Decoding The Da Vinci Code – pt. 1
“A Faith of Our Design Or God’s?”
Picture of book
Exerpt from “Breaking The Da Vinci Code”
By Collin Hansen | posted 11/07/2003/CCN online
“Perhaps you’ve heard of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. This fictional thriller has captured the coveted number one sales ranking at Amazon.com, camped out for 32 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller List, and inspired a one-hour ABC News special. Along the way, it has sparked debates about the legitimacy of Western and Christian history.
While the ABC News feature focused on Brown’s fascination with an alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, The Da Vinci Code contains many more (equally dubious) claims about Christianity’s historic origins and theological development. The central claim Brown’s novel makes about Christianity is that "almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false." Why? Because of a single meeting of bishops in 325, at the city of Nicea in modern-day Turkey. There, argues Brown, church leaders who wanted to consolidate their power base (he calls this, anachronistically, "the Vatican" or "the Roman Catholic church") created a divine Christ and an infallible Scripture—both of them novelties that had never before existed among Christians.”
It has been a phenomenon. And it is a thrilling suspense novel. It has spent a long time on the top of the New York Times best seller list and has been published in multiple languages as well. But it has a fundamental problem. It was written with just enough factual claim to cause many Christians and non Christians alike to take too much of it as factual.
How historically accurate is this book? Why are people so quick to accept Dan Brown’s fictional book as an accurate portrayal of many historical events?
Remember the song “What A Wonderful World” by the Supremes? It had that line, "Don’t know much about history.” That’s surely the condition of the church today. We need to understand something about church history in order to understand and guard against false teachings that come our way.
Notice these two separate review bites from the New York Daily News.
“His Research Is Impeccable” – The New York Daily News
“A gripping mix of murder and myth”. – The New York Daily News
Which is it?
Is his research accurate and free of bias? Or is there an agenda – a presupposition – that taints his findings – stretches and even denies the truth?
Give description of the book
If you don’t read books, don’t worry, it will be a movie. Ron Howard is said to be working on the movie even now with Tom Hanks caste as the heroin Robert Langdon. It is set to be released in May of 2006. The controversy is sure to reignite at that time again.
It is a murder mystery suspense thriller as well as a conspiracy theory – interwoven with a belief system in the sacred feminine religion.
The novel relates how a conspiracy is uncovered through clues encoded in paintings by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Picture of Last Supper
The conspiracy is about the alleged suppressing of Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene. The Holy Grail (of medieval lore) is not the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper as long supposed. Instead the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene herself. Her womb is considered the holy grail or vessel. She and Jesus had a child together and Mary and the child Sarah fled to Egypt and eventually to Western Europe. There, her descendants became the Merovingian royalty of France. As the book tells it, Mary Magdalene’s diaries of her life with Jesus, the family tree of the Merovingians and many other significant facts about the “sacred feminine” are hidden in her tomb. The crusades and the purpose of some secret societies have all been about seeking and protecting the contents of the Holy Grail until a specified time they are to be revealed.
The story claims that these “facts” have been suppressed even by use of violence by a female denigrating religion that replaced the original Christianity. Such a feat was pulled off by the church (Roman Catholic Church), more specifically by Constantine, the Roman Emperor who legalized the Church in the fourth century. Constantine is said to have manipulated and dictated the canon of Scripture we have today. He chose the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John over supposedly more reliable and older gospels that he had destroyed. Some of these lost gospels were found, though, with the Dead Sea Scrolls and another find at the Nag Hamadi library. Such lost gospels allegedly reveal the real Jesus and his humanity but not his divinity. They also allegedly reveal his relationship with Mary Magdalene and his desire for the church to be founded upon her authority. If this Holy Grail could be found, it would be the key to proving the historical church wrong and redefining the Christian faith as worship of the sacred feminine.
Because Brown uses so many genuine historical facts, it makes his outlandish claims sound more plausible. In doing so, the Da Vinci Code offers itself as a reliable source of information about the Christian faith.
