The Da Vinci Code: Part 2 of 3
Announcer:The 21st century has ushered in events and issues that cause us to ask, where is God in today's world? In response, Dallas Theological Seminary presents DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in Culture: The Da Vinci Code.
Written by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code is a fictional thriller that has captured the coveted number one sales ranking at Amazon.com, camped out for 40 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, and inspired a one-hour ABC News special. Along the way, it has sparked debates about Western culture and Christian history.
While the ABC News feature assessed Brown's fascination with an alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, The Da Vinci Code contains many other false claims about Christianity's historic origins and theological development.
The following dialogue, hosted by Dr. Mark Bailey took place with Drs Jeffrey Bingham and Darrell Bock and, both of whom participated in the ABC special. Dr Bock's own book on the topic, Breaking the Da Vinci Code, also was a New York Times bestseller. Listen in to their discussion about the novel, the opportunities that it's created and the problematic history and theology proposed within its pages.
Mark Bailey:Talking primarily about Christ, the Gospels, but this leads to a broader discussion of how the Old Testament books and the New Testament books that ultimately became a part of scripture were recognized as authoritative.
Let's talk, Jeff, you and Darrell talked to me a little bit, discuss with us, how really did that process start, how long did it take, and what were some of the we call canons for accepting these books as scripture.
Jeff Bingham:Yeah, I think we have to begin, Mark, with faith rather than with reason or with procedure. The process which Darrell just explained to us was a process which believed that the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, was overseeing the growth of the church. Jesus had promised that he would leave the Comforter with us, the Comforter who would guide us into all truth.
So the early church had a faith, that that which the Apostles preached was going to be overseen by the Spirit as it was passed down to those disciples that the Apostles themselves made as it was then taken throughout the world. So people sitting in a community church service in Antioch or in Alexandria, Egypt, or in Rome would hear their church leaders stand up and preach, and they would hear him preach with the faith that he was passing on to them that which he had received from his teacher who had received it from the Apostles. And the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, was overseeing this whole process.
Eventually,it culminates in the inscripturation, and then this is also passed down. But, it's not happening in private, it's happening in community -- I'm coming to the church to have the Old Testament read -- because I don't have a personal copy of the Old Testament at home, I certainly don't have a copy of one of the Gospels in the earliest part of Christianity, so I have to come together with other Christians, and it's with other Christians where the Spirit is working, and so I have faith that the gates of hell are not going to stand against the kingdom and that the Spirit is overseeing this whole process.
That same faith is involved in their understanding of the formation of the Christian canon. It is the Spirit who is going to guide the church into recognizing inspired documents versus the non-inspired documents. The true Gospels versus the false gospels. So this is the virtue of faith.
Not the modernistic lust after reason, not the post-modernistical lust after absence of reason and faith and a variety of opinions, but faith that the Spirit is going to guide us into the one true way. So the recognition of the Christian canon is a Spirit-guided process which is all about recognizing inspired documents.
What are some of the ways in which the early church believed that the Spirit led them through that process?
Well, one was this: we're only going to accept a document that, first of all, recognizes the importance and the rightful place, the essential contribution of the Old Testament. We're not going to accept any document that is anti-Old Testament, because Christians believe that the Old Testament is the first part of the Christian canon, the first part of the Christian collection of sacred texts.
Of course, there was a heretic that had arisen in the second century by the name of Marcion.
Marcion was teaching that you couldn't rely upon the Old Testament, you couldn't trust the Old Testament God. So the first thing the church is going to look for are books which are in continuity with the Old Testament. Christianity has its roots in Judaism. It has its roots in the Old Testament; it is rooted in Abraham, before it's rooted in the persons of the New Testament.
Secondly, early Christians are going to appreciate those documents which are in continuity with the teaching of the Apostles. They are not going to accept a Gospel which, for instance, denies the bloody slaughter of Jesus Christ on the cross. A Gospel which wants to make this mainly an event that happened in appearance but not in reality, the church is going to reject. There was an entire host of heretics known as the Docetists. They get their name from the Greek word Dokeo, "I seem or I appear to be" but I'm not really.
So the Docetists were teaching that Jesus just seemed or appeared to be a human being but wasn't really, or that he just seemed or appear to die on the cross, but didn't really. So that we're looking for Gospels, the early Christians would say, which proudly proclaim the honest actual incarnation of Christ in real flesh, in actual bone, that had real blood vessels and meat. We are also going to acknowledge Gospels that don't rip him into two, a human and a God. We want our Lord Jesus Christ to be one in the same as Irenaus taught us.
