The Da Vinci Code is a novel that has powerfully grabbed the interest of many people. It has spent more than 2 years on the New York Times best sellers list, sold over 17 million copies worldwide, has been translated into over 40 languages, and is increasing in popularity all of the time.
What is the book all about? Well, briefly…
The story begins in France where an academic called Robert Langdon has been visiting as a guest speaker. Langdon is called upon at his hotel room in the dead of night by the authorities who take him to assist in a murder investigation. The police tell Langdon that one of the curators of the museum has been found dead. It turns out that the dead man is also the Grand Master of Priory of Sion, a secret society entrusted with an age old secret which is so explosive that it would supposedly destroy the Christian church. Langdon is eventually joined by another key character called Sophie who turns out to be the granddaughter of the dead man. Together, the two attempt to make sense of a tangled set of secrets, riddles, encrypted messages, and codes.
The quest for clues unearths secrets that lead to another so called expert, a British national Leigh Teabing. Whilst being pursued by the police, and an albino killer monk, Langdon and Teabing reveal to Sophie what they feel are errors that the Church is teaching and secrets that it is suppressing.
As I was on my way to work a couple of days ago, I had been thinking about this book and the effect it is having on people felt God impressing on me the words: “Do not underestimate the power of a story.” Then I was reminded of how many stories, or parables, that Jesus Himself used to make His points. Even if a story is fictional, it has the ability to create pictures in the mind, and open up our feelings and emotions in a way that mere facts, statistics, or non-fiction books rarely come near to. Millions of people read novels, and there are many who will just read novels and never anything else. And think about the lasting impression that a story makes on you. Often, it will be the one thing you always remember when you hear a presentation or sermon, and I am sure we can all recount stories told to us by older relatives.
However, just as Jesus Himself recognised that story telling had power to draw people to God; it shouldn’t surprise us that others will also recognises their worth to deceive people away from God. The Da Vinci Code is clearly one such book.
Don’t get me wrong, as a novel, the Da Vinci Code was a fairly reasonable read and I can see how people enjoyed the story, but while the book has the full attention of its readers through its plots and twists, it is here that it slips in a number of serious misconceptions and errors about Christianity, Jesus Christ and the Church. In the context of a story, the author manages to hold his readers and teaches some very negative and false so called “facts” about the Christian religion.
There have been a number of attacks against Christianity in the form of a story book format as of late. One notable recent one has been Philip Pulman’s fictional works His Dark Materials and most notably The Amber Spyglass in particular. This book is filled with much anti Christian content, seeks to turn people against Christianity and the Church and leaves the reader with the impression that God is some sort of a powerless has been, a liar and an impostor. It should also be added that Philip Pulman’s books are especially damaging in that they are especially aimed at impressionable young people.
Hollywood has also been used to deceive people into having their hearts hardened against God and any confidence that they may have in the Bible or the Church greatly damaged. In the middle of 2006 there is a film coming out called the Beast.
“When her father, a biblical scholar, mysteriously disappears, a Christian high school student named Danialle investigates. She discovers that she has stumbled across a cover-up of Christianity’s best kept secret: That Jesus never existed.”
The film, directed by someone who calls himself “an ex-Christian fundamentalist,” and claims that although the film is fictional, it is based on fact, the fact that Jesus never existed and that the Gospels are historically unreliable. The Beast comes out on the 6/06/06!
But probably the most significant attack on Christianity for 2006 from the world of fiction comes in the form of The Da Vinci Code. Not only has the book been hugely successful and widely read but The Da Vinci Code the film is coming out next in May 2006 and is set to become a major blockbuster in the cinemas. And if the book and the film are not enough, there is also a computer game coming out to coincide with the release of the film as well.
Even if people are not reached with the book, the film, or the computer game, we must remember that the views and ideas that are in the story will filter through from the people who have been exposed to them and then they in turn will pass them on to others. Words, views, and theories are absorbed into wider society.
So in more detail what is the Da Vinci Code about, what is the big deal, and why should we consider it to be such an attack on Christianity?
Firstly, even though it is called a novel, Brown opens his book with the words “FACT” in bold, capital letters and this statement:
"All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate".
