Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code , has sold more copies than any other fictional work in U.S. history. With the release of the movie adaptation on May 19, interest in this controversial tale has risen substantially.
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Fact or Fiction? A New Examination of The Da Vinci Code
April 25, 2006
Three years after its original release, Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code is riding a whole new wave of publicity. With the recent plagiarism trial in Great Britain and the upcoming release of the film adaptation, the book is making headlines all over again.
So it's an especially good time to arm ourselves with facts about The Da Vinci Code. And I highly recommend Dr. Ken Boa's DVD Unraveling the Da Vinci Code and his soon-to-be released book, The Gospel According to the Da Vinci Code.
Boa, who is one of the most accomplished Christian thinkers I know, has done extensive research on The Da Vinci Code. He says that we need teaching tools like these because so many people have a tendency to confuse fact and fiction—even when we know that what we're reading is just a novel. In this case, Dan Brown encourages that delusion with an author's note in the book stating that "all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate."
So the average reader with little background in theology, history, or art is likely to come away from the book believing that the Christian Church, out of a hatred for all things feminine, has deliberately been hiding the truth about Jesus' identity and His relationship with Mary Magadalene.
The odd thing is, Dan Brown claims on his website to be a Christian, "although," he adds, "perhaps not in the most traditional sense of the word." But as Ken Boa points out, the negative impression of the Church that Brown's readers receive is no accident. The book itself claims that the secret it supposedly reveals is "so powerful that . . . it threatened to devastate the very foundation of Christianity." Brown's agenda in this book, Boa charges, is no less than "the deconstruction of Christianity."
On the evidence that Boa presents, it's a fair charge. Why else would Brown fudge so many of his supposedly "accurate" facts—facts that can be easily checked? From the correct spelling of the titles of paintings; to the colors, techniques, and materials used in those paintings; even to the name of the artist around whom the book revolves, Brown commits error after error. And his errors don't stop with art. He gets all kinds of details wrong about both Church history and secular history.
Brown is even wrong about the tenets of Gnosticism, the religion he's really pushing here. Brown presents Gnosticism as a religion that glorifies the body, and Christianity as one that considers the body to be evil. In reality, as an examination of the New Testament and Gnostic documents will show, it's exactly the other way around. Gnosticism, in fact, considers all matter, including the human body, evil. That's why, while Christianity emphasizes the incarnation of Jesus, Gnosticism doesn't even believe in it.
I don't have enough time here to go into all the facts shared by Boa, which is why I urge you to get his DVD Unraveling the Da Vinci Code and the book The Gospel According to the Da Vinci Code and then see for yourself what the facts are.
Then, make sure you talk to your friends and neighbors who have read The Da Vinci Code or who plan to see the movie. Make sure they aren't taken in by what is, in the end, pure mischief and fiction.
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One of the most important ideas in 'The Da Vinci Code' is that we can't trust what the Bible says about Jesus. The Gospels in the Bible were made up later, or they've been altered. But there are other Gospels that didn't make the cut into the Bible.
These give us a more authentic picture of Jesus. These show us that the first Christians believed that he was just a mortal man - a great prophet and teacher, perhaps, but not the Son of God, as the Church later made him out to be.
We'll look more closely at these other Gospels in a moment. We'll also look at when Christians first came to believe that Jesus was more than just a great prophet and teacher. But first, let's focus on one question: when were the Bible documents written? Gospels?
The part of the Bible that relates to the time of Jesus - the New Testament - is made up of twenty seven documents. Sometimes when people in The Da Vinci Code talk about them, they call them all Gospels, but this isn't accurate. A Gospel is an account of the life of Jesus, and there are only four Gospels in the Bible - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Leigh Teabing talks about these four Gospels 'among others,' but there aren't any others - just these four. Paul's letters
Jesus was put to death in 29 or 30 AD. In the years that followed, the man who did most to spread the new Christian faith across the Roman Empire was Paul, the apostle. Paul was a Jew who started out hostile to Christianity, but was converted around 35 AD. He was probably executed for his faith by the Roman emperor Nero in 66 AD.
The Bible contains thirteen letters that are said to be by Paul. Specialists disagree whether he actually wrote them all. However, most specialists agree that he really wrote at least seven of them - the letter to the Romans, two letters to the Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon.
Paul wrote these letters between about AD 50 and AD 66 - twenty to thirty years after Jesus died. This makes them the earliest Christian documents that we have. We will see why this is important when we look at when Christians first started believing that Jesus was the Son of God. Gospels
What about the Gospels? When were they written? Most specialists, whatever they believe about Jesus, date them to the last thirty years or so of the first century. John's Gospel might have been written near the beginning of the second century. Quoted
By early in the second century, Church leaders were already quoting from these Gospels. So, for example:
* Ignatius of Antioch (who lived between about 35-107 AD) refers to various New Testament documents as Scriptures * So does Polycarp (who lived between 69-155 AD) * And the Epistle of Barnabas (around 120 AD) * And the Second letter of Clement (140 AD)
So people were already recognising Paul's letters and the four Gospels as authoritative two hundred years before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. Altered?
But couldn't they have been altered? Couldn't they have been 'sexed up' like other official documents, to make a political point? Well, not really. There were too many copies for them to have been altered easily. There are far more copies of the New Testament documents than of any other document from around that time:
* There are more than five thousand Greek manuscripts of part or all of the New Testament * There are another ten thousand manuscripts of the Vulgate - an early translation into Latin * There are more than nine thousand other Latin versions
In all, we have about twenty five thousand hand copied manuscripts of New Testament documents.
Compare this with Homer's famous poem the Illiad. There are about six hundred manuscript copies of the Iliad. Or consider the 'Gallic Wars' written by Julius Caesar, from roughly the same time as the New Testament. Today, there are only about ten copies of it altogether.
The New Testament documents were the most copied, and most widely circulated, of any ancient documents. No other documents from the same period of time come anywhere near having as many copies. Not only that, but there are manuscripts around today that were made very soon after these documents were first written. The Rylands Fragment
The Rylands Fragment
For example, in a museum in Manchester, there's a small piece of a document called the Rylands Fragment. This is part of John's Gospel.
It was found in Egypt in 1920, and scientists have dated it to 125 AD, plus or minus 25 years. This makes it the earliest manuscript of any part of the New Testament that's ever been found.
Specialists believe that John's Gospel was written some time between about 85 and 105 AD. So this fragment comes from a copy made just a few years after the Gospel was written.
Because of the number of copies, and how close in time some of them are to the originals, we can be sure that what we read in our Bibles today is what the original writers wrote - they haven't been altered.
If you open a Bible today, you see books titled 'The Gospel according to Matthew,' 'The Gospel according to Mark,' and so on for luke and John.
In fact, the Gospels are all anonymous - they don't actually say who wrote them. But:
* The names of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were linked with them as their authors right from the very earliest days * No other authors were ever suggested for them * There are thousands of Greek manuscripts of the Gospels, and they all give them the same authors
If the names of these authors had only been connected with their Gospels in the second or third centuries, it's very unlikely that all the Greek manuscripts would give them the same authors. By then, these Gospels were being circulated very widely. Together
The four Gospels may have been circulated together very soon after they were written. It could have been at this stage that the authors' names were attached to them, as a way of distinguishing them from each other. Matthew and John
Matthew's Gospel is probably based on the testimony of Jesus's disciple Matthew, and John's Gospel on the testimony of the disciple John. This doesn't necessarily mean that it was Matthew and John who wrote them down in the final form they've come to us in. In fact, in the case of John's Gospel, there's internal evidence that this isn't what happened. Mark
Matthew and John were among Jesus's disciples, but Mark wasn't- he was a comparatively unimportant player in the New Testament story. If you were going to make up someone to be the author of a Gospel, Mark probably wouldn't have been the first name to come to mind.
But there's a tradition going back to the church leader Papias, early in the second century, that Mark's Gospel is based on the testimony of Simon Peter, written down by Mark. If it is true, this would explain why the church accepted it as authoritative so quickly. Luke
Almost all scholars today (whatever they believe about whether the Bible is historically reliable) think that Luke's Gospel and the book of Acts were written by the same person:
1. They are both addressed to the same person, Theophilus - see Luke chapter 1 verse 1 and Acts chapter 1 verse 1. 2. Acts chapter 1 verse 1 indicates that it is the sequel to a previous work, about 'everything Jesus began to do and teach until the day he ascended to heaven' - which is what Luke's Gospel is about. 3. The language and style is very similar in Luke and Acts:
'Stylistically and structurally, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are so closely related that they have to be asssigned to the same author. This has been so extensively demonstrated by linguistic studies that it need not be elaborated here.' (Expositors' Bible Commentary volume 9 page 238)
Not only that, but there are some parts of the Book of Acts that are written in the first person - 'we did this,' 'we went there.' It's possible to identify the person making these statements as the Luke who accompanied the apostle Paul on some of his journeys.
This leaves two possibilities: either Luke genuinely wrote Acts, in which case he also genuinely wrote the Gospel that's named after him, or someone else forged Acts deliberately in such a way as to make it look like it was written by Luke. In which case, the same person forged Luke's Gospel. But the person who wrote Luke's Gospel claims to be concerned for historical accuracy and reliability, so there's a certain contradiction in this idea.
Although at this distance in time we can't be absolutely certain that the Bible Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John really were based on the testimony of their named authors, this is a reasonable assumption, and it would account for why the early Christians accepted them so quickly.
According to the Gospels, when Jesus was commissioning his disciples to establish the church, what he actually said to them was 'You shall be my witnesses...' Their main job wasn't to launch a new organisation, but to tell people about things that had happened to him, in history.
In Acts chapter 1, the early church set about choosing someone to replace Judas, who had betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide. Their main requirement for this person was that they must be a witness of what Jesus had said and done - from the beginning of his ministry to the end.
It doesn't matter, for this point, whether the Gospels are historically reliable or not. What matters is that they show how the early Christians defined their mission: they defined it in terms of being witnesses to things they believed had actually happened.
In 2 Peter 1:16, the writer says:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
Specialists debate whether this letter really was written by Simon Peter, but this doesn't affect the argument here about the importance of reliable testimony to the first Christians.
Luke begins his Gospel by saying this:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
So the early Christians knew the difference between history and fiction, and it was important to them that their faith was based on things that had really happened, in history. Because of this, it was also important that their foundational documents were based on reliable testimony that could be traced back to eye witnesses.
What about the Gnostic Gospels? When were they written?
According to Dan Brown, previously unknown Gnostic Gospels have come to light in recent years. These give us a more authentic picture of Jesus than the Gospels in the Bible. They show him as just a mortal man, not a supernatural figure. Suppressed?
For his theory to work, the early Church must have suppressed the Gnostic Gospels, so that they were lost to history until recently.
But this isn't what actually happened: specialists have known about the Gnostic Gospels for the past seventeen hundred years - that is, since they were written . They aren't by any stretch a recent 'discovery.' In fact, the early Church leaders wrote about them at tedious length. Until recently, the main way we knew anything about the Gnostics was through what they wrote about them. They did n't suppress the Gnostic Gospels. Rather, they argued publicly against what they said. Gnostics?
So who were the Gnostics? Gnosticism wasn't a precisely defined movement. It didn't have a definite leadership structure, or a fixed core of beliefs. Rather it was a trend, or a current of thought - like the New Age movement today.
The word 'Gnostic' means 'someone who knows.' Gnosticism is all about secret knowledge, which is only shared with the insiders. Gnostics claimed that if you wanted to relate to God, you had to possess this secret knowledge. They had it - and only they had it.
The trend towards Gnosticism began towards the end of the New Testament era, but it really became important in the second and third centuries after Christ. Dan Brown says that Gnosticism was the earliest form of Christianity. Historical reality doesn't support this idea. Recent discoveries
When Dan Brown talks about these 'recently discovered' Gospels, he particularly refers to the Dead Sea Scrolls, and to the Nag Hammadi Library from Egypt. So he has Leigh Teabing say:
Fortunately for historians... some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms... The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda - to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use his influence to solidify their own power base.
Let's look carefully at the facts behind these statements. Dead Sea Scrolls
Cave 4 at Qumran
Qumran cave 4. Photo: BiblePlaces.com
A group of Arab shepherds discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls by accident in caves at Qumran, in 1947 and in the years following. They're one of the most important archaeological discoveries ever made relating to the Bible.
But they aren't Gospels. They don't mention Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, and they certainly don't mention the Grail. They aren't even Christian documents. They're a collection of Jewish documents, written in Hebrew and Aramaic, and they come from a group of Jews called the Essenes, who lived at about the same time as Jesus.
They're tremendously important for what they tell us about Jewish life and beliefs at that time, but it's a complete misunderstanding to say that they contradict the Gospels in the Bible. They don't. Nag Hammadi Library
The Nag Hammadi library
Dan Brown also mentions the Nag Hammadi library - a collection of documents discovered by accident, in Egypt in 1945. This is made up of books (not scrolls) - thirteen leather-bound volumes, containing about fifty individual documents.
They're written in Coptic, which is an Egyptian language, and specialists have dated them to about 350 AD. But they were translated from Greek original documents, which probably come from the second century.
Anyone who wants to can read what these documents said, and can check for themselves - a full translation of the Nag Hammadi library was published in English in 1977. Gospels?
The documents in the Nag Hammadi library aren't all called Gospels, and even the five that are called Gospels aren't all about the life of Jesus, like the Gospels in the Bible.
There are other Gnostic Gospels too, that aren't part of the Nag Hammadi library. For example, the 'Gospel of Mary,' which Dan Brown refers to, was discovered separately, in Cairo, in 1896.
Unlike the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gnostic Gospels do talk about Jesus and Mary, although they certainly don't mention the Grail. They're very important for what they tell us about the history of the early Church.
The two Gnostic documents that are most important to Dan Brown's argument are the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Mary. There is no evidence that they existed at the time the New Testament Gospels were written.
The official translator of the Nag Hammadi library puts the date of the Gospel of Philip at 250 AD. The earliest date that has ever been suggested is 175 AD.
In fact, the Gnostic Gospels rely on the Gospels in the Bible for the story of Jesus, and they quote from documents that are in the New Testament, so they must have been written later. For example, the Gospel of Philip quotes both from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians and from John's Gospel.
The Gnostic Gospels were written about a hundred years later than the Gospels in the Bible. So the people who wrote them weren't close to the events they were writing about. Saying that these are the earliest Christian records doesn't measure up to the historical reality.
From 'The Da Vinci Code,' you'd think that the Gnostics were into the 'sacred feminine' in a big way, and they were a kind of pagan, goddess worshippers. But this is far from the truth.
They weren't in favour of pagan sexuality; rather, they looked on the whole physical world as an evil mistake. And they weren't early feminists; rather, they devalued women. They were elitist and male to the core.
For example, look at what the Gospel of Thomas says. This is probably a second century document, and it doesn't represent what Jesus - or any of his followers - actually said. But it does give us an insight into how the Gnostics thought. According to the Gospel of Thomas, when Peter said...
...Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.
I myself shall lead her, in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every female who makes herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
This doesn't sound very feminist, or very oriented towards 'goddess worship,' does it?
Dan Brown has confused Gnosticism with pagan ideas about the 'sacred feminine.' But they weren't the same thing, and the Gnostics weren't goddess-worshippers.
According to Brown, the Gnostic Gospels show us a Jesus who is just a human prophet, not a divine figure. But you could hardly get much further from the truth:
In the Gospels in the Bible, although Jesus is a divine figure, he's also thoroughly human. He gets tired, and hungry and thirsty. He gets angry and sad. He has friends and enemies. He suffers pain, and eventually he dies.
In the Gnostic Gospels, on the other hand, Jesus is a completely supernatural being. In fact, he's so divine that he's almost non-physical. He doesn't blink, and he doesn't leave footprints. He looks human, but he isn't really. This is exactly the opposite of what Dan Brown says.
We've seen that the Gnostic Gospels come from the second or third century. They aren't the earliest Christian Gospels. They don't mention the Grail, and they don't 'speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms,' as Dan Brown says. They don't 'highlight glaring historical discrepancies or fabrications.'
The Gospel of Thomas is one of the most important documents for New Testament specialists, outside the Bible. This is a collection of Jesus's sayings, some of which are very similar to sayings that are in the Gospels in the New Testament.