Statements from the book.
“The marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record.” (p. 245)
“The royal bloodline of Jesus Christ has been chronicled in exhaustive detail by scores of historians.” (p. 253)
These and other statements are presented in a book of fiction, but are put forth as something for us to believe because of the “factual” nature of the history behind the story that Dan Brown claims for his book.
The question for us is this: What do we do with such claims? How do we respond to the phenomenal popularity of this book and the acceptance of its claims by so many people?
1. Use it to share your faith.
1 Peter 3:15 – “Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. ”
This is not a cultural phenomenon we should ignore. In fact, we could look at Dan Brown’s book as a gift. If you are willing and able, you can use this book and its popularity to have meaningful conversations with people about its claims. Most Americans today are not arriving at their spiritual beliefs through reasonable study. They are arriving at it through experience and cultural popularity. Oprah Winfrey has become more of an authority on spiritual matters for Americans than the Bible. If you are ready to give reasons for your hope in Christ, to present them a reasonable faith they can really put a confident expectation in, you will be allowing God to use you in a wonderful way. Let this book and others like it strike up conversations about why the true Christian faith is the only source of real hope for this world and the next.
2. Be confident in your faith in Jesus.
Romans 1:16-17 – “For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes--Jews first and also Gentiles. This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’”
Our faith is rooted in historical facts – in a person – Jesus Christ. And the work of Jesus upon the cross was the greatest work of God in human history. It has the power to save us from the guilt and power of our own sin. It has the power to change us – to bring us into a right relationship with God and secure eternal life with Him. The cross may look foolish to those who do not believe, but we can help people to see that it is in fact the greatest event and most powerful event in human history. We need to lead people to place their faith in the Good News about Jesus.
3. Share with them the simple story. It will be a breath of fresh air to the complicated false religions they have already shown an interest in.
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 – “Now let me remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then and still do now, for your faith is built on this wonderful message. And it is this Good News that saves you if you firmly believe it--unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me--that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, as the Scriptures said.”
Example: Sharing the good news with Rex Lowrance.
Our faith in Jesus is really not complicated. It is just so fantastic that it seems too good to be true.
Two Goals in this series
1. To answer any questions you may have about claims within this book and others like it.
2. To equip you to be able to give answers to friends, family, co workers who are asking questions about the truth of the Christian faith as presented in the Bible.
So is this the truth, or is this a revision of what Jesus really said and did? Is Dan Brown and many others like him right about Christianity and Gnosticism? Has the Bible been rewritten, revised to suit the desires of some in power? Have some gospel books been kept out of the Bible to prevent us from knowing the truth?
You need to understand where Dan and so many others are coming from:
Designer spirituality – non-challenging to our behavior.
Here’s a quote from Dan Brown’s web site, he says this, “Two thousand years ago we lived in a world of gods and goddesses. Today we live in a world solely of gods. Women in most cultures have been stripped of their spiritual power.” Dan Brown’s own beliefs include faith in the sacred feminine. He writes a novel – fiction – but he admits he has an agenda – to revive, recover a belief in and worship of the “sacred feminine.”
Is Dan correct? Has the church taken women from a place of elevated status 2,000 years ago and suppressed and oppressed them? Or does Jesus and the N.T. as we have it today elevate women far beyond how they were viewed and treated in the first century.
Ultimately, Dan Brown’s religion is a form of Gnosticism.
What is Gnosticism? Gnosis and gnosticism are still rather unusual and archaic terms, though in the last two decades the words have been increasingly popular in the vocabulary of contemporary society. Gnosis is a Greek word and means "to know or knowledge." Think of a more common term of the same root but the opposite sense: agnostic, literally "not knowing.”
1. The Gnostics of the first few centuries claimed that rational, propositional knowledge could not lead us to God and His will. Instead, only personal experience and inward intuitive knowledge could do that.
