So the Christian world is in an uproar over the announcement that an ancient document fragment suggests that Jesus might have been married. Whatever this document might be (rumors that it was his Topps rookie card are unfounded), it stirs up the old debate over whether Jesus was married or had children. The New Testament is silent on the issue, without so much as a decent hint as to whether after a hard day of healing, there was someone waiting at home with a warm meal and slippers.
The LDS Church does not, contrary to what some have said, teach that Christ was married and had kids. It is one of the subjects on which the Church officially has taken no position. Some early leaders expressed opinions about it, but in those days Church leaders– who came from a number of religious traditions and still were in the process of understanding the restored gospel themselves– popped off about all kinds of things. With respect to the question of Christ’s marital status, it was all speculation.
The more interesting question is what difference it would make, if any, if Jesus was married? While many Christians are wringing their hands over the possibility, you are likely to get little more than a shrug from Mormons, for two reasons.
The first is that Mormon doctrine deals with the physical body differently than many other Christian traditions. This is important, because it isn’t the fact of marriage that bothers people. It’s the idea of Christ being physically intimate with someone. This, obviously is a delicate topic, but a significant one. Early post-New Testament Christianity was very uptight not just about sex, but about anything that dealt with the physical body. The body generally was seen as the primary source of sin, which led many to believe that spirituality and physicality were opposites, not compliments.
This resulted in some genuinely wacky beliefs, such as the idea that Christ never had a body, but rather was a spirit that essentially possessed the body of some guy named Larry. But it also contributed to less controversial and more mainstream ideas, such as the Nicene profession of an insubstantial God, seeking spiritual enlightenment through physical deprivation, and celibacy for God’s most devoted servants. This longstanding view of the evils of the physical body cannot make room for any possibility that Jesus would live in a matrimonial relationship.
For all of our emphasis on sexual purity, Mormons are actually less uptight about the physical body than you might think. Because we believe that God, like Christ, has a physical body, we do not view a physical body as inherently evil. To the contrary, we believe that one of the principle reasons for mortal life is for us to receive physical bodies. Human intimacy, when kept within the bounds that the Lord has set, is seen by Mormons as something sacred. As a result we try to respect out bodies, including by dressing and behaving modestly, but that isn’t because we think of our bodies as dirty.
The second reason that Mormons could handle a married Jesus is that it would be consistent with other important Church doctrines. At the core of Mormonism is the belief that people are saved as families, that marriage is the highest priesthood ordinance, and that the family unit will continue through eternity. So it wouldn’t be unthinkable for Mormons for Jesus to have entered into such a sacred relationship.
Despite this, we just don’t know, and our salvation certainly isn’t tied up in learning whether Jesus was married. It’s an interesting subject for speculation, but the likelihood of us knowing one way or the other is just barely north of zero. More important are the questions of whether it would matter, and why?