Some specialists have argued that the Gospel of Thomas is earlier than any of the existing Gospels in the Bible. However, there are three good reasons for believing this is not the case: (1) Manuscript evidence
The manuscript evidence for the Gospel of Thomas is later than the Gospels that are in the Bible:
The Coptic text of the Gospel of Thomas, from the Nag Hammadi library, comes from about 350 AD. The earliest fragmentary Greek text comes from around 200 AD. This is important, because the Gospels that are in our Bible come from the last quarter of the first century AD.
The belief that the Gospel of Thomas is earlier than the Gospels in the Bible is not based on evidence from manuscripts, but on particular theories about how the Gospels came in to being. (2) Thomas quotes from documents that are in the Bible
The Gospel of Thomas quotes from, or alludes to, many of Paul's letters in the Bible - to Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians and 1 Timothy. It also alludes to Hebrews, 1 John, and Revelation. The writer of the Gospel of Thomas was familiar with all four of the Gospels in the Bible. These books must have been written, and circulated, before the Gospel of Thomas was written. (3) Marcion does not quote from Thomas
Marcion was a sort of fore-runner of the Gnostics, who flourished around 144 AD. The teaching of the Gospel of Thomas fits in well with his ideas, so we might expect him to quote from it. However, he does not mention it or allude to it. The most likely reason is that it did not exist in his day. (This is an argument from silence, so it is not definite proof. However, it does support the first two points.)
The Gospel of Judas - Less to it than meets the eye
There has been a media frenzy recently about a new manuscript of the 'Gospel of Judas.'
According to this document, the best-known traitor in the world was not really a traitor at all. He was Jesus's closest friend, and Jesus told Judas to hand him over to the authorities.
The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic Gospel. According to it, Jesus revealed secret teaching to Judas which he did not reveal to the other disciples. This is a classic Gnostic device – it is almost a hallmark of Gnosticism. There are similar 'secret gospels' of Mary, Thomas, and other disciples.
This manuscript of the Gospel is a papyrus codex (a book, rather than a scroll), and is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language.
National Geographic has had a wide range of tests done to establish its authenticity. These include radio-carbon dating, which has dated it to the fourth century, around 300 AD.
Previously, our knowledge of the Gospel of Judas came from Irenaeus, the leader of the Church in Lyons, who condemned it (along with a number of other heretical texts) in his writings around 180 AD. The Gospel of Judas was probably written around 150 AD, that is, fifty to eighty years after the Gospels in the Bible.
National Geographic has put the entire manuscript online here (- specially useful if you can read Coptic -). They have also made the English translation available here (- more useful for those of us who can not read Coptic -). So does the Gospel of Judas change anything?
Not really. It is just another example of a late Gnostic Gospel. It is interesting for what it tells us about the Gnostics, but it does not tell us anything more about the historical Jesus. There is less to it than meets the eye. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his Sermon for Easter Day:
It was no surprise to see a fair bit of coverage given a couple of weeks ago to the discovery of a 'Gospel of Judas', which was (naturally) going to shake the foundations of traditional belief by giving an alternative version of the story of the passion and resurrection. Never mind that is this is a demonstrably late text which simply parallels a large number of quite well-known works from the more eccentric fringes of the early century Church; this is a scoop, the real 'now it can be told' version of the origins of the Christian faith.
When did Christians first start to believe that Jesus was the Son of God?
One of the core ideas of 'The Da Vinci Code' is that the Council of Nicaea voted to make Jesus divine, in 325 AD. The Roman emperor Constantine called this vote for political reasons.
We'll look at Constantine's role later, but right now, we want to look more closely at what the first Christians really believed, and when they believed it. Early Christian leaders
Let's start with what some early Christian leaders said. Around 225 AD - a hundred years before the Council of Nicaea, the church leader Origen said
No-one should be offended that the Saviour is also God.
From about the same time, Tertullian - another church leader - wrote about
Christ our God.
Also about this time - 200 AD - the Christian leader Clement of Alexandria said that Jesus was
...most truly manifest deity, he that is made equal to the Lord of the Universe.
A bit earlier, in 185 AD, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, said that Jesus of Nazareth is
...our Lord and God and Saviour and King.
The Christian leader Justin, who was martyred in Rome around 165 AD, said that Jesus is
... the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.
And as far back as 105 AD, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, said
God himself was manifest in human form.
So all these early Christian leaders were saying that Jesus was God long before the Council of Nicaea. The Roman governor Pliny
An interesting sidelight on this comes from the Roman historian Pliny. He was the governor of the province of Bithynia, in present-day Turkey. In about 112 AD, he wrote to the Emperor Trajan, asking what he should do with the Christians in his province. He was executing so many of them that it was becoming a problem. The important point is that Pliny records that they worshipped Christ as a god - and this was almost at the beginning of the second century, more than two hundred years before the Council of Nicaea. The Gospels
As well as Pliny and these Church leaders, we also have the evidence of the Gospels themselves. These say that Jesus was the Son of God - and they come from the last quarter of the first century. (Of course, Dan Brown wouldn't dispute that they say this, although he might dispute when they were written.) Paul's letters
We saw previously that the earliest Christian documents that we have are the letters of the apostle Paul in the New Testament. Within thirty years of when Jesus died, Paul was already writing about him as the Son of God - and this is two hundred and fifty years before the Council of Nicaea.
Let's go back for a moment to Dan Brown's original statement:
The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi. In addition to telling the true Grail story, these documents speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms… The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications...
But we've seen that the Dead Sea Scrolls don't contain any Gospels at all.
We've seen that the Gnostic Gospels come from the second or third century. They aren't the earliest Christian Gospels. They don't mention the Grail, and they don't 'speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms.' They don't 'highlight glaring historical discrepancies or fabrications.'
We've seen that:
* Christian leaders were describing Jesus as the Son of God more than two hundred years before the Council of Nicaea. * The Gospels in the Bible were written in the last quarter of the first century, and they describe Jesus as the Son of God too. * The earliest Christian documents are the letters of the apostle Paul, written twenty to thirty years after Jesus died. These also refer to Jesus as the Son of God.
It just isn't true that the earliest Gospels portrayed Jesus as just a human prophet and teacher. And the idea that Jesus was God as well as man didn't begin with Constantine. Christians had believed that Jesus was God for two hundred and fifty years before the Council of Nicaea. This was as far before the Council of Nicaea as the American War of Independence was before today.
The earliest Christian documents that we have are the letters written by the apostle Paul and preserved in the New Testament.
Scholars do not agree about whether all the letters that are attributed to Paul were actually written by him. However, almost allscholars agree that at least seven of the letters attributed to Paul really are by him:
* the letter to Romans * two letters to the Corinthians * Galatians * Philippians * 1 Thessalonians * Philemon
For the sake of argument, we will stick to the letters that almost everyone agrees about. Paul was probably executed by the Emperor Nero, around 66 AD, and all his letters were written between around 50-65 AD - that is, within 36 years of when Jesus was executed.
In Galatians chapter 4 verses 4-5, Paul says:
... when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 8 verses 5-6, he writes:
According to some people, there are many so-called gods and many lords, both in heaven and on earth. But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we exist for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life.
Paul begins his letter to the Christians in Rome like this:
This letter is from Paul, Jesus Christ's slave, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News. This Good News was promised long ago by God through his prophets in the holy Scriptures. It is the Good News about his Son, Jesus, who came as a man, born into King David's royal family line. And Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit.
And in Philippians chapter 2 verses 5-6, he says:
Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God...
Most scholars believe that at this point in Philippians, Paul is actually quoting from a Christian hymn. If so, this hymn must be even earlier than Paul's letter.
So it is clear that by the second half of the first century the apostle Paul believed and taught that Jesus was the Son of God. This was within about thirty years after Jesus was put to death, and two hundred and fifty years before the Council of Nicaea. The claim that Jesus was made divine by a vote at Nicaea just will not stand up to being examined.
Did the Roman Emperor Constantine cherry-pick which Gospels he wanted to be included in the Bible? Dan Brown says that
More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament. (p. 231)
Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier Gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned. (p. 234)
This is how the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, got into our Bible today. However, this is not what actually happened.
Constantine did commission fifty copies of the New Testament. But there was nothing subversive or sinister about this, and to say that there was is just spin-doctoring.
The four Gospels had been widely accepted from very early in the Church's history - and only these four.
The first Christians believed that their message was about things that had really happened in history - that Jesus really was the Son of God, that he really died on the cross, and that he really rose again from the dead. Because these were real historical events, reliable testimony about them was tremendously important. Such testimony had to come from eyewitnesses.
So it mattered to the early Church that their official documents originated with Jesus's inner circle of followers. We have seen previously that the Gospels that are in the Bible were all written during the last quarter of the first century. This is not the place to go into the details of who wrote them. But the early Church was confident that they had come from people who were either eye-witnesses, or in very close contact with eye-witnesses. And that is why they accepted them as authoritative and reliable.
By the end of the second century, the four Gospels were being widely circulated, and widely accepted as authoritative - and only these four.
By the time of the Council of Nicaea, the four Gospels had already been accepted for almost two hundred years. The idea that at the beginning of the fourth century there were eighty different Gospels around just does not stand up to examination.
So where do the Gnostic Gospels come in? We have seen previously that these were documents from the second and third centuries. We have also seen that the Gnostic Gospels do not actually say what Dan Brown says - they do not exalt the sacred feminine, and they do not describe Jesus as merely a mortal man. If anything, he comes over as more supernatural in the Gnostic Gospels than in the Bible's Gospels.
The Church didn't suppress the Gnostic Gospels. They were widely available, and were read by Christians all across the civilised world, for more than a century. The church fathers wrote plenty about what they said.
The Church did not suppress them. But neither did it recognise them as authoritative, and there was a good reason for this: they did not have the same reliable historical roots as the Gospels that are in our Bibles.
Not authorising a document is not the same thing as suppressing it. These people were teaching something that they believed was wrong, and what they did was to argue against them - sometimes in boring detail.
commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike.
But Constantine could not have embellished the Gospels if he had wanted to. As long ago as the second century, there were already far too many copies in circulation. By the fourth century, there were hundreds of copies, maybe thousands. It would have been quite impossible to call them all in and change them.
And what Dan Brown does not tell us is that the Gospels that are in our Bible today describe Jesus as a fully human figure. He gets hungry, tired, angry, sad, happy, and lonely. If you were out to suppress any idea of Jesus's humanity, you really would not want to include these Gospels.
The process by which some documents were rejected, while others were accepted as authoritative, and became part of today's Bible, was a long and complicated one. It began long before the Council of Nicaea, and went on long after.
The four Gospels and Paul's letters were accepted almost as soon as they were written. Other documents, although they were widely used, took much longer to be universally accepted.
In 367 AD, a church leader called Athanasius - who had opposed Arius at Nicaea, produced a list of New Testament books. For the first time, this list was the same as the one we have in the Bible today.
The Church officially recognised the full list of New Testament books at the Synod of Carthage, in 397 AD - that is, more than seventy years after the Council of Nicaea.
Dan Brown's central ideas are that Constantine had Jesus made divine by a vote at the Council of Nicaea, and that Constantine chose which books to include in the Bible, to support this decision, for his own political reasons.
But we have seen that Christians had believed that Jesus was the Son of God from the earliest days - nearly three hundred years before Nicaea. However, it took them several hundred years to work out exactly what this meant.
This debate began long before the Council of Nicaea, and went on long after it. It wasn't brought to a conclusion until the Council of Chalcedon, in 451 AD.
And we have seen that it just is not accurate to say that eighty Gospels were considered for inclusion in the Bible: the four Gospels that are in the Bible today had been accepted as authoritative for nearly two hundred years before Nicaea. There never was a time when there were dozens of different Gospels competing to get into the Bible.
As the first 'Christian' Emperor; as the Emperor who made Christianity tolerated in the Roman empire; and as the one who called the Council of Nicaea, Constantine was important. But he did not change what Christians believed about Christ, and he did not choose which Gospels were included in the Bible. Constantine was an important Roman Emperor - but he was not as important as Dan Brown suggests, and he did not do what Dan Brown says he did
After it served as the opening night film along the Croisette before its worldwide rollout over the next two days, early reaction to the The Da Vinci Code was decidedly mixed, with a majority of the reviews coming down hard on the murder thriller's lack of suspense, slow pace and excruciatingly heavy-handed melodrama.
"A pulpy page-turner in its original incarnation as a huge international bestseller has become a stodgy, grim thing in the exceedingly literal-minded film version of The Da Vinci Code," opined Variety film critic Todd McCarthy.
"[Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman] conspired to drain any sense of fun out of the melodrama, leaving expectant audiences with an oppressively talky film that isn't exactly dull but comes as close to it as one could imagine with such provocative material."
"Tom Hanks was a zombie; thank goodness for Ian McKellen. It was overplayed, there was too much music--and it was much too grandiose," the Boston Globe's Peter Brunette told Agence France-Presse.
The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt refused to grant it absolution either.
The filmmakers "can't do much...with mostly colorless characters designed around idiosyncrasies and weird scholarly talents--sort of academic X-Men--rather than flesh-and-blood personalities," he wrote, though he did hasten to lavish praise on (X-Men star) Ian McKellen for delivering Da Vinci's sole redeeming performance.
Since Dan Brown's best-selling work of fiction, The DaVinci Code, hit the stores more than two years ago, countless reviews have been written on it. Many lauded Brown's impressive story-telling and its intelligent plot of conspiracy and suspense. On the other hand, just as many critics--particularly Christians--pointed out the legion of historical and philosophical inaccuracies in the book. One reviewer remarked that one would need to write a manuscript twice the length of Brown's novel just to correct the errors in the book.
There is no doubt that Brown, armed with his brand of postmodern historical skepticism, has blatantly and deliberately misinformed his readers about the history of Christianity. Among many other obvious wrongdoings, he has committed the serious sin of blaspheming against the person of Christ. Attempting to strip the divine nature of the Son of God, Brown claims that Jesus, instead of having died on the Cross, ran away with one of his disciples, Mary, and started a family whose bloodline continues to the present day. The Bible, which Christians hold holy, was also not spared. He alleges that at the Council of Nicaea the early believers had a hand in altering its content according to their patriarchal agenda.
Against these countless and glaring inaccuracies is there no saving grace for the novel? Despite the fact that many have been led astray by the doubts created by this book, what can we Christians learn from this encounter of a direct attack on the historicity and credibility of our faith? What do we have to say to someone who challenges the authority of our Scriptures? Can we defend the tenets of our faith in a reasonable and informed manner? What do we actually know of what happened at the Nicene Council? Are we familiar with how the 66 books of the Bible came about?
As one examines the history of the church, one finds that such heretical accusations against the person of Christ, the Bible, and the Church are, indeed, not new. In fact, many of the early church councils (including the Nicene Council) were held to affirm important doctrinal matters and to maintain orthodox Christianity.
The idea of Jesus being a mere man, for example, is not a new one. Arius, in the fourth century, taught that Jesus was a created being and not the begotten Son of God. More recently, scholars of the Jesus Seminar movement claim that the Jesus who Christians worship today is not the historical Jesus. They allege that the person of Christ in the Gospels was one made-up by their writers. The historical Jesus, they claim, did not rise from the dead and was merely a man and a prophet at the most.
Do we have anything to say to someone questioning the death and resurrection of Jesus? Can we defend the belief of Christ as completely human and completely divine? Is there any history, reason, or evidence available to us as Christians who believe in Jesus as the unique and perfect Son of God?
Many more accounts can be given of how biblical Christianity is being assaulted but space does not allow us to look at all of them. However, the lesson that we can learn from this is a reminder for Christians to be aware of our heritage. Let us learn how to defend the tenets of our faith. Let us be prepared to give a reasonable answer to those who ask, or challenge us, about the authenticity and the historicity of the doctrines which we call truth.
I'Ching Thomas is associate director of training at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.
----------------------------- Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) "A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words of challenge, words of truth, and words of hope. If you know of others who would enjoy receiving "A Slice of Infinity" in their email box each day, tell them they can sign up on our website at http://www.rzim.org/publications/slice.php. If they do not have access to the World Wide Web, please call 1-877-88SLICE (1-877-887-5423).
I can still see the excitement in Brent's eyes. The zeal of the newly converted. He was sharing his discovery with anyone who would listen. I was a tough sell, but that didn't bother him. How could he remain silent? He'd found Jesus.
