Clearly, one of the most
popular novels of our time is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Well over
forty million copies have sold worldwide, and Sony Pictures is teaming up with
Ron Howard to produce a movie based on the story that is scheduled to be
released in May, 2006. The novel has been the subject of numerous news magazine
programs such as 20/20, Primetime and Dateline, and has drawn criticism from
many circles, including Bible believing Christians around the world.
The fictional story begins with the murder of the Louvre’s curator in Paris. But this curator isn’t just interested in art; he’s also the Grand Master of a secret society called the Priory of Sion. The Priory guards a secret that, if revealed, would discredit biblical Christianity. Before dying, the curator attempts to pass on the secret to his granddaughter Sophie, a cryptographer, and Harvard professor Robert Langdon, by leaving a number of clues that he hopes will guide them to the truth.
So what’s the secret? The location and identity of the fabled Holy Grail – the cup Jesus used when he instituted the Lord’s Supper during his final Passover. For centuries, treasure hunters and archeologists have sought to find the so-called Holy Grail, believing it not only would be the archeological find of the millennium, but would convey special powers to its owner.
However in Brown’s novel, the Grail is not the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper. The secret that the Priory of Sion has been guarding for the past two thousand years is the alleged fact that the Holy Grail is a person – Mary Magdalene, the wife of Jesus, who carried on the royal bloodline of Christ by giving birth to His child. The Priory guards the secret location of Mary’s tomb and serves to protect the bloodline of Jesus that has continued to this day.
So, once again we ask, why
should any Christian be concerned about a fictional novel with a completely
ridiculous and absurd plot? The reason is simply that vast numbers of people
around the world actually believe The Da Vinci Code is based on
documented fact which the Roman Catholic Church has kept hidden for centuries.
The first word one encounters in The Da Vinci Code, in bold uppercase
letters, is the word “FACT,” followed by the claim, “All descriptions of
artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are
accurate.” Countless numbers of readers who have no special knowledge of this
controversy have actually assumed the statement to be true. What many don’t
realize is that the statement is not only false, but has been documented as
false by both scholars and criminal investigators.
The Da Vinci Code’s fictional historian, Leigh Teabing claims that the fourth century Emperor Constantine intentionally embellished the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Teabing alleges that other gospel accounts – notably the writings of second century Gnostics – were intentionally omitted from the scriptures by Constantine (AD 274-337). In the novel, Teabing says, “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.”
It’s been said the best way to pass off a lie as truth is to mix in just enough truth to make the lie believable. The truth is that Constantine did send a letter to Eusebius (AD 283-371) ordering the preparation of “fifty copies of the sacred Scriptures.” However, nowhere in the letter does he command or even request that any of the Gospels be embellished in order to make Jesus appear more godlike. Even if he had, Constantine would have failed to accomplish his goal. The teachings of the Gnostics and their perversions of the biblical account of the life and true nature of Jesus Christ were already being condemned in the writings of the apostles John and Paul. And while some were willing to follow this new mystical heresy, faithful Christians were universally rejecting these teachings and would have never tolerated these writings replacing those of the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Before the reign of
Constantine, the church suffered tremendous persecution under the Emperor
Diocletian (AD 245-313). It’s unthinkable that the same Christians who had
suffered through this persecution would cast aside these most cherished inspired
writings of the apostles and accept in their place the heretical embellished
Gnostic accounts of the life of Jesus. We can also be sure that if Constantine
had tried to convince the early church fathers to alter the inspired writings of
the apostles with the Gnostic teachings about Jesus, we would have found some
mention of this in the writings of Eusebius and others. However, there is no
mention whatsoever of an attempt by Constantine to embellish the inspired
accounts of the life of Christ.
First, we can compare these
pre-Nicene manuscripts with those that followed the Council of Nicaea in AD 325
to see if any embellishment existed. None did.
Although there’s no
historical basis for the claim that Constantine embellished the New Testament
Gospels to make Jesus appear more godlike, the question still remains as to
whether the Gospels are reliable sources of information about Jesus. According
to Teabing, the novel’s fictional historian, “Almost everything our fathers
taught us about Christ is false.” Is this true? There are historical facts
that clearly show the reliability and authenticity of the New Testament Gospels.
