The Da Vinci Code Movie
This posting will be a little lengthy today, but I would encourage you to read it through. It comes from the blog of my good friend Dr. James White. I believe it gives an excellent foundation as to the issues involved. For these and other developing blog articles on the Da Vinci Code, please visit Dr. James White's web site at www.aomin.org
- Pastor John Samson
May 19, 2006. That's when one of the most outrageous anti-Christian films we've ever seen will explode onto American movie screens. Powered by big stars (Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen) and Oscar winning director Ron Howard, the film adaptation of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code represents the investment of millions of dollars in spreading the clear message that the 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" (234) all at the cost of the truth about the "divine feminine."
If you haven't read the book (unlike more than twenty million others), you may have only heard bits and pieces about its blatant attacks upon the Christian faith. I have had the opportunity of addressing the book in a number of contexts, and will continue doing so in an attempt to equip believers to respond to the onslaught. But I would like to document some of the major errors and the way in which they are presented by Dan Brown here on the blog. I encourage you to take this information and be prepared to use this opportunity to present a strong case for the Christian faith. Yes, you read that correctly. We need to see that attacks upon the faith are opportunities if we are prepared and if we are willing to count the cost and go against the cultural flow. We all know that nothing like this could ever be produced if the main target were, rather than the Bible and Christianity, the Quran and the Muslim faith, or Judaism. No, that would never be allowed, but Christianity is fair game at Sony Pictures, that's for certain. But since it is going to appear, we need to be ready to take advantage of it, and provide not only a strong denunciation of its errors, but a positive presentation of the truth of Scripture. And in doing so, we need to be willing to draw clear lines between those who call themselves Christians and yet are unwilling to view Scripture as Christ did, and ourselves.
Very shortly after posting the previous article the following e-mail was sent through our aomin website:
Someone at Alpha and Omega ministries might like to encourage James White to point out at the beginning of his blog that The Da Vinci Code is marketed as a fictional story. Fiction defined as: a making up of imaginary happenings. He should point out that there is no need for any defense except to point out the fact that the author himself has marketed the work as not true. There is no need to argue with an author who never claimed to be telling the truth in the first place. It is a movie made for entertainment value and nothing more. Such a story is meant to be enjoyed, not critiqued. The arguments made in this book should not be addressed unless they are common arguments found in more serious venues. Because of this there is no need to badmouth the book itself, but it may be helpful to address its fictional claims if it serves to educate others.
Are we making a mountain out of a mole-hill? Should we just laugh at the The Da Vinci Code, enjoy the story, and ignore the statements it makes about the Scriptures, Christ, the apostles, the Church, etc.? Does this author have a point?
The answer is sadly very clear. No, this writer has not taken the time to consider this issue very deeply, nor has he listened to Dan Brown talk about his own book. I would suggest this reader check this page and listen to the mp3 linked on it as well. You will see that the story of this book reflects Brown's own "research" on the subjects. You don't do "research" for years on material that is merely "fiction." Instead, the book is presented as fiction based on facts. The book itself begins by stating that what it says about art, architecture, and documents, is authentic.
Authentic is not a synonym for "fiction." And that brings us to the key issue: no one is arguing Langdon or Teabing actually exist. They are the fictional characters. But the assertions they make, in the guise of setting the foundation for the central conspiracy theory of the book, are presented not as fiction, or mere speculations. They are presented as unquestioned historical facts.
In his talk linked above Brown makes the following statement which, I believe, fully confirms the need for the responses that we have provided, and will provide in the future. He said,
"I am not the first person to tell the story of Mary Magdalene and the Holy Grail. This idea is centuries old. I am one in a long line of people who has offered up this alternative history. The Da Vinci Code describes history as I have come to understand it through many years of travel, research, reading, interviews, exploration."
These are not the words of someone who is merely offering fiction without factual basis. He presents his assertions regarding the complete and utter textual emendation of the Scriptures as historical facts: and he clearly believes this to be true, and the movie presents these accusations as historical facts. There is no doubt about any of this.
The following citations from the above linked page (which reflects, often verbatim, the linked talk Brown gave) provide more than sufficient basis for responding to Brown's attacks upon the Christian faith by demonstrating the fact that his historical claims are simply false:
While the book's characters and their actions are obviously not real, the artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals depicted in this novel all exist (for example, Leonardo Da Vinci's paintings, the Gnostic Gospels, Hieros Gamos, etc.). These real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters. While it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters' viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations.
BUT DOESN'T THE NOVEL'S "FACT" PAGE CLAIM THAT EVERY SINGLE WORD IN THIS NOVEL IS HISTORICAL FACT?
If you read the "FACT" page, you will see it clearly states that the documents, rituals, organization, artwork, and architecture in the novel all exist. The "FACT" page makes no statement whatsoever about any of the ancient theories discussed by fictional characters.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF CLERICAL SCHOLARS ATTEMPTING TO "DISPROVE" THE DA VINCI CODE?
The dialogue is wonderful. These authors and I obviously disagree, but the debate that is being generated is a positive powerful force. The more vigorously we debate these topics, the better our understanding of our own spirituality. Controversy and dialogue are healthy for religion as a whole. Religion has only one true enemy--apathy--and passionate debate is a superb antidote. I simply note in passing: how do you "debate" fiction? Does this not prove that the historical material he presents he does, in fact, believe to be historical?
SOME OF THE HISTORY IN THIS NOVEL CONTRADICTS WHAT I LEARNED IN SCHOOL. WHAT SHOULD I BELIEVE?