Or so he thought.
We sat down to talk over lunch. As I listened to "facts" and "evidence" flow from his lips I realized that he hadn't found Jesus at all. At least not the Jesus of the Bible. Not Jesus according to Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. This was Jesus according to Dan Brown -- a contemporary writer with zero scholarly credentials. The source for the alternative Jesus was a mystery novel Brown had penned called The Da Vinci Code. For Brent it was the new gospel truth.
That was nearly three years ago. At the time, The Da Vinci Code was climbing best-seller lists, but had yet to reach the level of public consciousness. As you know, soon after, it did. Today the book is everywhere. Walk into almost any public space -- a park, coffee shop or airport -- and you're sure to spot someone absorbed in the novel. To date, The Da Vinci Code has sold over 40 million copies, making it one of the most widely read books of all time.
Interest in Jesus is usually a good thing. But what would seem like a golden opportunity sometimes feels like a recurring nightmare. A non-Christian neighbor, co-worker or relative reads The Da Vinci Code and becomes an instant expert on Jesus. Suddenly the Christian is the one being evangelized. "Did you know that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene? Are you aware that the church covered up the true history?"
The Christian tries to refute each outlandish claim only to find the unbelieving friend strangely resistant. Afire with conspiratorial zeal and buoyed by the thrill of discovery, the Da Vinci Code fan is in no mood to listen. The frustrated Christian is dismissed as a hapless dupe or, worse yet, part of the Church's "ongoing cover-up." Now with Hollywood cashing in on the buzz (the movie version, starring Tom Hanks, opens in May), these exchanges will likely become even more frequent.
So what's a Christian to do? Is there a "teachable moment" here? Can a bogus book help bring about meaningful conversations about the real Jesus?
That depends. The story can serve to spark fruitful discussions on faith. But meaningful interactions don't usually happen by accident. Christians who successfully engage readers of the book are intentional about their approach. They are both sensitive and knowledgeable. In other words, they love people and they are willing to do some homework. Let me explain.
Lead with your ears
I have to confess, when I heard Brent's diatribe, my first impulse wasn't one of love. I was angry. I don't know why. My faith had been challenged before. But this felt different. Hearing the ludicrous theories about Jesus' identity evoked a visceral response. How could he be so gullible? I wondered. I was particularly irritated because I knew the real reason behind Brent's credulity: a mortal Messiah lined up neatly with his agnostic beliefs. Though Brent confessed he had "never actually read the Bible" he announced that he couldn't accept Christianity because, it was "irrational." Now, here he was, championing some of the most superstitious nonsense this side of the enlightenment.
Had the world gone crazy? I repressed my irritation but was in no mood for nuance. My reaction wasn't exactly politic. "That's absolute garbage," I interrupted. Brent countered with more "facts" from the novel. I launched into church history 101. Stalemate.
What went wrong? The first mistake was leading with my mouth instead of my ears. How did I expect Brent to listen to me, if I hadn't heard him out first? Letting people talk doesn't mean validating their ideas. It means validating them. Besides, when you begin fielding objections before you hear them, there's a good chance you'll be giving answers to questions that weren't there in the first place. Sometimes the details of the debate aren't the real issue anyway. I knew Brent was opposed to orthodox Christian belief. A more fruitful discussion would have centered on talking about why he was really attracted to the theories in The Da Vinci Code. What about the story appealed to him? Why was he intrigued? Perhaps posing such questions would have opened him up to hearing my opinions, rather than putting him on the defensive.
Defending the Truth
Being sensitive is vital. Until you hear others, they can't hear you. Unless you understand their interests you won't be able to speak into their lives effectively. But Christians must also speak up for truth when the time is right. Some people are honestly confused by the claims of the novel. They are not like Brent -- merely adding the book to their agnostic arsenal. They're genuinely taken in. Hank Hanegraaff tells the story of a distraught young woman who approached him in a coffee shop with tears welling in her eyes. She and a group of friends had read The Da Vinci Code and needed reassurance that Christianity was still valid.
The Da Vinci Code takes aim at some of the core tenets of Christian faith, namely the divinity of Jesus and the authority of the Bible. And it does so with half-truths, exaggerations and blatant lies.
Some have defended the book on the grounds that it is a work of fiction and therefore harmless. However, judging from Brown's comments, he views his novel as much more than a fictional story. In an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC's Today Show, Brown was asked "How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred?" Brown's reply was unequivocal: "Absolutely all of it."
Unfortunately for Brown there's scarcely a historian alive who shares his confidence. When it comes to the facts presented in the novel, the jury is not out -- they never even made it to court, at least not in the world of academic scholarship. John Thompson, an authority on historical theology, compares looking for errors in the Da Vinci Code to "shooting fish in a barrel." "Some pages have so many errors you don't know where to start. You get compounded errors. It is wrong in so many layers it leaves one speechless."
Of course the problem isn't that academics are being fooled by the novel; it's that less informed readers are. The vast majority of readers lack the tools or the desire to separate fact from fiction. That is why Christians must be prepared to respond with solid refutations.
Given the sheer volume of blunders, a successful critique seeks to counter the book's larger assertions. One of those issues is Brown's handling of the so-called Gnostic gospels (later writings about Jesus). When it comes to these texts Brown gets it exactly wrong. Far from highlighting the humanity of Jesus (as the novel claims) Gnostics denied that Jesus was human at all. That was the Gnostic heresy -- that Jesus was God, but not really man.
The list of key issues that the novel distorts goes on: Mary Magdalene, the Council of Nicaea, Constantine, and early Christian views of Christ, just to mention a few. Each of these topics is grossly misrepresented by The Da Vinci Code. By talking unbelieving friends through these issues, you counter the mistakes of the novel and sieze an opportunity to tell the true story of Christ. Dr. Erwin Lutzer, the author of The DaVinci Deception, sees an opportunity in the upcoming Da Vinci Movie:
The movie will confuse lots of people, but Jesus will become the centerpiece of many conversations. For those who are prepared to explain that Christianity rests on solid foundations, the opportunity will be tremendous.
Christians who are interested should read at least one book critiquing the novel. It's worth taking the time. After all, there's much at stake. It's good to remember that when people approach you about The Da Vinci Code you have an exciting opportunity. Listen well, love much and be ready to lead them to the true Jesus. Only He can satisfy their longing and unlock the real Code to life's meaning.
The Da Vinci Code' — Welcome to the Battle! by Erwin Lutzer, Ph.D.
"We are presenting these texts as sacred books and sacred scriptures of the Gnostics."
These words are found in the introduction to The Gnostic Bible, a collection of documents which some believe give an alternate interpretation of the early days of Christianity. These writings lie at the heart of The Da Vinci Code and other kinds of esoteric literature that insist that originally Christianity was diverse with no strict doctrines as found in the New Testament. In fact, according to this scenario, what we now call heresy was originally the teaching of the church; it is we, the traditionalists, who are the heretics!
Welcome to the battle for the Canon!
The word canon originally referred to a measuring rod. Later, it was applied to those books that "measured up" to the standard of divine inspiration and hence were regarded as authoritative by the early church. These books were collected over a period of time; and later generations have always contended that the canon is closed — not open for revision or the inclusion of new material.
Today, this is being challenged. Some want to include the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas in the canon, and others insist that The Gnostic Bible as a whole is a competing canon more in tune with the diversity of our do-it-yourself generation. These scholars insist that Christianity needs a makeover.
So, whose version of Christianity is most credible?
The Gnostics were teachers who combined Christianity with Greek philosophy. They believed that through special knowledge (gnosis means knowledge), salvation was possible. Jesus was presented in their writings as a teacher who could bring enlightenment, but his death and resurrection were not necessary for salvation. In fact, because of the influence of Greek philosophy, which taught that matter was evil, the Gnostics almost universally denied both the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
So, why should we reject their teachings and accept those of the New Testament?
In short, for three reasons:
First, the Gnostic writings are dated after the events of the New Testament had long passed. For example, my Gnostic Bible says the Gospel of Philip (which refers to Jesus and Mary Magdalene) was written in Syria in 250 A.D. So, I must ask: Whose description of George Washington would have more credibility — that of eyewitnesses who knew him or teachers who lived 200 years after his time?
Second, the Gnostic writings have fraudulent authorship. No one — not even those who are most in favor of Gnostic Christianity — believe that the disciple Philip actually wrote The Gospel of Philip, or that Thomas actually wrote The Gospel of Thomas. The Gnostics were known to ascribe their writings to apostles to gain credibility. In the New Testament, Paul refers to this popular practice and warns his readers about such deceivers (2 Thessalonians 2: 1-3).
Finally, the clincher: The Gnostics have no historical ties to the Old Testament but, rather, have their historical link to Plato. Many of the Gnostics believed in two different gods: They believed that the god who created the world failed when trying to make it perfect, but the second god has made things better. They taught many notions that are contradicted in the Old Testament, and thus made no claim that what they believed was consistent with previous Scriptures.
Read the Gnostic Gospels, and you will be not be struck with their similarity to the New Testament but, rather, their radical differences. In the New Testament, Jesus is not just a great teacher but a Savior; indeed, the book of Hebrews shows in detail how he fulfills the whole sacrificial system of the book of Leviticus. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the prediction of "Someone greater than Moses" as found in Deuteronomy are fulfilled in Jesus with breathtaking detail.
I was standing in line at a bookstore when the man ahead of me was purchasing a copy of The Gnostic Bible. The woman behind the counter said, "You will enjoy reading this . . . it will give you an entirely different picture of Christianity."
Of course, I could not let that pass. I smiled and said, "Do you realize that the Gnostics were not eyewitnesses? And did you know that the early church was aware of these teachings and refuted them? The New Testament has much more historical credibility."
To which she replied, "Well, we all have our interpretations, but I prefer The Gnostic Bible."
And this explains why many who read The Da Vinci Code are prone to believe it: Forget historical investigation; forget the need for consistency; forget the need for continuity with the Old Testament. It comes down to the desire to have a tolerant faith that lets us pick-and-choose our beliefs, cafeteria style.
If we bring this battle for the canon back to rationality, consistency and historical investigation, we have nothing to fear. We can't compete with people's desires, but we can show that all the hard evidence is on our side.
Was Jesus Merely Human, or Also Divine? by Mark Mittelberg
Dan Brown makes a claim in his book The Da Vinci Code (pp. 233-234) that, if true, would be devastating to the historic Christian faith. He says through his fictional character Sir Leigh Teabing that up until the Emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in the year 325 A.D.:
* "Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless."
* "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea."
* "Many scholars claim that the early Church literally stole Jesus from His original followers, hijacking His human message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity. . . ."
* "Constantine upgraded Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death . . ."
However, this short excerpt from Brown's book is fraught with inaccuracies. A few quick examples:
* Initially, many people did see Jesus as a mere "mortal prophet," as Brown's Teabing character contends, but the real challenge to their viewpoint came only three days after Jesus' crucifixion when he was resurrected from the dead — not 300 years later at a church council!
* The Council of Nicaea did not debate whether Jesus was called "the Son of God" — this was an established fact that had been known for hundreds of years. Constantine did not control the Council of Nicaea, and he certainly did not invent the idea of Jesus' deity. That was already believed from the days Jesus walked the earth, and it was reaffirmed throughout centuries of early church history.
* Constantine did not control the Council of Nicaea, and he certainly did not invent the idea of Jesus' deity. That was already believed from the days Jesus walked the earth, and it was reaffirmed throughout centuries of early church history.
* Constantine lived in the fourth century, which means that his reign, as well as the timing of the Council of Nicaea, were only three centuries after Jesus' death — not four.
These and many other important issues are dealt with in depth in other articles as well as a host of incisive books written by highly credible authors. In this short piece, I'd simply like to focus on the actual teachings of the Bible and, in particular, the New Testament — a collection of books which has withstood these kinds of attacks for thousands of years.
For anyone who will study the facts, there's no question that the New Testament's 27 books are reliable historical writings, recorded by eyewitnesses or companions of the eyewitnesses, and written down within the first century. Even among the most critical of scholars, these are records from hundreds of years prior to the life of Constantine or the Council of Nicaea, and therefore well worth our attention and study.
The question too many people overlook is this: What does the Bible, which is the earliest and most historically reliable source, actually tell us about Jesus and His identity?
Let's take a brief look at a few of the many passages that clearly and consistently answer that question, straight from the pages of Scripture (NIV translation; emphases mine). We'll begin by going back an additional 700 years before the life of Christ, to the Old Testament book of Isaiah.
Divine Messiah predicted in the Old Testament: Isaiah 7:14
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
"Immanuel" literally means: "God with us." (See also Matthew 1:23; Jesus was "God with us.")
This Messiah would be born a human son, but would have a higher nature: Isaiah 9:6
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
This was a radical statement coming from a monotheistic Jewish prophet — especially calling a human being "Mighty God"; but one that God fulfilled centuries later in Christ.
A couple hundred years later, but still more than half a millennium before Jesus walked the earth, more was predicted about the Messiah's divine nature: Daniel 9:13-14
There before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven … He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
"Son of Man" was the primary title Jesus used for Himself — and this passage shows that this was a clear and strong claim of deity. And in Mark, the earliest of the four Gospels, He also included the unmistakable phrase, "coming on the clouds of heaven" and applied it to Himself (Mark 14:62). His listeners got the point, refused to believe it, and added it to their reasons to try to kill Him.
The baby Jesus worshiped by the Magi: Matthew 2:11
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.
Along with being led to the house where Jesus was living, these Magi were apparently informed by God about Jesus' divine identity — and so they responded appropriately by worshiping Him.
Jesus accepted worshiped from His disciples: Matthew 14:32-33
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God."
In Jewish culture, only the one true God can be worshiped; their actions show that they acknowledged Jesus as being divine. And Jesus didn't correct them or say, "Don't you realize that I'm just a mortal prophet? Stop worshiping me!" Rather, He accepted their worship, knowing He really was God in human flesh.
Jesus' claim about Himself: John 8:58-59
"I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.
This is a powerful double claim from Jesus: first, that He pre-existed his human birth and was actually alive and present (as God) before Abraham; second, that His title was "I Am" — which was the same title used for Yahweh God in Exodus 3:14. His listeners again got the point, and picked up stones to execute Him.
Another of Jesus' claims of deity: John 10:30-33
"I and the Father are one." Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus said to them, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."
It couldn't be more clear than it is here: Jesus' highly educated listeners understood his claim of deity. They only had two possible responses: to humble themselves and bow before Him as the Magi and the disciples had done earlier, or reject His claim and judge Him as a blasphemer. Unfortunately, they chose the latter option. But notice that Jesus doesn't argue with their accusation, because He really was claiming to be God!
Thomas' response to the resurrected Jesus: John 20:27-29
Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."
Thomas realized, because of Jesus' resurrection, who Jesus really was — and humbly worshiped Him and declared His true identity: "My Lord and my God!" Jesus not only accepted this declaration, but blessed all of the disciples — including us today — who came to the same realization and place of humble worship.
Jesus accepted worship prior to His ascension: Matthew 28:16-17
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
Note that Jesus was worshiped at His birth, throughout His ministry, after His resurrection, and again here — right before His physical ascension into heaven. His divine nature, as a member of the Godhead (along with the Father and the Holy Spirit), was never questioned by him or by those who really knew who He was and followed him.
Paul's understanding as an apostle and leader of the church: Col. 1:15-16; 2:9
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. . . . For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form . . .
And in Titus 2:13-14, Paul refers to Him as "our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us . . ."
Paul's letters were some of the earliest Christian writings, with most of them actually pre-dating the four Gospels — yet they make some of the strongest statements concerning the early church's clear understanding of Jesus as the Creator; God in human form.
Jesus will be worshiped by every creature in heaven: Rev. 5:13-14
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!" The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.
The last book in the Bible points prophetically to the time where every living creature will know and acknowledge that Jesus, the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29) is also the God who we must praise, honor, and worship — and certainly no mere mortal whose identity needed upgrading by some Roman emperor hundreds of years after He walked this planet.
Why this matters so much
Some people wonder why Christians are so concerned about a book and movie that are "mere fiction." It's because packed within the pages of this intriguing thriller are real claims about critically important matters of history — including those concerning Jesus and His identity.
