Almost right from the get go of this letter to the Galatians, Paul is astounded that the Christians in this region had so quickly fallen for some false teachings which were spread in their region, a counterfeit Christianity, something other than the what Paul had preached to them. Even in Paul’s day he had to deal with people who were spreading false beliefs about Jesus.
Paul writes to these Christians in Galatia to remind them of what the true gospel is, namely, that we are made right with God, forgiven of our sins, we are set free and given eternal life only once we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, in his death and resurrection. We are saved by nothing else. Paul decided to address these false teachings and present the truth.
I am preaching this series on counterfeit Christianity because I, like Paul, am concerned over how easily some people have been swayed over the misinformation and ideas spread by a fictional book which has challenged some of the most foundational Christian beliefs about the Bible, about Jesus, and about God. We need to be reminded of the truth. Second, I am also preaching these messages because in the next month everyone will be talking about this particular book because it is coming out as a movie, and by equipping you with the truth, you can talk with others hopefully to lead them to the truth about Jesus.
The book of course is Dan Brown’s fictional mystery thriller, The DaVinci Code, on the NY Times bestseller list for forever. It has sold over 40 million copies worldwide, in 44 languages. Some of you, like myself, have read the book, some of you may not have, but no doubt you have probably heard about the brewing controversy. I’m not going to go into all the details of the book, but I do feel I need to address some of the ideas presented by the book because these ideas are not new, they have been around for centuries, and I feel this can provide a good learning experience for us.
What is the controversy? What is the big deal over The DaVinci Code since it is just a work of fiction? Who cares what it says?
The big deal is on page three which states:
“Fact: All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
While this statement does not directly state that the history of Christianity or belief about Jesus is presented in a factual way, it does imply that most of the book is essentially true.
In fact, last year, in an interview of ABC televisions, 20/20, Dan Brown spoke of his “conversion” to a new way of thinking that he’s been introduced to. He acknowledged that he sees himself as being on a mission to bring this new religious message to mainstream America. In other words, Dan Brown believes it is true, and he is actually trying to promote his religious agenda through the book. This is what makes it dangerous.
In a national sample of adults who have read The DaVinci Code from cover to cover, 53% stated that the book had been helpful in their “personal spiritual growth and understanding.”
So while I don’t want to give Dan Brown much credibility for his work of fiction, I do realize his book is influencing millions of people with false claims of a counterfeit Christianity, causing Christians and non-Christian alike to doubt the Christian faith. Over these three weeks we are going address three issues raised by the book: 1) The reliability of the Bible, (Is the Bible reliable?) 2) the divinity of Jesus (Is Jesus really the Son of God?), and 3) the Christian churches view of women (Does the Christian church have an anti-women bias?).
I. The Reliability/Accuracy of the Bible Challenged
One of the claims The DaVinci Code raises is the unreliability of the Bible. In one particular chapter of the book, the character, Sir Leigh Teabing, says this about the Bible:
“The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds. Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”
“More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John among them.”
“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 collaborated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.”
“Constantine commissioned 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.”
According to the fictional character Teabing, the Bible is 1) not a work of God, but strictly a work of man (God is in no way inspired its writing), 2) the Bible is constantly evolving, 3) more than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, of which only four were selected, 4) the Bible (NT) as we know it was compiled by the pagan emperor Constantine the Great who reigned three hundred years after Jesus.
Can you see how these accusations cause confusion for people today? It has caused Christians to wonder, “Why were these other gospels excluded from the Bible?” “Was our Bible simply the result of someone pushing a political agenda?” And probably the most important question for Christians, “Can I trust my Bible as being God’s word?”
Other Gospels (Gnostic)
There is some truth to what The DaVinci Code has to say about the NT, but very little. There are other gospels and others letters supposedly written by Christians which did not make it into our NT. These gospels include the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, and the Gospel of Mary, to name a few. However there were not eighty gospels, to our knowledge there were around two dozen.
But why wouldn’t early Christians want to include these other gospels and letters about Jesus in the Bible, especially since many were apparently written by Jesus’ disciples like Thomas and Philip? The mistake people make today is to believe that all the gospels are equal to each other just because they claim to be about Jesus and written by his supposed disciples. That somehow the gospels we have in our Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are on the same playing field with these other gospels. In fact, they are not.
Most scholars agree that the first three gospels in our NT, Matthew, Mark, and Luke were written somewhere between 55 and 70 AD by people who had either been with Jesus during his ministry or had access to people who had been with Jesus. These records of Jesus’ life and ministry were written less than forty years after Jesus’ death, well within the lifetime of most of Jesus’ disciples. John’s gospel is thought to have been written by an eyewitness, probably Jesus’ disciple John, around 90 AD.
What about these other gospels, when were they written? The earliest of these others gospels, the gospel of Thomas, is thought to have been written around the early to middle 2nd century AD, around 100 years after Jesus’ death. What do you think is likelihood Jesus’ disciple Thomas wrote this letter? Or that the Gospel of Philip was written by Jesus’ disciple Philip? The answer - they weren’t. These gospels and letter were not written by people who had first hand account of Jesus’ life and ministry, but by a group of people called Gnostics Christians (if we can call them that). Gnostic stands for the Greek work ‘gnosis’ meaning knowledge. These gospels were written by Gnostic Christians who believed Jesus never came in the flesh, that he never became a human being like us, because they believed all material things on this planet are evil, so if Jesus was good and came from God, he certainly could not have become a flesh and blood person like us. Jesus was only a spirit being walking around the earth who came from God to teach about a special knowledge. If you learned this special knowledge (kind of like learning a secret password) you would receive eternal life. Salvation was not by faith in Jesus Christ who died to save us from our sins as Paul teaches us. Salvation for a Gnostic Christian was received by knowledge about Jesus’ teachings, which is why most of these gospels do not give much information about Jesus’ life but mostly include his supposed teachings.
