....[The Da Vinci Code is essentially based on]a book called Holy Blood, Holy Grail, written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, a book that had appeared on bestseller lists a few years earlier. The whole premise behind the book questioned the Christian church’s historical understanding of Jesus Christ, suggesting, among other things, that Jesus was married, had a child, and never actually died on the cross of Calvary.
As the book hit stores across the nation, a review in the Los Angeles Times suggested that the secrets revealed in the book were “Enough to seriously challenge many traditional Christian beliefs, if not alter them.” Well, a few years later it’s obvious that Holy Blood, Holy Grail did nothing to topple the Christian church, and with good reason. No credible historian took that book seriously because the weight of actual historical evidence falls very firmly on the side of traditional Christian understandings of Jesus.
Most people simply didn’t take the Baigent book seriously, because there wasn’t much between its covers that you could actually substantiate. Like so many other flaky conspiracy theories, it was destined for the trash heap of history, until The Da Vinci Code hit bookstores.
For some reason, this time it struck a much deeper chord with the public, even though The Da Vinci Code was basically a rehash of the same conspiracy theory. The Da Vinci Code borrows so heavily from Holy Blood, Holy Grail, in fact, that one of the lead characters in Dan Brown’s book, a man by the name of Leigh Teabing, has a name that’s actually derived by rearranging the names of two of the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail: Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. This time the theory that Jesus was married with children took off like wildfire, selling tens of millions of copies and filling theaters all across the country.
And then, at the same time, in a move almost certainly calculated to maximize publicity for their magazine, National Geographic announced that it was in possession of the gospel of Thomas, a hitherto secret version of the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The result of all this media activity was that an otherwise obscure theory became front-page news. All of a sudden, everybody was talking about the Templars and the hidden bloodline of Jesus. Popular news magazines ran stories about it. Hundreds of spin-off books were written, and the TV airways were full of historical specials on the secret societies of the Middle Ages. And of course, Christians found the whole discussion deeply troubling because if Dan Brown was right, then the foundations that hold up 2,000 years of Christian history have essentially been ripped out from under out feet.
So, the question I want to explore with you today is very simple. Is there any truth to The Da Vinci Code?
Well, before we get started, let me underscore something that a lot of people have already been saying about The Da Vinci Code: You’ll notice it’s for sale in the fiction section of the bookstore. And that’s because nobody has ever claimed that the story is true.
However, the fact that Dan Brown writes in such a convincing style—and makes several statements to the effect that the story is based on truth—makes it necessary for people to think about it very carefully. Even if Dan Brown didn’t want people to believe—and I think he did—but even if he didn’t, a lot of people are still taking The Da Vinci Code to the bank, and it’s made a shambles out of some people’s faith.
So, today, let’s take a look at it. We’ve only got a few minutes together, so we’re only going to be able to skim over a few of the highlights, but I think that it will be more than enough to prove the point.
Here are some of the major claims made in the book. Number one, that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and together they had a child. Number two, that Jesus was never considered as God by the early church until the Council of Nicea declared it to be so in 325 AD. Number three, that the four Gospels presented in the New Testament were included in the Bible by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, to cover up the conspiracy, and something like 80 other gospels were rejected so the lie could be perpetrated. Number four, that secret societies like the Knights Templar and the Prieure de Sion, a group whose members are said to have included Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci, have carefully guarded these secrets for centuries in the face of violent persecution from the organized Christian church.
Now, again, I think it’s important that we emphasize that the whole book is clearly labeled a work of fiction, and that no publisher has ever claimed that any of these ideas are historically verifiable. Yet, the clever way Dan Brown presents them has a lot of people confused, if not convinced. And again, there’s an author’s note in the book telling us that all descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate. So even though it is a work of fiction, I have to say that it gives the average reader who isn’t familiar with Christian history the distinct impression that The Da Vinci Code is, at the very least, historical fiction based on real events.
The lines between fact and fiction have been carefully blurred to lend credibility to undocumented theories, many of which we know are wildly inaccurate. Let me give you an example. In one spot, the book suggests that the Dead Sea Scrolls contain some of Christianity’s earliest documents, which have been carefully suppressed by the organized church. Now, I want to give Dan Brown the benefit of the doubt, but it should be pointed out that the documents discovered in the Dead Sea caves were exclusively Old Testament and all of them actually pre-date Christianity.
Then there’s the claim that ancient documents discovered at Nag Hammadi in the 1940s contain the “earliest Christian documents available, older than the New Testament.” Now, that’s simply not true, because the New Testament was finished before the end of the first century and the Nag Hammadi documents mostly date to the end of the second century, a difference of more than one hundred years.