Quite a bold statement for a book that claims to be fiction! On the one hand, it claims to be fiction, but then, on the other hand, right at the outset, the reader is seized with the statement that the book is really based on actual facts.
But the only fact we can point to about this book is that it is full of historical inaccuracies, twisting of truth, and deception, all of which would leave many readers with an extremely distorted and damaged idea of who Jesus is and what Christianity is all about.
Many of the things the Da Vinci Code says are actually not really new. For example, there was a book out in the 1980’s called Holy Blood Holy Grail which claimed similar things to The Da Vinci Code (Indeed, many writers have noticed that this was almost certainly one of the main sources that Dan Brown used for the material in his book). What is new though is that the errors that the Da Vinci Code contains seem to be reaching a previously untapped audience, those who enjoy fictional stories, films, novels and the like, rather than theological or academic material.
We will now highlight some of the errors and areas of concern in the book:
The Da Vinci Code Calls into Question the Reliability of the Bible and the Canon of Scripture
The Da Vinci Code claims that the Bible has been greatly corrupted and edited to the point that it is nothing like what it originally was. Furthermore, it declares that the Church also suppressed other books that should have found their way into the Bible but didn’t. It is claimed that this was all done by the Roman emperor Constantine at the council of Nicea in 325 AD.
Firstly, anyone who has looked into this knows that the council of Nicea had nothing to do with what books should be included in the Bible or anything like that, but was instead all to do with the doctrine of the Person of Jesus (more on this later).
Although it is true that the actual Canon of Scripture was not set until late on, the evidence and history overwhelmingly shows that the books of the Bible were accepted as divinely inspired Scripture and circulated and read by the church long before the emperor Constantine.
The claim that there were other, earlier gospel accounts that were suppressed by the Church and omitted from the Bible is also untrue. While it is true that there were a number of other writings that attempted to set themselves up as Scripture, such as The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Phillip, and The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, they were not taken seriously by early Christians for two reasons:
1. They were considered heresy because they diverged greatly from the teachings of Jesus (some examples of this later).
2. Their authorship could not be traced either to an apostle or to someone who knew either Jesus or the apostles personally. It appears that this was one of the pre-requisites that the Church used as acceptance. These other writings were not the earliest accounts and most scholars (even liberal ones) believe that these older so called gospels did not arrive on the scene until the middle of the second century, while the New Testament books were composed before the end of the first century and very widely accepted soon after.
It should also be said that it is not true that these books were suppressed by the Church. Rejection does not mean suppression. Many of these books simply fell out of usage due to most early Christians seeing no worth to them. Not a very exotic explanation but it really is as simple as that. Today, there is no conspiracy to hide them, they have been made easily available in any large public library and even a simple word search on the internet has them online.
The Da Vinci Code Claims about Mary Magdalene
This is where the book becomes really bizarre. The Da Vinci Code, through its characters, claims that Mary Magdalene, not Peter, was Jesus’ chief disciple and that she and Jesus were married and had a daughter named Sarah and their descendents are still around today.
In the book the character Teabing recommends The Gospel of Philip as a “good place to start.” To find out about Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s relationship. The Da Vinci Code quotes a portion of the text from The Gospel of Philip in which Jesus is said to “kiss” Mary Magdalene often “on the mouth” and thereby invoke the jealousy of Peter.
Firstly we need to know that the actual document The Gospel of Philip is very fragmentary. The text actually says nothing about kissing Mary on her mouth. The original document says that Jesus kissed her on [blank]. The part of the text in question is damaged, so it could just as easily have been forehead, cheek, or whatever. The word mouth has been added by translators.
Teabing goes on to point out that Mary is described as Jesus’ “companion,” and that this is supposedly troubling for those who would accept what the Bible says. But the word companion can easily just mean sister in the spiritual sense, and doesn’t need any intimate or sexual explanation.
And even if people were to accept the Da Vinci Code’s interpretation of the gospel of Philip, the rest of the book shows why it was considered as error by the Church and rejected (as well as its lateness in being written).
Here are a few examples of the gross Biblical errors found in the gospel of Phillip:
Gospel of Phillip
“Some neither desire to sin nor are able to sin”
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
Gospel of Phillip
“Adam came into being from two virgins, from the Spirit and from the virgin of earth.”
