As you know, our normal practice is to teach verse-by-verse through the Bible. I don't usually talk about current events in our culture. But in light of the stir The Da Vinci Code has made, I think we need to talk about it. Why? Why do we need to discuss this book and movie?
We need to discuss it because Dan Brown's masterful piece of fiction has become one of the most intriguing, yet disturbing books to ever hit the bestseller list. This former English teacher has sold over 60 million copies worldwide since the hardcover was released, in March 2003. In less than two months, the book has sold nearly 3 million copies in paperback, according to the AP May 17, 2006. The book has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 148 weeks. It's been translated into over 40 languages. USA Today had a two page spread about how every church, museum, and chateau mentioned in the book have now become major tourist attractions throughout Europe. And now, the opening last Friday of what will likely become a blockbuster movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks. And the end is nowhere in sight. "Sales are growing dramatically week to week, we're reprinting to keep up with demand, and the biggest months are still ahead of us," Anne Messitte, publisher of Vintage-Anchor Books, a paperback imprint of Random House, Inc., said in a statement Tuesday. A lot of people we know are likely to see the film.
We need to discuss this book and movie, because it is enormously popular, and it calls into
question the claims of our faith and has already caused millions of people to raise numerous
thought provoking questions targeted at the claims of Christianity.
It's a book that has become a catalyst for all kinds of questions: questions about the church, questions about Jesus Christ, questions about God.
The Da Vinci Code claims that almost everything the church says about Jesus Christ is a lie.
"Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false." (Brown, page. 255). The book
teaches: that Jesus was not the Son of God, as the New Testament claims, but merely a human
prophet; He taught a form of religion called Gnosticism, which (supposedly) extolled the sacred
feminine and practiced goddess worship; He married Mary Magdalene, who bore a child to Him
after His death, and His descendants are still around today a truth kept hidden by the secret
society known as the "Priory of Sion;" the "Holy Grail" was not the cup Jesus passed to his
disciples at the Last Supper, but Mary herself, who carried the blood offspring of Jesus.
As this movie comes out, it provides an open door to talk about spiritual things. People who normally wouldn't want to talk about Jesus will have the questions of the movie on their mind. People who aren't normally interested in discussing the Bible will likely want to talk about what the movie claimed. This is an opportunity that we need to seize. Therefore, this sermon is not just to help you to understand the issues yourself, but it's to equip you to be able to share the truth with the people you come in contact with.
If The Da Vinci Code were billed as just a novel, it would be an interesting book for conspiracy buffs who like a fast-paced thriller. What makes the book troublesome is that it purports to be based on facts. The opening page of the book states in large letters "FACT," and affirms the existence of the secret society known as the "Priory of Sion," founded in A.D. 1099. This society supposedly kept the secret about the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The FACT sheet also says, "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." In fact, the descriptions are inaccurate and misleading. Whether from lack of knowledge or from gullibility, many people are believing it.
On the Today Show with Matt Lauer Brown was asked, "How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred?" Brown replied, "Absolutely all of it. Obviously Robert Langdon is fictional, but all of the art, architecture, secret rituals, secret societies--all of that is historical fact."
Brown starts the book with a declaration to the accuracy of the content, and yet he muffs a few meaningless facts, diminishing his own integrity. He carelessly makes great claims, yet he can't support even his simplest ones.
The book claims the pyramid outside of the Louvre was constructed of 666 panes of glass (p. 21). According to the Louvre's official website, there are 673 diamond-shaped panes of glass.
Next, he claims that the Olympics were a tribute to the Greek goddess Venus and were to be held once every 8 years. In actuality, they were in honor of the Greek god Zeus and were to occur every 4 years.
There will be many who will see this compelling movie and believe what it says about the church, about Jesus, and about a conspiracy to suppress the real truth about Jesus. If you've seen the trailer they've challenged audiences to "seek the truth." The problem is most people don't. Most people don't think; they either believe or don't believe what they hear.