We're also going to take proudly his bloody slaughter upon the cross. There are other doctrinal issues as well, but they are looking for continuity with the apostolic preaching which of course was rooted in Jesus himself. And of course the teachings Jesus himself teaches us are given to him by the Father.
In addition to that they're going to accept documents which the early Christian community is edified by because that which is inspired edifies the community. It is the Spirit who is revealing to us truth and nurturing us in the New Covenant blessings of sanctification, leading us toward Christ, writing the law upon our heart, turning our heart of stone into heart of flesh. So they're looking for Gospels, they're looking for apostolic writings that edify the community. Which texts bring the community together rather than separate? Which texts does the community find helpful in their growth and spirituality?
They're looking for those texts -- to put a final capstone on the entire thing -- which are apostolic. They're looking for texts that are either written by an apostle or written by a disciple of an apostle or someone who is closely associated with a disciple. They're looking for the connection of these texts with one of those that was commissioned by Jesus Himself. Because Jesus is the source of all truth, and He passes down to his disciples -- we're looking for a biblical writing that is associated with one of them. So, for instance, Paul's writings: apostolic. We have a Gospel linked with Matthew the Apostle: apostolic.
But we also have some that are not, peculiarly, apostolic. Luke for instance: not an apostle, but closely connected with an apostle (the Apostle Paul). Mark, not necessarily an apostle but clearly associated with the Apostle Peter. The apostolicity of the documents is a key element in recognition of what gets in and what's not going to get in.
Darrell Bock:Jeff's highlighted the theological dimensions of this and what they were looking for theologically. At a historical level you're dealing with the principle of the apostolic connections, apostolic roots that he's talked about and the kind of theology that affirms a connection with the promise of God going back into Judaism and into the roots of Judaism as expressed in the Old Testament.
You also have the principle of use. And by "use" you mean "widespread use". These documents were rising up to the surface. Those documents that were selected were those documents that many, many, many communities were using, not just some communities were using. In the process of the recognition of the canon, which does span from the time of the end of Jesus Christ all the way up to the middle of the 4th century, actually beyond Nicaea, in terms of the New Testament, we finally get the list of 27 from Athanasius in 367, I believe it is, and then that gets confirmed later on.
What is going on here in this movement is the recognition of use. There are some books that are excluded that actually are quite respected in the church. They are orthodox, they teach good teaching: First Clement, Sheperd of Hermas, Didache. So this wasn't just a matter of saying, "These are in, and those are out, and those are bad." It was a case of saying, "These are exceptional."
These documents that we are recognizing are really different, of a different class, than anything else. Some of the other works that are circulating through the church are valuable for our people to read and we want them to be involved, and other things that are circulating through the church are damaging. There were those kinds of distinctions being made in the midst of this process. Eusibius has kind of a four-level process that he is engaged in by the time we get to the 4th century. So use was another important factor.
A final factor that helped in this, and it's a combination of things, was both the rise of these false groups which was generating the need to recognize what was really authentic and what wasn't, alongside the issue of persecution. Because some persecutions were demanding that Christians burn their sacred texts. Well, if you are going to burn your sacred texts, you've got to know which texts it is you're supposed to burn. So, [laughs] in that process, you had that element also.
So, when you put it all together you've got apostolic rootage in theology, which goes back to both Judaism and to the Apostles. You have the widespread use of this material that is causing it to rise to the top and be evident that this is what the church is using. The Spirit is working through the churches to show this is exceptional material. You've got the rise of these false groups which is putting pressure to identify the genuine. And, you've got the element of persecution which is telling you, we've got to know which are our sacred books when they ask us what it is we are supposed to destroy. It's an odd mix at a historical level, but it is very much what was in play that produced our recognition of the canon.
Mark:The irony is, by the time you get to the time of Constantine, almost all of the New Testament was accepted as scripture. Hebrews and Revelation were a little bit late in that process because of the question of authorship. But I'm fascinated by the discussion, in that what The Da Vinci Code seems to question implicitly, rather than explicitly, is the very factors that went into the question of canonicity, the humanity and the deity of Jesus Christ, and to think that that was not discussed or even decided upon until the 4th century with Constantine, has no historical root.
Jeff: Not that I know of.
Darrell:Not at all. I think that this is one of the sad features of the novel. It's an entertaining novel, it's a good read at one level, but historically it is a sieve in terms of the way it handles information.