Since the beginning of recorded time, history has been written by the "winners" (those societies and belief systems that conquered and survived). Despite an obvious bias in this accounting method, we still measure the "historical accuracy" of a given concept by examining how well it concurs with our existing historical record. Many historians now believe (as do I) that in gauging the historical accuracy of a given concept, we should first ask ourselves a far deeper question: How historically accurate is history itself?
Clearly the "it's just fiction, don't worry about it" defense fails the test of the author's own words and intentions, let alone the fact that a large portion of those reading the book, or, in May of next year, viewing the film, will consider it "fiction based upon fact." And hence we move forward in our refutation of the many falsehoods presented as historical facts in The Da Vinci Code.
The Da Vinci Code (hereafter TDVC) is not one big long attack upon the Christian faith. In fact, if you fall asleep for about ten minutes in the film...ok, and run to the bathroom a little later for another couple of minutes...you'll probably miss the main objectionable portions. But more problematic, from an evangelism/apologetics viewpoint is just this: the anti-Christian material in the book is absolutely central to the plot; therefore, I can't possibly see how it can be "cleaned up" in the movie version, even if there was a reason for Ron Howard to do so. And since it is central to the theme, it is the main thing the reader, or the movie-goer, takes from the experience. "What if...?"
The primary section of the work in which this material is found comes as Langdon and Sophie are running from the police, bearing the cryptex, the key to the location of the Holy Grail. They go to Leigh Teabing's residence. Teabing is an eccentric old man, an expert on the Grail legends, and far more involved in the entire story than Langdon and Sophie know. In any case, they enter into Teabing's library and there educate Sophie, who we later find out is actually a descendant of Mary Magdalene and hence of the "royal bloodline," about the "true nature" of the Holy Grail. The fundamental nature of the book's attack upon the Christian faith can be seen when Teabing and Langdon begin weaving their conspiracy theory:
Sophie sensed a rising air of academic anticipation now in both of her male companions.
"To fully understand the Grail," Teabing continued, "we must first understand the Bible. How well do you know the New Testament?" (230)
Teabing produces quotes from da Vinci, "Many have made a trade of delusions and false miracles, deceiving the stupid multitude" and "Blinding ignorance does mislead us. O! Wretched mortals, open your eyes!" (231), informing Sophie that da Vinci was talking about the Bible. He continues,
"And everything you need to know about the Bible can be summed up by the great canon doctor Martyn Percy." Teabing cleared his throat and declared, "The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven."
"I beg your pardon?"
"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. (231)
This bald denial of the divine origin of the Christian Bible garners a compelling response from Sophie, "Okay." Indeed, the fact that there are meaningful replies to such assertions is never even acknowledged. In fact, Brown makes it plain through his characters that these facts are so well known that all educated Christians know them (and those who do not are obviously not educated, p. 234).
Now, one could argue that the true Christian view of the Scriptures is not even in view here: God did not, in fact, "fax" the Bible down. He did not produce it through automatic writing, either. As Peter put it, "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). But clearly Brown is not even aware of these central elements of Christian faith. He is speaking as an outsider, and his target is the divine nature of the Scriptures themselves. This can be seen in asserting the Bible is human in origin, rather than divine. "Not of God" is a fairly bald statement. The Bible is a human document, and it is subject to human editing and alteration, a central aspect of the theory being presented. The use of the term "evolved" without any explanation of what this could possibly mean (is Brown ignorant of the fact that modern translations are translated directly from Greek and Hebrew?) is likewise problematic. "Additions" and "revisions" are thrown out without any qualification outside of one thing: we know these are human additions and revisions, not divine. And finally, we can't even know what the Bible is, allegedly, for "history has never had a definitive version of the book." Of course, one would have to ask who gets to define "definitive" in this context as well.
The key note in this opening attack on the Word will be expanded greatly in what comes after: just as the Jesus Seminar seeks, at its start, to find a way to present a "new" kind of Jesus that "fits" a secular age, so too Brown seeks to present a radically different view of Christ as well. And what is the sole barrier to such a theory? Well, the Word of God, of course. So, you have to deny the divine nature of the Scriptures before you can ever hope to establish your theories.
But, since Brown hides behind the "fiction" mantle, he can make these bald statements without bothering to provide any kind of substantiation, and this will only become more frustrating with each passing page and each passing denial of the inspiration of the Word of God.
Upon announcing his sweeping attack upon the validity of the Bible, Brown continues his work through the dialogue of his characters. Sophie's in-depth response, "Okay," then leads to these claims by Teabing:
"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 inclusionMatthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.
"Who chose which gospels to include?" Sophie asked.
"Aha!" Teabing burst in with enthusiasm. "The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great." (231)
This is quite the mixture of claims, some of which are not overly consistent with others, and this gives us a possible "hook" in talking to devotees of the book and opening up a dialogue on the errors and inconsistencies of Brown's position. Brown says Jesus was the promised Messiah. That would mean the Old Testament, at the very least, contains valid prophecy, divine prediction of future events, and that Christ fulfilled those prophecies. Well, obviously, if the Old Testament is accurate enough, "inspired" enough, to contain true prophecy, then would it not follow that God could protect the New Testament as well? Once Brown opens the door on that level, we might as well step through and begin to press the same claims that the Lord taught us to use:
And He said to them, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?" Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)
I am uncertain how Jesus toppled kings, of course: His influence, over history, has certainly done so, but Jesus' ministry was only noticed by men as high as Pilate and Herod, surely not Caesar in far away Rome. He has indeed inspired hundreds of millions, but only through the testimony of His teachings as recorded in the very documents Brown has already undercut and will soon identify as little more than politically-motivated lies.