In an educational study, people were given a new concept (such as Jesus had a child with Mary) and asked to believe it, which resulted in them setting aside some things they already believe. It required a paradigm shift. 50% believed it immediately - without thinking. 30% didn't believe it, immediately - without thinking. 15% wanted to wait awhile while they make up their minds, but asked for no clarification and no further information. 5% analyzed all the details and finally came to a conclusion. The results of the study go like this: It is estimated that 5% of the people think, 15% of the people think they think, and 80% of the people would rather die than think.
Most people, Christians included, don't think! In light of the huge popularity of this book and movie, this should be cause for alarm. So I want to encourage all of you to be 5%er's and I want you to encourage others to be 5%er's and to do the research they need to do to come to a definitive conclusion about the two things spoken of in this book and movie:
1. Is the Bible reliable?
2. Is Jesus the Son of God?
The most controversial of all the claims in The Da Vinci Code is that the early church considered Jesus to be merely a human prophet until the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) voted to make Him a god.
"Jesus' establishment as the 'Son of God' was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea A relatively close vote at that." (p. 233)
"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." (p. 233)
If this claim were true, it would mean that the fundamental tenets of Christianity the deity of
Christ, His incarnation as a true human being, and His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins
are false teachings with no basis in reality. Christianity would be a sham.
Let's look at the The Council of Nicaea. Constantine adopted Christianity in A.D. 312 and legalized it for all of the Western Roman Empire. As he consolidated his power, Constantine found that there were disagreements in his realm about the nature of the Son of God. The problem was that a leader of the church of North Africa, a man named "Arius," was teaching that Jesus was God, but a different kind of God than the Father.
Constantine said, "I can help sort this out." So he paid the expenses for 300 bishops from across his realm to come together and council about what was true and what wasn't about the nature of the Son of God.
Arius and his followers believed that Jesus was God, but that He was a created God (as opposed to God the Father, Who was eternally pre-existent.) Arius' phrase was, "There was a time when he was not." The rest of Christianity disagreed with them, so they came up with this statement, or creed, as it's come to be known: The Creed of Nicaea:
We believe in one God, the Father, Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the substance of the Father; God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made
This is the Creed of Nicaea. This is what the Nicaean bishops came together to clarify. The purpose of the council of Nicaea was not to decide if Jesus was God, but in what way Jesus was God.
According to Brown, the purpose of the Nicene Council was to stamp out feminism and the feminine goddess. This, frankly, is a complete fabrication. Nothing of the kind ever came up there, nor needed to come up, because pre-Nicene Christianity never had a goddess or sacred feminine aspect.
Any historian of the early church knows that the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) did not create the deity of Christ, but only confirmed and clarified what Christians had been teaching for centuries. Consider the exalted statement of Christ's deity at the beginning of the Gospel of John (written over 30 years before the end of the first century):
John 1:1-3 (NASB) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.
The "Word" here is referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice His deity - "the Word was God." The "beginning" is before all beginnings, prior to the beginning of Genesis 1:1. The phrase could be rendered "from all eternity." John, in this verse, establishes the preexistence of Christ in eternity past. He already "was" when the beginning took place.
This is the corner stone of Christianity-- Jesus Christ is God.
Colossians 1:15-17 (NASB) And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created by Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
The word "firstborn" is the Greek word prototokos, which means: "priority of position," and not origin or time. An English example of this would be the "First Lady." Someone may be first in position without reference to origin or time. The word "image" is eikon, which means: "representation or resemblance." Jesus Christ represents the invisible God.
We see in verse 16 that Jesus Christ has the power of creation, a power that only God has. Verse 17 tells us that it is by Jesus Christ that all things consist or are held together.
Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons deny the deity of Christ, and because of that, they have no Savior. Doubting Thomas called Jesus, "My Lord, and my God." The separating line between the saved and the damned is what they think of Jesus. The Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is God.
