The Da Vinci Code: Part 1 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 and Culture: The Da Vinci Code. Written by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code is a fictional thriller that has captured the coveted the 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 Dan Browns fascination with an alleged marriage between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The Da Vinci Code contains many other false claims about Christianities historical origin and theological development.
The following dialogue, hosted by Dr. Mark Bailey, took place with Doctors Jeff Bingham and Darrell Bock, 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 best-seller.
Listen in on their discussion about the novel, the opportunities that it's created, and the problematic history and theology proposed within its pages.
Mark Bailey: Well, it was number one on the best seller list for 13 weeks. It's the number one seller at Amazon.com, and a one-hour long ABC special treated this book and they asked both of you to come in.
I thought it would be great to get the three of us together and to let me ask the two of you some questions as relates to how people are responding to this phenomenon that is exemplified by The Da Vinci Code book, and I understand it's going to be a movie. I also understand that introduces a broader scope of discussion.
Darrell, you've been writing about this. Talk to us about what the book is about, and why has it spurred such interest?
Darrell Bock:Well, the book is actually a pretty entertaining murder mystery. The problem is the book with a statement that the skeleton underneath it is based on fact, and it makes several comments about Christianity in the process.
The basic theory of the book is that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and that she and the children went to the south of France, where there was produced a royal line culminating in the Merovingians, and that this knowledge was known to a select few. The information on it was buried in documents that are in the sarcophagus of Mary Magdalene, and part of the quest is to find the location where this is, where these documents could be found.
The church, that is the Catholic Church, worked hard to suppress this knowledge because it really exposed the idea that what Christianity is, and is generally understood to be, is really not what Christianity is.
This is where the book gets its interest for us because it's making certain claims about Christianity and the history of early Christianity, that on the surface give the appearance of being true, when in fact, that's not the case. When this book and ideas like it are generated, it leaves the impression with people who read it that this, in fact, is accurate history.
Mark:As I said, this is an example of a wider movement of thought. Jeff, talk to us a bit about the wider thoughts that are coming into our culture that are coming through the literature of the scholars that have similarities to some of the claims that underlay this book.
Jeff Bingham:I think what you have, in The Da Vinci Code, is a novel -- attempting to write a mystery novel. But, it does reflect a group of assumptions that are common within larger New Testament and church historical scholarship. That group of assumptions, I think, can be connected both with a movement of modernism, stretching until about 1965, and then a movement of post modernism, which came after that.
With modernism, developed this huge skepticism about the reliability of the past, of the reliability of what was received and the reliability about what had been passed down. And the modernists then claimed that they were able to be the best judge as to what was true by employing their own criteria of reason.
They were skeptical about church authority, skeptical about the importance of what had come down, really until the 18th century. And so there's this very large doubt about the reliability of traditional Christianity and traditional Orthodoxy.
In post-modernity the same skepticism remains, but that skepticism is based not on an overwhelming hope and trust in reason, but rather the belief that disunity is more the case of REAL history than unity. So, that deconstructionism comes in and begins all thought with the presupposition that things are not unified, that there is more diversity than there is unity, and so this is applied to Christianity. There is more diversity in earlier Christianity than there was unity. There were more heretics than you actually thought there were, than the church has allowed you to see. And so, if Christianity was this diverse, we really need to give more attention to those who are on the fringe who may not really have been on the fringe.
And so the book, The Da Vinci Code, plays off of this huge skepticism about the past. Don't trust the past, it screams at you. Don't trust the tradition. Don't trust what has been passed down to you because it's not reliable. As a matter of fact, then the novel says, "I'm going to show you a more trustworthy, I'm going to show you a more accurate way, because you can't depend upon the institution. You can't depend on the authorities of the past."
Mark:There seems to be undergirding this a real cynicism toward the church, acceptable Orthodoxy, and almost, it seems, an attack on the authority of the Scripture and the authority of the gospel records.