Mark:Let me as you a question related to that as it comes out of this. Brown makes so many historical, philosophical, mythological, and religious statements in his novel that are presented as supposed truth.
Mark:It's sort of narration art, in which those are not the pieces the reader are supposed to be worried about. How does the average reader sort out truth from error in a novel that has so many allusions to history, religion and art that seem to be the most easily verifiable and in reality, there's error after error after error that people are exposing about this book just in the facts, let alone in the presuppositions, which we'll go on to talk about.
Darrell:Let me give you one example. At one point in the book, he says that there are 80 gospels from which the church chose. Now there are two problems here. One, there are not 80 gospels out there to choose from. We have probably no more than a dozen that are actually called gospels in that range, although we may have a total number of early Christian documents from the first few centuries that number into the sixties, seventies, or eighties.
But what's even more misleading about that is the idea that what happened is that one day a group of guys walked into a council, on a table they laid out all these works, all 80 of these works, went through them, read them, picked and choosed, said "I like that one", "I don't like that one, I like that one." It was kind of like, "She loves me; she loves me not." And, in the end, we ended up with four Gospels and the collection that we have. That's not the process that happened at all.
What happened was, the church was utilizing many of these documents. They were coming to the surface. By the time we came to the end of the second century, we had basically the collection of Paul and the four-fold gospel that was well established by that point. And then most of the discussion that rotated around the New Testament after that rotated around a handful of books: Second Peter, Jude, James, Revelation, Hebrews you have already mentioned. It was those handful of books that continued to be discussed. The others were well established in terms of their authority and what it was they were showing.
So it was not an idea of picking something out of the hat three centuries later. No, what happened is that these texts emerged and surfaced in such a way the church with the Spirit in her midst had come to recognize these were the documents that God had left as a -- if you will -- a special gift to the church to understand what the Christian faith was all about.
Jeff:Yeah. Brown is a novelist without historical discrimination, Mark, and to just choose one of the books which Darrell mentioned, the book of Revelation. Already in 180, with Irenaeus, the Bishop of Lyon in modern day France, he is using the book of Revelation strongly in his development of Christian theology.
But even more important that that, is that there is a group of martyrs who were killed in the city of Lyon, from the two cities of Vienne and Lyon, approximate to each other. And they are taken to the amphitheater in Lyon to be put to death, and we have a letter written by these churches accounting this martyrdom. What is fascinating is that in 177 the author or authors of this letter are using the book of Revelation in order to explain, and to encourage, and to interpret what is going on in this martyrdom.
They understand themselves, before the time of the eschatological consummation, to be participants in the martyrdom which will become climactic at the end of history, based upon the very words, citations, quotations from the book of Revelation. You don't go to death and interpret your death in light of a book about which you have doubts and questions.
Darrell:So if you ask the question, "Where does someone go to find this out?" There are many good treatments of the canon that exist that go through this history. I think of Bruce Metzger's book on The Canon of the New Testament, it's a very fine summary of the ancient evidence, walks through the categories that I've talked about in some detail. The trouble is is that most people don't even know that this literature is out there, but it is. So, it isn't a case of walking into a vacuum.
Some people will try and find it on the net. The net is good and bad, it's a blessing and a curse at the same time because some of the information on the net may be good and steer you in good directions, other information on the net is problematic, and sometimes it's hard to tell what you're dealing with when you're on an individual web page.
Mark: It's a flea market of ideas.
Darrell: It sure is, flea market is a good word for it, and sometimes you better scratch.
Mark: That's right. [laughs]
Part of the title of the book, "Da Vinci", relates to Leonardo Da Vinci. Talk to me about The Da Vinci Code, the title of the book and the connection to Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper", especially as it relates to Mary Magdalene.
Darrell:Well, the claim here is that Leonardo Da Vinci was a member of this secret guild that understood what the real history was of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, that is that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had these children, and so he would put little indications and codes in some of his works. One of those works is the painting "The Last Supper", and the claim is that in the place where you see the largest "V" in the painting, which is off to Jesus' right, where supposedly the beloved disciple is John. This is a rather long-haired, almost feminine-looking figure, so he has secretly painted into this spot Mary Magdalene, because the "V" is the sign of the feminine.
What they don't tell you is that on the other side of the painting there also is another V, not quite as prominent but it's still there and visible. It has to do with the shaping of the painting. No one is suggesting that there is a second woman on the other side, nor are they telling you how you know thats it's a woman on one side of the V and not of the other. So again, this is an example of, as I see it, Dan Brown playing with us a little bit in this kind of detail that has the feel of mystery behind but really doesn't have very much to it at all.