The letter to the Hebrews (A.D. 67) states:
Hebrews 1:3 (NASB) And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high;
"The exact representation of His nature" - The words "exact representation" are the Greek word charakter. It is used only here in the New Testament. It is used in classical Greek to indicate a die or a stamp, or the mark made by a seal. Used here, it means that Jesus Christ is the exact reproduction of God, in human form. The word "nature" is the Greek word hupostasis, which is from hupo, meaning: "under," and histemi, meaning: "to stand." Thus, its meaning is: "that which stands under." We could translate it "nature" or "essence."
Clearly, Christianity has always taught and believed that Jesus Christ was God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God, begotten not made, of one substance with the Father, through whom all things were made.
Dan Brown shows complete disregard for the historical record when he claims that the early church deified Jesus at the Council of Nicea. He says that the doctrine of Christ's deity passed by a "relatively close vote." That is fiction, since only five out of more than 300 bishops protested the creed. In fact, in the end, only two refused to sign it.
If the New Testament so strongly affirms the deity of Christ, how can The Da Vinci Code claim that Jesus was nothing more than a mere mortal? The answer, according to the book, is that the Roman emperor, Constantine, chose those books that supported his own political agenda and suppressed other gospels that presented the real human Jesus (DVC, p. 231).
Constantine had nothing to do with which books were included in the Bible, and he did not commission a new Bible. The New Testament Gospels were considered inspired Scripture long before Constantine was born. Constantine had no part in discussions concerning the canon of Scripture.
The claim made by The Da Vinci Code that the New Testament was a large amorphous body of literature (containing over eighty gospels!) until Constantine and his cronies cut out the books they didn't like is simply false. The four Canonical Gospels were firmly established as the church's gospels centuries before Constantine and decades before the so-called Gnostic gospels were written.
According to The Da Vinci Code, when Constantine chose his books for the Bible, he excluded many gospels what we call the Gnostic gospels which were in fact "the earliest Christian records" (DVC, p. 245).
While scholars debate the precise age of the so-called Gnostic gospels, they are certainly not the earliest Christian records. While all of the New Testament gospels can be confidently dated to the first century A.D., none of the Gnostic writings can be dated before the middle of the second century; and most were written much later.
Before we look at the cannon and how it was developed, let's seek to understand Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes from the word "Gnosis." The word Gnosis derives from Greek and connotes "knowledge" or the "act of knowing."
In the second century A.D. a broad spiritual movement grew up and developed several forms over the next 2 centuries. The movement was called "Gnosticism," because the common thread between all of its different groups was that each of them had special knowledge, which only insiders could possess.
In a nutshell, here's what Gnostics believed: The Gnostics believed that matter was evil, and spirit was good. Everything you touched was tainted, everything immaterial was good. It's classic dualism.
The problem with this view is: if matter is evil, and God is good, how did matter come into existence? The answer for the Gnostics was: through a chain of lesser and lesser gods; God, the pure God, purely spirit, absolutely untainted, created a group of lesser gods called, "Aeons" who were mostly untainted. These gods created lesser gods who created lesser gods, who created lesser gods, until finally, one of these spirits created the world and matter and people.
Full knowledge of this complete chain of gods can only be revealed to those who are fully initiated. This is the nature of "gnosis." You can't have the knowledge until you've proven yourself worthy.
The real problem arose when some members of Gnostic communities tried to blend their gnosiswith Christianity. If Jesus was God and came to earth, then He couldn't be God anymore, because the true God could never assume material form, He would stay far from it.
So one Gnostic solution to this was: "Jesus wasn't actually material. He was completely spiritual; He only appeared to be material. If you noticed, if you looked closely, Jesus never cast a shadow." This explains why Jesus could walk through walls after His resurrection He wasn't really material. He was immaterial.
