The Code's claim
At the heart of The Da Vinci Code (novel by Dan Brown, movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Audrey Tautou, Ian McKellen, Paul Bettany, and Jean Reno) is the claim that Jesus Christ married Mary Magdalene (we’ll call her “Mary M.”).
The character Sir Leigh Teabing offers proof from a document called The Gospel of Philip, which he claims was written by the Apostle Philip. Teabing quotes a passage that says Mary M. was Jesus’ “companion,” which Teabing interprets to mean his wife. He goes on to quote a passage that says Jesus often kissed her on the mouth.
The main characters accept these claims uncritically and for the rest of the novel/movie assume that they are true. But are they? Did Jesus really marry Mary M.? Let’s examine the facts.
Return to the source
First, what does the Bible say? I appeal to the Bible because it provides us with a historical account of the life of Jesus written shortly after the events took place. Matthew and John were eyewitnesses of these events. Mark is reported to have written down the testimony of the Apostle Peter. Luke explains that he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:3), and a close reading of the Book of Acts (Luke's volume two) reveals that as a companion of Paul he often had access to people who had known Jesus during His earthly ministry. The rest of the New Testament concerns issues and events in the period up to roughly 50 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Bible nowhere mentions Jesus having a wife. To the contrary, in Matthew 19:11-12, Jesus himself praised the single life as a gift some have received from God; for them it is better not to marry:
- Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and other have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.
Apparently this path is what Jesus Himself accepted: a self-imposed renunciation of marriage for the sake of His ministry. John the Baptizer and the Apostle Paul (see 1 Corinthians 9:5) likewise traveled this lonely road. The Essenes and probably other members of Jewish sects chose to live as celibates.
Who is the Magdalene?
Mary M. is identified as one from whom Jesus drove out seven demons (Luke 8:2; Mark 16:9). She was one of Jesus’ disciples and was among those who accompanied Him from Galilee to Jerusalem. She is the Mary who saw the risen Jesus in the garden just outside the empty tomb (see Mark 15:40-41, 47; 16:1-8, [9-11]; Matthew 27:55-56; 28:1-10; Luke 23:49, 55-56; 24:1-11; John 20:1-2, 10-18). The term ‘Magdalene’ probably means “person from Magdala,” a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, about halfway between Capernaum and Tiberias.
Mary M. has often been confused with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, who lived in Bethany in Judea, just outside of Jerusalem. She has also been mistaken for the unnamed sinful woman who at the house of Simon the Pharisee washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (see Luke 7:36-50). If this woman were Mary M., why is she introduced two verses later (Luke 8:2) as someone new? Some also think Mary M. is the woman taken in adultery, as recorded in John 7:53-8:11 (missing from many early manuscripts). Nothing in the text of John or any of the other three canonical gospel accounts supports this.
Why make her a heroine?
Second- and third-century Gnostics picked up on the appearance of Jesus to Mary M. as recorded in John 20, speculating that He must have said more to her than what is recorded there. In fact, they have seen fit to provide us with a discourse Jesus is supposed to have had with Mary M. They have transformed Mary M. into a disciple to whom Jesus imparted secret instruction, as recorded in the document called The Gospel of Mary [Magdalene].
However, it seems the Gnostics confused this Mary with the Mary of Bethany, for it says Jesus loved her more than other women, apparently a reference to John 11:5, which merely says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Because The Gospel of Mary's content is thoroughly Gnostic in character, we can confidently reject it as an authentic record of a historical conversation the two had.
At the end of the document, Andrew and then Peter reject what Mary has said because it is so different from what Jesus taught them and because she is a woman. Levi (same as Matthew), however, rebukes Andrew and Peter, and it ends with the disciples going out to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, presumably having accepted her teaching as genuine.
'Companion' and 'kissing'
The document known as The Gospel of Philip does not make so much of Mary M., but it does say this:
- There were three who always walked with the Lord; Mary, his mother, and his sister and Magdalene, the one who was his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary….
