The Da Vinci Code and the new Gnostics
Dr. Alan Branch
September 14, 2004
The Da Vinci Code has now sold over four million copies and sales continue to rise. The novel revolves around a Harvard professor, Robert Langdon, who is accused of murdering the Louvre’s curator. Using clues found in Leonardo Da Vinci paintings, Langdon and his compatriots begin a quest for the “holy grail” while avoiding police. However, in Dan Brown’s world the “holy grail” is not a cup, but is the womb of Mary Magdalene which “carried the blood of Christ.” One may ask, “How can this be?” According to The Da Vinci Code, Jesus was actually married to Mary Magdalene and bore a child. The “royal line” of Jesus was then secretly perpetuated in France. In the novel, Professor Langdon and friends search for documents, purportedly hidden for centuries by the Knights Templar, which confirm that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. The book can best be described as a bizarre mix of conspiracy theories, historical inaccuracies, goddess worship and neo-Gnosticism.
The Gnostic influence in The Da Vinci Code should be noted very closely. During the last thirty years, a number of academics have argued forcefully that Gnosticism was unfairly rejected by the church. For example, about ten years ago participants in The Jesus Seminar published The Five Gospels which argued for the inclusion of the Gnostic work The Gospel of Thomas into the canon of Scripture. More recently, Princeton professor Elaine Pagels has published Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas. A tireless advocate for the Gnostic “gospels” and Thomas in particular, Pagels argues that the church affirmed the complete deity and humanity of Christ for pragmatic reasons not grounded in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. The Da Vinci Code makes a similar theory available for a wide audience. A character named Teabing claims that until the council of Nicea “Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet” and it was only after Nicea (325 A.D.) that he was recognized as the Son of God.
Prior to 1945, most of what we knew about Gnosticism came from the church fathers who opposed them. However, in that year an ancient Gnostic library was discovered in the Egyptian desert which contained several of the Gnostic “Gospels.” Known as the Nag Hammadi library, these works have basically confirmed the church fathers’ description of Gnosticism. In short, when they told us that Gnostics were heretics, they were telling the truth!
Contrary to Dan Brown, Elaine Pagels and The Jesus Seminar, these “gospels” were not rejected by the church out of secret agenda to consolidate power. The Gnostic gospels were rejected because they are not true. They are forgeries that include just enough real data from the life of Jesus to dupe the uninformed. Essentially, pagan thought “hijacked” Christian terminology and attempted to use Jesus as the vehicle to transport their worldview. For example, pantheistic elements are present in Thomas which claims Jesus said, “Split a piece of wood, and I am there.”
The assertion that Jesus was viewed as a mere mortal prior to the Council of Nicea is perhaps the most obviously false claim made in The Da Vinci Code. The entire New Testament is a testimony to Christ’s deity. All four of the canonical gospels are dated from the first century and all four reference Christ’s deity. Furthermore, the earliest proclamation of the church was Christ’s death, burial and resurrection (I Cor. 15:1-8). How can a “mere mortal” be resurrected? Paul said Jesus was in very nature God (Philippians 2:5). Hebrews says Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3). James calls him the “Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1:1). The last book written, Revelation, focuses on the Lamb, Jesus, who is the center of worship! One is left to wonder if Dan Brown has seriously studied the New Testament.
The pagan worldview of Dan Brown has corresponding ethical implications. For example, at one point in The Da Vinci Code, professor Langdon argues that sexual immorality as part pagan worship is really sacred and holy. In contrast, the Scriptures teach that such gross immorality is a reflection of the radical autonomy at the heart of the fall (Romans 1:18-32).
Gnosticism is back. The overwhelming biblical illiteracy that pervades our society will make more people susceptible to its claims. In contrast to the supposed “secrets” of Gnosticism, we have a Gospel based on what was “seen” and “looked at” and “touched” (1 John 1:1). (Dr. Allen Branch is vice president for student development and assistant professor of Christian ethics at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City.)