Now, though at other points Brown will compete with the Jesus Seminar in promoting the most radical viewpoints of the corruption of the text of the New Testament, here he goes the other direction and goes far beyond anything the most conservative Christian could ever assert regarding the ministry of Christ: specifically, he claims that Jesus' life was recorded by "thousands" of His followers. We need to realize how utterly outside the realm of any kind of published scholarship this perspective is. Thousands of literate, writing followers of Christ recording His ministry? Where is the historical evidence for this? There is none, of course. It is wishful thinking at best---and self-contradictory wishful thinking, too, since he then insists that eighty gospels were considered for inclusion in the New Testament, itself a completely bogus claim, but still, one wonders what happened to the "thousands" of others recorded by these anonymous followers of Jesus? The willy-nilly methodology used by Brown is simply beyond belief, and once again, he hides behind the "fiction" claim so as to claim he spent years "researching" the book and "studying" the subject---but he doesn't have to provide references to back up such outrageous claims as these.
The next line has caused me to chuckle every time I have addressed it in my seminars... "yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them." Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them? Hmm...what others once were in these relative "few" that were "chosen" outside of the four canonical gospels? Is he seriously suggesting that Thomas, or Mary, or any of the others were "chosen"? No, for he goes on to say that it was Constantine who chose which gospels would be in the canon, and then he argues Constantine specifically repudiated those works. So, what other gospels did Constantine choose? We aren't told. This is probably just a mistake that the copy editors did not catch (since it would require some level of biblical knowledge to recognize it, and that is surely not something that marks off The Da Vinci Code).
Now let's remember a little history here. Between the death and resurrection of Christ (appx. AD 33) and the Council of Nicea (AD 325) almost a full three centuries passed. During the vast majority of that time the Christian church was a religio illicita, an illegal or banned religion, under the persecution of the Empire. That does not mean there was empire-wide persecution at all times. In fact, there were period of peace, depending on who was Emperor and how much they wished to pursue the issue. Often persecution was locally severe in one area, and non-existent in another. It all depended on circumstances. But early Christians were writing during this time, and we have sufficient amounts of their writings to get a pretty good idea of what they believed and what they viewed as Scripture. Brown will ignore all of this material and simply make things up as he goes along when it comes to this topic and especially to the issue of the deity of Christ.
The claim that Constantine "collated" the Christian Scriptures, though tremendously common, is likewise just as tremendously wrong. That is why I wrote "What Really Happened at Nicea?" for the CRI Journal (July/August, 1997). I kept running into Mormons who claimed Constantine had determined the canon at Nicea as well: and of course, there isn't a shred of historical basis for making such a claim. The closest you can possibly come is to note that Constantine paid to have a number of Bibles copied (possibly the occasion for the production of a, Codex Sinaiticus). This hardly means he had the slightest interest whatsoever in the canon of Scripture, the content of Scripture, etc. The fact of the matter is the canon was not an issue of discussion at Nicea, and would not take a center stage for many more decades, long after Constantine's death.
The reason Brown is going this direction will become evident as soon as his conspiracy theory unfolds. He has to have Constantine in a position to radically corrupt the Scriptures to make his story about the "Holy Grail" work.
After mentioning Constantine, Teabing goes on to insist he remained a pagan his entire life. While that could be argued, at least at this point you do have disagreements amongst historians as to the exact state of Constantine's religion. He then continues, insisting that "Christians and pagans began warring, and the conflict grew to such proportions that it threatened to rend Rome in two." I don't believe the Christians can be blamed for warring with pagans as much as the infighting within the church itself was at issue. Be that as it may, Constantine clearly saw the conflict arising out of the Arian controversy as a threat to the peace he so desperately needed to keep the Empire united. But Brown can't give us the truth about the real reasons for the Council of Nicea. Why? Because he is going to tell us that Constantine made up the deity of Christ at this point in time. Yet, the disagreement was over that very issue! If Constantine made up the concept, and no one prior to Nicea believed in the deity of Christ, there couldn't have been a controversy over the idea! So Brown is forced to ignore the actual historical reasons for the calling of the Council of Nicea so as to "fit" the event with his theories.
Teabing goes on to naively assert that in AD 325 Constantine just up and decided to bet on Christianity as the future religion of the Empire. He forgets to mention that in reality Constantine showed himself to be the consumate politician indeed: but in a fashion that completely contradicts his thesis. Specifically, the Council of Nicea did not end the controversy that had been brewing for years beforehand due to the conflict between Arius and Alexander of Alexandria over the deity of Christ: in fact, even after Constantine's death, Arianism reigned supreme in the external, visible church. If it had been Constantine's purpose to use the deity of Christ as his anti-feminine trump card, he failed, miserably, to follow through on his plans. He only cared about keeping the peace: if that was through enforcing Nicea, or a later council, it didn't matter much to him.
Beyond this, Brown seems ignorant of the fact that Nicea took place a scant dozen years after the "peace of the church," the official ending of imperial persecution of Christianity itself. I have always found it amazing that people would think that the very men who had suffered so much for so long under the heel of Rome, refusing to deny their faith, would, a scant decade later, collapse in disarray in allowing the Emperor to determine the heart of their own faith. Brown's theory is simply laughable at this point: he will, as we will see, actually assert that up until this point in time no one actually believed in the deity of Christ. Constantine foisted it upon the church out of whole cloth, and we are actually supposed to believe that they went along, though Brown again causes the historically aware to laugh hysterically at his assertion that the vote on the matter at Nicea was "close."
Don't be fooled: the Constantinian era is, in fact, a turning point in Christian history, but not for the reasons Brown alleges. He can mix in just a small amount of truth with a huge dose of utter foolishness to create his story. He notes that various pagan symbols entered into the faith during the same time period, and you can certainly make a case that the period during which the church went from persecuted minority to "religion of the Empire" was one during which many unbelievers entered into the formal membership of the church and they brought their baggage with them. But to assume this was purposeful on Constantine's part once again begs both the question and the historical sources. The fact of the matter is, Constantine simply did not have the kind of power that would have been required to do even 1/10th of everything Brown, via his characters, alleges.