But Jesus and his followers made the truth very clear, as we've seen in the pages of the earliest records, concerning who He was and is — and how imperative it is that we understand and embrace that truth. Look at His sobering words about the vital importance of His identity. Then decide who you're going to trust: Dan Brown, or Jesus Christ:
"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
"But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going . . . You do not know me or my Father . . . I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins."
"Even as he spoke, many put their faith in him. To [them] Jesus said, 'If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' "
The Gnostic Gospels and the Canon of Scripture Excerpts from 'Reinventing Jesus: What The Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You' by J. Ed Komoszewski, James M. Sawyer and Daniel B. Wallace
Sir Leigh Teabing, the theological gadfly in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, makes several absurd pontifications. One of the worst is this: "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them."2 He adds, "Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned."3 Most Christians do not realize how much of Teabing's diatribe is pure fiction.
Apocryphal Gospels Gospels not accepted into the canon are called apocryphal gospels. The Greek word apocrypha means "hidden things." Ancient Christian writers who disapproved of these books said that they were apocryphal because they deserved to be hidden! That is, they were heretical in their teaching and should not be read in public.
Several apocryphal gospels floated around in the early centuries of the church. In general, all of them intended to accomplish one of two things: to supplement or supplant the canonical Gospels. Some of them wanted to do a little of both. The apocryphal gospels focused on two tantalizing gaps in the life of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels: his childhood and the three days between his death and resurrection. Those gospels that intended to supplement the canonical Gospels were often written simply to entertain, or to play with one's imagination. Those written to supplant were written with a more pernicious motive: to put forth a different Jesus.
What kind of Jesus do the great majority of these gospels present? One who was not really human. It's almost as if this Jesus hovered three feet above the ground! He didn't need to learn anything as a human being, he spoke in intelligent sentences as an infant, and he seemed altogether otherworldly. The predominant heretical gospel envisioned Jesus as more than a man and other than a man.
The 'Gnostic' Gospels Several gospels have been identified as Gnostic gospels, proto-Gnostic gospels or gospels that at least have Gnostic leanings. The Gnostics were a knockoff pseudo-Christian group that came to be defined by (1) a black-or-white mentality in which all material (including the body) was seen as evil and spirit was seen as good; and (2) a view of spirituality that equated knowledge — especially secret knowledge — with salvation.
Gnosticism was influenced by Docetism, a heresy that taught that Jesus was divine but not human. Ironically, the chief theological struggle that the church had in the second and third centuries— thus, before the time of Constantine — was that it did not always accept the full humanity of Christ, while his divinity was unquestioned. That The Da Vinci Code flips this on its head is, at best, astoundingly naïve and, at worst, historically irresponsible, even deceptive.
Apart from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, no gospels are known to come from the first century. The "more than eighty" that Sir Leigh Teabing mentions (though we have no idea where he got that number from) originate from the second to the ninth century — up to 500 years after the time of Constantine!
The most well known "Gnostic" gospel is The Gospel of Thomas. Most scholars date the original Thomas to the mid-second century. It is "proto-Gnostic," because the full-blown teachings of Gnosticism were not fully developed. Other gospels, such as the gospels of Philip, Mary, Peter and the Egyptians, are also Gnostic, proto-Gnostic or Gnostic-like.
As illustrations of what these gospels said, consider the following snippets. The last paragraph of The Gospel of Thomas (known as logion 114) states, "Simon Peter said to them, 'Let Mary leave us, because women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, 'Look, I shall lead her so that I will make her male in order that she also may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.'"
Here we see plainly the asceticism that found a home in Gnostic circles and an attitude toward women that is hardly compatible with the biblical portrait. The Gospel of Peter embellishes the resurrection narrative as follows: "When those soldiers saw this [the stone moving from the entrance of Jesus' sepulcher], they awakened the centurion and the elders, for they also were there to mount guard. And while they were narrating what they had seen, they saw three men come out from the sepulcher, two of them supporting the other and a cross following them and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was being led reached beyond the heavens." This kind of bizarre embellishment nowhere occurs in the canonical Gospels.
The apocryphal gospels were not the only documents to have fun at truth's expense. In The Acts of John, Jesus seems to be out of this world. John says, "Sometimes when I meant to touch him [Jesus] I met with a material and solid body; but at other times when I felt him, his substance was immaterial and incorporeal, as if it did not exist at all. . . . And I often wished, as I walked with him, to see his footprint, whether it appeared on the ground (for I saw him as it were raised up from the earth), and I never saw it." Clearly, a divine Jesus — but not a human Jesus — is in view.
Rejection of the 'Gnostic' Gospels What was it that made these gospels obviously inferior? First, they were recent productions. They did not bear the stamp of antiquity. Not one was from the first century, unlike our canonical Gospels. Some were from several centuries later.
Second, they emphasized the deity of Christ while sacrificing his humanity. They were usually non-narrative, emphasizing the words of Jesus but not his deeds. Along these lines, they tended to be strongly ascetic. They loathed marriage, sexual intimacy and the bearing of children.
In such documents, Mary, Salome and other women are elevated in their status as disciples of Jesus. However, contrary to the claims of The Da Vinci Code, they were not elevated because of their intimacy (sexual or otherwise) with Jesus. Rather, as women, they modeled for the men what it meant to be a celibate and ascetically minded disciple. These very gospels that discourage marriage would hardly have promoted a picture of sexual intimacy between Jesus and any woman.
Third, when they did give a narrative description, it was often an embellishment of the canonical Gospels — and sometimes a bizarre one at that. Such embellishments show that the apocryphal gospels were later, because they were dependent on the four Gospels.
Finally, they tended to self-consciously promote their claim to authorship by an apostle. The canonical Gospels were all anonymous works to begin with. But many of the apocryphal gospels claim apostolic authorship. This marked difference suggests that they were trying to get on the fast track to acceptance by the church. Since they were not first-century documents, something had to be done to give them an edge. Claiming to be written by an apostle was just the ticket. But in due time, the church was able to sniff them out and declare them heretical.
If Constantine had really picked the Gospels to go into the New Testament, wanting only those that elevated Jesus to the heavens, he must have been singularly incompetent, because he left out all the juicy tales! Although The Da Vinci Code is a fascinating story, that's all it is: a tale, a fable, a good yarn spun by a master storyteller. But it has nothing to do with the facts of history.
1The excerpts from Reinventing Jesus (from chapter 11, "What Did the Forgers Think of Christ?”) have been altered slightly to fit into this essay. Reinventing Jesus is published by Kregel Publications, and is due out in May 2006.
2Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code: A Novel (New York: Doubleday, 2003) 231.
4The quotations from the apocryphal gospels are from J. K. Elliott, editor, The Apocryphal New Testament, rev. ed. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1999).
The Top 10 Errors Found in 'The Da Vinci Code' compiled by Alex McFarland
1. Fallacy: The world was once dominated by goddess-based worship. Religion was originally matriarchal and later (under Judeo-Christian dominance) changed to patriarchal monotheism (male dominated). (The Da Vinci Code, p. 124)
Fact: There is no evidence that any significant religious movement had dominant female deities: They were always linked to their male counterparts, and usually in a subservient role. (See, for example, Tikva Frymer-Kensky's In the Wake of the Goddesses (New York: Ballantine Books, 1993) and Craig Hawkins' Goddess Worship, Witchcraft, and Neo-Paganism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).
2. Fallacy: The Bible has been extensively rewritten and revised. Therefore, its original meaning has been lost. The Christian Scriptures "evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions." (DVC, p. 231)
Fact: "Countless translations" is excessive hyperbole and vague generalization. Without a specific charge of what was translated, added or revised, it is impossible to respond to this point specifically. However, consider the following points:
* Translation issues for the Bible are not different from translation issues for any other document, and cause no more difficulty. The quote implies that there is some great confusion over translation that is cause for concern.
* It is true that there are issues to discuss in terms of translating the Bible from ancient Hebrew and Greek to any modern language. This is a natural function of all translation processes and in no way detracts from offering a "definitive," reasonable account of what was originally written.
* In fact, the means of transmission of the ancient texts, the voluminous quantity of manuscript copies, the science of textual criticism and the art of translation ensure that any reputable modern translation of the Bible is an accurate rendering of the original text. This subject has been covered so comprehensively and so well by so many scholars that Brown's misrepresentation of the facts is inexcusable.
3. Fallacy: "Fortunately for historians . . . some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert." (DVC, p. 234)
Fact: According to Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, Constantine was never involved in any attempt to eradicate any gospels. The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 and contained no gospels, nor any reference to Jesus. They contained portions of every Old Testament book except Esther, commentaries on the Old Testament, some extrabiblical works, secular documents and business records. The Qumran community, which wrote or preserved these documents, had nothing to do with Jesus or Christianity.
4. Fallacy: "The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great." (DVC, p. 232)
Fact: Although the verdict is out as to whether Constantine was a true follower of Christ, he was not a pagan. He converted to Christianity (regardless of his motives for doing so). And he did not collate the Bible. The Old Testament was compiled even before the time of Jesus. The New Testament began to be recognized by the end of the 1st century. By the 2nd century, church leaders were inserting quotes from the four Gospels into their writings. Athanasius recorded the earliest list of New Testament books in 367 A.D.
5. Fallacy: The Bible was "hodge-podged" together over time and is not trustworthy. "The Bible is the product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book." (DVC, p. 231)
Fact: If men wanted to create a new religion, they would never choose one with a God-man as its central figure and a resurrection from the dead as its foundation. (1 Corinthians 15:14, Ephesians 2:20). Further, if men had produced Christianity, it would be man-centered, as are all other religions. In other words, man would earn his way into eternal bliss through his good deeds. Thus, man would get the glory. In stark contrast, the Bible uniformly declares that man cannot work his way to God. There must be a substitute that is acceptable to God according to His holy standard — perfect righteousness. Jesus Christ is that perfect substitute — the one and only way to God. Therefore, God gets all the glory. (Isaiah 64:6, Philippians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 Peter 3:18)
6. Fallacy: Many "gospels" existed recounting the life of Christ, some of which were suppressed: "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them . . . " (DVC, p. 231)
Fact: The "gospels" to which Brown refers are the Gnostic gospels. They were written from about 250-350 A.D., several hundred years after Christ lived. They were written to reinterpret the life of Christ and His teachings, based upon Gnostic philosophy. There were never as many as 80, and they were never considered for inclusion in the New Testament.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were accepted in the 1st century based upon their authorship and their use in the early Christian centers of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria and Rome. The Gnostic gospels appeared after most of the New Testament was already in use and accepted by the Church. Eusebius, the first church historian, affirms that the early church rejected these gospels as soon as they appeared.
7. Fallacy: Christianity as we know it was "invented" by people, rather than revealed by God. "At [the Council of Nicea] . . . many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon — the date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of sacraments and, of course, the divinity of Jesus . . . [U]ntil that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal." (DVC, p. 233)
Fact: The Council of Nicea debated only one issue: Was Jesus coeternal with the Father? (See A History of Christianity by Kenneth Scott Latourette, pp. 152-157.) Although Jesus' disciples were fearful skeptics who initially did not clearly understand who Christ was and what He came to do, after the resurrection they willingly sacrificed their lives for proclaiming that He was indeed God in the flesh. (John 20:19-28, 31; 2 Peter 1:16-18; Philippians 2:5-11)
8. Fallacy: Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. ". . . [O]ne particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the [Gnostic] gospels. Mary Magdalene. . . . More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ." (DVC, p. 244)
Fact: None of the Gnostic gospels contain any references to a marriage between Mary and Jesus. There is no support for this claim in the Scriptures or in early church traditions. In 1 Corinthians 9:5, Paul defended his right to have a wife (even though he was unmarried). He cites as support the other apostles, the Lord's brothers and Peter. If Christ had been married, Paul would most certainly have cited Him as conclusive support for being accompanied by a wife.
9. Fallacy: Christianity borrowed its practices and symbols from the pagan mystery religions. "And virtually all the elements of the Catholic ritual . . . were taken directly from earlier pagan mystery religions." (DVC, p. 232)
Fact: A distinction needs to be made between New Testament Christianity and what developed over time as Greek and Roman converts brought certain non-biblical elements into their worship. In particular, the Church at Rome abandoned the biblical feast days observed by the early church in favor of the feast days of the pagan they were seeking to convert. And to some degree, they adopted the vestments and rituals of the pagan Roman priests.
Most mystery religions, however, flourished long after the closing of the canon of Scripture. Therefore, it would be more proper to say that Christianity influenced mystery religions, rather than the other way around. A careful observation of the mystery religion stories reveals there is a vast difference between the events recorded in the New Testament and the mythologies of the mystery religions. The mysteries were rooted in emotionalism and fantasy. In contrast, Christianity is rooted in history and evidence. The mysteries were a combination of many religious systems, worshipping numerous deities. Christianity is rooted in the consistent revelation of one God who ordained the pure and spotless sacrifice of His Son in payment for man's sin.
10. Fallacy: The book is based on fact. "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." (DVC Page 1)
Fact: Contrary to the book's claim that early Jewish tradition involved ritualistic sex, the Old Testament carefully defined and steadfastly condemned sexual immorality — especially the pagan practice of bringing sex into public worship (Leviticus 10:10-21; Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:24).
The novel contends that Da Vinci painted the Apostle John as representing Mary Magdalene. However, John's appearance reflects the way Florentine artists traditionally depicted John. (See The Truth Behind the Da Vince Code, Richard Abanes, pp. 71-72). The claims of ". . . hidden documents that detail the truth about Mary Magdalene, Jesus, and their lineage . . . " (DVC, p. 160) are based on forgeries. (See The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code, pp. 51-54.)
An axiom of orthodoxy is that Christians must base their faith on the word of God. Sola scriptura, as the Reformers put it. The only problem is, we no longer have the original documents that comprise the Bible. We have copies of copies of copies of the original, but not the autographs. And no two copies agree completely. In fact, the two closest ancient copies of the New Testament differ as much as ten times per chapter. This raises an important twofold question: How can we go about recovering the wording of the original and what is at stake in the textual variants?
Let's consider the case of the New Testament manuscripts. On the one hand, we have more manuscript copies of the New Testament than any other ancient literature. There are about 20 copies of the average ancient Greek author's writings. The New Testament, on the other hand, has over 5,600 manuscripts in Greek alone, plus thousands of copies in Latin, Coptic, Syriac and other ancient translations.
Altogether, the manuscripts of the New Testament are approximately 1,000 times more plentiful than the copies of the average ancient Greek writer. The New Testament manuscripts stand closer to the original and are more plentiful than any other Greek or Latin literature. Whatever doubts are cast on the wording of the New Testament must be cast 100-fold on any other Greek literature. The real problem in determining the wording of the original New Testament text is not lack of data but an embarrassment of riches.
At the same time, as we have noted, those manuscripts disagree with each other — a lot. There are, in fact, between 300,000 and 400,000 textual variants among the New Testament manuscripts. That's approximately two to three times the size of the Greek New Testament itself. But this statistic is far less sensational than it sounds. The variants can be grouped into four categories: (1) spelling differences, (2) differences that do not affect translation or involve mere synonyms, (3) meaningful variants that are not viable and (4) meaningful variants that are viable. We will briefly look at these issues, then summarize the findings of experts at the end of this paper.
Spelling Differences. The majority of textual variants belong to the first category. For example, one of the most common variants is whether the letter nu belongs at the end of a word. Much like "an" vs. "a," this movable nu was not consistently applied in the manuscripts. But it changes nothing: No doctrinal issues are impacted, no interpretive or translation issues are affected. And this is the largest category of variants.
Differences that do not affect translation or involve mere synonyms. The next largest category involves differences that do not impact the meaning or translation of the text. For example, Greek uses the definite article "the" before proper names at times (e.g., "the Mary"), while English does not. Whether that article is present or not does not make any difference for the translation. Or consider the fact that Greek is a highly inflected language. Word order is far more flexible because subjects and objects can be determined by the inflected endings of the words. But there is no appreciable difference between saying "God loves you" and "you loves God" in Greek, since in each instance "God" is the subject and "you" is the object.
