Now that The DaVinci Code has finally hit theatres, everyone and their dog is discussing whether or not Jesus Christ was married. Of course, Dan Brown’s book is just a work of fiction, but this hasn’t stopped various religious groups from weighing in on the heretical notion advanced therein: That Jesus Christ took Mary Magdalene to wife and bore children with her. The LDS Church has decided to join the party, putting forth its own statement as to Mormonism’s doctrinal position (or lack thereof) on this supposedly interesting question. And it’s not hard to see why. Unlike most (all?) other modern branches of Christianity, Mormonism has had various leaders who have sometimes advanced this notion. Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt are probably the most well-known examples. Yet the Church doesn’t appear inclined to accept the pronouncements of these men as “Church doctrine.”
What is sometimes overlooked in Mormon discussions of this topic is the obvious theological basis for drawing the conclusion that Jesus was married in mortality, nevermind what Orson or Orson had to say about it. After all, at least if we’re talking about a Mormonism that takes the King Follett Discourse, the Lorenzo Snow couplet, and other related teachings seriously (a big “if”), then the process of “deification” that we all aspire to (and that God Himself may have aspired to once upon a time) has certain prerequisites that must be met: We must pass through mortality and gain a body, we must get married to a spouse of the opposite gender, etc. And if the existence of a “Heavenly Mother” can be inferred from (a) our literal parent-child relationship with God; and (b) the fact that we not-yet-deified humans must acquire an eternal spouse ourselves before graduating to Godly status, then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to draw certain other inferences. Wouldn’t it be strange to hold that (1) Jesus, our brother, is divine; (2) Jesus is someone that we should all be striving to emulate; and (3) We can become divine if and only if we take a spouse, while simultaneously maintaining that Christ wasn’t married?
Of course, this theological inference isn’t exactly rock solid. After all, Jesus Christ’s “divinity” doesn’t exactly fit the criteria for “deity” that we usually throw around in other contexts. Mormonism holds that the Jehova of the Old Testament is actually the pre-mortal Jesus. And certainly Jehova was divine. And certainly Jesus was a God in human form. And yet Jehova was apparently part of the Godhead, even before he’d been embodied. This seems to violate the notion that embodiment is a prerequisite to deification, and one could wonder if any of the typical prerequisites to Godhood apply when we’re talking about Jesus. It’s all just so confusing. But whatever else you want to say about it, the fact that our notion of what it takes to “become Gods” doesn’t square completely with the pre-mortal Jesus’ status as a “God” certainly problematizes any easy inferences we might want to draw about Jesus’ marital status.
So, given all this uncertainty, how is it that I know that Jesus was married, and had children? Simple: I’ve seen the geneological records that prove it!
The year was 1995 or 1996. I was a student at BYU, and my Elders Quorum President was Dan Richards (occasional commenter at T&S). Dan had somehow gotten involved in running Sacrament Meeting services at the men’s prison at the Point of the Mountain (between Provo and Salt Lake City), and one weekend he asked me to participate. I was invited to prepare a talk and deliver it to the LDS inmates during Sunday services, so I and several others travelled with Dan to the prison. Once there, we stood up in front of scores of LDS convicts, gave our talks, and then sat down. The whole meeting was fairly uneventful.
After the meeting was over, however, things became more interesting. One of the older LDS inmates offered to give us a tour of a portion of the facilities. He wanted to show us the room where he and certain other LDS inmates worked on geneology during their free time. We agreed to accompany him. Once we arrived in the room, we saw a series of computers that had been set up for geneological purposes. The inmate proceeded to show us how he and others worked on their geneology, and my eyes started to glaze. (I’ve never been particularly fascinated by the nuts and bolts of geneology — Sorry).
Fifteen minutes or so had passed, and it was about time for us to leave. But our elderly host was not about to let us depart without showing us something special. “Gentlemen, I’ve got something interesting to show you,” he said, in a hushed, lowered tone. By the sound of his voice, we were evidently supposed to know we were in for a real treat. He took us over to a computer at the far side of the room, and began to talk, as geneology buffs are known to do, about how far back in time much of the geneological work at the prison extended. Finally, he decided to share with us his cherished treasure. He tapped a few buttons on the keyboard, thereby taking us to a screen that contained a numbered list of names for whom vicarious ordinances had supposedly been performed. We looked at the list of names and the gentleman directed our attention to several names at the top. Name #1 was an anglicized version of a Hebrew name that seemed strangely familiar.
“Do you recognize this name?” the gentleman asked me.
“No. Who is it?” I asked.
“This is Jesus Christ,” our host proclaimed confidently. He then pointed to 3 or 4 names listed right under Jesus’. These names also appeared to be Hebrew in origin, but I didn’t recognize them.
“Who are these people?”, I asked him.
“They are Jesus Christ’s children,” he replied solemnly.
I was, to put it mildly, taken aback by this “revelation.” I had surely heard the notion that Jesus “was married” before, but I had never seriously entertained the idea that he had multiple, biological offspring, much less that such offspring were “known” to the LDS Church. Of course, I was skeptical.
“Sir, how exactly do we know that Jesus had children, and that these are there names?,” I inquired skeptically.
There was a long pause, a knowing gaze directed into my eyes, and then an unforgettable response: “Trust me, Brother. WE KNOW.”
And that was the end of the conversation. It was time to leave, and we promptly did so.
Needless to say, I was not particularly impressed by the inmate’s “testimony.” He tried to accompany it with some of the bells and whistles often employed by those who don’t want to make compelling arguments, but would rather hope that the “inherent truthfulness” of their words would somehow resonate forth and convince their listeners. It didn’t work. (Instead, I left the prison feeling deeply disturbed about how the Church screens its members’ geneological submissions).
Despite my misgivings about this incident, however, I tell you this story for your edification. Perhaps I am just a cynical, secular Churchmember-of-little-faith who can’t recognize he’s been made privy to certain “Secrets of the Kingdom” even when they slap me in the face. Perhaps there are others of you who have eyes to see and ears to hear, if only vicariously through my story. Ya think?
1. Granted that there is no formal “doctrinal” position on the question of Jesus’ marital status, do you tend to believe that Jesus was married during his Earthly ministry? If so, why? If not, why not?
2. This prison incident left me with an uneasy feeling about geneology generally. What kind of quality controls does the Church have with respect to geneological submissions? Can any Tom, Dick and Wackjob submit bogus names into the “system”? Is there any reason to believe that half the entries in the Church geneological archives aren’t the product of some old geezer’s vivid imagination? (This question may betray my total ignorance about geneology, but I put it out there seriously).
Penny for your thoughts.