Having endowed Constantine with a-historical super-powers and credited him with doing things he never did, would never have had any interest in doing, could never have accomplished, and in fact, would have worked against his actual historical interests, Dan Brown continues the demolition of his historical credibility, but at least for a moment he sounds like so many others who blandly throw out the "Christianity just borrowed paganism" line, especially when it involves "dying and rising Saviors." So at least when this old canard is thrown out, at least Brown isn't completely alone in repeating it. But, that only proves that at this point he is just as guilty as all the rest in ignoring the fundamental difference between pagan stories of dying/rising gods and the unique Christian teaching of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As common as the allegation is, even a moment's reflection upon the vast difference between a polytheistic religion with the concept of anthropomorphic gods (gods with physical bodies) that are able to co-habit with human beings and the exalted monotheism of Judaism and Christianity shows one the absurdity of the parallel. Gods dying and rising may be common in polytheistic religions---but in the monotheism of Christianity and of the Jewish/Christian scriptures, the concept of incarnation and resurrection becomes utterly and completely unique. Just witness the Islamic revulsion at the concept of incarnation and you can see how tremendously unique is the idea. Further, you have the Jewish Scriptures and their prophetic witness to the life and ministry of Christ, something completely missing in any allegedly parallel pagan myth. Every time I hear someone casually throwing this alleged parallel out I have to shake my head in amazement at how facile and shallow such reasoning is.
Brown then even tries his hand at the "Constantine changed the Sabbath" argument, ignoring the presence of the phrase "the day of the Lord" in the Christian Scriptures and the wide witness to the celebration of Christian worship on Sunday in the early Christian documents (which, for Brown, don't even seem to exist). Once again the anachronism in Brown's fanciful claims is so strong as to be humorous. From here Brown moves into his unique description of the Council of Nicea itself. Here we begin to see the central anti-Christian thrust of TDVC:
"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 man nonetheless. A mortal."
"Not the Son of God?"
"Right," Teabing said. "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea." (233)
Here we see what is arguably the most absurd, ridiculous, easily refuted claim of TDVC: and yet, it is central to the entire thesis of the book's reconstruction of history itself. We could spend a great deal of time refuting this assertion, and will do so in the next installments. For now, I will allow two ancient witnesses to speak to prove that Dan Brown, Doubleday, and everyone associated with the upcoming film, are making their millions at the cost of truth itself:
From AD 108, Ignatius to the church at Ephesus: "Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to her who has been blessed in greatness through the fulness of God the Father, ordained before time to be always resulting in permanent glory, unchangeably united and chosen in true passion, by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ, our God, to the church which is in Ephesus of Asia, worthy of felicitation: abundant greetings in Jesus Christ and in blameless joy." (Ephesians 1)
Mark 1:1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
One of the most eloquent testimonies to the error of Dan Brown and the ridiculous and outrageous claims of TDVC regarding the "creation" of the deity of Christ by Constantine is found in the sermon on the Passover preached around twenty years before the end of the second century by Melito, bishop of Sardis. I included my translation of this tremendous section in my book, The Forgotten Trinity, and reproduce it here. Remember, this sermon was preached approximately 145 years prior to Nicea, 130 years prior to Constantine's battle at the Milvian Bridge (where he allegedly saw the sign of the cross in the sky and the phrase, "in this sign, conquer"). As you read these words, rejoice, as I rejoice, at the thought of this ancient believer and the fact that he reveled in the truth about the God-man Jesus Christ just as we do today! Oh that we had more preaching like this in our land today!
And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed. Who was it? It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling. But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!
He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place.
He who made all things fast is made fast on a tree.
The Sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.
This is the One who made the heavens and the earth,
and formed mankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things which exist from the beginning of time.
This One is "the Alpha and the Omega,"
This One is "the beginning and the end"
the beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.
This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.
This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.
"To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen."
He was on his way to his death, and he knew it. The story of Ignatius, the great bishop of Antioch, one of the early Christian martyrs, is well known, at least to those with an interest in church history (which limits things a good bit these days). Unwilling to compromise, Ignatius happily, as an aged man, embraced his departure to be with Christ. As he traveled to Rome to face death, he wrote to individuals and churches, and those letters have come down to us over the intervening centuries in Greek and Latin versions. Evidently, Dan Brown's extensive "historical research" for TDVC missed his letters, written in 107 or 108 (that's 200+ years prior to the Council of Nicea). If he had bothered to read these works, he would have known that claiming Constantine "made up" the deity of Christ or His position as the Son of God would be a historical blunder on the level of saying Jimmy Carter ran against George Washington for the Presidency of the United States.
Here is a selection from Ignatius' genuine writings (there is a body of pseudo-Ignatian literature as well) that testify to his view of the Lord Jesus Christ. For more information on this, and the apologetic relevance of Ignatius in light of a tremendously gross attempt to misrepresent him by the Watchtower Society a number of years ago, click here. (see original blog entry at www.aomin.org)
His words to the Ephesians identifying Jesus as God were noted in our previous entry. [Which reminds me: the Yahoo! article rendered the inscription found in the ancient church as "the god, Jesus Christ," but in reality, the underlying Greek is probably almost identical to Ignatius' phrase here, and whether you render it "the god" or "God" is dependent upon the translator and the context. Hence, the inscription [without having seen the actual Greek as yet] could be rendered "to the God, Jesus Christ" just as in Ignatius. This is, in fact, how it is rendered here.]