Meaningful but not viable. The next largest category includes those variants that do impact the meaning of the text, but their poor pedigree destroys their chances of being the original wording. The wording that is found in a few late medieval manuscripts, or one highly idiosyncratic manuscript, though meaningful, simply has no claim to authenticity. For example, a lone manuscript written in 1847 A.D. gives the title of the book of Revelation as "The Revelation of the all-glorious Evangelist, bosom-friend [of Jesus], virgin, beloved to Christ, John the theologian, son of Salome and Zebedee, but adopted son of Mary the Mother of God, and Son of Thunder."1 Obviously, a scribe almost 18 centuries removed from the original text is not going to somehow record the original wording while the hundreds of other scribes somehow let it slip through their nets! Although this is a meaningful variant, it has nothing to do with the wording of the original text.
Meaningful and viable. The smallest category by far is the meaningful and viable variants. These constitute about one percent of all the textual variants. Whether Paul said, "we have peace with God" or "let us have peace with God" in Romans 5:1 (in Greek, the difference involves only one letter) certainly affects the meaning. But the larger question is, do such variants affect basic doctrines? Remarkably, of the hundreds of thousands of variants, there is not a single viable one that alters a fundamental of the Christian faith. Why, if we didn't know better, we might be tempted to think that God's providence was somehow involved!
The deity of Christ is affirmed in the earliest manuscripts just as it is in the later ones; He rises bodily from the dead in all the Gospel manuscripts; and salvation is always by grace alone. We may not know the original wording in every place, but we can have confidence that no fundamental truth has been tampered with. In spite of those who make outlandish claims otherwise, the evidence is all on the side of the truth. What you have in your hands today is essentially what was written back then.2
1 Cited in Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, 2nd ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), 662.
2 For a detailed examination of the claims of The Da Vinci Code that the New Testament text has been tampered with, see J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: What The Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, not yet published).
This article first appeared in the Ask Hank column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 27, number 2 (2004). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org
When Mel Gibson produced The Passion of the Christ — a movie that substantially follows the contours of the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ death — he immediately became the subject of controversy. Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, called The Passion “a repulsive, masochistic fantasy, a sacred snuff film” that is “without any doubt an anti-Semitic movie.” Maureen Dowd, writing in the New York Times, accused Gibson of “courting bigotry in the name of sanctity.” Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes characterized Gibson as “a real nut case” whose ulterior motive was making money.
Conversely, when Dan Brown released his runaway bestseller The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday, 2003) — a novel that characterizes the New Testament Gospels as “fabrications” and the deity of Christ as a fable — he was immediately lauded as a brilliant historian. Library Journal characterized his work as “a compelling blend of history and page-turning suspense,” a “masterpiece” that “should be mandatory reading.” Publisher’s Weekly called it “an exhaustively researched page-turner about secret religious societies, ancient cover-ups, and savage vengeance.” Best-selling author Nelson DeMille christened The Da Vinci Code “pure genius.”
Why is The Passion excoriated and The Da Vinci Code extolled? Why are Gibson’s motives denounced and Brown’s dignified? Why is Christ’s Passion referred to as a “repulsive, masochistic fantasy” and his supposed marriage to Mary Magdalene touted as a researched material fact? The answer may surprise you. It is not just that in our increasingly secularist culture it has become politically correct to cast aspersions on Christ and the church He founded. It is because of a great reversal of values. Fiction — such as the notion that Christianity was concocted to subjugate women — is being cleverly peddled as fact, while fact — such as the deity of Christ — is being capriciously passed off as fiction. Nearly all of Brown’s assertions in The Da Vinci Code are based on several statements he presents on the first page under the heading of “FACT.” Most notable among these “facts” is the following: “The Priory of Sion — a European secret society founded in 1099 — is a real organization. In 1975 Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Leonardo da Vinci.”
At first blush, this may seem rather harmless; but Brown uses this “fact” (which in reality is completely untrue, since the Priory of Sion was really founded in 1956) to cast aspersions on Jesus Christ, the historicity of the Gospels, and the uniqueness of Christianity. Brown depicts the Priory of Sion as a secret society bent on covering up the scandal of Christ’s marriage to Mary Magdalene — who would have been the true leader of the church if she had not unceremoniously crashed into an apostolic glass ceiling erected by its patriarchal leadership. Much of what Brown trumpets as truth is based on a fabrication concocted by an anti-Semite with a criminal record.2 Brown, however, says he is so confident in the reliability of his claims that were he to write a nonfiction piece on the same theme, he would not change a thing.3
Finally, during one of my early morning treks to Starbucks, a young woman pulled me aside and, fighting tears, asked me to reassure her that the Christian faith was valid. She, along with a group of her friends, had read The Da Vinci Code and was seriously shaken by its assertions. Contrary to Brown’s dogmatic assertions, however, there are compelling arguments that show that the Bible is divine rather than human in origin, that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, and that amid the religions of the ancient world, Christianity is demonstrably unique.4 No one should feel that his or her faith has been undermined by the fantasies and lies presented under the guise of truth in this novel.
— Hank Hanegraaff
1. Adapted from Hank Hanegraaff and Paul L. Maier, The Da Vinci Code: Fact or Fiction? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2004), vii–x.
2. See ibid, 10–12.
3. Dan Brown, interviewed by Charles Gibson, Good Morning America, ABC, November 3, 2003; interviewed by Elizabeth Vargas, “Jesus, Mary and Da Vinci,” Primetime Live, ABC, November 3, 2003.
Why Apologetics? Reasons for Defending the Faith by Norman L. Geisler, Ph.D.
There are several basic reasons for doing apologetics. The first and most basic is that God has commanded it.
God Commands the Use of Reason This is the most important reason of all: God told us to do apologetics. First Peter 3:15 says, "But in your hearts acknowledge Christ as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (cf. Colossians 4:6).
There is also Jude 3: "Beloved, while making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt it necessary to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith once for all given over to the saints."
Titus 1:9 even makes knowledge of Christian evidences a requirement for church leadership. An elder in the church should be "holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict."
Reason Demands It Not only does God command it, but reason demands it. It is part of God's image that we have the ability to reason (Genesis 1:27, cf. Colossians 3:10). Indeed, it distinguishes us from "brute beasts" (Jude 10). God calls upon us to use our reason (Isaiah 1:18), to discern truth from error (1 John 4:6) and right from wrong (Hebrews 5:14). A fundamental principle of reason is that we should have sufficient grounds for what we believe. An unjustified belief is just that — unjustified.
Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." And the unexamined belief is not worth believing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Christians "to give a reason for their hope." This is part of the great command to love God with all our mind, as well as our heart and soul (Matthew 22:36-37).
The World Needs It There is a third reason for apologetics — the world needs it. Many people refuse to believe without some evidence, as indeed they should. Since God created us as rational beings, He does not expect us to live irrationally. He wants us to look before we leap. This does not mean there is no room for faith. But God wants us to take a step of faith in the light — in the light of evidence. He does not want us to leap in the dark.
We should have evidence that something is true before we place our faith in it. For example, no rational person steps into an elevator unless he has some reason to believe it will hold him up. Likewise, no reasonable person gets on an airplane that has a broken wing and smoke coming out the tail end. Belief that is prior to belief in. Evidence and reason are important to establish belief that. Once this is established, one can place his faith in it.
Thus, the rational person will want some evidence that God exists before he places his faith in God. Likewise, rational unbelievers will want evidence for the claim that Jesus is the Son of God before they place their trust in Him.
Results Confirm It Finally, results confirm the need for apologetics. Many conversions are aided by the use of apologetics in pre-evangelism. Evidence is used by the Holy Spirit to convince them that Christianity is true before they place their faith in its Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This was true in the life of St. Augustine, who reasoned his way out of total skepticism by seeing the self-defeating nature of it.
It was also true of the skeptic Frank Morison who sought to disprove Christianity. His quest ended with his conversion and a book titled Who Moved the Stone? in which the first chapter was titled "The Book That Refused to be Written"!
Likewise, at the turn of the 20th century, the great professor of law at Harvard, Simon Greenleaf, became convinced of the truth of Christianity by applying the rules of legal evidence to the New Testament to see if its testimony would stand up in court. It did, and he reported it in the book titled The Testimony of the Evangelists.
Over the past several decades, I have received numerous letters and calls from skeptics or atheists who have been converted upon reading our book Christian Apologetics or I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist.
Many people have been led toward or to Christianity as the result of debates we've had with atheists and skeptics. After debating philosopher Michael Scriven of Berkeley University on "Is Christianity Credible?," the University of Calgary audience voted three to one in favor of Christianity. The campus newspaper report read: "Atheists Fails to Convert Campus Christians"!
After a debate on the rationality of belief in Christianity with the head of the philosophy department at the University of Miami, the Christian student leadership held a follow-up meeting. The atheist professor attended and expressed doubts about his view expressed at the debate. It was reported that some 14 people who had attended the debate made decisions for Christ.
Conclusion Christianity is under attack today and must be defended against attacks from within by cults and from without from skeptics and other religions. But we have a reasonable faith, and the Bible has commanded that we give reasons for it to reasonable people who are seeking an answer. As perhaps the greatest apologist of the 20th century said, "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered."1 1C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 50.
Da Vinci Code Confirms Rather Than Changes People’s Religious Views
May 15, 2006
(Ventura, CA) – Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code , has sold more copies than any other fictional work in U.S. history. With the release of the movie adaptation on May 19, interest in this controversial tale has risen substantially.
A new nationwide survey by The Barna Group says that the book has impacted millions of lives – but perhaps not in the way that many Christians have imagined.
According to the Barna research, The Da Vinci Code has been read “cover to cover” by roughly 45 million adults in the U.S. – that’s one out of every five adults (20%). That makes it the most widely read book with a spiritual theme, other than the Bible, to have penetrated American homes.
The audience profile of the book is intriguing. Despite critical comments and warnings from the Catholic hierarchy, American Catholics are more likely than Protestants to have read it (24% versus 15%, respectively). Among Protestants, those associated with a mainline church are almost three times more likely than those associated with non-mainline Protestant congregations to have read the book. Upscale individuals – i.e., those with a college degree and whose household income exceeds $60,000 – are nearly four times more likely to have read the book than are “downscale” people (i.e., those without a college degree and whose household income is $30,000 or less).
Perceived Value of the Content
Among the adults who have read the entire book, one out of every four (24%) said the book was either “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” helpful in relation to their “personal spiritual growth or understanding.” That translates to about 11 million adults who consider The Da Vinci Code to have been a helpful spiritual document.
To place that figure in context, the Barna study revealed that another recently published popular novel about Jesus Christ – Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt , written by Anne Rice – was deemed to be spiritually helpful by 72% of its readers – three times the proportion who lauded Dan Brown’s book.
Changing People’s Beliefs
The study also explored whether or not the book caused people to change some of their religious beliefs. Among the 45 million who have read The Da Vinci Code , only 5% - which represents about two million adults – said that they changed any of the beliefs or religious perspectives because of the book’s content.
“Before reading The Da Vinci Code people had a full complement of beliefs already in place, some firmly held and others loosely held,” explained George Barna, the author of numerous books about faith and culture. “Upon reading the book, many people encountered information that confirmed what they already believed. Many readers found information that served to connect some of their beliefs in new ways. But few people changed their pre-existing beliefs because of what they read in the novel. And even fewer people approached the book with a truly open mind regarding the controversial matters in question, and emerged with a new theological perspective. The book generates controversy and discussions, but it has not revolutionized the way that Americans think about Jesus, the Church or the Bible.”
“On the other hand,” the researcher continued, “any book that alters one or more theological views among two million people is not to be dismissed lightly. That’s more people than will change any of their beliefs as a result of exposure to the teaching offered at all of the nation’s Christian churches combined during a typical week.”
The people most likely to have altered their religious views in response to the book’s content were Hispanics (17% of those who read the book), women (three times more likely than male readers to do so), and liberals (twice as likely as conservatives). Upscale adults were also much more likely than downscale individuals to shift their thinking based on the novel.
The Movie: A Blockbuster?
Industry observers expect the movie to be a hit. But how big of a hit is it likely to be? And what degree of influence is the movie likely to have?
The Barna study indicates that more than 30 million adults are likely to pay for a ticket to see the film – unless the early buzz regarding the film is negative. The company estimates that the movie is poised to break the $300 million box office barrier, based on the current level and intensity of interest expressed by adults. Reaching that plateau would place the movie among the top 20 movies of all-time based upon domestic box office gross revenue.
The statistics reveal that two out of every three people who are likely to see the movie have already read the book. That means more than 10 million adults who have not yet read the book are likely to journey to a theater to see the film.
Barna noted that if the movie has a similar level of influence on movie-goers as the book has had on adult readers, then about a half-million adults could be expected to change one or more of their religious beliefs based upon the movie’s content. The most significant impact, he noted, could well be on the young people who see the movie, since their belief systems are still in the process of development and are more susceptible to new teachings. Barna also mentioned the potential effect of the DVD on millions more people who do not see the movie in the theater, but rent or buy it for home viewing after the theatrical run is completed. “We know that in a home setting, young people frequently watch movies over and over, memorizing lines and absorbing ideas that they might not have caught during their first viewing.” He also stated that some studies have shown that movies have greater “stickiness” with information than do print materials, possibly making the movie even more influential than the book in terms of long-term impact on people’s spiritual development.
The Barna survey also indicates that the audience segments most likely to attend the movie are people under 35; Catholics; Hispanics; and political liberals. On the spiritual side, people who are not born again Christians are almost twice as likely to see the movie as are people whose beliefs classify them as “born again.”
The data in this report are based on interviews with 1003 adults from across the nation. These telephone surveys were conducted by The Barna Group, during May 2006, based upon a random sample of people 18 years of age and older living within the 48 continental states. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of adults is ±3.2 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. In the research, the distribution of survey respondents corresponded to the geographic dispersion of the U.S. population. Multiple callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a reliable distribution of qualified individuals.
“Born again Christians” are defined as people who said they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”
The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) is a privately held, for-profit corporation that conducts primary research, produces media resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984. If you would like to receive free e-mail notification of the release of each new, weekly update on the latest research findings from The Barna Group, you may subscribe to this free service at the Barna website www.barna.org
Christian History Corner: Breaking The Da Vinci Code So the divine Jesus and infallible Word emerged out of a fourth-century power-play? Get real. By Collin Hansen | posted 11/07/2003
I guess Christians should be flattered. Who knew the Council of Nicea and Mary Magdalene could be this hot? Thanks in large measure to Dan Brown's fictional thriller The DaVinci Code, early church history just can't stay out of the news.
• Da Vinci Comes to the Big Screen: Full coverage at Christianity Today Movies
If only a more worthy work could have prompted such attention. Brown first grabbed the headlines and prime-time TV in 2003 with his theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. But The DaVinci Code contains many more (equally dubious) claims about Christianity's historic origins and theological development. It's left to the reader whether these theories belong to Brown's imagination or the skeleton of "facts" that supports the book.
Watershed at Nicea Brown is right about one thing (and not much more). In the course of Christian history, few events loom larger than the Council of Nicea in 325. When the newly converted Roman Emperor Constantine called bishops from around the world to present-day Turkey, the church had reached a theological crossroads.
Led by an Alexandrian theologian named Arius, one school of thought argued that Jesus had undoubtedly been a remarkable leader, but he was not God in flesh. Arius proved an expert logician and master of extracting biblical proof texts that seemingly illustrated differences between Jesus and God, such as John 14:28: "the Father is greater than I." In essence, Arius argued that Jesus of Nazareth could not possibly share God the Father's unique divinity.
In The Da Vinci Code, Brown apparently adopts Arius as his representative for all pre-Nicene Christianity. Referring to the Council of Nicea, Brown claims that "until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless."
In reality, early Christians overwhelmingly worshipped Jesus Christ as their risen Savior and Lord. Before the church adopted comprehensive doctrinal creeds, early Christian leaders developed a set of instructional summaries of belief, termed the "Rule" or "Canon" of Faith, which affirmed this truth. To take one example, the canon of prominent second-century bishop Irenaeus took its cue from 1 Corinthians 8:6: "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ."
The term used here—Lord, Kyrios—deserves a bit more attention. Kyrios was used by the Greeks to denote divinity (though sometimes also, it is true, as a simple honorific). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, pre-dating Christ), this term became the preferred substitution for "Jahweh," the holy name of God. The Romans also used it to denote the divinity of their emperor, and the first-century Jewish writer Josephus tells us that the Jews refused to use it of the emperor for precisely this reason: only God himself was kyrios.