Mark:Part of the plot of the novel is what he calls the "Divine Feminine", which is the cult of the female goddess from way back in history and the elevation of that thought in contrast to the male portrayal of Jesus and the biblical faith of God the Father. So theres a lot of agenda underpinnings that come through this. Most art historians would reject the idea; in fact almost all art historians would reject the idea that its Mary Magdalene in the painting and that it's a youthful Apostle John.
This whole elevation of Mary, why all the interest in that? What are some of the reasons why Mary Magdalene ought to be elevated in thinking and why do they think the church, and especially in the book it seems thats it's directly attacking the Catholic Church and its papacy, why all that intrigue about Mary Magdalene?
Darrell:Well there are a couple things coming together here. You do have some strands in early Gnostic thought with regard to cosmology, the way in which the worlds were created, that suggest that you have a male and a female element in the God head that's helped to produce the creation.
So there are some elements that are playing off of some of this imagery. I think it helps to explain and produce the imagery of the contrast between Orthodoxy being represented by a male figure, like Peter, and this Gnostic movement being represented by a female figure, like Mary Magdalene.
Actually what you have in these extra-biblical Gospels is this male/female symbolism. Which really isn't about the real Peter's relationship to the real Mary Magdalene or Mary Magdalene's real relationship to Jesus. It's really about the conflict between these Orthodox groups that are rooted in a developing set of bishops claiming to be descended from Peter, and this more open, revelatory kind of religious faith that Mary Magdalene represents because she received this revelation as a result of the appearances.
One of the keys to this Gnosticism, to this fringe theology, is the idea that we have direct access to revelation that is in contrast to the apostolic testimony of these apostolic works, at least to some degree. So just because works are recent is not a problem, because they have allegedly come directly from the Lord.
This is one of the claims that's going on in the debate between what became orthodox Christianity and these Gnostic movements. That's being exploited in this discussion. The other element that's going on here... now that's the ancient element. The modern element is that there is something attractive and politically correct about a woman having a major visible role in matters of religion.
And so the Sacred Feminine feeds into this, as well as the idea that Mary may have had -- the claim is, had a leadership role in the church. The claim is that, "See, we have some examples of women having high roles. In fact, she had such a high role that we see in certain texts where Peter and Mary are in argument with one another and it's having to be resolved."
Mark: In these Gnostic Gospels?
Darrell:In these Gnostic Gospels. The gospel of Mary, for example, has a very famous scene in which Jesus has appeared to Mary directly, outside of Peter's knowledge, and Peter is upset towards the end of this Gospel that this has taken place. Levi steps in as a mediator and says "Oh, Peter, you're a hothead. You really shouldn't give her a hard time. The Lord knows how worthy she is and that she's worthy of this revelation." Then, at least where the Gospel breaks off, they go out and they all preach and they all take the Gospel into the world.
So at a surface level it seems like a wonderful text to claim that Mary had a role, a major role, she was the equal of the Apostles. This was a major strand of Christianity. In fact, we know that what was more likely to be going on is we have symbolism wrapped up in this scene and the symbolism of the scene is that Peter represents orthodoxy, which is unfairly picking upon this minority view represented by the woman. The woman is standing up for herself and there are other people coming to her aid and defending her. That's probably what's going on in the end of this text. So it isn't a historical discussion about Mary's real relationship to Jesus or Peter's relationship to Mary at all.
Mark: It's a philosophical...
Darrell:It's a philosophical -- It's a parable. It is a parable of the conflict that's going on in the second century and that's whats being depicted. This document is defending the role of these groups to have this direct revelation which is being pictured in the form of a, if I can say it this way, an abused woman, she's being abused by Peter.
Jeff: And we don't have to go to the Gnostic Gospels, Darrell or Mark, to find a high view of women in the life of the church.
Jeff:So that, of course, the New Testament Gospels themselves project this, as Darrell shared earlier with us, you have hypolotists declaring that Mary is the 'apostle to the apostles,' the messenger of the good news of resurrection. You have other church fathers speaking of Mary Magdalene as "the tower of faith," because she is the one who believes the Word and who conveys it.
You have others who oppose her -- set her in contrast to -- for instance, the woman of the fall, Eve; and yet here is the woman of faith, Mary, who believes the word of the Lord and is not distracted in it. So you find the orthodox Fathers speaking favorably of her.