However, a question raised by many skeptics is, did the Gospel writers intend to accurately record the life and teachings of Jesus, or were they only interested in promoting their own “Christian” theological agendas? Craig Blomberg, a New Testament scholar, observes that the prologue to Luke’s Gospel “reads very much like prefaces to other generally trusted historical and biographical works of antiquity.” He further notes that since Matthew and Mark are similar to Luke in terms of genre, “it seems reasonable that Luke’s historical intent would closely mirror theirs.” Finally, John tells us that he wrote his Gospel so that people might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they might have life in His name. (John 20:31) While this statement obviously reveals a theological agenda, Blomberg points out that “if you’re going to be convinced enough to believe, the theology has to flow from accurate history.”
In addition to the fact that the Gospels were written in the first century and recognized as the account of the writer that bears its name, there is additional evidence that argues for the reliability and integrity of the four Gospels. History and archaeology have corroborated the accounts of the Gospel writers. Where these authors mention people, places, and events that can be checked against other ancient sources, they are consistently shown to be reliable.
However, a question that is
frequently asked today, in light of the discovery of the Gnostic Gospel of
Judas, is what about those Gospels that were omitted from the New Testament?
Specifically, why doesn’t the New Testament now include the Nag Hammadi
documents discovered in Egypt at the end of World War II?
Since their discovery in 1945, there’s been much interest in the Nag Hammadi texts. What are these documents? When were they written, and by whom, and for what purpose? According to Teabing, the historian in The Da Vinci Code, the Nag Hammadi texts represent “the earliest Christian records.” He claims these “unaltered gospels,” tell the real story about Jesus and early Christianity, and that the New Testament Gospels are nothing more than a later, corrupted version of these more accurate records.
The main problem with Teabing’s theory is that it’s completely wrong. The Nag Hammadi documents are not “the earliest Christian records” – a fact recognized by virtually every credible Biblical scholar. Every book in the New Testament is earlier. The New Testament documents were all written in the first century AD. The dates for the Nag Hammadi texts range from the second to the third century AD. In fact, most of these writings are more than just a few generations removed from the preaching and writings of the inspired apostles of Jesus Christ. While they reflect the development of the Gnostic beliefs that date to the first century AD, they were written at least 100 to 200 years following the events recorded in the New Testament.
The main belief of Gnosticism is that salvation comes through secret knowledge. As a result, the Gnostic Gospels, in contrast to the New Testament Gospels, place little or no value on the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gnostic belief made it a point to separate the human Jesus from the Christ – the Son of God. Gnostics saw the human Jesus and the Christ as two separate and distinct beings. They argued that it was not the Christ who suffered and died; it was merely the human Jesus. The death of Jesus Christ was of little consequence to the Gnostics because in their view the death of Jesus was not intended to attain salvation for all mankind. His death only freed His spirit from His body so that His spirit could achieve the highest level of knowledge. To the Gnostic, what was more important was not the death of the man Jesus but the secret knowledge brought by Christ. According to the Gnostics, salvation comes through a correct understanding of this secret knowledge.
Clearly these doctrines are incompatible with the New Testament teaching about Christ and salvation (see: Romans 3:21-26; 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:3-11; Titus 2:11-14). Ironically, they’re also incompatible with Teabing’s view that the Nag Hammadi texts “speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms.” The Nag Hammadi texts actually present Christ as a divine being, although quite differently from the Christ of the New Testament.
The Nag Hammadi texts are
both of later origin than the New Testament writings of the apostles, and
promote a doctrinal system of belief that is radically different from the
teachings of the New Testament. These are two of the main reasons why these
Gnostic writings are not included along with the writings of the apostles.
In the early centuries of Christianity, many books were written about the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. Most of these books never made it into the New Testament. They include such titles as The Gospel of Philip, The Acts of John, and The Apocalypse of Peter. How was the decision made as to what books would be included in the New Testament and which books would be rejected? According to Teabing in The Da Vinci Code, “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by... Constantine the Great.” However, that is simply not true.