The Christians took over this usage of kyrios and applied it to Jesus, from the earliest days of the church. They did so not only in Scripture itself (which Brown argues was doctored after Nicea), but in the earliest extra-canonical Christian book, the Didache, which scholars agree was written no later than the late 100s. In this book, the earliest Aramaic-speaking Christians refer to Jesus as Lord.
In addition, pre-Nicene Christians acknowledged Jesus's divinity by petitioning God the Father in Christ's name. Church leaders, including Justin Martyr, a second-century luminary and the first great church apologist, baptized in the name of the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—thereby acknowledging the equality of the one Lord's three distinct persons.
The Council of Nicea did not entirely end the controversy over Arius's teachings, nor did the gathering impose a foreign doctrine of Christ's divinity on the church. The participating bishops merely affirmed the historic and standard Christian beliefs, erecting a united front against future efforts to dilute Christ's gift of salvation.
"Fax from Heaven"? With the Bible playing a central role in Christianity, the question of Scripture's historic validity bears tremendous implications. Brown claims that Constantine commissioned and bankrolled a staff to manipulate existing texts and thereby divinize the human Christ.
Yet for a number of reasons, Brown's speculations fall flat. Brown correctly points out that "the Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven." Indeed, the Bible's composition and consolidation may appear a bit too human for the comfort of some Christians. But Brown overlooks the fact that the human process of canonization had progressed for centuries before Nicea, resulting in a nearly complete canon of Scripture before Nicea or even Constantine's legalization of Christianity in 313.
Ironically, the process of collecting and consolidating Scripture was launched when a rival sect produced its own quasi-biblical canon. Around 140 a Gnostic leader named Marcion began spreading a theory that the New and Old Testaments didn't share the same God. Marcion argued that the Old Testament's God represented law and wrath while the New Testament's God, represented by Christ, exemplified love. As a result Marcion rejected the Old Testament and the most overtly Jewish New Testament writings, including Matthew, Mark, Acts, and Hebrews. He manipulated other books to downplay their Jewish tendencies. Though in 144 the church in Rome declared his views heretical, Marcion's teaching sparked a new cult. Challenged by Marcion's threat, church leaders began to consider earnestly their own views on a definitive list of Scriptural books including both the Old and New Testaments.
Another rival theology nudged the church toward consolidating the New Testament. During the mid- to late-second century, a man from Asia Minor named Montanus boasted of receiving a revelation from God about an impending apocalypse. The four Gospels and Paul's epistles achieved wide circulation and largely unquestioned authority within the early church but hadn't yet been collected in a single authoritative book. Montanus saw in this fact an opportunity to spread his message, by claiming authoritative status for his new revelation. Church leaders met the challenge around 190 and circulated a definitive list of apostolic writings that is today called the Muratorian Canon, after its modern discoverer. The Muratorian Canon bears striking resemblance to today's New Testament but includes two books, Revelation of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon, which were later excluded from the canon.
By the time of Nicea, church leaders debated the legitimacy of only a few books that we accept today, chief among them Hebrews and Revelation, because their authorship remained in doubt. In fact, authorship was the most important consideration for those who worked to solidify the canon. Early church leaders considered letters and eyewitness accounts authoritative and binding only if they were written by an apostle or close disciple of an apostle. This way they could be assured of the documents' reliability. As pastors and preachers, they also observed which books did in fact build up the church—a good sign, they felt, that such books were inspired Scripture. The results speak for themselves: the books of today's Bible have allowed Christianity to spread, flourish, and endure worldwide.
Though unoriginal in its allegations, The Da Vinci Code proves that some misguided theories never entirely fade away. They just reappear periodically in a different disguise. Brown's claims resemble those of Arius and his numerous heirs throughout history, who have contradicted the united testimony of the apostles and the early church they built. Those witnesses have always attested that Jesus Christ was and remains God himself. It didn't take an ancient council to make this true. And the pseudohistorical claims of a modern novel can't make it false.
For more on what the early church fathers can teach us about Jesus and the Bible, see our sequel to this article.
Collin Hansen is an associate editor of Christianity Today magazine.
Thanks, Da Vinci Code Tbe book sends us back to Christianity's "founding fathers"—and the Bible we share with them by Chris Armstrong | posted 11/14/2003
It's been a while since Christian History Corner. We enjoyed reading your responses to staff writer Collin Hansen's fact-checking piece on Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code.
One thing that encouraged us about your letters is this: In the face of spurious claims from a man who poses himself as a historian even as he writes a novel ("All descriptions of … documents … in this novel are accurate"), some of you turned to the apostles and church fathers, to see what they and their Bible really had to say about the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Anything that leads people back to those dynamic early centuries of the church can only help the Christian cause. Obviously no human untruth can obscure the truth of the Gospel. And the first thing you notice when you read the early "church fathers" is that they are completely convinced Jesus is God himself. I'm talking about those bishops and teachers from the 100s and 200s too—long before the Nicean council (Brown claims) enforced on the church the supposedly minority position of Christ's divinity.
True, few Christians need the knock-down argument that these earliest teachers provide—at least, to convince themselves that Jesus is God. We may find that early testimony helpful in talking with those who have become muddled by Brown's book. Or to respond to those who have grabbed hold of that book's "historical" arguments as a blunt instrument against a faith they already dislike.
But the church's earliest teachers—Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others—provide us with many more valuable things.
These were, after all, the church's "founding fathers." I don't mean that in the precise political sense used by the Catholic and Anglican confessions: that today's bishops and popes stand in a direct, traceable succession with all the other bishops (for many of the "fathers" were bishops) back to Peter. Rather, I'm talking about the process of discernment that played itself out in the church's first centuries.
Make no mistake, the questions the first Bible scholars and theologians wrestled to the mat were some of the most momentous ever decided in the church. The question of how the man Jesus could be (as he and the apostles claimed) God himself was only the first of these.
The early fathers also asked how Jesus could be both wholly divine and wholly human—having two natures in one person. They asked which documents being circulated and read in the early congregations could be trusted to continue building up that church in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4, KJV) They asked which of these were most consistent with the first eyewitness reports and, especially, the continued experience of a Jesus who still lived and moved and had his being in his people—the Body of Christ.
But these thinkers faced another crucial question about the Bible—beyond identifying the books that, by the church's second century, had already begun to form themselves into a recognizable New Testament. They asked, what do we do with the Scriptures that Jesus himself used, which describe who God is and how he has dealt with his people before we showed up? That is, how do we read the Torah?
By a few decades after the resurrection, when the church had launched out from its original Jewish population base and was spreading through the empire like a firestorm, this was the question of the hour. The Greek-speaking gentiles, used to their philosophers' high-toned, abstract teachings about a God who was "thought thinking itself," just didn't know what to do with the Hebrew Scripture. It was so—well—"earthy." The God in its pages was always getting his hands dirty in the affairs of humans—kings, wars, marriages. And the Hebrews described God's character with such startlingly concrete, personal metaphors and terms—wings, hands, emotions.
Moreover, how were the early gentile Christians to find life-giving instruction from the Torah's long passages about wars, genealogies, and ceremonial law—linked to an ethnic people to which they did not belong and a temple that had been destroyed in A.D. 70? Surely these Scriptures had been preserved in order to prepare the world for Christ. But where in their pages was the Christian reader authorized to find him?
So the Bible teachers of those first centuries had daunting work to do. And they did not do it in dusty libraries and obscure classroom debates, as we might imagine from looking at the faith-detached work of some modern academic Bible scholars. Rather, the fathers (and mothers!) of the church approached Scripture reverently and with joy. They found in it the Fountain—the source of everything that mattered.
Irenaeus, Origen, and the rest studied the Hebrew Bible (though usually in Greek translation), along with the apostles' documents that would become the New Testament, with an almost physical thirst for God and his truth. They read them in settings marked by worship and the pursuit of holiness. And they believed that as they read and submitted their lives to the Word and their thoughts to Christ, the Holy Spirit was at work to open the eyes of their hearts and to build his church so "the gates of hell will not overcome it" (Matt. 16:18, NIV).
What came out of those "first Bible studies"? Only the central doctrines of the church, and some of the most exciting, challenging (and yes, sometimes downright strange) interpretive work that has ever been done on the Christian Scriptures. Think these first teachers are worth reading? You bet.
John Chrysostom, Athanasius, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Gregory of Nazianzus—Christian History is trying to do our bit to bring today's Christians back to these names, which have become obscure to us. Our Fall 2003 issue is dedicated to these and other early Bible teachers, their interpretive techniques, and the questions they asked and answered.
Working on this issue has stirred in me again the passion for Bible study that I first experienced as a college-aged convert. I hope the issue, which will begin mailing at the end of this month (November), will provide to many readers the same experience.
As we do for each issue, we will also be featuring a new article from issue #81, "The First Bible Teachers: Reading over the shoulders of the church's founding fathers," each week on www.christianhistory.net, starting on December 19th. Meanwhile, if you want to explore the fathers' interactions with the Bible, check out Christopher A. Hall's Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers (InterVarsity Press, 1998). Or, for a thorough soaking in the early fathers' own writings, see any volume of InterVarsity's new Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.
"Don't know much about history," croons the song. That's surely the condition of the church today. So the editors at Christian History celebrate when something comes along—yes, even the Da Vinci Code—to remind us that the best path to the church's future is through our shared past.
Chris Armstrong is managing editor of Christian History magazine.
Why Christians say the book and movie strike a "massive blow" against traditional Christian beliefs.
Why director Ron Howard refused to temper some of the novel's wild claims.
The real problems with "The Da Vinci Code" that Christians find particularly objectionable.
How attacking Christian belief has been Hollywood's favorite plot.
Why the Anglican Church refused to let Howard film scenes at Westminster Abbey.
The simple disclaimer Christian leaders demanded before the movie's release.
How the 1945 discovery of long-lost documents led to specious claims about Jesus' relationship with Mary Magdalene.
The Christian Film & Television Commission's counterattack on the movie.
"Da Vinci Code" author Dan Brown's outrageous claims regarding Christianity - versus the historical facts.
The Vatican's stinging response to the book and movie - and why the Church's reaction wasn't even stronger.
What Rev. Jerry Falwell and other Christian leaders say about "The Da Vinci Code."
How the movie's producer, Sony, has slyly attempted to market the film to Christians.
Why some Christian leaders are actually urging their flock to see the movie.
Behind the scenes: Is Hollywood "buying" support for the film from Christian leaders?
How author Brown admitted "reworking" passages from an earlier book about Jesus - whose authors sued him for breach of copyright.
Brown's bogus claims about Leonardo Da Vinci and his painting "The Last Supper."
How Hollywood megastars clamored for a role in the movie.
The surprising role Brown's wife Blythe played in his writing of the novel.
Why "The Da Vinci Code's" real agenda is goddess worship.
And much, much more.
This blockbuster edition of NewsMax Magazine also discloses how Brown, whose novel is the most successful of all time with over 40 million copies sold, has misrepresented the Catholic Church's Opus Dei organization as a power-hungry, murderous sect - and reveals the truth behind those lies.
The "Da Vinci Con" report is a must-read - and it's available only from NewsMax.com.
Dan Brown’s amalgamation of mythology, maverick scholarship, and fiction created a best-seller. While the conspiracy theory underscoring The Da Vinci Code created a formidable thriller, Brown’s creative license regarding early Church history, belief, and custom has caused a sensation where these inaccuracies are flourishing. We want to set the record straight and offer readers the real facts about history, art, and the true religious beliefs of early Christianity. Was Jesus viewed as divine in his own lifetime?
Scholars and theologians agree that Christians, dating back to Jesus’ time on earth, believed that Jesus of Nazareth was divine. “…the all but universal Christian conviction in the [centuries prior to the Council of Nicaea] had been that Jesus Christ was divine as well as human. The most primitive confession had been ‘Jesus is Lord’ [Rom 10:9; Phil 2:11], and its import had been elaborated and deepened in the apostolic age.” writes J.N.D. Kelly in Early Christian Doctrines.
Was his divinity sanctioned at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. as the novel claims?
No. In The Da Vinci Code the divinity of Jesus was first raised and established at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, and that prior to that time, no one—not even Jesus’ followers—believed Jesus was anything more than a “mortal prophet” and great man. In reality, at no time did The Council define Jesus, Son of God, as divine since this was universally believed by all Christians. The Council specifically addressed and condemned the popular heresy of that time, called Arianism, which insisted that the Son was a lesser god, created by the Father at some point in time and not eternally existent. Jesus has been depicted as fully human in other works of art and film, notably Martin Scorsese’s "Last Temptation of Christ." Isn’t such a rendering of Jesus, prone to human foible and temptation, credible?
“Christian theology teaches that Jesus Christ was fully human as well as fully divine; and certainly there is nothing objectionable about trying to evoke or express in art the humanity of Christ. A work of art, a film or novel or painting that evokes the truth of Christ’s humanity is a good and noble thing, even if it doesn’t directly address the subject of his divinity…Moreover, the mystery of Jesus’ dual nature is one that no Christian can claim to fully understand or imagine…After all, Jesus himself often confounded the expectations of his contemporaries, and didn’t necessarily impress most of them as being divine. Indeed, if any believer today were somehow able to see and hear him as his contemporaries did, the experience might not immediately confirm his faith — indeed, it might even give him a moment’s pause.
On the other hand, while Christian belief doesn’t tell us everything about what Jesus was like, much less what it was like to be him, it does give us certain insights into what he wasn’t. We may be unable to fully apprehend human nature united to divinity, but we can easily understand that certain things would be incompatible with this union. Christian belief teaches that Jesus shared our humanity, but not our fallenness and fallibility. Not only did he not sin, he didn’t suffer from our concupiscent appetites, our disordered and inflamed desires. He was tempted as we are — he could feel hunger during a fast, or dread on the eve of his passion — but his will was not pulled to and fro by wayward passions. He may, in his humanity, have had limited knowledge or insights, but he could not be deceived or confused into believing or teaching anything contrary to divine truth. At no time did he suffer doubts about his divine nature or messianic identity,” notes culture critic Steven D. Greydanus. Was Jesus married?
In Jesus’ time the religious leaders, the rabbis, were married. There is no historical documentation that supports Jesus marriage to Mary Magdalene or anyone else. Was there a controversy with the painting, The Virgin of the Rocks?
There are two Da Vinci paintings depicting the Virgin of the Rocks. The first is housed in London’s National Gallery. It was rejected by its original commissioners, the Confraternity of the Immaculate Conception, because they provided Leonardo with specific dimensions and themes for an altar triptych which he did not execute, not that it had “several disturbing ‘un-Christian’ anomalies”. The original contract was to include a depiction of God the Father overhead, with two prophets on the side panels (The Virgin of the Rocks was the centerpiece). There has been much scholarly discussion about the exact nature of the contract and what exactly transpired between Leonardo and the Confraternity. The second Virgin of the Rocks is in the Louvre.
The Da Vinci Code references “the nuns” in the Confraternity. The real story -- there were no nuns in the Confraternity, an all-male group, brothers, lay men, or both. Brown also claims “the nuns” asked for a painting that would include Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist, and the angel Uriel. Art historians agree that Leonardo didn’t carry out the original concept of the Confraternity – thus the second painting was done.
Opus Dei is described as a heavily endowed and influential religious order – who are they and what is their relationship to the Catholic Church?
Opus Dei does have its American Headquarters at 243 Lexington Avenue in New York City. However, Opus Dei is not a religious order so they don’t have monks, such as the novel’s murderous albino. It is also not a “personal prelature” of the Catholic Church. Opus Dei’s members are mostly lay people; less than 2% of its members are clergy.
The Da Vinci Code implies that the Opus Dei is a “sect” which has entered into conflict with the Church. Nobody can conceivably blackmail others on the basis of the “secrets of the Priory of Sion”, since they do not exist. These alleged secrets are part of a hoax which proceeds from Plantard to de Sède, from de Sède to Lincoln, and from Lincoln to Dan Brown.
Brown writes "the Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven." How then, did we arrive at modern scripture?
The human process of canonization had progressed for centuries before Nicea, resulting in a nearly complete canon of Scripture before Nicea or even Constantine's legalization of Christianity in 313. Ironically, the process of collecting and consolidating Scripture was launched when a rival sect produced its own quasi-biblical canon. Around 140 a Gnostic leader named Marcion began spreading a theory that the New and Old Testaments didn't share the same God. Though in 144 the church in Rome declared his views heretical, Marcion's teaching sparked a new cult. Early church leaders considered letters and eyewitness accounts authoritative and binding only if they were written by an apostle or close disciple of an apostle. This way they could be assured of the documents' reliability. In fact, authorship was the most important consideration for those who worked to solidify the canon. As pastors and preachers, they also observed which books did in fact build up the church—a good sign, they felt, that such books were inspired Scripture. The results speak for themselves: the books of today's Bible have allowed Christianity to spread, flourish, and endure worldwide.