Darrell, what misconceptions do you think are proposed as it relates to the integrity of the gospel records themselves?
Darrell:Well, the major problem here is that the whole theory leaps off, really, a very thin strand of material coming out of the Gospels. The whole idea that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus is something that's not attested anywhere in these documents.
We have 11 passages in the New Testament that address who Mary Magdalene was and it is a very limited description. She was a beneficiary of exorcism, she was present at the crucifixion, she was present when Jesus was laid in the tomb, and she was present when the tomb was discovered to be empty, and she also was the beneficiary of one of the earliest appearances of the Lord to anybody. That is all we know about her.
Her name is Mary of Magdala. It's a little bit unusual in that most names of women in the Scripture are tied to males to whom they are related, she is not connected to anyone. If she had been married it would have been very easy to say, Mary, wife of Jesus, or connect her to some other male, but that's never done. She's only connected to the place she lived, which is Magdala. So out of this vacuum of information is spun out this theory about her being married.
There also is a lot of work with the centuries just after the time of scripture. So I don't see this so much as a direct attack on scripture, as much as being an attempt to extrapolate on those matters that scripture itself doesn't talk a lot about. I think the scripture assumes, if I can say it that way that Jesus was unmarried because there was no reason to think otherwise.
Really, the novel is exploiting that element of the biblical record.
Mark:The cynicism of the inability to accept the historical reliability of the Scriptures, while not an overt attack, there is still the suspicion that what you have in the Gospels was edited much later, at the time of Constantine, therefore you cant trust that as representing what was historically true in the first century. But all of that revolves then around a question of Jesus identity and his deity.
The claim that is put forth in the book is that the deity of Jesus was not asserted until after, or at least until, the time of Constantine. With the legalization of Christianity in the fourth century all other thoughts that Jesus was divine were premature, probably not even in existence and it was during Constantine's era and finally at the Council of Nicaea that the divinity of Christ gets affirmed and asserted. We obviously don't hold that.
Jeff tell us, what evidence do we have for the divinity of Christ prior to the Council of Nicaea?
Jeff:That claim is just absurd; it's just pure nonsense that we have no substantial evidence for the deity of Christ before 325. We have it, of course, in the Gospels themselves, a topic which Darrell is much stronger to address than I am.
But just take the testimony of the Apostle John, where in the very beginning of his Gospel he proclaims to us that the Eternal Word, who has been with the Father eternally, is God.
The gospel writer Matthew proclaims the incarnation as an event which brings God present with us. We have the triune statement, the baptismal statement in Matthew 28 where the Son and the Spirit are linked equally with the Father in this great antique Christian rite of baptism.
But outside the New Testament what we immediately find is that the early church is right on key with the New Testament. So, in 110 A.D., Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, a man who finds himself chained to a cart as he is being taken from Antioch, in chains, and guarded by Roman soldiers, proclaims to us in one of this letters the following statement. Let me just read it to you, because it is such an early and poignant statement as to the deity and the humanity of Christ side by side. Here's what Ignatius says:
"There is one physician composed of flesh and spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, authentic life in death, from Mary and from God, first passable and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord."
Ignatius is the same one who referred to the Crucifixion as the event in which we witness the blood of God, the Crucifixion as the event in which we witness the suffering of, and he uses language, My God. We will find him declaring that it was God who was born of the Virgin Mary. A statement, by the way, which anticipates a theological statement that will come forward centuries later at the Council of Chalcedon, where the council picks up this very notion.
After Ignatius, we have testimonies from Melito of Sardis who proclaims that Jesus is both God and man. We have statements from Justin Martyr, an early apologist somewhere in the middle of the second century, who makes the same kinds of statements, "He is God and man."
We find Irenaeus writing about 180 who proclaims that, "He is the eternal Son of the Father who has become human at the incarnation on our behalf." He uses the phrase over and over and over again that Jesus Christ is "one and the same." He is the eternal Son of God who shares with the Father deity, and yet this Jesus who appears to us in humanity is the same person who was eternally with the Father.