The early church had definite criteria that had to be met before a book would be included in the New Testament. First, the book had to be ancient, one written close to the time of Jesus – in other words, a first century AD writing. Second, it had to be written either by an apostle or by a close companion of an apostle. Third, it had to be consistent with other accepted writings that formed the basis of faith. And fourth, the writing had to be widely recognized and accepted by Christians from the first century on. Books that didn’t meet these criteria were not included in the New Testament.
When were these decisions made, and by whom? To the surprise of some, there was no ecumenical council in the early church that officially decreed that the twenty-seven books presently in our New Testament were the right ones. The canon of the New Testament took shape gradually over time as early Christians read, accepted and circulated those writings that were recognized to be inspired by God. The earliest collections of writings to circulate among Christians in the first half of the second century were the four Gospels and the letters of the apostle Paul. It was not until Marcion published his heretical version of the New Testament in about AD 144 that leaders in the early church sought to define the canon of the New Testament more specifically.
Toward the end of the second
century there was a growing consensus that the canon should include the four
Gospels, Acts, the thirteen Pauline epistles, “epistles by other ‘apostolic
men,’ and the Revelation of John.” The Muratorian Canon, which dates toward the
end of the second century, recognized every New Testament book except Hebrews,
James, 1 and 2 Peter, and 3 John. However, these writings were recognized
by Irenaeus in the late second century and Origen in the early third century.
Therefore, while the earliest list of the books in our New Testament comes from
Athanasius in AD 367, there was widespread agreement on most of these books
(including the four Gospels) by the end of the second century.
Mary Magdalene, of course, is a major figure in The Da Vinci Code. Let’s take a look at Mary, beginning by addressing the unfortunate misconception that she was a prostitute. Where did this idea originate? And why do so many people believe it?
According to the novel’s fictional historian, Leigh Teabing, the popular understanding of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute “is the legacy of a smear campaign... by the early Church.” In Teabing’s view, “The Church needed to defame Mary... to cover up her dangerous secret – her role as the Holy Grail.” Remember, in The Da Vinci Code, the Holy Grail is not the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Instead it’s Mary Magdalene, who’s alleged to have been both Jesus’ wife and the one who carried His royal bloodline in their child.
How should we respond to
this? Did the early church really seek to slander Mary as a prostitute in order
to cover up her intimate relationship with Jesus?
For instance, like some erroneously do today, Gregory may have identified the sinful woman in Luke 7, who anointed Jesus’ feet, with Mary of Bethany in John 12, who also anointed Jesus’ feet shortly before His death. This would have been easy to do because, although there are differences, there are also many similarities between the two separate incidents. If Gregory thought the sinful woman of Luke 7 was the Mary of John 12, he may then have mistakenly linked this woman with Mary Magdalene. Interestingly, Luke mentions Mary Magdalene for the first time at the beginning of chapter 8, right after the story of Jesus’ anointing in Luke 7. Since it is assumed by many that the unnamed woman in Luke 7 was guilty of some sexual sin, then it’s understandable how someone who thought this woman was also Mary Magdalene could conclude that she may have been a prostitute.
It’s most likely that Gregory was mistaken when he misidentified Mary as a prostitute. But there is no evidence that this was part of a smear campaign by the early church to discredit Mary Magdalene in an effort to cover up some “secret.”
What do the earliest written sources reveal about the real Mary Magdalene? According to The Da Vinci Code’s fictional historian, Teabing, Mary was the wife of Jesus, the mother of His child, and the one whom He intended to establish the church after His death. In support of these theories, Teabing appeals to two of the Gnostic Gospels: The Gospel of Philip and The Gospel of Mary (referring to Mary Magdalene). Let’s look first at The Gospel of Mary.
The section of The Gospel of Mary quoted in the novel presents an angry apostle Peter who can’t believe that the risen Christ has secretly revealed information to Mary that He didn’t reveal to His male disciples. Levi (Matthew) rebukes Peter by saying, “If the Savior made her worthy, who are you... to reject her? Surely the Savior knows her very well. That is why he loved her more than us.”