In the first century of the Christian era this term, Gnostic, began to be used to denote a prominent, heretical segment of the Christian community. A group removed themselves from the Church by claiming not simply a belief in Christ and his message, but a "special witness" or personal experience of the divine. It was this experience, this gnosis, which they claimed set the true follower of Christ apart from others. Stephan Hoeller explains that these Gnostic Christians held a "conviction that direct, personal and absolute knowledge of the authentic truths of existence is accessible to human beings, and, moreover, that the attainment of such knowledge must always constitute the supreme achievement of human life." The early church fathers of the first two centuries quickly condemned and dismissed the heresy of the Gnostics as being against the very things that Christy taught and that the Bible attested to. But there have always been forms of Gnosticism around. Even the modern new age movement shares beliefs with early Gnosticism.
2. They also wrote texts that were not narrative but mystical proverbs mixed with some authentic sayings of Jesus.
It was on a December day in the year of 1945, near the town of Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt, that the course of Gnostic studies was radically renewed and forever changed. An Arab peasant, digging around a boulder in search of fertilizer for his fields, happened upon an old, rather large red earthenware jar. Hoping to have found buried treasure, and with due hesitation and apprehension about the jinn, the genie or spirit who might attend such a hoard, he smashed the jar open with his pick. Inside he discovered no treasure and no genie, but books: more than a dozen old papyrus books, bound in golden brown leather. Little did he realize that he had found an extraordinary collection of ancient texts, manuscripts hidden for about 1,500 years, (probably deposited in the jar around the year 390 by monks from the nearby monastery of St. Pachomius).
Today, over fifty years since being unearthed and more than two decades after final translation and publication in English as The Nag Hammadi Library, their importance has become astoundingly clear: These thirteen papyrus codices containing fifty-two gnostic texts and are sometimes referred to as the long lost "Gnostic Gospels." They include the gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Now, don’t misunderstand. These texts were not written by the people whose names they bear. In fact, they were not even written until late second century or later still. But they are revered by many as missing parts of the Bible that the church suppressed and tried to destroy. We’ll talk about these texts in later weeks.
3. In many of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic texts, God is imaged as both male and female. Though their language is specifically Christian and related to the Jewish tradition, Gnostic sources continually use sexual symbolism to describe God. Professor Elaine Pagels (a leading critic of Christianity and believer in Gnosticism) explains,
“One group of gnostic sources claims to have received a secret tradition from Jesus through James and through Mary Magdalene [who the Gnostics revered as consort to Jesus]. Members of this group prayed to both the divine Father and Mother: ‘From Thee, Father, and through Thee, Mother, the two immortal names, Parents of the divine being, and thou, dweller in heaven, humanity, of the mighty name...’”
4. A belief that we are uncreated spirit ourselves. This led to a dualistic belief. Some believed the physical was evil while others believed that even the physical was uncreated. Elaine Pagels, writes, "to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God: this is the secret of gnosis.... Self-knowledge is knowledge of God; the self and the divine are identical." Gnostics affirm that man, in some essential reality, is also God. Gnosticism, says Harold Bloom, "is a knowing, by and of an uncreated self, or self-within-the self, and [this] knowledge leads to freedom...." Primary among what Gnostics reach for is the profound awakening that comes with knowledge that something within him was uncreated. The Gnostics called this "uncreated self" the divine seed, the pearl, the spark of knowing: consciousness, intelligence, light. And this seed of intellect was the self-same substance of God, it was man’s authentic reality; it was the glory of humankind and the divine alike. If woman or man truly came to gnosis of this spark, they understood true freedom: Not contingent, not a conception of sin, not separated from God by sin, but the stuff of God. The third century Manichaean gnostic Faustus, said that both matter (hyle) and the divine spirit are uncreated and coeternal. This idea was quickly dismissed and attacked by the church and especially by Augustine in his essay Contra Faustum as heretical, dualistic thinking.
