The Implications of 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 in Culture: The Implications of The Da Vinci Code.
Although considered fiction, Dan Browns novel challenges orthodox Christianity in serious ways. Thanks for joining us as we discuss what all believers need to know about The Da Vinci Code, part one.
Dr. Mark Bailey:Welcome to DTS Dialogue - Issues of God in Culture. I'm your host, Dr. Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary. Today our discussion topic is "The Implications of The Da Vinci Code."
Today, with me in the studio we have Dr. Jeffrey Bingham, Department Chair and Professor of Theological Studies, and Dr. Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture. Gentlemen welcome, thanks for joining me.
Dr. Darrell Bock: Good day.
Dr. Jeffrey Bingham: Good to be here.
Mark:Darrell, let me begin with you; we've got some questions that we would like to ask and interact around. Why all the fuss about The Da Vinci Code? It's a work of fiction, and since we don't get our history from fiction, why has this novel caused such a stir? Don't novelists wed fact and fiction normally to create an entertaining story? What's the issue?
Darrell:Well, the issue here has to do with how this novel had been and was hyped originally. It's actually changed slightly in the last few months. Originally, Dan Brown went around in interviews and he was asked questions like "If you were writing nonfiction, would you change anything about what you said." The context was clearly these theories related to Christianity in which the question was asked, and he said, "I wouldn't change a thing. I had carefully researched everything. I came to believe in these things," in fact, his phrase was "I came to be a believer in these things." I almost wanted the organ to start playing and for people to come forward, it sounded like an evangelist.
When I heard him say that, the day that the ABC special aired on his book, teaching introduction and knowing what some of that history is, I decided that if I had the opportunity to write about this I would because it's such a misrepresentation of the early history of Christianity in the novel. So, what he did was he created a "tweener" genre, and what I mean by that is it's said to be fiction, but he says the skeleton -- the background -- is nonfiction, and it's being portrayed as if it's true.
Let's assume that he was completely honest in this; that really he was writing a piece of fiction and that's all that it was. The fact is that we have millions of people out there who have read the book, who have taken what he is saying to perhaps be true. For those people in particular, it's important that they understand what is true and what isn't in the novel.
Mark:Yes. I had a very good friend, who having read it on a vacation came back and his faith was challenged. It was stretched and stressed. It became more personal as I listened to his struggle, that this was more than just a novel to be entertaining, but it was really a challenge to the very Christian faith that we hold dear.
Dr. Bingham, why do you think it important for a Christian to know what issues are being addressed in this book?
Jeffrey:Well, perhaps we could mention just three which are central to every Christian's faith and the spiritual life of every Christian. I think, perhaps, of the three issues that we could focus upon that this book raises for us, first of all, the book suggests that there are other Christian texts, which should be being read and should be being heeded in terms of our understanding of Jesus, in terms of our understanding of salvation and in terms of our understanding of key doctrinal issues. In other words, it's making the claim that the Christian canon, which you and I carry to church every Sunday with us as we listen to our preachers and our pastors, is not telling us the whole truth, as matter of fact, it may be misguiding us -- there are other books which need to be included.
Secondly, it challenges the entire question of whether or not we can be secure in recognizing as inspired, and therefore as true, the 66 books that are contained within the covers that we carry with us to church and that we read every morning in our quiet and devotional times. It's making canonical challenge.
Thirdly, it's also making a challenge regarding the nature and the person of Christ, that the doctrine of Christ's deity, which all Christians affirm and by which we are saved. If He is not God, our salvation is still in jeopardy. The book raises questions about, perhaps, the fictional character, the political character, perhaps even the financial character of the deity of Christ, rather than the authentic character of that doctrine. So, these three issues, I think perhaps, lay at the very foundation of why it's important for us to be familiar with this book.
Mark:With that in the background, let me ask you both to chime in as you desire. You hinted at it, but how else does The Da Vinci Code attack the integrity of the scriptures, and specifically, the role of the gospels in the Bible?
Darrell:Well, it does so in a couple of ways. One, it suggests that there are a myriad of gospels that were out there that reflected what Christianity was in the earliest period that did not make it into the Bible, that were consciously rejected out of a kind of power play -- that's the argument, anyway. And that if we had these gospels we would see that Christianity was more diverse originally, that there are lots of what are called "alternative" or "lost" Christianities that now have been rediscovered, and so Christianity can take a variety of forms. It's not what the church has historically said it to be in terms of its core doctrine. So, that's one way in which the integrity of the Bible has been challenged.