Women in the early church were put before us as spiritual giants. Many of the martyrs of the early church. Blandina, in 177 -- the case that I was referring to earlier -- she is the one that the letter from the churches of Vienne and Lyon point to as the one who -- in her own martyrdom and suffering -- encourages the men to bear the stake and to bear the beast and to bear the fire.
It is her own courage that helps other Christians to gather up their courage. We find other women, women going into the aesthetic life in order to give themselves over to full-time service, not office, but in full-time service. And so we find them not entering into the office, but in terms of the gifts and in terms of their devotion, and in terms of their leadership in the sense of being an example of faith and of spirituality. We find this constantly throughout the testimony of the early church.
Darrell:We also find it in the New Testament. Luke in Luke and Acts goes out of his way to point out many great women of faith as you go through. You can start with Elizabeth, and with Anna, and with Mary, mother of Jesus, at the very start of the story. You can go through and find the four daughters of Philip who are prophetesses who are functioning. Mary Magdalene is an outstanding example as well.
So we have women running through the Scripture who are affirmed for their commitment to the faith and for their access to Jesus. Which in the context of first century culture, again we have to remind ourselves that first century culture and our culture are very different, in first century culture a woman really was a second-class citizen in the full sense of that term. There was debate among some of the Jewish rabbis as to whether a woman should be taught the Torah or not. Women were viewed in some cases as being dangerous to teach, and we have books even in some of the Jewish wisdom literature -- Sirac, etc. -- where these kinds of warnings are set forth.
So, Jesus comes along and he allows a woman to sit as his feet, like Mary, the sister of Martha. And he embraces these women, he allows them to be a part of his discipleship entourage, as Luke 8:1-3 shows. This is an embracing of the role of women -- it's not everything that some today might wish it were -- but it certainly is a major affirmation of the role of women in being responsive to the gospel. So, in the midst of this discussion about what's going on with the agenda here, we should not lose sight of the fact that there's a significant affirmation of the role of women in scripture.
Mark:Some who would be listening to us talk about this are pastors and teachers in churches, Christian schools. And they, on a Sunday morning, are going to have a third or half of their people who may have been privy to read this novel in their leisure time, heard about it on the news. Both of you represented evangelical faith on the ABC special that was done about The Da Vinci Code.
What would you tell the pastor whose people are going to be reading this book, and for some, it's going to open up a whole set of questions they've never had to answer before. How do you help that pastor in that local church? What should he be saying or what should he be doing to help his people wrestle with this cultural issue at the time? And I know there's more besides this book on the table of the cultural discussion, and I want to ask about that, but Jeff, what would you suggest, and then Darrell, I'll turn to you and I'll chime in.
How do we prepare our pastors, and how does a pastor prepare his people, or a teacher prepare her class that might ask her about it, in women's Bible study, for example. What's a right response?
Jeffrey:I think it begins, Mark, first of all by the pastor or bible study leader, first of all to recognize this reality: A pastor is, first of all, and never outgrows and never overcomes, that his first calling is to be the church's theologian. Let me say it again. The first calling of every pastor is to be the church's theologian. So pastors need to go back into their pulpits, they need to go into their Sunday school rooms. They need to reclaim the lectern from which they speak, the home bible studies in which they teach. They need to reclaim their new members classes as areas and environments in which Christian doctrine is taught.
So they need to make sure that their communities understand the basis for why we believe that this is our collection of Holy Scriptures. Have a sermon series on canon. Have a sermon series on the doctrine of inspiration and inherency. They need to understand why the view of Christ as God is not a creation of 325 at the Council of Nicea, but is something that arises from the texts of scripture and something which has been confessed by Christians throughout the centuries.
They need to take their communities back into the arena of doctrinal education, of doctrinal information and training. Preach a series of sermons on the deity of Christ. Preach a series of sermons on the humanity of Christ.
They need to be able to train their people in the faith. We've lost this main Christian virtue of faith, Mark. We are first of all what we believe. We are brought to Christ by faith and we never outlive that virtue -- we never grow beyond it. We are always defined essentially as Christian on the basis of what we believe. Pastors, please, teach us what we believe.
Because if they had been ministered to, in the doctrines which I just mentioned -- and more besides -- when they were to pick up a novel like The Da Vinci Code, they would immediately recognize this not as a challenge to their faith, but as a laughable mystery novel without historical or doctrinal discrimination. The pastor can pave the way to protect his flock from this book and others if he just remembers his first calling. He is the church's theologian.
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