I guess what Dan Brown is trying to convince us of is that the older the document, the more reliable it is, and that the stuff they found at Nag Hammadi tells a wildly different story of Jesus than the one you find in the Bible. The conclusion we’re supposed to come to is that the Bible’s been lying to us, even though it does happen to be the older document.
And that brings me to the pages of the Bible itself. The Da Vinci Code says that the four Gospels in the New Testament are only there because the Roman Emperor, Constantine, put them there. It supposedly happened at the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., when the Church needed Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to prove their brand-new theory that Jesus was actually God in human flesh. We are told that the church actually sifted through something like 80 different gospels before they came up with something they could use to present their lie to the public.
Of course, while that theory makes for pretty riveting reading, there’s not a stitch of truth to it. No reputable historian has found anything to back it up. It just didn’t happen, and the truthfulness of the New Testament Gospels, well, that’s been established for hundreds of years. It was established even before the Council of Nicea, which is proven by the fact that earlier church writings make constant reference to them as authoritative documents for Christians. And all those other gospels? None of them is mentioned at all.
So the question is: Where did Dan Brown get these ideas? What he didn’t borrow from somebody else, he just made up. Another good example of just how wrong The Da Vinci Code is can be found in the claim that nobody thought of Jesus as God in the flesh before the Council of Nicea. Now, again, that’s just not true. The doctrine of Christ’s divinity was well understood by the Christian church right from the start, when the very first believers wrote about his miracles and His claim to be equal to the Father.
So, the question is, did anybody really discuss the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325? Well, the answer to that is yes, but the only topic of discussion was how God the Son is related to God the Father, and nobody ever discussed whether or not Jesus was actually God.
You know, you can search all through history and you’ll never find an occasion where the Christian church launched a massive conspiracy to claim the divinity of Jesus. And what’s really ironic about The Da Vinci Code is that while Dan Brown is trying to convince us that someone is lying about Jesus, it turns out he’s the one who is doing it.
Let me give you another good example. In The Da Vinci Code we hear that Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene, and we’re told that this fact has been carefully hidden from us for centuries. Why would the church hide the marriage of Jesus? Well, supposedly it’s because the Christian church actually frowns on the institution of marriage and the whole subject of intimacy between the sexes. Now, I have to admit that over the years, on occasion, the church has taken a less than healthy attitude on this subject, but biblically speaking, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Book of Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that marriage is honorable among all in the bed undefiled. And let’s not forget what Jesus Himself, said about marriage in the Matthew 19 (Matthew 19:4-6):
“And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?” So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.’”
Again, it looks to me like Dan Brown is kind of making it up as he goes along. Don’t forget the Gospel of Matthew was supposed to be one of those fakes used by the church to run down the institution of marriage. And yet right here in the middle of this same Gospel, Jesus announces that marriage was invented by God Himself.
Just like the rest of Dan Brown’s book, it just doesn’t add up. And neither does the claim that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. To prove his point, Dan Brown goes to the apocryphal gospel of Philip, which was probably written sometime in the late third century. The gospel of Philip, which was penned by a group of heretics known as the Gnostics, says that Mary was a companion of Jesus and that He kissed her.
Now, I can’t deny that’s what the gospel of Philip says, but let me point out just a few things. First of all, the gospel of Philip is not an eyewitness account, like the four Gospels of the New Testament. Even if there are any shreds of truth in that book, we shouldn’t forget that it’s essentially a work of fiction written a long time after the original disciples died. Secondly, when it calls Mary Magdalene a companion, that’s hardly the same thing as a spouse. Thirdly, many people greeted each other with a kiss in Jesus’ day, and a kiss wasn’t necessarily a sexual thing. Don’t forget that Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss on the night of his betrayal.
Again, Dan Brown’s just making it up, and the only support he seems to have are these other strange gospels that on average were written more than 100 years after the New Testament. And who wrote these other books? Well, as Christianity spread in the first few centuries, so did bad ideas about the Christian message.
Some pagan cultures, as they embraced Christianity, were simply hesitant to give up pagan philosophy. One of these groups was the Gnostics, who had a radically different understanding of the universe than you or I do. They believed that an inferior god, known as the Demiurge, created the material world that you and I live in. This, according to their understanding, was a big mistake, because the material world is imperfect and evil. They believed we should have never been created to live a material, physical existence. According to the Gnostics, the mission of Jesus was to set us free from the prison of the physical world and to set us free from the horrible mistakes of the Creator.
Now, to promote this kind of thinking, the Gnostics wrote a number of so-called gospels and other books, some of which have survived to this day.
