1. This manuscript is a fake. Dr. Christian Askeland, in attendance at the International Association of Coptic Studies conference in Rome, noted that about two thirds of those in attendance were very skeptical of its authenticity, while one third were “essentially convinced that the fragment is a fake.” Askeland said he did not meet anyone at the conference who thought it was authentic (posted at the evangelical textual criticism website on Wednesday, 19 September 2012). This presumably does not include Professor King. A number of noted coptologists have pronounced it a fake or have expressed strong reservations, including Alin Suciu of the University of Hamburg, Stephen Emmel of the University of Münster, Wolf-Peter Funk of l’Université Laval in Quebec, Hany Sadak the director general of the Coptic Museum in Cairo, Scott Carroll, Senior Scholar at the Oxford Manuscript Research Group, and David Gill of the University of Suffolk.
2. If genuine, the text is either (a) not Gnostic (since it contradicts the basic Gnostic view of the material world); (b) Gnostic though with an interpretation of marriage as other than the physical bond between a man and a woman (in the Gospel of Philip “the relationship between Jesus and Mary [Magdalene] is an allegory of the soul’s meeting with God in the bridal chamber, i.e. salvation” ; similarly, the Gospel of Mary [Simon Gathercole of Cambridge University, interviewed on the Tyndale House [Cambridge] website, on Wednesday, 19 September 2012]); (c) orthodox but metaphorically referring to the church as the wife of Jesus (a view already attested in the New Testament—implicit in Eph 5.23–27 and explicit in Rev 19.7); (d) a derivative Christian group that gave some push-back against the growing asceticism of the orthodox in the late second century, when marriage was somewhat frowned upon; or (e) parabolic or metaphorical with some other referent in mind.
3. Even Professor King did not suggest that this fragment means that Jesus had a wife (and she is not known for her conservative views!): “its possible date of composition in the second half of the second century argues against its value as evidence for the life of the historical Jesus.” If it goes back to a second-century tradition, we must keep in mind that there is a world of difference between first-century, apostolic Christianity and the various spin-off groups that rose after that early period.
Also, I wonder if any people in the news media are familiar with the church being the Bride of Christ metaphor? It’s in the real 1st century New Testament. Maybe we should be looking for information about Jesus in the earliest sources instead of 4th century sources that were written hundreds of miles away, and not by eyewitnesses.
UPDATE: J. W. Wartick has linked to a whole bunch of responses on his blog. He’s got J. Warner Wallace, Darrell Bock, Glenn Peoples, and others.
UPDATE: Professor Francis Watson at the University of Durham in England is calling the fragment a forgery and Harvard is holding on on publishing it.