What we see happening at Nicaea is not the creation of the doctrine that Jesus Christ our Lord was divine. This is what many would have you believe, that the councils are moments of the creation of doctrine. So Nicaea is the time when they create the doctrine of the Trinity. Chalcedon is the moment when they create the doctrine of the hypostatic union of Christ. Nothing can be further from the truth. What we see happening at the councils is that Christians are making explicit what the church had believed implicitly all the years before.
Mark: This is a formal statement of a doctrine that has been articulated for many, many years.
Jeff:Absolutely. It is being brought out at a particular moment in history because a group of heretics have risen to challenge the thought, but we are just making explicit what was implicit.
My students might find this hard to believe this, Mark, but you get me outside of a classroom where I am extremely opinionated or out and around a table like this and I can be very quiet person. This can irritate my wife, Pamela, to no end. So we are on a drive home and she will turn to me and say, "Well, how is your day?", and I'll turn to her and say, "Fine". And I think that was a long conversation with her. So Pamela, bless her heart, after 14 years of marriage to me today, Mark, 14 years today, she has learned the art of drawing me out; so that on the way home she will ask penetrating questions which bring out the events of my day. They were always there, but Pamela has learnt the artistic skill of drawing me out. This is the way we should understand the councils.
The councils are going into the church, into this confession of the church, which has been historically solid and continuous; and they are drawing it out and making explicit at a particular moment in history in order to confront a particular set of heretics.
Darrell:And if I may, if we think about the New Testament and the way that it does this, it does this in a variety of ways. This is important to appreciate about the way that the New Testament works. We have the very explicit texts out of John, John one in particular, where we talk about an incarnation, someone being sent, if you will, from above to enter into our world, to have the Word tabernacle amongst us, as John one put it.
But we also have other things going on in very important sets of texts. We have texts in the New Testament where language is used from the Old Testament that was applied to Yahweh, to the god of the Old Testament, where now every knee is going to bow before the Lord, in effect, and the Lord is clearly Jesus who is meant.
We have -- so this is the use of the Old Testament and the New -- we have confessional statements, like in 1st Corinthians chapter eight, where Paul is making the observation that in the culture around the Romans are worshipping all kinds of gods and lords, but we only worship one God, the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ, putting them right together, side by side in a confessional kind of statement.
Now these documents are documents that come right out of the first generation after the time of Jesus. They pre-date all the councils that we are talking about, and in that process you're seeing the roots, the theological roots of where this idea came from. And the point that I like to make is that we're in a period that's almost three centuries before Nicaea. So this idea was, by the time we got to Nicaea, this was an ancient idea, and was well established in the church. And so the idea that Nicaea is responsible for this is really, as Jeff suggested, a bad reading of history, it's poor history.
Mark:The early Church Fathers, their view of the gospel records, they sure don't doubt the authenticity in their statements about Christ as not being final and official until the time of Constantine. All of them are teaching and preaching and basing that teaching and preaching upon the gospel records, are they not?
Jeff:Absolutely. What you find in the writings of the early Church Fathers is nothing more than a very competent, praiseworthy, devotionally centered, pastorally controlled exegesis of scripture. This is not a group of Christians that are going into Hellenism to find their faith or going into the mystery religions to find their fate. This is a group of pastorally centered Christians gifted by God's Spirit, who are focusing, meditating, contemplating on the Scripture.
Darrell:Now it is the case, when we think about this period, that there was a period in which the Scripture didn't circulate in the way that it does today in a bound volume, etc. You have the discussion of Jesus operating in the church; at least in its earlier stages in oral tradition, it was circulating through the churches. But that tradition was rooted in -- and this is going to very important for the subsequent discussion, was rooted in an apostolic testimony in people who had been with and experienced directly in the ministry of our Lord on the earth.