My spirit is but an offscouring of the cross, which is a scandal to the unbelieving, but to us it is salvation and life eternal. Where is the wise man? Where is the disputer? Where is the boasting of those who are called understanding? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to a dispensation of God, from the seed of David, yes, but of the Holy Spirit as well. (Ephesians 18)
Notice not only the explicit affirmation of the deity of Christ, but likewise the very high view of Christ stated as well: Ignatius clearly viewed Jesus as the God-man, affirming both his humanity and his Deity, as we will see in another citation below.
Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, unto her that hath found mercy in the bountifulness of the Father Most High and of Jesus Christ His only Son; to the church that is beloved and enlightened through the will of Him who willed all things that are, by faith and love towards Jesus Christ our God; even unto her that hath the presidency in the country of the region of the Romans...(Romans 1).
Note here that 1) in the very salutation of the letter the deity of Christ is plainly present, again showing its centrality to the faith of the early believers; 2) in passing, Ignatius, though he names other bishops (like Polycarp) when he writes to the church at Rome he does not do so. Why? Because there was no single bishop at Rome at this time. Rome had a plurality of elders until around AD 140, and only then did the monarchical (single bishop) model take hold in Rome.
For our God Jesus Christ, being in the Father, is more plainly seen. The work is not of persuasiveness, but Christianity is a thing of might, whenever it is hated by the world (Romans 3).
This kind of description is so blatant, so easily made, coming not at the end of a long series of arguments or a long theological discussion, but almost "in passing," shows the centrality of the belief to believers worldwide, for remember, Ignatius is not only bishop of a major church (Antioch), but he is writing to churches all over Asia Minor, so that his words are not idiosyncratic, but represent the universal faith of the early believers. Surely this is the case with the church at Smyrna:
I give glory to Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you; for I have perceived that ye are established in faith immovable, being as it were nailed to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, in flesh and in spirit, and firmly grounded in love in the blood of Christ, fully persuaded as touching our Lord that He is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will and power, truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch (of which fruit are we--that is, of His most blessed passion); that He might set up an ensign unto all the ages through His resurrection, for His saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or among Gentiles, in one body of His Church....Let no man be deceived. Even the heavenly beings and the glory of the angels and the rulers visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ [who is God], judgment awaiteth them also (Smyrneans 6).
Note not only the repeated references to the deity of Christ, but to Christ as the Son of God, to the human nature of Christ, the redeeming death of Christ...so much for altered gospels in the fourth century at Nicea!
Await the One who is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, the One who for our sake became visible, the Untouched, the Impassible, who for our sake suffered, who endured in every way for our sake (Polycarp 3).
Once again not only the deity of Christ but the Incarnation are central to Ignatius' teachings. Here, within a single generation of the last of the Apostles the highest forms of Christology exist in the writings passed down to us through history. To say Brown's statements about the early followers of Christ viewing him merely as a mortal prophet stand utterly refuted is to engage in understatement.
There is one physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ephesians 7)
This is one of my favorite quotations from Ignatius, and for many others who have had to endure the endless babbling of liberal scholars and theologians who assure us with condescending smile that what we believe about Christ was the result of slow and purely human evolution over time. Here, in the first generation after the Apostles, the highest Christology is found---one person, two natures, the God-man, incarnation---it is all here, and it is a given that his audience shares his faith. How wonderful that after two thousand years of man's best attempts to pervert this faith, it still flourishes in the hearts of God's people!
We have come to the examination of one of the key assertions made by Dan Brown in his attack upon the central elements of the Christian faith (so as to make room for his Magdalene-based conspiracy theory). We read:
"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 man nonetheless. A mortal."
"Not the Son of God?"
"Right," Teabing said. "Jesus' establishment as 'the Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea."
"Hold on. You're saying Jesus' divinity was the result of a vote?"
"A relatively close vote at that," Teabing added. (233)
We have seen that the assertion that no one believed in the deity of Christ prior to the days of Constantine is utter rubbish, historically speaking. We have provided just two of many sources that could be cited that prove, beyond any and all refutation, that in point of fact the deity of Christ was known and believed by Christians long before Constantine was a twinkle in his daddy's eye. Indeed, the earliest heresies were not denials of the deity of Christ, but imbalances based upon it! The gnostic Docetics denied not the divine nature of Christ, but His humanity! And the Sabellian heresy in the decades prior to the Council of Nicea once again was based upon an acceptance of the fact that Jesus was the Son of God and deity: it simply sought to work this out within a unitarian framework (which can never work). So history---when it is known---makes a mockery of Brown's claims at this point.
We likewise have seen that the description of Jesus Christ as "the Son of God" is found in Scripture, and that long before Constantine ruled as well. If the assertion is made that Constantine altered the biblical texts to insert the phrase, this founders upon the consideration that we possess biblical manuscripts that predate Constantine and that would have been far outside his grasp no matter how powerful one presumes him to have been, and these plainly identify Jesus Christ as "Son of God." It would be humorous if it were not so sad to note that one of the most popular terms for Jesus is "Son" in...the gnostic gospels that Brown, through his characters, will identify as the "earliest Christian records." In fact, Christ is identified as "Son of God" in the Nag Hammadi finds, the very ones Brown directs us to as the unadulterated, unchanged, pre-Constantinian "gospels," such as the Gospel of Philip, the Sophia of Jesus, and the Gospel of the Egyptians!