By the middle of the 2nd century AD, when these other gospels were being written, we have strong evidence that the NT as we know it was well on its way to being formed.
You have to realize it took many decades to collect what we call our NT because different churches had different gospels and letters. Some churches had the gospel of Matthew, others the gospel of John, some churches had received a letter from Paul, others did not. They didn’t exactly have copy machines, computers, and printing presses to copy books out quickly. They had to be meticulously copied by hand. It took several decades for these gospels and letters to be copied and then circulate among the Christian churches in the Roman Empire.
The key point to understand here is that these other gospels were never even considered for the Bible. Furthermore the emperor Constantine didn’t have anything to do with creating the Bible, and the books of the NT of the Bible did NOT constantly evolve over centuries. Although, the NT as we have it was not set in stone until the late 4th century AD, the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) and Paul’s letters were indisputably agreed upon by the 2nd century AD. They were considered the only historically accurate representations of Jesus’ life and ministry, including his teaching, his miracles, his death, and resurrection. Contrary to Dan Brown’s book our Bible is completely reliable.
II. The Bible may be reliable but how do I know I can I trust it as God’s word?
Let me say first I cannot prove to you the Bible is God’s word, that is something you have to believe by faith, and Christians disagree as to what level the Bible is inspired by God. Some believe it practically went from God’s mouth to the page, others believe God inspired authors to write, but much of the author is included in the writing. It is a matter of faith. However, I have two things for you to consider.
A. The OT Prophecies
When you consider whether the NT is God’s Word think about this; there were at least 61 prophesies regarding the Messiah written in the OT hundreds of years before Jesus ever walked the earth. These included prophesies like Isaiah 53 which tells us the Messiah, or the Servant of the Lord, would suffer, by being crushed and pierced, and then killed as a punishment from God to take the sins of the rest of the world. Of these 61 predictions, guess how many of them came true in Jesus according to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? All of them.
A guy named 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 deep feet and then asking someone to travel as far as they wanted in any direction and pull the right silver dollar out, simply by chance. Granted some of the predictions about Jesus could be fulfilled by making it happen, but most of them were out of Jesus’ control. The Bible, including the gospels, are God’s word because they speak the truth about Jesus the Christ.
Paul tells us why we should accept what he preached and taught as God’s word. In 1:11-12 Paul says the reason we should believe his word is from God is because he received this Good News directly from the resurrected Jesus Christ. However that is not enough, anyone can claim they have had a direct revelation from Jesus. I could stand up here and tell you Jesus appeared to me in a vision and told me something to share with you. How do you know it’s true? Anyone can claim to hear from Jesus or an angel (that is how the Muslim and Mormon faith began, by someone supposedly hearing from an angel). How do we know Paul’s message was truly from Jesus Christ?
Paul goes on in Galatians chapter two to tell us his message was also confirmed by Jesus’ disciples (2:1-2). Paul specifically mentions that James (the brother of Jesus), Peter, and John, all leaders of the church who heard Jesus’ teaching first hand, agreed that God had appointed Paul with the Good News of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles (non-Jewish people) (Gal. 2:9). Paul did not preach or teach on his own, he had the full authority of Jesus’ own disciples. He taught the truth.
The reason we don’t have any more books in our Bible is because they cannot be confirmed by a disciple of Jesus, someone with first hand knowledge about Jesus’ teachings. If someone says, I have a new revelation from Jesus Christ. The only way we can confirm it now is by comparing it God’s word which was revealed in the NT of our Bible.
I believe we can not only trust the reliability of our Bible, but that it is God’s word to us, because it was written by people who were eye witnesses of Jesus’ life, of his teaching, and resurrection, or people like Paul who were writing their letters directly on the authority of Jesus and his disciples.
The Final Question:
“Why are people so interested in trying to deny the accuracy or inspiration of the Bible?”
The Answer: “Because the Bible makes claims on you.”
Most books (including The Da Vinci Code) can be an enjoyable read, but in the end they make no demands of you. They don’t ask you to change your life. The Bible, on other hand, makes some big claims. It makes claims on who God really is. It makes claims on the only way someone can find God (through Jesus). It makes claims on how you should live your life, spend your money, make decisions. It makes claims on what you should believe.
Those are not things that everyone wants to do. Therefore, it is in the interest of many people to find reasons to disbelieve the Bible. If people can get away with thinking it is not accurate, then its claims are invalid, and we don’t have to change our behavior, give up bad habits, and follow Jesus.
If the Bible, as it’s been shown today, is accurate, then the question for you this morning is, “Will you believe the Bible and its claims on your life, and will you dig in to it reading it every day to gain guidance from the God?” It’s amazing to me how many millions of people will read a page turner of a fiction like the Da Vinci Code, but never crack open God’s word to us.
2 Tim. 3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. 17 It is God’s way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do (NLT).