And the companion of the [missing, possibly "Lord was"] Mary Magdalene. [missing, possibly "Jesus loved"] her more than [missing, possibly "all"] the disciples [missing, possibly "and used to"] kiss her [missing, possibly "often"] on her [missing, possibly "mouth."] The rest [missing, possibly "of the disciples were offended by this."] They said to him “Why do you love her more than all of us?” The Savior answered and said to them, “Why do I not love you like her? When a blind man and one who sees are both together in the darkness, they are no different from one another. When the light comes, then he who sees will see the light, and he who is blind will remain in darkness.”
Despite the claim of the Da Vinci Code character Sir Leigh Teabing that in Aramaic, “companion” means “wife,” nothing in the context of this passage suggests that Jesus was married to Mary M. The original Gospel of Philip manuscript is in Coptic, an Egyptian language related to Greek, not Aramaic, as Da Vinci Code implies.
The corresponding Greek word for “companion” is koinōnos, which means “partaker, partner, participant, one who shares.” Here are the ten places this word occurs in the New Testament, not one time does it mean wife: Matthew 23:30; Luke 5:10; 1 Corinthians 10:18, 20; 2 Corinthians 1:7; 8:23; Philemon 17; Hebrews 10:33; 1 Peter 5:1; 2 Peter 1:4.
The Gospel of Philip passage merely suggests that Mary M. was a close disciple of Jesus, nothing more. The manuscript has lacunae (gaps or holes), as indicated by the brackets. The missing text has to be reconstructed, and a degree of uncertainty remains whether the reconstruction is accurate. The editor of the documents states:
- [T]here is the physical deterioration of the books themselves, which began no doubt before they were buried around 400 C.E., advanced steadily while they remained buried, and unfortunately was not completely halted in the period between their discovery in 1945 and their final conservation some thirty years later. When only a few letters are missing, they can often be filled in adequately, but larger holes must simply remain a blank. (Robinson, 2-3).
What we do know is that the context indicates that the kiss only signifies her favored status as a disciple; no sexual overtones are present. The idea of her favored status must be an inference based on Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance outside the tomb.
But a more plausible reason might be that the crucifixion had filled Mary M. with an inconsolable grief, and the empty tomb only compounded it. Jesus may have appeared to especially to her out of compassion for her hurting heart. Another possible explanation is that he chose her and the other women as a way of conferring honor on women, making them the first to testify to the resurrection of their Lord.
Yet, even if The Gospel of Philip reported a marriage between Jesus and Mary M. (which it does not), it would remain the mere claim of a Gnostic who produced this document long after the canonical gospels were in circulation.
The manuscript was found in 1945 among other documents, all of which are now know as "The Nag Hammadi Library." Scholars have assigned the approximate date of 400 C.E. to when all of them were buried. An examination of the contents of Gospel of Philip demonstrates its secondary character. For example, it speaks of the Jerusalem temple using the past tense (immediately placing it after the 70 C.E. destruction of Jerusalem) and refers to phrases from the canonical gospels and epistles as if they are well known, providing Gnostic interpretations of them. All of this suggests that the original Gospel of Philip, while it could be much earlier that 400 C.E., it post-dates the New Testament by probably a hundred years or more.
Which can we trust?
The New Testament provides us with a trustworthy, reliable account written during while many of the eyewitnesses were still alive to confirm or deny what was written. The apocryphal account we read in The Gospel of Philip and other writings of the second to fourth centuries are much later and are telling a different story to introduce doctrines contradictory to what was proclaimed by the apostles. Unlike the works of its namesake, Leonardo, The Da Vinci Code is no masterpiece of researchits historical blunders are too glaring.
Want to go deeper?
If you want to read the authoritative English translation of The Gospel of Mary and The Gospel of Philip, including its lacunae, you can find it in James M. Robinson, ed., et al., The Nag Hammadi Library, 3d ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1988). (Unfortunately, the online version of The Gospel of Philip does not show the lacunae, but presents conjectures as if they are part of the text.) You can also find a discussion of but The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Philip, and other Gnostic documents in Edgar Hennecke and Wilhelm Schneemelcher, eds. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1: Gospels and Related Writings, R. McL. Wilson, trans. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1963). For more on Gnosticism and its relationship to Christianity, see Ronald Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks: Did the New Testament Borrow from Pagan Thought?, 2d ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003) and Edwin Yamauchi, Pre-Christian Gnosticism: A Survey of the Proposed Evidences, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1983).
Steve Singleton, DeeperStudy.com