We should hardly be surprised, then, Brown's comments on the Council of Nicea will border on the utterly absurd...and, of course, they do. One can only wonder if Brown is seeking to make fun of his readers by offering such silly statements as the one above, describing the Nicene "vote" as "a relatively close vote at that." Was Constantine reduced to examining hanging chads, perhaps. Hardly. Church historian Philip Schaff writes,
Almost all the bishops subscribed the creed, Hosius at the head, and next him the two Roman presbyters in the name of their bishop. This is the first instance of such signing of a document in the Christian church. Eusebius of Caesarea also signed his name after a dayâ€™s deliberation, and vindicated this act in a letter to his diocese. Eusebius of Nicomedia and Theognis of Nicaea subscribed the creed without the condemnatory formula, and for this they were deposed and for a time banished, but finally consented to all the decrees of the council....Only two Egyptian bishops, Theonas and Secundus, persistently refused to sign, and were banished with Arius to Illyria. The books of Arius were burned and his followers branded as enemies of Christianity.
Now, we do not know exactly how many bishops were at Nicea, but the numbers range from about 250 to 320. So, let's take the smallest number, 250. 247 to 3...isn't that about 98.8% for, 1.2% against? This is "relatively close"? Did Dan Brown have someone help him with his negotiations on his book contracts, we can only hope?
Brown continues in the stuffy, silly tones of Teabing,
Nonetheless, establishing Christ's divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base. By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable. This not only precluded further pagan challenges to Christianity, but now followers of Christ were able to redeem themselves only via the established sacred channel---the Roman Catholic Church. (233)
And here we see Brown's implicit anti-Catholicism: in case his long research missed this point, there was no Vatican in the fourth century. The anachronism of even referring to the "Roman Catholic Church" at the time of Nicea, as popular as it might be, is just another example of the a-historical nature of so much modern discussion of church history.
"It was all about power," Teabing continued. "Christ as Messiah was critical to the functioning of Church and state. 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, and using it to expand their own power. I've written several books on the topic." (233)
Dan Brown's utter incomprehension of biblical scholarship and history comes out here again, for he seems to think that "Christ as Messiah" and "Jesus as Son of God" are equivalent terms. Surely, the idea of Christ as the Jewish Messiah is as primitive as can be, and it would be even more absurd (if that is possible) to suggest that it was Constantine who came up with the idea of Jesus as the Messiah! Such is silly beyond words, and I know of now scholar at all who makes such a suggestion.
The early church was a loosely connected group of persecuted churches, racked by heresy and strife, despised by the world. The idea that the early church could be so organized, let alone so dishonest, as to 1) die by the thousands for a lie, 2) seek political power while being persecuted thereby, and 3) come up with such a grand scheme, is again absurd. So is Brown misusing terminology again, and not referring to the early Church at all, but instead to post-Constantinianism? Surely the growth of the church/state relationship began with Constantine, but there is simply no possible way of connecting Jesus as Messiah with post-Constantinianism. So, assuming, then, that Brown is simply incompetent as a historian, let's reconstruct his assertion. Let's say he's talking solely about the deity of Christ here, not Jesus as Messiah. So, the idea is that Jesus' deity was vital to the construction of a church/state relationship. Is there merit to this assertion?
Not historically, for once again, Brown ignores the Arian resurgence after the council of Nicea. Constantine didn't care if Jesus was deity or not: he only cared about political stability in his lifetime. He surely did not have some "big conspiracy picture" in his mind for future generations. This is pure historical revisionism masquerading as scholarship (note the "I've written several books on the topic"---and he will soon cite numerous actual books published over the past decades, again giving credence to the "fiction based on fact" concept). Who are these "many scholars"? Of course, we are not told. Of course, you could get a group of "scholars" to agree to anything if you have enough money and time, but that is hardly relevant to truth.
Ironically, this thesis, as absurd as it is historically, is exactly what I keep hearing from Islamic apologist Shabir Ally. The poor "original followers" of Jesus could not manage to proclaim his truth, and the mean nasty followers of Paul basically "took over." When you try to find these original followers, you find more and more assertion with less and less documentation---in fact, you find absolutely nothing more than mere assertion and speculation, but these days, assertion and speculation, as long as it is joined with a smile or "sincerity," is all you really need. Post-modernism flourishes.
Now having made an utter mockery of history itself, Brown now decides to mock the faith itself in these words. Having claimed to have written several books asserting Jesus was "hi-jacked" by the early church, we read,
"And I assume devout Christians send you hate mail on a daily basis?"
"Why should they?" Teabing countered. "The vast majority of educated Christians know the history of their faith."
This kind of rhetoric is simply disgusting. "Well, if you were really educated, you'd know what I'm saying is true." Such is especially reprehensible in light of the fact that it is Brown who is demonstrating his utter lack of education (or, worse, utter dishonesty) with this kind of ravaging of historical realities. The vast majority of educated Christians know the early church hi-jacked Jesus? This kind of absurdity can only be promulgated in this fashion: it can never survive actual debate and examination, so it must assert itself by repetition, or, in this case, through repetition on movie screens and in book stores all across the world.
After insisting that "educated" Christians know all about Constantine's hi-jacking the faith and inventing the deity of Christ, Teabing tries to say that Jesus was a good guy and did good things. That is very nice: defame the entirety of His own teaching about Himself, tell us that we actually can know abolutely nothing about Him or His teachings (if all we have left has been utterly changed how can we truly know anything about Him?) but make sure to throw in a few crumbs about what a nice guy Jesus was. The attempt is not worth the ink it takes to print it. He continues, "All we are saying is that Constantine took advantage of Christ's substantial influence and importance." No, that is not all Brown is saying.
Teabing drones on,
Because Constantine upgraded Jesus' status almost four centuries after Jesus' death, thousands of documents alredy existed chronicling HIs life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history." Teabing paused, eyeing Sophie. "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."