So, what about this passage? First, we need to understand that nowhere in The Gospel of Mary is it said that Mary was Jesus’ wife or the mother of His child. Second, many scholars believe this text should probably be read symbolically from the Gnostic point of view. Peter would be representative of the early Christian orthodox views about Jesus while Mary would represent a form of Gnosticism. This Gospel is probably claiming that “Mary” (that is, the Gnostics) has received divine revelation, even though “Peter” (that is, the orthodox) find it impossible to accept. Finally, even if this text should be read literally, there is no reason to think it’s historically accurate. It was most likely written sometime in the late second century, about a hundred years after the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. So, contrary to what’s implied in the novel, it certainly wasn’t written by Mary Magdalene – or any of Jesus’ other original followers.
If we want reliable information about Mary, we need to turn to earliest and most reliable sources – the New Testament Gospels. The Gospel accounts reveal that Mary was a follower of Jesus from the town of Magdala. After Jesus cast seven demons out of her, she (along with other women) helped support His ministry. (Luke 8:1-3) She witnessed Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, and was the first to see the risen Christ. (Matthew 27:55-61; John 20:11-18) Jesus even entrusted her with proclaiming His resurrection to His disciples. (John 20:17-18) This is all the Gospels tell us about Mary. She was obviously an important character in the story of Jesus, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest that she was His wife, or that He intended her to lead the church.
However, those who read The Da Vinci Code may still have questions about The Gospel of Philip. There is no argument that the strongest textual evidence that Jesus was married comes from the Gnostic writing known as The Gospel of Philip. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the character, Leigh Teabing, would appeal to this text. The section of The Gospel of Philip quoted in the novel reads as follows: “And the companion of the Savior is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on her mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval. They said to him, ‘Why do you love her more than all of us?’”
But notice that the first line says that Mary was the “companion” of Jesus, not His wife. However, in the novel, Teabing argues that Jesus and Mary were married by stating, “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.” Although this sounds rather convincing, there are some fatal flaws in this theory.
The Gospel of Philip was originally written in Greek, not Aramaic. Therefore, what the term “companion” meant in Aramaic is entirely irrelevant. Even in the Coptic translation of The Gospel of Philip found at Nag Hammadi, a Greek word (koinonos) lies behind the term translated “companion.” Scholars agree that “koinonis” is not the typical term for “wife” in the Greek. The term is most often used to refer to a “partner” in the business sense – an “associate.” For example, the word “koinonis” is used by Luke to describe James and John as Peter’s business partners. (Luke 5:10) The Hebrew writer uses the word “companion” in a slightly different sense, suggesting those Christians had been a “companion” with others who also suffered persecution. (Hebrews 10:32-33) The common Greek word for “wife” is “gune,” and is the word used by Jesus Himself in the Parable of the Great Supper. (Luke 14:16-24) Here Jesus was showing excuses that were made by some for not attending the feast – including one man who said, “I have married a wife (“gune”), and therefore I cannot come.” (Luke 14:20)
So contrary to the claim of Teabing, the statement that Mary was Jesus’ companion does not in any way whatsoever prove that she was His wife.
But what about the statement from The Gospel of Philip that says, “Christ loved her... and used to kiss her often on her mouth”? Once again, there are several problems with this statement.
First, this portion of the
manuscript is damaged. Simply put, we don’t actually know where Jesus kissed
Mary. There’s a hole in the manuscript at that place. Some believe that she may
have been kissed on her cheek or forehead since either term fits in the break.
Therefore, not even the
Gnostic Gospel of Philip offers sufficient evidence that Jesus was
The two most educated fictitious characters in The Da Vinci Code claim that an unmarried Jesus is highly improbable. Historian Leigh Teabing says, “Jesus as a married man makes infinitely more sense than our standard biblical view of Jesus as a bachelor.” Robert Langdon, the fictitious Harvard professor of Religious Symbology, concurs: “Jesus was a Jew, and the social decorum during that time virtually forbid a Jewish man to be unmarried. According to Jewish custom, celibacy was condemned... If Jesus were not married, at least one of the Bible’s Gospels would have mentioned it and offered some explanation for His unnatural state of bachelorhood.”
Could this be true?