An alternative solution was to claim that He was fully human and only fully human. Of course, to claim that, you've got to explain away almost everything the Bible teaches about Him. That's what The Da Vinci Code is all about.
Gnosticism pretty much died out by the end of the 4th century, so we only knew about it through the writings of several early church fathers who lived during that time.
We only knew about it through them until December, 1945 when an Egyptian peasant in the town of Nag Hammadi stumbled on a cache of 52 manuscripts, some of which were written by Gnostics. These were translated over the next several years and made a big splash on the English-speaking world in 1977 when a Princeton professor named Elaine Pagels published a book called The Gnostic Gospels.
The Gnostic Church is now alive and well in several parts of the world. In France it's called "L'Eglise des Inities" (Church of the Initiated). In England, it's "The Pre-Nicene Gnostic Catholic Church in England," and in the US, "The Gnostic Society."
After Dr. Pagels, who is a Gnostic, published her work, three other men published a book in 1982 called Holy Blood, Holy Grail.
Here's where these stories intersect with The Da Vinci Code. It's from these two works that Dan Brown gets much of what he teaches in "the Code". Holy Blood, Holy Grail is based on documents supplied to the authors by a man named Pierre Plantard. Plantard was an anti-Semite, who spent some time in jail in 1953, and in 1954 founded a social club called "The Priory of Sion." "The Priory of Sion" dissolved in 1957, but Plantard held onto the name and in the 1960's claimed that he was a descendant of Jesus Christ through his wife, Mary Magdalene.
Dan Brown built his novel around the names and claims of Holy Blood, Holy Grail. In the book, The Da Vinci Code, Teabing says that the Gnostics knew and taught that Jesus was married. He sights the Gospel of Philip, a Gnostic writing uncovered at Nag Hammadi, as the source. The problems with this are:
1. The Gospel of Philip doesn't say that Jesus was married.
2. The Gospel of Philip was written 250 years after Jesus.
3. The Gospel of Philip wasn't written by Philip. Philip the Apostle died in the first century.
So, this book we are supposed to trust is written by someone who makes a false claim about himself before he even begins to write. No other Gnostic gospel mentions anything about the marriage of Jesus.
According to The Da Vinci Code, when Constantine chose his books for the Bible, he excluded many gospels what we call the Gnostic gospels which were in fact "the earliest Christian records" (DVC, p. 245).
Because of the book and movie, Christians are very likely to run into questions concerning the extent, adequacy, and accuracy of the Bible as God's revealed Word.
Just how did the church decide on the books for inclusion in the New Testament?
The canon is that which establishes which ancient literary documents contain the inspired words of God, and thus are authoritative in the life of the Christian believer.
It should be understood that the development of the Canon was not a one-time historical event. The contents of the Canon was not a decision made by one particular person, or even a group of people on one particular day. The establishment of the Canon was a process that developed over time and in many diverse geographical areas of the ancient church.
What came to be accepted as the Canon of Scripture was not exactly what one would call an announcement, either. What had been officially accepted as the contents of the New Testament Canon was not much of a development over what the church had held on an unofficial level for centuries. While there were a few books that had been disputed as to whether or not they were truly the inspired word of God, most of the books in the present canon had been accepted by the church at large by the end of the first-century.
The earliest New Testament documents are the letters of Paul, written in the 50's and 60's of the first century. The letter of James may be even earlier, written around A.D. 45. Mark's Gospel was probably the first gospel written, in the 50's or 60's of the first century. Matthew and Luke likely followed in the 60's, and John was probably written last. Quotations and allusions from the four Gospels in the "apostolic fathers" (the generation of church leaders after the apostles) confirm their first century date, and there is good evidence that they were circulating as a collection by the early second century. Justin Martyr, in the mid-second century, quotes frequently from them and refers to the four as the "memoirs of the apostles." The Muratorian fragment, a canonical list dating from about A.D. 160, identifies the four as authoritative Scripture. By the late second century, the fourfold Gospel is so firmly established that Irenaeus argues that there can be neither more nor less than four Gospels, comparing them to the four winds and the four points of the compass.