By A.D. 180, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, was publishing his attacks on Gnosticism as heresy, a work to be continued with increasing vehemence by the church Fathers throughout the next century. Classical Gnosticism vanished from the Western world during the fourth and fifth centuries. But the Gnostic world view -- with its affirmation of individual revelation granting certain knowledge; comprehension of humankind’s true uncreated nature and inherent identity with God; and its perception of duality, or even in an extreme statement, of masculine and feminine elements seeking union within the divine--was not so easily extinguished. Such perceptions continued in various forms to course through Western culture, though, often in the occult. In fact, our postmodern world has been a breeding ground for these ideas to reemerge and gain momentum as people seek designer spirituality – deciding what is true for themselves, rather than accepting God’s revelation of truth.
You see, contemporary scholarship often isn’t scholarship at all. For example, consider the Jesus Seminar. This group of 74 “scholars” has been working for over ten years to decide upon and publish what they believe Jesus really said. It is headed by Dr. Robert Funk, who also hand selected the other 73 people. According to U.S. News and World Report, the Jesus Seminar “intends to begin a new Reformation to free Christianity from primitive church beliefs . . . Christianity, as we have known it, is anemic and wasting away . . . It is time to reinvent Christianity complete with new symbols, new stories and new understandings of Jesus” (April 8, 1996). A careful study of the agenda and work of the Jesus Seminar reveals that they are not doing scholarly work at all. They are not researching the reliability of the N.T. documents. They are simply searching their own hearts. They go over each statement in the four gospels and decide if they think that Jesus would really have said this. They then vote on each saying of Jesus, using one of four colored beads to cast their vote. Each bead represents their level of confidence that Jesus either did or did not say something. The points are then added up and unless the points add up to Jesus definitely having said something recorded in the gospels, it is stricken. They have come out with “The Scholars Version,” a translation of their own, which puts the extremely few statements of Jesus they are sure he said in red and all others in black. So this “scholarly” work has really come down to this. “I have to trust my own heart more than eyewitnesses and those who interviewed eyewitnesses. I have to get truth from within”
On the The Discovery Channel a couple of weeks ago, I stayed up late to watch a show called “Beyond The Da Vinci Code.” Now, for those of you who have watched shows about the history of the Christian faith on this channel, you know it is no friend of Christianity. But even this show exposed the book’s claims as speculation based upon myth and legend.
In an interview on “Good Morning America” Dan Brown said before millions of viewers, “I began as a skeptic. As I started researching “The Da Vinci Code” I really thought I would disprove a lot of this theory about Mary Magdalene and Holy Blood and all that. But I became a believer.” But why? It was not because real evidence led him there. Legend may have led him there but not historical evidences. So what was it. I think another person can answer that question.
An article in US News and World Report quotes a reader of The Da Vinci Code admitting: “I knew that many of the things in Brown’s book weren’t true, but I just wanted them to be.”
Christianity calls for life change through surrender of your life to God. It calls for confession of your own sin, an admission that you are powerless to change on your own – powerless to remove your own sin. It means that you accept what someone else did for you – Jesus – rather than what you can do for yourself. Now that is not attractive to a prideful person. But it is to a broken person.
You see, it comes down to whether we want to have a designer religion that suits our desires or do we want the truth. Fallen man tends to suppress the truth.
Jesus says in John 14:6 – “Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.’” That’s a hard pill to swallow for people who are used to calling the shots in their own life – used to deciding what is true for themselves. But this is what it comes down to. Are we willing to surrender to God and His plan for salvation or will we demand to suppress the truth and design our own religion – one that seems to suit us for now. Well, it may suit you for now, but does it have the power to save you? No. Only Jesus does. God only provided one way. He didn’t have to provide even that one way. But He loves you and I so much that He did. It was the most costly way, but He did it. And now He invites you to believe in His Son and the work on the cross and in His resurrection from the dead.
There is a big and critical difference between what is intriguing, interesting and what is powerful and true. You see, John 14:6 is narrow minded and intolerant . . . unless it is true. If it is true, then it is incredibly inclusive and hopeful. There is a way to be free from our sin and it is available to everyone – but you must believe in Jesus as He has revealed Himself, not as you wish Him to be in your own heart.