exalted” without being married, relying solely on their interpretation of Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 referenced in the Introduction. As I’ve argued in other essays on this website (see, e.g., Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation and Why the “Lines of Priesthood Authority” Concept is Missing from the Book of Mormon, and How Authority was Obtained to Found the First Known Church of Christ), the teachings of D&C 132 are spectacularly wrong, fully contradicted by the Book of Mormon and Bible at almost every turn. (In the author’s opinion, Book of Mormon figures Ether, Abinadi, two of the three specially chosen Nephite disciples, and certainly the last Moroni, to name a few, most probably remained single as well.)
III. JESUS POINTEDLY REFERRED TO THE NECESSITY OF SOME MEN TO REFRAIN FROM MARRIAGE FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN’S SAKE
In preaching that marriage was ordained of God and that men should not divorce their wives for any reason other than sexual infidelity, Jesus also explained why some few men nevertheless intentionally remain single. He prefaced his remarks by saying “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.” He then declared, “For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Emphasis added; see Matthew 19:11-12.) By twice limiting his words’ application to those who could receive them, Jesus implied that they were not generally applicable to most men. Virtually all Bible commentaries interpret this scripture the same way. Representative of them is this explanation:
Those who heard the words could hardly fail, as they thought over them, to look on their Master’s life as having been the great example of what He thus taught. . .The motives which St. Paul states as determining his own choice of the celibate life (1 Corinthians 7:7), or the counsel which he gave to others (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), are identical with this teaching in their principle.1
Even James E. Talmage interpreted Jesus’s words to mean that some men
voluntarily devoted themselves to a celibate life, and some few adopted celibacy “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake,” that thereby they might be free to render all their time and energy to the Lord’s service. But the disciples’ conclusion that “it is not good to marry” was true only in the exceptional instances stated.2
The demands of Jesus’s ministry were anything but conducive to fulfilling the expected and rightful role of a husband. Jesus had no home. He was always traveling from one place to another, accompanied by his male disciples, whom he was with even on the last night of his life. He stayed with fiends, and those friends sometimes included single women like Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus. He commonly had private conversations with single women. On one occasion, a woman with what appears to have been a known history of sexual immorality wept in Jesus’s presence, kissing his feet repeatedly as she washed them with her tears, anointing him with expensive perfume, then drying his feet with her hair.3 When he sought privacy, he went off by himself, not home to a wife. If he had married a woman, he would resolutely have dedicated himself to being a loving and attentive husband, putting the same effort into marriage that he actually did put into maximizing the fruits of his abbreviated ministry. Like some other prophets, his life required celibacy “for the kingdom of heaven’s sake.”
This understanding is further reinforced by the compaison in Ephesians 5:25 of Christ’s relationship with the church to the ideal relationship of a man to his wife: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it . . .” Again, if Jesus had been married, Paul would have taught that men should love their wives as Jesus loved his wife. The comparison of men’s wives to Christ’s church bolsters the conclusion that as Jesus had himself indicated, some men, like he himself, had kept themselves celibate so they could serve God with undivided attention and devotion.
IV. JESUS’S MINISTRY LIKEWISE LEFT HIM UNABLE TO RAISE CHILDREN
As a corollary to the foregoing point, marriage wouldn’t make sense for a man who couldn’t be available to give his wife children and help her raise them. And it would be unthinkable to marry a woman but that the same time deny her the blessing of childbearing. If Jesus had married, his wife’s natural desire would be to have children. And like Jesus’ mother Mary and her cousin Elizabeth had done, such a wife would have rejoiced over God’s goodness in granting her that blessing upon learning she had conceived. But, for the same reasons Jesus would have neither the time nor the privacy to be a husband to a wife, he wouldn’t be available to properly give children the time, attention and conscientious upbringing they would need. He wouldn’t father children only to be absent and longed for due to the demands of his ministry. Not only would his traveling, preaching and working miracles consume his time, he was also foreordained to die very young–the opposite of what his wife and children would need from him.
Instead, Jesus’s children would consist of those who accepted his gospel. In this way, he would answer the rhetorical question posed by Isaiah in Judea, and quoted by the prophet Abinadi in America: “[W]ho shall declare his generation?. . .And who shall be his seed?” Jesus would indeed have seed (i.e., posterity), Abinadi explained:
Whosoever has heard the word of the prophets, yea, all the holy prophets who have testified concerning the coming of the Lord–I say unto you, that all of those who have hearkened unto their words, and believed that the Lord would redeem his people, and have looked forward to that day for a remission of their sins, I say unto you that these are his seed, or they are the heirs of the kingdom of God.
(Emphasis added; see Mosiah 15:10-11 in the Book of Mormon.)
These words by Abinadi both echoed and expounded on Isaiah’s words, declared centuries earlier, and recorded in Isaiah 53:8, wherein the prophet made pointed reference to the dilemma posed by the prospect of Jesus dying without posterity. Isaiah had then resolved the dilemma in verse 10 by explaining that Jesus, the suffering servant, shall obtain posterity whenever individuals “shall make his soul an offering for sin.” These two prophetic explanations would be unnecessary, and would make no sense, if Jesus were producing posterity through the biological means incidental to marriage.
V. JESUS’S INSTRUCTIONS TO JOHN WHILE ON THE CROSS INDICATE HE HAD NO WIFE
While dying on the cross, Jesus spoke to John regarding the future care of his mother Mary, who stood near John and watched the crucifixion. John records that standing with Mary were three other women–her own sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus instructed his mother to look on John as her son, and John to regard Mary as his mother. And from that time John took Mary into his own home. (See John 19:25-27.) These verses communicate much more than Jesus’s filial concern for his mother’s wellbeing after his own death.
The fact that John went to the trouble to specifically identify the women who stood watching Jesus’s crucifixion, and to show the steps Jesus took to ensure his now-widowed mother would be cared for in his own absence, leaves little doubt that if Jesus had had a wife, she would have been present with John and the other four women during the last hours of her husband’s mortal life, and John would have recorded her presence. No less obvious was the conclusion that Jesus would have made sure to see that she, too, who would be a widow herself at the end of that day, was cared for following his death. Or, if for some compelling reason Jesus’s wife existed but was not present to witness him die, John would have explained to the reader why that was. John was careful to do that kind of thing in his record. If Jesus had been married but somehow Matthew, Mark and Luke had inexplicably omitted that fact in their separate accounts of his life, it nonetheless would not have been omitted here by John. Its absence here compels this conclusion: Jesus was single.
1. Excerpted from “Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers” as quoted in biblehub.com, an online biblical exegesis website.
2. James E. Talmage, Jesus the Christ (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1972), p. 475.
3. See Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, Luke 7:36-50 and John 12:1-8. While John’s account identifies this woman as Mary, the sister of Lazarus, the other three accounts disagree on this point. I personally find John’s account the least reliable of the four, because of the relative consistency of the other three accounts in stating the event took place in the home of one Simon. Jesus directed his chastisement to Simon after the latter was offended by the acts of the woman and Jesus’s allowance of it.