Although the term canon was not used in reference to the New Testament texts until the fourth century by Athanasius, there were earlier attempts to list the acceptable books. The "Muratorian Canon" listed all the books of the Bible except for 1 John, 1 and 2 Peter, Hebrews, and James around A.D. 180. Irenaeus, as bishop of Lyon, mentions all of the books except Jude, 2 Peter, James, Philemon, 2 and 3 John, and Revelation. The Syriac Version of the Canon, from the third century, leaves out Revelation.
It was during the fourth century that concentrated attempts were made both in the East and the West to establish the authoritative collection of the Canon. In 365, Athanasius of Alexandria listed the complete twenty-seven books of the New Testament, which he regarded as the "only source of salvation and of the authentic teaching of the religion of the Gospel."
Jerome wrote a letter to Paulinus, bishop of Nola in 394, listing just 39 Old Testament books and our current 27 New Testament ones. It was in 382 that Bishop Damascus had Jerome work on a Latin text to standardize the Scripture. The resulting Vulgate was used throughout the Christian world. The Synods of Carthage, in 397 and 418, both confirmed our current twenty-seven books of the New Testament.
Although the early church, up until the Reformation, was not yet united as to which books belonged in the Canon, they were certain that the books were inspired by God and contained the Gospel message that He desired to communicate to a fallen world. After the Reformation, the books of the Canon were widely agreed upon.
If God could move on certain people to record His words, certainly He can move on other people to preserve His word in a Canon dedicated to the presentation of His word.
God was involved in the formation of the Canon. He would not have allowed the church to decide for the wrong books. God does not try. He accomplishes that which He purposes. Since God inspired individuals to record His words for the benefit of others, then God possessed the motive, power, and ability to direct His people to include the books He truly inspired and exclude those He did not.
The Christian can have every bit of confidence that the Canon contains the books God inspired, and excludes those that He did not inspire. There are no missing books of the Bible, and there are no extra books. We have been given the Word of God, preserved for us through divine inspiration and preservation.
More than 500 years ago, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The very first book in history to roll off the press was the Bible. The Bible has been the world's best seller ever since. In October, 1987, a Gutenberg original was purchased for over five million dollars. It was the largest price ever paid for a printed book.
Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code, says we can't trust it! Bernard Ramm, a Bible scholar, says, "A thousand times over, the death knell of the Bible has been sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone, and the committal read. But somehow the corpse never stays put."
Dr. Scot McKnight of Biola University, an expert in history and Scripture says:
One of the alarming parts of Dan Brown's so-called historical treatment of the rise of the Bible and the Gospels is that he claims that there were eighty gospels, from which people voted on which ones were most reliable. No one knows where he came up with eighty, because there aren't that many. But what is most alarming is that the gospels that were not included in the New Testament are, in fact, much more supernatural. They present Jesus as much more magical than anything close to what we find in the New Testament.
So, there is no evidence to support the idea that the gospels that were thrown away talk more about Jesus as a human being and the Gospels that we have talk more about Jesus as divine. It's quite the opposite, as a matter of fact.
Brown tries to raise doubts about the Bible by questioning its historical accuracy. But as archeologists dig into the ground around the places where the Bible says things happened, do they find that what the Bible says is true or do they find evidence that disproves the Bible? The answer, in fact, is that the more they dig, the more they prove the Bible's accuracy.
The Bible's events are not flights of fancy, but are actual events that involved real people. In literally hundreds and hundreds of situations, archeologists have discovered evidence that points to the accuracy of the stories in the Bible.