The second way in which the integrity of the Bible has been challenged is with respect to the way in which the Bible itself came to be recognized, particularly the New Testament books. There's a lot that the novel says here about the timing of how that emerged that's important. It is, in fact, the case that we don't get all the books of the New Testament named until the fourth century.
But, what that's not telling you is that it is the Gospels that were the first things to be affirmed out of that collection, and that they were clearly functioning as the four Gospels by the time of Irenaeus at the end of the second century. We have suggestions as well and evidence that Paul's epistles were functioning this way. What was being disputed were not those works but whether or not to include things like Second Peter, Second John, Revelation and Hebrews. These were the books that were being discussed in that latter period. Now this leaves us with a period of about 150 years between the death of Christ and Irenaeus. It's important to understand that for the novel and that for the theories that are underneath the novel, Irenaeus is kind of the boogieman. He is the one who is responsible for launching the direction of moving towards orthodoxy, or what we call Christianity.
The evidence of this period before Irenaeus is very important. The problem is that we don't have concrete clear evidence of a canonical function of the Gospels in that period. What we have are fathers sighting this gospel or that gospel but we aren't working with all four of them together yet in a clear kind of way. How is the faith communicated in that period? That becomes the question.
What we see is that within these documents we have little doctrinal summaries. We have hymnic sections. We have the words that are said over the Lord's table. These are all communicating core theology. We know that these were circulating in independent units by the way they were laid out, by the shortness of them, the memorability of them, the fact that they can be easily memorized. I think mess up a word there.
In this period we can see this theology consistently running through the writings of the first two centuries in the theology that they represent. The idea that God is the creator. That he is good. The idea that Jesus is both human and divine. The idea that Jesus died for our sins. The idea that resurrection involves the body and not just the soul. We can see that consistently through the writers of those periods. That ends up being an affirmation of what the Bible ends up teaching when this collection is finally brought together because the church recognized that what these biblical books were expressing was that core theology that was being taught through the churches in those periods. It goes back to the Apostles.
Darrell:I think the book actually plays an old game, as old as the middle part of the second century, the late part of the second century. If we are to read, say the book written by Irenaeus, that Darrell mentioned just a moment ago, already in 180 A.D., Irenaeus is telling us that there is this group of heretics, known as the Gnostics, that are wandering around and they are trying to lead people astray. They are trying to lead people away from their pastors. They are trying to lead people away from the communities in which they fellowship, which are grounded in the truth by saying things like this:
"Don't you realize that there are books which your pastor isn't letting you read?"
"Don't you know that there are books out there that you need to be reading which tell you a fuller story of Jesus and of salvation?"
"Don't you know that your pastor is actually keeping some things back from you?"
All of this enticement is going on in the second century. What you see is that this is almost the exact same thing that is taking place in Dan Brown's novel. He's setting forth all these alternative books, all these alternative gospels, as if orthodox Christianity in the 20th and 21st century has not told you the whole truth about Jesus. For the first time now in a popular way, his book is now alerting you to all of these other books that are out there which you really need to take account of if you are going to have a true and thorough picture of Jesus Christ and of salvation. It challenges the integrity of the Bible by putting forth the claim that the Bible, as we have it, is not the Bible as it should be, but these other books, which are associated with the second and third century movement of Gnosticism need to be added. Your Bible isn't enough... that's the claim that is being made.
Mark:When someone reads the reviews of Dan Brown's books from a Christian perspective and the subject of these Gnostic gospels get raised, talk to me about these gospels. You know, Dan Brown talks about that there were more than 80 different gospels, etcetera. What do we really know and what's the truth about these?