Let's do a little math for Teabing aka Dan Brown. Christ's death is somewhere around AD 30 (33). 33 + 400 years = AD 433. Constantine died in AD 337. Evidently, great scholars like Teabing, or fiction writers like Brown, get confused about the fact that Nicea was in the "fourth century" but that doesn't mean four hundred years. He's off here by a full century. The Council of Nicea was less than three hundred years after the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. As we have seen, Constantine did no such thing, nor did he have the power to do so at all, as if the early Christians, having suffered horribly at the hands of Rome, would then turn around and allow Rome to introduce what would be, in fact, a gross blasphemy into the faith. If no Christians had believed in the deity of Christ, to all of a sudden introduce such an exaltation would have been indeed a blasphemy: but no such thing took place.
Second, there were not, in fact, "thousands of documents...chronicling His life" in any fashion. No matter how widely you cast the net, you could not put together a thousand documents pretending to be gospels from, say, the first century after the death of Christ (AD 30 to 130). This is pure fiction. No historical basis exists for such a statement. Of course, it is easy for Brown to escape responsibility to document his claim, since he goes on to say Constantine "gathered up and burned" them all anyway, as if such would be even slightly historically possible. Not even the Roman Emperor had such power. We can't find Osama bin Laden with satellites and spy planes: Constantine could find all of these thousands of documents in his day? Yes, and I guess he had help from "them" out there on Orion Seti VII, huh? Must have "beamed up" all the manuscripts Constantine couldn't find for himself to the "mother ship."
Now, Brown claims Constantine "commissioned and financed a new Bible." No, he did not. According to Eusebius, who wrote a rather flowery (and biased) biography of Constantine, he provided Imperial funds for the copying of fifty copies of the Christian Scriptures. Here are the specifics from Eusebius' Life of Constantine, Book IV:
CHAPTER XXXVI: Constantine' s Letter to Eusebius on the Preparation of Copies of the Holy Scriptures.
"VICTOR CONSTANTINUS, MAXIMUS AUGUSTUS, to Eusebius.
"It happens, through the favoring providence of God our Saviour, that great numbers have united themselves to the most holy church in the city which is called by my name. It seems, therefore, highly requisite, since that city is rapidly advancing in prosperity in all other respects, that the number of churches should also he increased. Do you, therefore, receive with all readiness my determination on this behalf. I have thought it expedient to instruct your Prudence to order fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures, the provision and use of which you know to be most needful for the instruction of the Church, to be written on prepared parchment in a legible manner, and in a convenient, portable form, by professional transcribers thoroughly practiced in their art. (1) The catholicus (2) of the diocese has also received instructions by letter from our Clemency to be careful to furnish all things necessary for the preparation of such copies; and it will be for you to take special care that they be completed with as little delay as possible. (3) You have authority also, in virtue of this letter, to use two of the public carriages for their conveyance, by which arrangement the copies when fairly written will most easily be forwarded for my personal inspection; and one of the deacons of your church may be intrusted with this service, who, on his arrival here, shall experience my liberality. God preserve you, beloved brother!"
CHAPTER XXXVII: How the Copies were provided.
SUCH were the emperor's commands, which were followed by the immediate execution of the work itself, which we sent him in magnificent and elaborately bound volumes of a threefold and fourfold form. (1) This fact is attested by another letter, which the emperor wrote in acknowledgment, in which, having heard that the city Constantia in our country, the inhabitants of which had been more than commonly devoted to superstition, had been impelled by a sense of religion to abandon their past idolatry, he testified his joy, and approval of their conduct.
Some believe the great vellum codices, such as Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, or Alexandrinus, are representatives of these fifty copies of Scripture. Others doubt Eusebius' veracity, noting that he is writing long after the events and has a tendency to try to elevate Constantine's role as a Christian leader (so as to enhance his own standing). In any case, there is nothing here supportive of Brown's thesis. This is the only reference to Constantine having anything to do with the production of biblical manuscripts, and it is painfully obvious that when he speaks of "the Scriptures" he is referring to that body of Scriptures that Christians held in common long before he arrived on the scene. There is no confusion on Eusebius' part. He does not reply to Constantine, "Uh, what Scriptures? We haven't figured out the canon yet!" No, Eusebius knew what Constantine meant--all Christians did. And Constantine had nothing whatsoever to do with the content of those manuscripts, the canon of Scripture, or anything else relevant to the wild and crazy claims you see flying around the Internet, or making millions in books and movies.
Finally, it requires abject ignorance of the gospels themselves to believe the canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, ignore Jesus' humanity or that they are embellished versions meant to "make Him godlike." Jesus' humanity is plainly demonstrated in each of the canonical gospels, including John, which is so often accused of being very late and having a highly developed Christology that could only develop over time. That Jesus was the God-man can be shown from any gospel, not just from John. Once again we find Brown utterly and completely disconnected from every form of logic, truthfulness, and historical accuracy.