The reason that's important is because we are kind of in a transition. When we come of out the period of Jesus and the Apostles were in a transition between talking about Jesus through this oral tradition and the enscripturion of this apostolic tradition into Gospels. Which then themselves area also circulating along side some of this oral tradition that is working through the churches. So that when we come to the next generation of writers, for the next hundred years, we are getting a mixture of what is circulating in the church in these oral reports out of this transition and what is extant in the Gospels.
By the time we get to the end of the second century, however, four of these writings, the four gospels that were are familiar with: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, have risen to the top, if you will, as being the sources that the church is relying upon, so much so that they would talk about the four fold gospel being the one gospel.
And in doing so, making the point that there are four Gospels and there are not any others. Some of the gospels that are being discussed today in these so-called secret gospels, like the Gospel of Philip and the Gospel of Thomas, are explicitly excluded when these points are being made. So that we see this combination -- and I think it's important to appreciate -- between an affirmation of what the Gospels are as scripture and their value as apostolic testimonies to Jesus Christ. And it is this wedding of those two concepts that is the early church's statement for their authenticity.
Mark:You raise a question in terms of other accounts, other gospels that are being proposed to having authoritative background for discussion. Are these called Gnostic gospels? Is that the term that's used for these other records?
Darrell:Well, there actually is debate on whether the term Gnostic should be used or not. But they are extra biblical gospels. They are a collection of a variety of texts. Actually some of these extra biblical materials aren't even gospels. There are things like the Apocalypse of Peter, the Apocalypse of John, and they don't even belong in a gospel genre, that is setting forth this alternative theology, that you're hearing about.
They are being popularized today in books -- and this is important -- They're being popularized today in books that have titles like "The Secret Gospels Unveiled," or something to that effect. Almost giving you the impression that something has been hidden from your sight for centuries, and now we've finally stumbled upon it, and we can finally figure out what is going on. And that kind of mystery excites people.
Mark: What's their date of origin?
Darrell:Their date of origin -- Most of these documents are 2nd and 3rd century documents. A lot of them were discovered at a place called Nag Hammadi, in Egypt. They're in Coptic. They do reflect a significant movement within the fringes of Christianity in the second and third centuries. The reason many people call them Gnostic is because of the kind of theology that they have within them. It's a dualism, this kind of opposition theology, where you have an opposition between the pure spiritual world, that is the REAL place of REAL knowledge, and the material world which is corrupt. That's the dualism.
They've been highly publicized, particularly the Gospel of Thomas. The Jesus Seminar's "The Five Gospels." That is five; four plus one makes five. The fifth gospel is the Gospel of Thomas; that's what they're talking about. It is one of the earliest of these documents.
It certainly is, from the standpoint of Christian history, a very important document to understand and appreciate, but it is not at all the same kind of document like the other Gospels, the other four Gospels that are a part of the four-fold gospel. But they have been relied upon to develop some of this theology and this new emphasis and this effort to redefine Christianity.
Mark:One of the themes in Dan Brown's book The Da Vinci Code is elevation of Mary to a status of apostle, you know, informer of the apostles, the 'apostle of the apostles' kind of a category. One of the quotes comes from one of these gospels that the author asserts the Aramaic term of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is an intimate term and he says the Aramaic term in this book makes that statement. In reality, weren't those gospels written in Greek and not Aramaic?
Darrell:Well, actually, they were probably originally written in Greek, but the copies that we have are in Coptic, which is a variation, a distinct language from Greek and from Aramaic, for that matter.
These texts do suggest a little bit of an unusual relationship for Mary to Jesus. They are exceptional in that regard. There are only a handful of texts that we're talking about. The phrase that you mentioned earlier, 'The apostle to the apostles' is actually an expression that comes from, interestingly enough, not one of these texts, from one of the church fathers who theoretically is supposed to be suppressing this idea in the early church, Hippolytus, and he's making the point that the term "apostle" in this passage is not being used in its most technical sense, although when you listen to people talk about this passage you would think that that is how it is being used.