In his excellent book Breaking The Da Vinci Code, Darrell Bock argues that an unmarried Jesus is not at all improbable. Of course, it’s certainly true that most Jewish men of Jesus’ day did marry. And it’s also true that marriage was often viewed as a fundamental human obligation, especially in light of God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) However, by the first century there were a number of exceptions to this general custom.
The first century Jewish writer, Philo of Alexandria, described the Essenes as those who “repudiate marriage… for no one of the Essenes ever marries a wife.” Interestingly, the Essenes were often admired for their celebacy. Philo also wrote, “This now is the enviable system of life of these Essenes, so that not only private individuals but even mighty kings, admiring the men, venerate their sect, and increase... the honors which they confer on them.” Historical writings such as this clearly show that not all Jews of Jesus’ day considered marriage a requirement. And those who sought to remain unmarried for religious reasons were often admired rather than condemned.
The New Testament does not
condemn those who choose to remain unmarried. In fact, it praises those who
choose to remain single to devote themselves to the work of the Lord. In 1
Corinthians 7:25-38, the apostle Paul (who was single) wrote, “Now concerning
virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom
the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. I suppose therefore that this is
good because of the present distress — that it is good for a man to remain as he
is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a
wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and
if a virgin marries, she has not sinned… But I want you to be without care. He
who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord.
But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please
his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried
woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and
in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world — how she
may please her husband… But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward
his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do
what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry… So then he who gives her in
marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.”
Furthermore, in Matthew 19:12, Jesus explains that some people “have renounced
marriage because of the kingdom of heaven” (NIV). Notice His conclusion, “The
one who can accept this should accept it.”
We’ve examined The Da
Vinci Code’s claim that Jesus was married and found that there is nothing to
substantiate that claim. Mark Roberts observed “that most proponents of the
marriage of Jesus thesis have an agenda. They are trying to strip Jesus of his
uniqueness, and especially his deity.” This is certainly true of The Da
Vinci Code. Not only does the novel call into question Jesus’ deity by
alleging that He was married, it also maintains that His earliest followers
never actually believed He was divine.
By the time of the Council of Nicaea, the followers of Jesus had been proclaiming His deity for nearly three centuries. Not only are the earliest written sources about the life of Jesus found in the New Testament, these first century documents repeatedly affirm the deity of Christ. For instance, in his letter to the Colossians, the apostle Paul declared, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9; see also Romans 9:5; Philippians 2:5-11; Titus 2:13). And John wrote, “In the beginning was the Word... and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1, 14)
There are also claims to the deity of Jesus found in the writings of the pre-Nicene church fathers. In the early second century, Ignatius of Antioch wrote of “our God, Jesus the Christ.” Similar claims to the deity of Jesus can be found throughout these early writings. There is even non-Christian testimony from the second century that Christians believed in Christ’s divinity. Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan, around AD 112, that the early Christians “were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day... when they sang... a hymn to Christ, as to a god.”
Therefore, the claim that early Christians did
not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ is blatantly false. Christians
believed in Christ’s deity long before the Council of Nicaea. In fact, first
and second century Christians were so convinced of His deity that they were
willing to die rather than deny it.
Finally, what about the
Priory of Sion – the secret organization dating back to the days of the Crusades
and the Knights Templar who were said to be entrusted with safeguarding the
secrets about the Holy Grail?
The story of
Saunière has since been debunked by several scholarly studies. The parish
priest did not become a millionaire, even though he became wealthy. But his
wealth didn’t come from some mysterious treasure of secret documents, but rather
from illegally fleecing the people of his village and of surrounding villages.
claimed that the Priory of Sion later had a number of well-known and highly
respected secret members over the centuries, including Leonardo da Vinci
(1452-1519) and Isaac Newton (1642-1727), as well as famed author Victor Hugo
(1802-1885), and the musician Claude Debussy (1862-1918), just to name a few.
advantage of the sudden celebrity status he had achieved and began hinting in
talk shows that he may have been not only the last of the rightful descendants
to the throne of France, but, based on the theory advanced in the popular novel
Holy Blood, Holy Grail, Plantard may also be the last living descendant
of Jesus Christ.