After creating, out of whole cloth, the idea that Constantine was busy running about the Roman Empire looking for at least 996 "original" gospels while promoting his edited versions of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Brown decides there is simply too much credibility lingering in this story, so he decides to shoot the last of it dead immediately. Enter the fellow I assume Tom Hanks is going to be playing, Robert Langdon, to add yet another incredible example of a-historical silliness to the very core of the Da Vinci Code fable:
"An interesting note," Langdon added. "Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels over Constantine's version was deemed a heretic. The word heretic derives from that moment in history. The Latin word haereticus means 'choice.' Those who 'chose' the original history of Christ were the world's first heretics." (234)
First, once again, there is not the slightest bit of historical foundation to this claim. None. Next, this is not a Latin term: it is Greek. The Greek terms ai`retiko,j, ai`reti,zw, and ai[resij are all found in the New Testament, long before Constantine. The verbal form does indeed mean "to choose," but not in the context Brown suggests. The term means "to choose or select for the purpose of showing special favor to or concern for," and is used in such passages as 2 Thessalonians 2:13 in the context of God's choice of the elect: "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth." It refers not to choosing to believe mythical gospels that never existed, but choosing someone so as to give to them favor or grace. From this verbal idea, then, it comes to indicate divisions based upon choice in its substantival/adjectival forms. In fact, the very term "heretic" appears, in Greek, in the New Testament, a simple fact that anyone with the slightest concern for truth could have determined rather easily (in fact, it even appears in Plato!). It appears in Titus 3:10, "Reject a factious (ai`retiko.n) man after a first and second warning."
But outside of these rather obvious facts, there is another little historical problem for Brown's claim. A quick scan of the ecclesiastical Latin writings that predate Constantine likewise demonstrate Brown's lie. Off the top of my head I recalled one rather obvious example of the use of this term before Constantine, and there are many others. Around the beginning of the third century (for those challenged historically like Mr. Brown, that would be around AD 200) Tertullian wrote a book titled "Praescriptionibus adversus Haereticos," The Prescription Against Heretics. Once again, for fictional character Robert Langdon's benefit, the year 200 is, oh, about 125 years prior to AD 325, the date of the Council of Nicea. So, if, as we are told, the term "heretic" came from the time frame after Nicea where people were choosing to believe in gospels that never existed, how could Tertullian be using it in the title of his book? Yes, well, I'm sure Constantine is to blame for that as well.
We have already seen that Brown relies heavily upon a highly doubtful, uncritical, easily challenged view of extra-biblical sources such as the Nag Hammadi Library and various other gnostic-influenced works. Ironically, Brown contradicts himself once again in his statements immediately following the embarrassing "heretic" comment on page 234. Here Brown speaking as Teabing says that "some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive." And what does he refer to? First he mentions the Dead Sea Scrolls, which, of course, are Jewish in nature and origin, not Christian. Now, if he would like to argue that 7Q5 is, in fact, a fragment of the Gospel of Mark, making the DSS relevant, that's fine---that would only destroy his entire thesis once again, putting Mark's writing within a few years of the events themselves. But obviously, that is not his intention, so, even mentioning the DSS is utterly irrelevant. Next he lists the Nag Hammadi finds, which of course contain some of his favorite sources, all from the second century, of course. He claims that both the DSS and the Nag Hammadi library tell "the true Grail story." I'm sure those working on the Dead Sea Scrolls need to be informed of this, since they would not have any idea of that otherwise! And one thing can be said with all certainty regarding the Nag Hammadi Library: there is no single story, no single position, to be found in that collection of works. They were not "gospels" representing the early Christian religion amongst the "thousands" Brown has alleged: they are the works of those who sought to pervert and change the faith, joining elements of Christianity with foreign beliefs.
Brown goes on to claim the DSS and Nag Hammadi finds "speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms" (234). Again, I would love to see where the DSS speak of Christ's ministry period, but be that as it may, in reality, once you leave the inspired text, you can find anything you want in second century writings about Christ. In fact, the deity of Christ is prominent in these works. The Docetics, for example, loved to speculate on what Christ would be like as a god (without a true physical body), and some of their myths and legends even ended up in the Qur'an! Surahs 3:49 and 5:110 both make reference to Jesus allegedly making birds of clay come alive, a story found in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas:
The stories of Thomas the Israelite, the Philosopher, concerning the works of the Childhood of the Lord.
I. I, Thomas the Israelite, tell unto you, even all the brethren that are of the Gentiles, to make known unto you the works of the childhood of our Lord Jesus Christ and his mighty deeds, even all that he did when he was born in our land: whereof the beginning is thus:
II. 1 This little child Jesus when he was five years old was playing at the ford of a brook: and he gathered together the waters that flowed there into pools, and made them straightway clean, and commanded them by his word alone. 2 And having made soft clay, he fashioned thereof twelve sparrows. And it was the Sabbath when he did these things (or made them). And there were also many other little children playing with him.
3 And a certain Jew when he saw what Jesus did, playing upon the Sabbath day, departed straightway and told his father Joseph: Lo, thy child is at the brook, and he hath taken clay and fashioned twelve little birds, and hath polluted the Sabbath day. 4 And Joseph came to the place and saw: and cried out to him, saying: Wherefore doest thou these things on the Sabbath, which it is not lawful to do? But Jesus clapped his hands together and cried out to the sparrows and said to them: Go! and the sparrows took their flight and went away chirping. 5 And when the Jews saw it they were amazed, and departed and told their chief men that which they had seen Jesus do.
Sorry, but that doesn't sound like an overly "human" Jesus vs. a divine Jesus (in the context in which Brown is speaking). Brown alleges,
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. (234)
Actually, to anyone familiar with these disparate, contradictory, second-century sources, that anyone could possibly think them relevant to Brown's fanciful theories is what is truly amazing. These sources contain a "divine" Jesus to begin with! Has Brown not even read these sources himself? The massive leap from "gnostics wrote second century documents" to "the Bible was compiled and edited (in the days of Constantine) by men who possessed a political agenda---to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ" is simply breathtaking. Brown doesn't bother attempting to provide a foundation----there is none, of course. But given the complete lack of foundation to this point, and the pile of utter falsehoods we have already documented, we are still left to wonder just how the upcoming film will handle quotes like this, and how many people will fall for them, hook, line, and sinker, so that you will find yourself hearing this kind of rhetoric repeated back to you when you seek to share the message of life with others?