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Debunking Heresies: Looking at The Da Vinci Code through the Eyes of Irenaeus by Joel Elowsky
Operations Manager Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Drew University Madison, NJ
The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven. ... The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book. . . . More than eighty Gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them” (Da Vinci Code, 231).
These words by Teabing, one of the characters in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code who is the mouthpiece for 21st century Gnostics, challenge the idea of revelation and canon, much as his Gnostic counterparts did almost 2,000 years ago. Teabing goes so far as to say that Constantine “commissioned and financed a new Bible which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up and burned” (234). Despite Teabing’s historic hyperbole, it is true that in the fourth century Constantine did commission a new Bible. It is not true, however, that it was for the purpose of suppressing those other gospels. By the time of Constantine, the issue of what would be in included in the Bible had already been decided for the most part, reflecting the consensus agreed upon by most Christians from debates in earlier centuries. There were a few remaining books that were in dispute—none of which were Gospels.
Far from being able to suppress those competing Gospels, two centuries earlier, an orthodox minority was being challenged by the arguably more popular Gnostic sects of its day. One sect in particular, led by Valentinus, a one time contender for the bishopric of Rome, offered a challenge to orthodoxy that was so great and so infectious that the orthodox Bishop of Lyons, Irenaeus, took it upon himself to write A Refutation and Subversion of Knowledge Falsely So-called, otherwise known as Against Heresies. The recent discovery of the Nag Hammadi Library confirm many of Irenaeus’ claims about Gnosticism in his day. Brown’s Teabing would be happy to know that Irenaeus was not unaware of the plethora of Gnostic gospels he mentions:
But those who are from Valentinus who, being altogether reckless in putting forth their own compositions, boast that they possess more Gospels than there really are. Indeed, they have arrived at such a pitch of audacity as to entitle their comparatively recent writing, “the Gospel of Truth,” although it finds no agreement with the Gospels of the Apostles. They in fact have no gospel which is not full of blasphemy. If what they have published is the Gospel of Truth, it is still totally unlike those which have been handed down to us from the apostles . . . (Against Heresies 3.11.9).
Irenaeus argues that orthodoxy had chosen to limit the number of Gospels to four—no more (despite Marcion’s attempt to reduce the number to his mutilated Gospel of Luke)—no less (despite Gnosticism’s attempt to get their gospels equal time). But why four? Irenaeus points to the prevalence of the number four in both nature and Scripture. In nature, there are the four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds. He calls the “pillar and ground” of the Church “the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit” (Against Heresies 3.11.8). His scriptural argument focuses on the enigmatic cherubim spoken of in Ezekiel which had the face of a lion, a calf, a man, and an eagle. These four faces, he says, correspond to the subject matter of the four Gospels: John reflects the lion-like power and leadership of Christ; Luke takes up the sacrificial and priestly functions of Christ symbolized by the sacrificial calf; Matthew relates Christ’s human birth and genealogy; and Mark begins with the prophetic spirit of Isaiah pointing toward the gift of the Spirit hovering with the wings of an eagle over the Church (Against Heresies 3.11.8). Irenaeus also notes that the foundation on which these four Gospels rest is so firm that the very heretics themselves bear witness to them when they use them as their starting point for their own peculiar doctrine (Against Heresies 3.11.7). In other words, he says, anyone who reads the Gnostic gospels can see how derivative they are—and how bizarre in comparison to the four canonical Gospels.
In the first two books of Against Heresies, Irenaeus lays out the bizarre cosmological speculations and numerology of Gnosticism, unintelligible to common sense, but “revealed” to those who are the initiated. His critique is telling in how they construct their gospels:
They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and, to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavor to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions (Against Heresies 1.8.1).
He further likens the Gnostics’ treatment of Scripture to that of taking a beautiful picture of a king and rearranging the tiles into a dog or fox. Their “gospel,” in other words, is one created in their own image—and a very poor image at that. Gnosticism, at its core, creates God and revelation in its own image. Faith, then and now, needs something more solid to cling to. The Gnostic gospels to which Teabing would have us return, however, are only ropes of sand. And for those of us who are often only holding on to life by a thread as it is, a rope of sand just won’t do.
5 Big Questions from The Da Vinci Code A brief guide. by Christianity Today magazine Associate Editor Collin Hansen
Download this article as a Free One-Page Guide to hand out and discuss with your family and friends.
Already an international publishing sensation, The Da Vinci Code now is a feature film directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks. The compelling story written by Dan Brown blurs the line between fact and fiction, so moviegoers have joined readers wondering about the origins and legitimacy of orthodox Christianity. This guide offers brief answers to five important questions.
1. Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene? No. Mary Magdalene was certainly close to Jesus. She wept at Jesus' tomb (John 20). Jesus even entrusted her to return and tell the disciples about his resurrection. But we have no reason to believe they were married. Brown says that Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper reveals the secret. He writes that the figure to Jesus' right, traditionally known as the apostle John, is actually Mary. Not true. Artists often gave characters feminine features to portray youth. John was the youngest of the disciples.
Brown correctly observes that few Jewish men of Jesus' day did not marry. But why, then, did the apostle Paul, himself celibate, not mention Jesus and Mary when he argued that apostles could marry (1 Cor. 9:5)?
2. What about these alternative gospels that aren't in the New Testament? It's true that the Bible did not arrive as a "fax from heaven," as Brown writes. The New Testament canon in its current form was first formally attested in 367. Nevertheless, church leaders applied important standards when compiling the Bible. Authors of accepted writings needed to have walked and talked with Jesus, or at least with his leading disciples. Their teaching could not contradict what other apostles had written, and their documents must have been accepted by the entire church, from Jerusalem to Rome. Church leaders considered earlier letters and reports more credible than later documents. Finally, they prayed and trusted the Holy Spirit to guide their decisions.
The so-called Gnostic gospels, many discovered just last century, did not meet these criteria. Many appeared much later than the Bible and were dubiously attributed to major Christian leaders. Their teachings contrasted with what apostles like Paul had written. For example, many Gnostic writings argued that Jesus did not appear in the flesh, because flesh is evil, or they rejected the Old Testament.
3. Were there really competing Christianities during the early church? Yes—in the sense there were many disputes about the nature of Jesus. And the church has done its best to vanquish challengers to orthodoxy. Once the church decided against the Gnostic writings, they gathered and burned all the Gnostic manuscripts they could find.
Later church councils convened to discuss other threats to Christian orthodoxy. Constantine, the first Roman emperor to make Christianity legal, called the most important of these meetings in 325. Leaders from around the Christian world gathered in Nicea, where they debated Arianism, which taught that God created Jesus. Brown writes that Constantine called this council so he could introduce a new divine Jesus on par with the Father. On the contrary, documents from before Nicea show that most followers of Jesus already called him LORD, the Yahweh of the Old Testament. The church leaders at Nicea rejected Arianism and affirmed that God and Jesus existed together from the beginning in the Trinity. This council produced the first drafts of what became the Nicene Creed, a landmark explanation of Christian belief.
4. What is Opus Dei? A conservative religious group within the Roman Catholic Church. Opus Dei urges priests and laypeople to strenuously pursue sanctification through everyday discipline. The group has taken criticism for its conservative views, zeal, and secretive practices. There is no evidence that Opus Dei has resorted to murder; nor has the Vatican entrusted Opus Dei to violently guard the church's deepest secrets, as Dan Brown claims in The Da Vinci Code.
5. Does the Priory of Sion really exist? Yes, but not as described by Brown. Researchers suspect that members of the real-life Priory of Sion, founded in 1956, forged documents that placed major historical figures—such as Isaac Newton and Leonard da Vinci—in an ancient secret society. There is no evidence for this group beyond dubious documents. Any story relating this group to a dynasty begun by Jesus and Mary Magdalene is a fanciful work of fiction.
Collin Hansen is associate editor of Christianity Today
A Response to "The DaVinci Code": What's the Problem?
Since its release in 2003, forty million hardback copies of The Da Vinci Code have sold. Six million paperback copies also are now in circulation, and this weekend, a major Hollywood movie will be released. In both the book and the movie, the central character is one who does not actually appear in either, and that is Jesus Christ. Because of that, many of our friends and neighbors are going to be talking about who Jesus is and why He came. Many of our neighbors are going to be seeing, perhaps for the first time, an explanation about who Jesus is and why He matters, and our great concern is that the entire story presented in this movie is a lie.
The interest in this book and movie should remind us that there is going on right now a spiritual battle, not only between light and darkness, and between the truth and the lie, but also between life and death. Our great concern therefore should not be merely that people might be confused, but that people would be blinded and held captive by a story that appeals to them, and yet a story that is an anti-Gospel, a false gospel, the very thing that the Apostle Paul warned against when he said, "If I or even an angel were to come to you preaching any other gospel, let him be anathema."
You see, sometimes the church does not remember this, but it is the church's responsibility to anathematize. That is something we don't talk about very much, but it is the church's responsibility clearly to declare as false anything which stands against the true gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in a harmonious age when everyone wants to nod at everything, smile appreciatively at everything, and not pass judgment on anything. In the midst of such an age, however, the church is called to say "no" and to identify the false as false. Otherwise we cannot truly honor the truth.
Authored by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code is a conspiracy story. It is a mystery suspense thriller, and Americans love mystery suspense thrillers. What makes this story different, however, is that the conspiracy theory that lies at the very heart of the book's plotline has to do with the Gospel. What drives the action of the story is the argument that the church's traditional teachings about Jesus are all a fraud. Instead of revealing who Jesus really was and what he really did, the book argues, the church buried the truth in an intentional conspiracy, claimed that Jesus was divine, and said that He had come to save sinners from their sin.
Beginning in chapter 55, Brown gets to the very heart of the story when the central character begins to reveal to another character the truth about the conspiracy. Consider what the character Leigh Teabing says: "The Bible is a product of man, my dear, not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds, man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times and it has evolved through countless translations, editions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book."
Now if that is true, then we are reading a kind of committee report when we open the Scripture. But it is not true. This is one of those insidious statements that makes sense to sinners, because in effect, that one paragraph has just declared that we do not have to take the Bible as the Word of God. It is just a human document, says the book.
He goes on: "Jesus Christ was a historical figure of staggering influence, perhaps the most enigmatic and inspirational leader the world has ever seen. As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus toppled kings, inspired millions, and founded new philosophies. As a descendant of the lines of King Solomon and King David, Jesus possessed a rightful claim to the throne of the King of the Jews. Understandably, his life was recorded by thousands of followers across the land. More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them." The problems here, even from a merely historical point of view, are numerous. First of all, Jesus's life was not recorded by "thousands of followers." Most of the people who lived during that time were illiterate, and there were not going home and writing down gospels or biographies of Jesus. Moreover, the assertion that some sort of committee considered eighty gospels and chose a few--Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them--is nonsense. There simply was no committee that sat down with eighty gospels and said, "We like this one, but we don't like that one." Such an assertion has no basis whatsoever in fact.
From here, Brown writes at length about the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. Here is the central passage: " 'Many aspects of Christianity were debated and voted upon. The date of Easter, the role of the bishops, the administration of the sacraments, and of course the divinity of Jesus.' 'I don't follow, his divinity?' 'My dear,' Teabing declared, 'until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet, a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless, a mortal.' 'Not the Son of God?' 'Right,' Teabing said. 'Jesus's establishment as the Son of God was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.' 'Hold on! You're saying that Jesus' divinity was the result of a vote?' 'A relatively close vote at that,' Teabing added. . . . Many scholars claim that the early church literally stole Jesus from his original followers, hijacking his human methods, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity, and using it to expand their own power. I've written several books on the topic.'"
So what was the real story, according to The Da Vinci Code? Dan Brown writes that Jesus Christ was a mortal teacher, that he was in fact crucified, but that before He died he married Mary Magdalene and had a child with her. After the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the child went to Gaul, which is now called France, and established the Merovingian royal dynasty. Essentially, Dan Brown wants you to believe, or at least he has written a novel to suggest, that Christianity is based upon a huge lie, that the original historical truth about this mortal prophet was buried by the Emperor Constantine in 325 A.D. in order to bolster the power of his own regime. And thus, Christians throughout the ages have been engaged in an exercise of mass delusion--until now, of course.
So how do we answer this? First, we must remind ourselves of some basic truths concerning how Christianity came to be. One of the book's claims is that until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., the church believed that Jesus was just a mortal prophet. There could not be a bigger historical lie. Consider John 1:1-3: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God, all things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life and the life was the light of men." Nothing could be clearer than this, and it is the very heart of the Gospel. If we misunderstand who Jesus is, we cannot possibly understand anything else about the Gospel itself.
Moreover, Brown's history of the Council of Nicea is completely misleading. Actually, that Council is one for which Christians ought to be very thankful, for it was there that the church identified heresy as heresy and preserved the Gospel of Christ. In the early fourth century there arose a presbyter in the church of Alexandria by the name of Arius, who began to teach that Jesus Christ was not the pre-existent Son of God, but that there once was a time when the Son was not. On the other side of the controversy was a bishop named Athanasius. Here was a man who understood the truth, and who also understood that his responsibility as a shepherd of the sheep to warn his people about this false teaching. At one point, one of Athanasius's advisers said to him, "Athanasius, the entire world is against you." In reply, Athanasius said, "Well, if the entire world is against Athanasius, then Athanasius will be against the entire world." In Latin, Athanasius' phrase has been summarized as "contra mundum," "against the world." Surely that is one of the greatest statements in the history of Christianity, and Christians should feel invigorated by the courage of Athanasius. If necessary, contra mundum, against the world! If the world is against the Gospel, then the world will have to understand that we must be against the world.
The true story of Nicea, therefore, was not that the leaders of the church came together to declare Jesus divine, but that they came together to guard against heresy and to proclaim the truth as it had been handed to them by the apostles. Brown claims that Jesus's divinity was established by "a relatively close vote at that." Actually, the bishops of the church came together, adopted a creed to separate the truth from the error, and of the more than three hundred bishops in attendance at the Council of Nicea, only two refused to sign that creed. By any measure, three hundred to two is not a close vote.
How then should Christians respond when our neighbors ask us, "How do you know that Jesus was never married?" The answer is that we know Jesus was not married because Scripture is very clear that Jesus was not married. Is there a proof-text for that fact? No, but it is written into the very warp and woof of the fabric of the New Testament. Jesus' purpose was not to come and marry and establish an earthly dynasty, but to come and save sinners. There is no wife at the cross; it is Jesus' mother, and she is given into the care of one of His disciples. The entire context there is of one who was not married. Also, of course, had Jesus truly been married, it is impossible that this would not have been recorded and told by the enemies of the Gospel, as well as by its friends.
It is not important that Christians either see this movie or read this book. But it is important that we be armed with enough knowledge of the storyline so that when our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members begin talking about this, we can say, "Well, no, I am not shocked to hear that. The church has heard this kind of thing before. I am not shocked to hear that, because there have been efforts in the very beginning of Christianity to subvert the truth with a lie. Even in the New Testament, Paul himself was warning against false gospels."
In fact, Scripture tells us there are many who will prefer a lie to the truth, even a lie that is easily dismissible, even a lie that is transparently false, even a lie that is so undocumented that it simply falls of the weight of its own audacity. There are persons who would rather believe a lie packaged in a glittery Hollywood movie than the truth so plainly revealed in the Word of God. Dr. Al Mohler
Critic's Reviews: After it served as the opening night film along the Croisette before its worldwide rollout over the next two days, early reaction to the The Da Vinci Code was decidedly mixed, with a majority of the reviews coming down hard on the murder thriller's lack of suspense, slow pace and excruciatingly heavy-handed melodrama.
"A pulpy page-turner in its original incarnation as a huge international bestseller has become a stodgy, grim thing in the exceedingly literal-minded film version of The Da Vinci Code," opined Variety film critic Todd McCarthy.
"[Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman] conspired to drain any sense of fun out of the melodrama, leaving expectant audiences with an oppressively talky film that isn't exactly dull but comes as close to it as one could imagine with such provocative material."