In Judges 6, we read one of the more "unbelievable" stories in the Bible. It claims that Israel marched around Jericho, and then with a shout God knocked the walls down. That is an unusual story. Yet during the excavations of Jericho (1930-1936), Garstang found something so startling that a statement of what was found was prepared and signed by himself and two other members of the team. In reference to these findings, Garstang says: "As to the main fact, then, there remains no doubt: The walls fell outwards so completely that the attackers would be able to clamber up and over their ruins into the city." Why so unusual? Because the walls of cities do not fall outwards, they fall inwards. And yet in Joshua we read:
Joshua 6:20 (NASB) So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and it came about, when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, that the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city.
Not only is the Bible's record of history true, the Bible made many predictions of the future that have all come true. They're called "prophecies."
Let's just look at one small part of the predictions the Bible makes: The predictions about the Messiah; Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and there are at least 61 separate predictions about what the Messiah would be like. It's important to note that while some of these predictions (like what He would say) were within His control, the fulfillment of many of these predictions depended on people and circumstances over which Jesus did not have direct control - unless of course He was God.
In Micah 5:2, it is prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. That is fulfilled in Matthew 2:1 when Jesus is born. Although His parents have Narareth for their hometown, they are in Bethlehem for the census when Jesus is born.
In Zechariah 11:12, it speaks of him being sold for 30 shekels of silver. In Matthew 26:15, Judas betrays Jesus, and the price he's offered is 30 shekels of silver.
In Psalm 22:16, it speaks of Him having his hands and feet pierced. Of course, Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33). The particularly amazing thing about this prophecy is that crucifixion had not been invented at the time of the writing of Psalm 22.
Couldn't these have happened by accident? Peter Stoner estimated the likelihood of only eight of these prophecies being fulfilled in one person merely by chance. His conclusion was that the odds were 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000 (a 1 with 17 zeroes after it). Stoner says that would be the same as covering the state of TX with silver dollars two feet deep and then asking someone to travel as far as they wanted in any direction and pull the right silver dollar out, simply by chance.
Stoner goes on to evaluate the chance of 48 of the prophecies being fulfilled by chance, and the odds there had a 1 with 157 zeroes after it.
The evidence of the Bible's truthfulness comes from the number of copies that we have available to us. Let's use Homer's Iliad for comparison. Iliad is ranked number 2 in having the most ancient manuscripts (or pieces of manuscripts). There are 643 copies of Iliad. (Also, the time span between original writing and the earliest known copies of the Iliad is 500 years.)
By comparison, there are 24,000 copies of the New Testament manuscripts (or pieces of manuscript). (Also, the time span between the original writing and the earliest known copies is only 25 years.)
The point is clear: We have an abundance of material concerning the New Testament. Further, this material testifies to the accuracy of what we read today. The evidence is overwhelming both in numbers of manuscripts and closeness to the original authors.
The bottom line is that Dan Brown is a liar, the Bible can be trusted. The truth is that there are other books that were written about Jesus that aren't in the New Testament. This isn't a secret - it's a well-known fact. That there would be other writings is not surprising. Jesus was a popular and a controversial teacher. One would expect that many people (with both honorable and dishonorable motives) would write about Him.
Those other books were not kept out of the Bible because they were embarrassing. They were not included in the New Testament, because they are not factually accurate. Writings like "The Gospel of Thomas" were rejected, because the leaders in the church found them to not accurately reflect the life and teaching of Jesus. For instance, in one book, Jesus is shown as a child, molding a bird out of clay, then throwing it into the air and watching it fly away. This kind of a frivolous miracle stands in stark contrast to the Biblical reality that when Jesus used His miraculous powers, He used them to heal and not to show off.
Believers, The Da Vinci Code is nothing more than rehashed old lies. It is an attack on Christ and the Word of God. It claims to be fact, but it is pure fiction. We have the truth contained in the Word of God. Let's share that truth with everyone we can. This movie will generate a lot of questions - let's be ready to answer them.
1 Peter 3:15 (NASB) but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
Believers, do some studying - understand the issues and be ready to share the truth. We are the Light of the world.