This passage is simply a way of saying that Mary Magdalene was one of the first witnesses to the risen Jesus, and she was sent to tell the other apostles that Jesus was risen from the dead. So "apostle" is being used in, actually, its everyday usage. It's not a technical church term here. That simply means that she's a sent one. She was commissioned by Jesus to announce the resurrection. There's no church office involved. There's no leadership involved. There simply is her role in relationship to the resurrection.
It's affirming a truth, interestingly enough. But it's not quite the truth that The Da Vinci Code is telling you. The truth simply is that Jesus is raised and we can know about it. There's one other important point about this detail that shouldn't be missed. And that is, the fact that this appearance took place with reference to a woman is important because in the first century culture a woman did not have any value as a witness.
So if you were creating a story which is oftentimes what people who distrust the Bible claim, you wouldn't create a story in which the woman would be the first witness because she wouldn't have any value as a witness. That suggests that the event itself actually happened and the reason this is in the early church's memory is because it was women to whom Jesus first appeared and actually ends up being one of the strongest testimonies to the credibility of the resurrection that we have in scripture -- the fact that he appeared to someone like Mary Magdalene.
So when I hear the phrase 'apostle to the apostles' I don't get upset, I...
Mark:She is a spokesman who takes that message to the disciples and Peter, that there's no reason to base an elevation of Mary above all the other church leaders in the early church based upon that kind of a test.
Darrell:That's right. Now there's a flip point that's important, and maybe Jeff can elaborate on this as well, and that is the reason that Mary is being extolled in our culture and elevated in our culture -- I almost want to use the word morphed, in our culture is because she, in this morphed form, represents something important to some people in our culture.
She represents a woman who is said to have a complete equality in the function of the church, who has a leadership role. One of these texts has Peter complaining that Mary has had a revelation of the Lord that he has not received. There's kind of a jealousy and a conflict between them and this text is trying to expand and support the fact that Mary has the right to her revelation. So she becomes attractive as a kind of symbol for this liberated woman in the early church. I think that is why she has been grasped onto, even though, as I've already suggested, that's really not the portrayal that is represented in these texts.
Mark:Darrell, we've been talking about the Gospel texts, but how was the teaching of Christ, and how was Christian faith understood, disseminated, before we had the Gospel texts?
Darrell:That's a great question, because it's very different from the way most people experience and come to learn about Christ today. Today we're used to having a scripture, a bound Bible, opening it up, going to a gospel, finding out about Jesus.
Generally speaking, that isn't the way it happened for the earliest Christians. They were engaged in worship service, the Gospels as they were produced may well have been read in those church services, but there also was oral tradition moving through the churches.
That oral tradition was rooted in the testimony of eye witnesses and apostolic witnesses. Luke eludes this in Luke Chapter one, verses one to four, where he is in his prologue, and he talks about the testimony that has been circulating through the church.
Mark: So the Gospels weren't the first pieces of material.
Darrell: That people were exposed to? Not at all.
They would have learned this teaching through this repetition and in relationship to their worship service. They would have heard it rather than read it, all those kinds of things. Now, what is important here is that one of the reasons Jesus had the Twelve, and there was an Apostolic circle, was because he wanted the people closest to him, who spent the most time with him, to be responsible for this development of the teaching of Jesus, what we sometimes talk about today as oral tradition.
And in the earliest century, I would say, of the church, this was the predominate way in which most people would have been exposed to the teaching of Jesus. It would have been through what they heard in exhortations, in letters, in sermons, it would have drawn off this tradition. And then finally what happened was that this tradition, if you will, incriptureated. It was put in written form in what became the Gospels. The Gospels were seen as testimonies to this tradition that came to us through the Apostles or those who knew the Apostles.
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