Da Vinci Code fiction in a post-truth society
May 2, 2006
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown has sold over 40 million copies world wide. The novel and soon-to-be-released movie present Christians with a unique opportunity to bear witness to Jesus Christ in a post-truth society.
“Seek the Truth” is the tag line for the movie. What is the truth according to Dan Brown’s fictional plot? In the story Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon learns of the murder of the elderly curator of the Louvre, Jacques Sauniere. Moments before he died Sauniere left a series of clues to a secret that he and other members of a secret society called the Priory of Sion have guarded for centuries. The secret could undermine Christianity. Professor Langdon is led on a breathless chase through the cathedrals of Europe and Christian history to locate an ancient document called the “Gospel According to Mary Magdalene” that will verify that the secret is true.
What is the secret? According to The Da Vinci Code, Jesus Christ was neither the divine Son of God nor the only way of salvation. Rather, Jesus was a mortal prophet, a powerful man but not divine. He married Mary Magdalene and had children with her. Jesus intended that Mary should be the head of a church that worshiped the Divine Feminine, characteristic of pagan religions, rather than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
How did a patriarchal faith displace the matriarchal goddess religion Jesus intended? Here is where Brown hooks conspiracy buffs, who love stories about the Masons, the Knights Templar and other secret societies. Jesus was not worshiped as divine until the fourth century A.D. when emperor Constantine—in a power grab—imposed this view on the Roman Empire through the Council of Nicea. The bishops that met there voted and decreed that Jesus is God and the only way of salvation. The Nicene Creed thus placed the Roman Catholic Church with its male leadership firmly in control of the means of salvation and consequently the minds and hearts of its subjects. To pull off their coup, church leaders condemned every other view of Christ but its own as heresy and came up with four Gospels to support their view. They destroyed all but a few copies of the “so called” more authentic Gospels, like the one Langdon is trying to find and which the Catholic Church will stop at nothing to destroy.
The novel is fast paced and full of suspense. Readers might have a difficult time putting it down. Dan Brown touches on enough historical places and persons that even though the genre is fiction, uninformed readers might not be able to tell the difference. Sadly, many will not care, and here is where the problem lies. Brown tells a conspiracy story that has enough connections to history that some people will believe it could have happened that way. However, if it did, Jesus could not have risen from the dead. His body would have rotted in the grave, and faith in Christ would be utterly pointless (1 Corinthians 15:14).
So, what is the truth? What did the first Christians believe about Jesus? From the beginning of the Christian movement the early church believed Jesus Christ was God. Jesus was worshiped in the Gospels (Matthew 2:11; 14:33; 28:9, 17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38). To Paul Jesus was “in very nature God” (Philippians 2:6) and the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). To Peter Jesus was our “God and Savior” (2 Peter 1:1; see also Titus 2:13). John called Jesus the Word that “was God” who “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). Hebrews calls Jesus the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Hebrews 1:3a). When Thomas finally believed Jesus was risen and standing before him, he said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
These were first-generation Christians, who were utterly convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was Jehovah, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe (John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3b). They believed His name was the only name given under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Whatever you think about who Jesus is, make no mistake. The earliest Christians thought Jesus was God. If they did not, why did they die for what they knew was a lie? The answer is that Jesus Himself claimed to be God. He called Himself the “I am”, Yahweh, who revealed Himself to Moses (John 8:58; see also Exodus 3:14). Jesus claimed to forgive sins, something only God could do (Luke 7:47-48). He did not stop others from calling Him God’s Son (Matthew 14:33). Even His enemies understood that by calling God His own Father Jesus was “making Himself equal to God” (John 5:18). Jesus promised He would rise from the dead (Matthew 20:18-19). He said He would be the final Judge at the end of time (Matthew 25:31-46). The apostles who heard these things also saw Jesus heal the sick, raise the dead, calm the sea, and they saw Him alive again after He was crucified. They staked their eternity on what they heard and saw (1 John 1:1-3; 2 Peter 1:16-18).
What did the early church believe about Jesus? Hear what several early Christian writers had to say. Ignatius wrote, “God Himself was manifested in human form” (A.D. 105). Clement wrote, “It is fitting that you should think of Jesus as God” (A.D. 150). Justin Martyr declared, “The Father of the universe has a Son. And He … is even God” (A.D. 160). Irenaeus said that Jesus “is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this” (A.D. 180). Origen said, “No one should be offended that the Savior is also God” (A.D. 225). Cyprian called Jesus “our Lord and God” (A.D. 250). These men preached what the church uniformly professed, that Jesus is God.
Who were the Gnostics? In the 2nd and 3rd centuries a heresy known as Gnosticism arose that denied the deity of Jesus and His incarnation as a man. A few Gnostic teachers became popular and wrote their own Gospels, like the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the recently discovered Gospel of Judas, and others, which present a mortal Jesus according to their own preferences. However, their teachings were eventually rejected by the church, because they did not line up with what the apostles, Jesus’ first biographers, preached and wrote several generations earlier.
Was the Nicene Creed the result of a conspiracy? In the early 4th century another heresy known as Arianism arose that said Jesus was a created being and not of the same nature as God. The conflict over Arianism was so great that it threatened to split the church. Constantine saw the dispute as a threat to the stability of the Roman Empire. Constantine did call the church’s bishops together at the Council of Nicea as The Da Vinci Code says. Yet, he did not do this as a power play. He told the bishops they needed to resolve the Arian controversy so he could keep his empire together. The Council concluded in the Nicene Creed what the church had confessed for generations, that Jesus is, “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.” There was no conspiracy to replace a mortal Jesus with a divine Jesus.
Are our Gospels the right Gospels? Why did other Gospels, like the Gnostic Gospel of Mary Magdalene, not make it into the Bible? The church insisted that accepted books had to be written by an apostle or a close associate of an apostle. Their message had to be consistent with the earliest proclamation of Jesus Christ as God and Lord. The Gnostic Gospels mentioned by Dan Brown come from the late 2nd-4th centuries A.D., long after the apostles died. The churches flatly rejected them due to their late date and because they did not proclaim Jesus as God. Official pronouncements on lists of New Testament books were as much affirmations of what the Holy Spirit had already done in the churches as they were official decrees.
We are supposed to seek the truth, and I have been trying to do just that. My conclusion about The Da Vinci Code is that it has very little in common with the facts of early Christian history. Then, why is the lie so appealing? Dan Brown blurs the line between fiction and history, and people do not seem to care much, because we live in a post-truth society. Whether something is true historically is not as relevant as whether it connects to me. People love a conspiracy thriller that also offers them a nice Jesus of their own making who is like them. They do not want the Jesus of history with teeth. Our culture does not want a Jesus who calls sin what it is and says that He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6).
So, how do you bear witness to the truth about Christ in a post-truth culture that is confused about who Jesus is and what He has done for us? You tell them the truth and remember as you do that the Gospel is still the power of God (Romans 1:16; Acts 1:8). When you lift up Jesus, He promises to draw people to Himself (John 12:32). Dan Brown, Doubleday Books (his publisher) and Sony pictures know how to make a buck. However, Jesus Christ will still be the Way, the Truth, and the Life long after The Da Vinci Code has been forgotten. People still need a Savior, and Jesus is still enough for every seeking heart.
Andy Chambers is Vice President for Student Development and Associate Professor of Bible at Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis. If you would like a copy of this article for a bulletin insert, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org