“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground..."
Gospel of Phillip
“There are two trees growing in Paradise. One Bears animals, the other bears men. Adam ate from the tree which bore animals. He became an animal and he brought forth animals. For this reason the children of Adam worship animals.”
The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Gospel of Phillip
“The world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.”
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.”
The Gospel of Philip is a late Gnostic text, which clearly contradicts the earlier biblical Gospels and was the product of an early Christian cult which deviated greatly from the historic Church.
The Da Vinci Code also claims that the painter, Leonardo Da Vinci was part of a secret organisation that knew about Jesus’ relationship with Mary Magdalene and His ancestors, and left clues of this in some of his paintings. The famous The Last Supper is put forward as proof.
The theory that Leonardo DaVinci included Mary Magdalene in his painting The Last Supper is not accepted by art historians, who say that the “feminine” looking figure seated next to Jesus is the boyish Apostle John as he is normally depicted in artwork of the period.
Art writer, Elizabeth Lev, says:
"Brown capitalizes on Leonardo's soft-featured, beardless depiction of John to offer his fantastic claim that we are dealing with a woman. Of course, if St. John were really Mary Magdalene, we may well ask which of the apostles excused himself at the critical moment.
But the real problem stems from our lack of familiarity with "types." In his Treatise on Painting, Leonardo explains that each figure should be painted according to his station and age. A wise man has certain characteristics, an old woman others, and children others still.
A classic type, common to many Renaissance paintings, is the "student." A favored follower, a protégé or disciple, is always portrayed as very youthful, long-haired and clean-shaven; the idea being that he has not yet matured to the point where he must find his own way.
Throughout the Renaissance, artists portray St. John in this fashion. He is the "disciple Jesus loved" — the only one who will be at the foot of the cross. He is the ideal student. To the Renaissance artist the only way to show St. John was as a beardless youth, with none of the hard, determined physiognomy of men. The "Last Supper" of Ghirlandaio and Andrea del Castagno show a similarly soft, young John."
Mary Magdalene wasn't listed among those at the table in any of the four Gospels. The Bible just says that the 12 disciples were at the table. If the figure at Jesus’ side was Mary Magdalene then where was the apostle John in the painting? It is inconceivable that this disciple would not have been present during such a significant event.
Finally, nothing in the Bible even hints that Jesus was married, and even in the later non-biblical Gnostic books we say that Jesus was actually married.
The Da Vinci Code’s and the Deity of Christ
The Da Vinci Code claims that the doctrine of Christ being God was invented by the Church in the fourth century, through the emperor Constantine, at the council of Nicea in 325 AD.
The claim is simply untrue. Although the Deity of Jesus was discussed at the council of Nicea, we cannot say that the Church invented the doctrine that Jesus was God there. A variety of New Testament passages written in the first century affirm the absolute and full deity of Christ, such as Colossians 2:9: “within Him dwells all the fullness of being God in bodily form”, John 1:1: “the Word was God”, John 5:18: “calling God His own Father, making himself equal with God”, John 20:28: “my Lord and my God”, Titus 2:13: “our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,”, Romans 9:5: “God over all, blessed forever” (For further evidence of the belief for Jesus as God in the first century see: The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity).
There are also a number of other early non-biblical historical sources that demonstrate that the early Christians worshipped Jesus as God well before the 4th century. One example:
Pliny the Younger, Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor around 112 AD, wrote to the Emperor Trajan observing that the Christians sang hymns to Christ "as to a god":
"[The Christians] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god..." (emphasis added) (For further examples of the belief for Jesus as God from early non-biblical sources see: Historical Evidence for the Deity of Christ).
Final Thoughts (for now!)…
As well as there being bad things with the deception of the Da Vinci Code there is also some good that could come from it.
The Church has historically always become strengthened by an attack on its message. A challenge to what Christians believe should make the Church wake up and take notice and forces it to examine what they believe.
Another positive aspect is that at least the book may get people thinking about God and give Christians the opportunity to talk to people who may not have otherwise been willing or interested in discussing such things.
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