Now, of course, this idea about Jesus is just plain wrong when you check it against the Bible. There is nothing in God’s book to suggest that creation was a mistake. In fact, in the book of Genesis, it says that when God created this planet He stood back and said, “It is very good.” And then in the New Testament we discover that Jesus didn’t come to fix the mistakes of the Creator; He came to fix our mistakes. In fact, when it comes right down to it, we discover in the first chapters of Hebrews, Colossians and John that Jesus Himself is the Creator. According to the Bible, there’s nothing wrong with a physical, material existence, because that’s the way God made us in the first place. And after Jesus comes again, we’re eventually going to be restored to a newly created world—another physical existence.
You know, there’s a good reason the early church rejected the Gnostic gospels, and it’s because they were in direct contradiction to the teachings of Jesus and the writings of the Old Testament. And worst of all, the Gnostics missed the whole point of why Jesus came to earth in the first place. Read the four Gospels of the New Testament very carefully and you’ll notice something remarkable. All of them drive relentlessly toward the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. They drive to the very heart of what Jesus did for us.
In a great book on The Da Vinci Code phenomenon, author Ben Witherington III makes a great point. Listen to this:
“…the term gospel (“good news”) is not just a Christian term, but rather one that was already in use in the Greco-Roman world before the canonical gospels were written. Because the ancient world didn’t have a free market economy, public gifts from higher-status persons were what greased the wheels of society and commerce. Emperors were lauded for their good deeds of benefaction and their triumphs in wars. The “gospel” was good news about actions taken on behalf of the people by the emperor (or another wealthy person). The benefactors weren’t in the main, praised for their great philosophical or wise utterances.
When early Christians picked up the term Gospel, they had in mind the good news of things Jesus had done, while also including some of His teachings.”
So, how is that different from the gospels the Gnostics taught? Well, the difference is very important. They present a radically different Jesus than the Christ of the Bible—a mysterious teacher who spoke in riddles and filled His disciples’ heads with vague philosophical teachings. Following the footsteps of the Greek philosophers, and the philosopher Plato in particular, the Gnostics believed that we would ultimately be saved from the evil, material world through our own personal wisdom and understanding.
I guess if you want to boil it down to one simple idea, it’s salvation by knowledge. And the really lousy part of Gnostic theology was that the kind of knowledge you needed for salvation wasn’t available to just anybody. In fact, only the very brightest and best were going to be elevated above the misery of this world. Their message stands in sharp contrast to the open invitation of the Bible, which says,
“Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Revelation 22:17) And it stands in direct opposition to the words of Jesus, who said, “If I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men unto me.” (John 12:32)
Now, you’ll never find that kind of openness in Gnostic books because they never really wanted anybody in their group except the intellectually elite. According to the Gnostics, if you can’t wrap your head around their so-called secret knowledge, then there’s no hope for you, and frankly, that’s not good news. It’s not a gospel because the Gospel is the story of what Jesus did for you because you couldn’t do it yourself.
You know, I’ve just got to ask a question: Why in the world would people find The Da Vinci Code so appealing? I mean, there’s not a lick of good news anywhere in it. If we chose to believe the fabrications of Dan Brown’s mind, we’re left without a Savior. We’re left without a solid place to stand. All we’ve got left is a mere man who never rose from the dead, and that would mean we’re all destined for a meaningless end.
You’ve got to wonder why people find that such a wonderful way to look at life. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that if we accept the record of the Bible as true, then we have to admit there’s a Creator who has some claim on our lives. And some people find that a little uncomfortable because they have this idea that the claims of God on our lives are going to enslave us and rob us of genuine freedom.
Simply put, nothing could be further from the truth. When you come face-to-face with Jesus, you discover that the Bible is reliable and that the words of Jesus present both hope and truth. “If you abide in my words,” said Jesus, “you are my disciples, indeed, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
Let me ask you something important. What exactly is freedom? For Dan Brown freedom appears to a release from the claims of the biblical Christ. But in the end, that leaves you with a serious problem and it forces you into a horrible slavery. You’re going to have to sort out the sin in you life all by yourself. You become a slave to the material world, fighting to escape it with all your might, and believe me, that’s not freedom, because you’re going to discover you’ll never break free of the misery and sin of planet Earth.
As Jesus stated so plainly (John 8:34-36):
“Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’”
You know, it’s hard to imagine someone who is truly delighted in the message of The Da Vinci Code, at least if they really understand what Dan Brown is saying. Where’s the hope? Where’s the good news? And frankly, where’s God?
You know I think a lot of us fell for this book because it’s been a while since we actually looked at what the Bible says about Jesus and what He’s done for us. We’re running on assumptions and urban legends and we’ve set ourselves up for the likes of Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code. To a small extent, I suppose we only have ourselves to blame.For the entire program please feel free to go to www.itiswritten.com