"Tom Hanks was a zombie; thank goodness for Ian McKellen. It was overplayed, there was too much music--and it was much too grandiose," the Boston Globe's Peter Brunette told Agence France-Presse.
The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt refused to grant it absolution either.
The filmmakers "can't do much...with mostly colorless characters designed around idiosyncrasies and weird scholarly talents--sort of academic X-Men--rather than flesh-and-blood personalities," he wrote, though he did hasten to lavish praise on (X-Men star) Ian McKellen for delivering Da Vinci's sole redeeming performance. - -Yahoo
"People often ask, 'How much of The Da Vinci Code is true?' I wearily answer that Paris is in France, London is in England, and Leonardo da Vinci painted pictures. Let's look at four areas where Dan Brown's history is bunk," says Sandra Miesel, medieval historian and co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax: http://www.tothesource.org/5_3_2006/5_3_2006.htm
Christianity Today has a range of other articles relating to the topic, for instance: 'Jesus Out of Focus' says. "We really need the facts at our finger tips regarding the apocryphal gospels, their dating, and how the biblical canon became formalized, if we are to answer honest questions with more than wild opinions or silly reactions." http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/006/10.24.html
George Barna comments on the background to DVC: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Perspective&PerspectiveID=4
Da Vinci Code Confirms Rather Than Changes People's Religious Views: rather than guessing what effect DVC is having, see what informed research by George Barna has found: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=238
Mark Moring's wisdom on DVC and how we react to it, is essential reading: http://www.christianitytoday.com/movies/commentaries/downwithdavinci.html
Dr James Kennedy (Evangelism Explosion) has produced a program and video about DVC: http://www.davincidelusion.tv/
Leading literature producers on each side of the Atlantic have quality DVD tracts available. http://www.cpo-online.org.uk/ (CPO) http://www.atstracts.org/ (American Tract Society) See also: 'Using cultural issues to share the Gospel'. That's what the American Tract Society is gearing up to do when the feature-film The Da Vinci Code releases. They've produced six different tracts designed to address questions that arise from the movie. Donna Skell is with ATS, "My prayer is that Christians would take advantage of this movie and take advantage of this book because, you know, you can debate the history, but nobody can debate with you the difference that Jesus has made in your life." Designed as tools for sharing your faith, ATS has tracts available on their website or in printed format. Skell says it's a real opportunity for believers to point people to Christ. "I just hope that everybody will join me in praying that this could be one of the great circumstances that really cause more people to seek out the true answer as to who Jesus Christ really is." http://www.MNNonline.org/article/8610
TopChretien offers 'Le Da Vinci Code: Réalité ou Fiction?' http://www.topchretien.com/davincicode/
Barna group are selling a CD on the Da Vinci Code for only 99c in boxes of 100 - unfortunately this is only in US and Canada: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=Resource&ResourceID=209
BarnaFilms and Highway Video are offering a downloadable 6-minute video - The Conspiracy Game - a humorous but pointed response to the erroneous theological claims that drive The Da Vinci Code: http://m1e.net/c?27701654-SDjF4XCdFTm6s%401603405-MW9KLbbsV6P9w
Leadership University provide their usual good mix of scholarly papers on this topic: http://www.leaderu.com/focus/Davinci_movie.html
A Response to "The Da Vinci Code": What's the Attraction?
The movie industry estimates that Ron Howard's film adaptation of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code pulled in over 77 million dollars in its opening weekend. Despite dozens of critical reviews released last week, and despite well-documented and obvious flaws in the story's logic and history, Americans saw the film in record-breaking numbers.
Now, why would so many persons be drawn to this story? Of course, it is not just The Da Vinci Code, either. Earlier this month, the news media were captivated by the release of The Gospel of Judas, thirteen little pages of reconstructed papyrus found in an abandoned cave that supposedly were about to completely upturn Christianity. There can be no doubt the document is very old. In fact, one of the bishops of the church, Irenaeus, dismissed it as obvious heresy in 189 A.D. What we are experiencing now in the modern age is that the old heresies are coming up all over again. It is a bit like rewinding history, and all the ancient heresies that were tried long ago, opposed by the church, and declared by the church to be false, they are coming back.
People seem to have taken a renewed interest, for example, in the Gnostic gospels. During the early centuries of Christianity many groups tried to hijack Christianity and make it into something else, even as today there are cults and sects who do the same. Because there were so many of these radical groups, archaeologists and other scholars are always coming up with new documents and shreds of evidence--the Nag Hammadi library, for example--and when they are released to the public, the very fact that the church rejected them seems to be proof positive to the postmodern mind that they must be true.
We are living in strange times. Here's the question: Why would persons prefer a lie to the truth? Over the next few weeks, all the shows on the cable news networks and talk radio will most certainly be talking about this new movie, discussing the storyline and the art and the history. They will be talking about the argument this movie makes about Jesus, and the Christian response to it. But what they will not be talking about is this: Why would persons prefer the false gospel to the true?
This is why: If the true storyline concerning Jesus Christ was that He was merely a mortal prophet who came to establish an earthly dynasty and to help us all celebrate the divine feminine and be a part of His circle of knowledge and enlightenment, then the fact is that we do not have to think about the fact that we are sinners. If that is what the life of Jesus is all about, then it is not about how we must be redeemed from our sin, but rather about how we can simply be enlightened and informed. The truth is, the human heart would much rather be told it is uninformed than that it is sinful.
If the truth about Jesus is that he was merely another human being, then God does not lay claim upon your life. He does not lay claim upon your marriage. He does not lay claim upon your sex life. If this is true, then God does not much care about any of that; he simply wants you to be informed. There is no "take up your cross and follow me." There is no discipleship. There is no dying to self and living to Christ. There is none of that, and there is no judgment. All of which sits well with the postmodern mind, for there are many people who think the best news they could hear is that they will never have to face judgment. As a matter of fact, the only way to understand the world around us is to acknowledge that the vast majority of our neighbors do not believe they will face judgment.
The reason false gospels are so attractive and so seductive is because it is convenient for us to be told that we are not the problem. We would much rather believe that the problem is a conspiracy--that humanity has been held in darkness because some have conspired to suppress the truth.
Beginning in Matthew 16:13, we encounter one of those great texts that informs us about the identity of the Gospel, the identity of Christ, and the identity of the church: "Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' And they said, 'Some say 'John the Baptist', others say 'Elijah', others 'Jeremiah or one of the prophets'.' He said to them, 'but who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter replied, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' And Jesus answered him, 'Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father, who is in heaven.'"
That is the central truth claim of Christianity, and in this passage and the verses that follow, we see the constitution of the Christian church based upon this truth--the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Look at Jesus' question to his disciples: "But who do they say that I am?" That is almost like a pollster's question, and it will not be surprising if pollsters all over the country are asking a question much like that one over the next few weeks. Brace yourself for the release of the polls and for all of the discussion about this movie. The newsweeklies and newspapers will be going to Americans and saying, "Who do you say Jesus is? Here is what The Da Vinci Code says, and here is what this expert says. What do you say?" Without doubt, the answer will be a mass of confusion, and that is nothing new. When Jesus asked His disciples, "but who do they say that I am?," what came back was a report of confusion. "Well, some say Elijah, some say Jeremiah, some say one of the prophets"--mass confusion.
But then Jesus turns to His own and says, "But who do you say that I am?" Though Jesus has been revealing Himself to His disciples through His words, His deeds, and His presence, He had never asked them this question until now. Yet Peter says, "I know. You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Promised One, the Consolation of Israel, the one whom God promised, the Prophet that Moses promised in Deuteronomy, the Suffering Servant promised in Isaiah's prophecy, the one who would come and save His people from their sins. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!"
Brothers and sisters, that is why we are here. It is because every one of us as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ have made the same confession of faith, and we have stood in the line of Peter and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!" When we say that, we are confessing together that this is the one who came as the Christ, the one who came as the Messiah, the one who was fully divine, the one who had no sin, the one who was conceived of the virgin Mary, the one who lived a sinless life, and the one who died on the cross as our substitute, paying the penalty for our sins, shedding His blood for the salvation of sinners. "Thou art the Christ," the one who rescued His people from sin, the one who came not only to lead people out of captivity to Pharaoh and Egypt, but the one who came in the new Exodus to lead sinners out of captivity to sin into salvation. "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God," not only the one who was crucified for us, but the one whom God raised from the dead--His own Son, even of the same substance as the Father. "He who has seen me" Jesus said, "has seen the Father. I and the Father are one."
What is our response to this movie and this book? Very simply, it is the response the church is called to every single day in the face of falsehood and evil. Share the Gospel. Confess Christ. Follow Christ joyfully, and show your joy to a fallen world that so desperately needs to know Jesus the Christ. Our friends and neighbors, coworkers and family members are going to be talking about Jesus, because they are going to be talking about a movie. They are going to be talking about a story, and they are going to be allowing themselves to enjoy the idea of a giant conspiracy theory.
In coming weeks, the Lord may well use you as a means of taking the Gospel to one who desperately needs to hear the truth rather than a lie. It may be that the Lord will use you as an agent of clarification in a world of confusion. It just may be that the Lord will put you in such a place that you are going to hear the murmuring of those who are talking about a movie. You are going to hear the excitement of those who thought it was a thrilling story. You are going to hear the critique of those who will talk about plotlines and lighting and all the things that Hollywood cares about. You will hear some people say, "You know, I really wonder--was it true?" You are not there by accident. God will sovereignly place you where you can be a witness to the Gospel and say, "I have a story that will top that one! You want to know an exhilarating, thrilling story? Let me tell you a story that leads from death to life. Let me tell you about who Jesus Christ really is, because I know Him as more than a character in a plot. I know Him as the Lord of my life."
Let us pray that God's church will be emboldened "to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within us." Let us pray that just as the New Testament commands us, we will do so with gentleness and humility. But brothers and sisters, let us do so with courage and clarity. And let us pray to see a church that says in response to this movie and to all falsehood, "We are not afraid to talk about this. We have met heresies before. Just give us a chance to tell you the truth."
Voice of Reason: Exposing the Da Vinci Hoax By Joe Nickell from the Skeptical Inquirer posted: 24 May 2005 06:32 am ET
The record bestseller, Dan Brown’s 2004 The Da Vinci Code, has renewed interest in the quest for the Holy Grail, restyling the medieval legend for a public that often gorges itself on a diet of pseudoscience, pseudo-history, and fantasy.
Unfortunately, the book is largely based on obscure, forged documents that have now deceived millions.
The adventure tale begins with Paris police summoning Robert Langdon, an Indiana Jones type, to the Louvre to view the corpse of curator Jacques Saunier. Saunier has been murdered in bizarre circumstances. Soon Langdon and beautiful cryptanalyst Sophie Neveau lead readers on a page-turning treasure hunt across France and England, propelled by a series of puzzles and clues. Along the way, the pair search for a hidden "truth" that challenges mainstream Christianity. Brown drew heavily on the 1982 bestseller, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln (1996), with Lincoln as the conceptual author.
Brown’s novel is predicated on a conspiracy theory involving Jesus and Mary Magdalene. Supposedly the old French word sangreal is explained not as san greal ("holy grail") but as sang real ("royal blood"). Although that concept was not current before the late Middle Ages, Holy Blood, Holy Grail argues that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, with whom he had a child, and even that he may have survived the Crucifixion. Jesus’ child, so the "non-fiction" book claims, thus began a bloodline that led to the Merovingian dynasty, a succession of kings who ruled what is today France from 481 to 751.
Evidence of the holy bloodline was supposedly found in a trove of parchment documents, discovered by Bérenger Saunière, the priest of Rennes-le-Château in the Pyrenees. The secret had been kept by a shadowy society known as the Priory of Sion which harked back to the era of the Knights Templar and claimed among its past "Grand Masters" Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Victor Hugo.
Brown seizes on Leonardo—borrowing from "The Secret Code of Leonardo Da Vinci," chapter one of another work of pseudo-history titled "The Templar Revelation." This was co-authored by "researchers" Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince, whose previous foray into nonsense was their claim that Leonardo had created the Shroud of Turin—even though that forgery appeared nearly a century before the great artist and inventive genius was born!
Among the "revelations" of Picknett and Prince, adopted by Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code, is the claim that Leonardo’s fresco, Last Supper, contains hidden symbolism relating to the sang real secret. They claim, for instance, that St. John in the picture (seated at the right of Jesus) is actually a woman—Mary Magdalene!—and that the shape made by "Mary" and Jesus is "a giant, spreadeagled ‘M,’" supposedly confirming the interpretation. By repeating this silliness, Brown provokes critics to note that his characterizations reveal ignorance about his subject.
Alas, the whole basis of The Da Vinci Code—the "discovered" parchments of Rennes-le-Château, relating to the alleged Priory of Sion—were part of a hoax perpetrated by a man named Pierre Plantard. Plantard commissioned a friend to create fake parchments which he then used to concoct the bogus priory story in 1956. (See Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax, 2004.)
Of course, Dan Brown—with the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail and The Templar Revelation—was also duped by the Priory of Sion hoax, which he in turn foisted onto his readers. But he is apparently unrepentant, and his apologists point out that The Da Vinci Code is, after all, fiction, although at the beginning of the novel, Brown claimed it was based on fact. Meanwhile, despite the devastatingly negative evidence, The Da Vinci Code mania continues. Perhaps Brown should go on his own quest—for the truth.
Joe Nickell is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal and "Investigative Files" columnist for the organization’s science magazine, Skeptical Inquirer.
Mock Trial for 'Da Vinci Code' By Marta Falconi Associated Press posted: 19 February 2005 09:13 am ET
ROME (AP) -- Art experts and conservative clerics are holding an unusual "trial'' in Leonardo da Vinci's hometown aimed at sorting out fact from fiction in the "The Da Vinci Code'' after many readers took the smash hit novel as gospel truth.
The event in Vinci, just outside of Florence, began Friday with an opening statement by Alessandro Vezzosi, director of a Leonardo museum. He said he will produce photographs and documents as evidence of the mistakes and historical inaccuracies contained in Dan Brown's best seller.
"Leonardo is misrepresented and belittled,'' Vezzosi said in a telephone interview hours before the event began. "His importance is misunderstood. He was a man full of fantasy, inventions and genius.''
The novel's contentious allegations -- namely, that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and sired a bloodline -- have provoked unprecedented protest among Roman Catholic and Protestant conservatives, who claimed that Brown's characters inaccurately malign Christianity.
The book portrays Roman Catholic leaders as demonizing women for centuries and covering up the truth about the Holy Grail, which the novel says is Mary Magdalene herself.
Vezzosi said he will produce evidence through 120 photographs based on documents and paintings with the aim of "reassessing and disclaiming the author'' of the mystical thriller, a mix of code-breaking, art history, secret societies, religion and lore.
Vezzosi said one example of the mistakes contained in the book is the statement that the Mona Lisa was made in Leonardo's image.
"There's a very big difference between Mona Lisa's and Leonardo's noses, mouths, eyes and expressions,'' he said, adding that he will compare two portraits to prove it.
Brown in the past has not said much about the controversy surrounding the blockbuster book, but he told NBC's "Today'' in June 2003 that while the novel's main character, Robert Langdon, is fictional, "all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies, all of that is historical fact.''
Organizers said there would be nobody speaking in the book's defense and the "verdict'' would be contained within the presentations of the speakers.
But that does not mean the book will be completely hung out to dry: Hundreds of fans were expected to attend the trial.
"This initiative has received a lot of interest with people calling to confirm their attendance,'' Vezzosi said.
"The Da Vinci Code'' has sold more than 7.5 million copies worldwide and is expected to be made into a movie. Its success has inspired guided tours in Paris that take fans to sites described in the novel, and it also has spawned a cottage industry in books seeking to debunk it.
More than 10 books have been written trying to discredit the historical and theological content of Brown's novel.
Monsignor Renato Bellini, vicar of Vinci, said the book reveals nothing about religion and contains a mystifying and inaccurate portrait of the conservative Roman Catholic movement Opus Dei.
"This book depicts the movement as a mysterious center of political and economic power that tries to hide the historical truth on Jesus and Magdalene, which is absurd,'' Bellini said.
A representative of Opus Dei is participating in the mock trial in an attempt to reassess the historical truth about the movement, Bellini said.