Darrell:Well, actually these extra biblical books that we have run a range. Not all of them are Gnostic, although most of them are. The best I can tell, the count that I've been able to make, there are about 32 texts total, outside the four Gospels, that deal with some aspect of the life of Christ. Most of them deal with his appearances after his resurrection. That's one of the interesting things about these materials. Most of them deal with the resurrected Jesus giving some revelation to someone. That's what they claim to do. It's almost as if the point of the text is to say, "we're going to trump what the Gospels tell you because the Gospels tell you what Jesus taught when he was on Earth and we're going to give you the latest and greatest from Jesus." Of course, it has a variety of things. The range runs from the Gospel of Thomas, which probably itself is not a Gnostic gospel, it's kind of a mix of stuff that has come out of the same kinds of materials that we see in the synoptic. Also, about 25 percent of the Gospel of Thomas, which is composed of about 114 sayings of Jesus. About 25 percent you go, "that looks very familiar." The reason it looks familiar, it looks very much like what you see in your synoptic gospels. Another 25 percent of it you read it and then go, "that sort of looks familiar" and that's because it's fairly close to what you see in the synoptic gospels. The other 50 percent is, you've never seen this before, it all looks new and different.
You've got that at one end of the spectrum and then you go all the way over to works like the Apocryphon of John or the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. These are reporting on depictions of what their creation is like, on what the afterlife is like, etcetera. It's putting in these doctrines of, these are Gnostic works, of Gnosticism which emphasize the fact that the body was corrupt, that the creation was evil from the beginning, that God didn't directly create that creation, it was created by underlings called Demiurges, and that Jesus... Actually, the problem in these works isn't so much that Jesus is human, the problem in these works is Jesus is so divine, he can't be human. It's the exact opposite of what Dan Brown is claiming. It's in these variations that we see the early church reacting against them because the early church inherited the view of God that came from Judaism that said God was the creator of everything, that it was good in the beginning and then there was a fall in sin that brings in human accountability. In the Gnostic text you're only speaking, "Don't go there." So, one of the interesting things that I've learned in working with this material has been that the reaction against it isn't just a matter of what they believe about Jesus. The reaction against it is also very much fueled about what they believe about God and the instinctive reaction would have been, that's not the God that I recognize from the Old Testament. That's not the God who is the good, creator God. That's something else and there was a reaction against that.
Mark: These texts were discovered where?
Darrell:They were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. We knew about the contents of this material from what the church fathers wrote about in the second and third centuries. In fact, Irenaeus' description of one of these books is so precise that when we dug up the Nag Hammadi text and they read the Apocrypha of John, students of that material went "Oh we know that text. That's what Irenaeus was talking about. That's the Apocryphon of John."
Mark: So it's not unfamiliar material that was suddenly discovered a generation ago. It's never been known.
Darrell:No we had been talking about this material for centuries. The Fathers have been analyzing it for centuries and then it died away and now it has come back. The reason these materials are historically significant to us is because it tells us about elements of fringe groups associating themselves with Christianity in the second and third centuries and we get to hear their views directly rather through a critical lens which is what the fathers were giving us and so we get to see the works that they were reading and circulating among themselves without any intervening voices.
So from an historical standpoint that's actually quite important to us because what we see are those differences that we were talking about but when this material gets handled in the public by novels like Dan Brown's or is taught and this is important, is taught in university classes about the origins of Christianity in many university classes this stuff is being taught. That's where the other books are coming from. What's being highlighted in that material is a selective use of this material and it not giving you a full scope of what this exactly teaches and, therefore, we are getting a distorted view of what these texts actually teach.
Mark:We mentioned briefly in terms of the deity humanity, there is a view put forth in the book that the divinity of Christ, the deity of Christ was not a doctrine of the early church until the fourth century. Dr. Bingham talks to me about the deity humanity of Christ and Dan Brown talks about a close vote at Nicea. What really happened there?
Jeffrey:First of all, the claim that the church did not believe in the deity of Christ until the fourth centuries that's downright silly. There is no way to substantiate this in an intelligent fashion. What happened in Nicea was that in the summer of 325 Constantine, an emperor, who looks over his empire and sees that it is splitting over the doctrinal issue. The doctrinal issue of whether or not the Son of God is a creature or whether or not the Son of God is of the same essence, substance or nature as the Father. Whether or not the Son of God is a creature who is created or not eternal or whether the Son of God is indeed eternal with the Father. He sees that his empire is dividing over these two views. Part of the empire is gathering around Arias who is arguing the position that the Son of God is nothing but a creature, the best and brightest but still nothing more than a creature.
Then those gathered around Alexander of Alexandria who is arguing the traditional faith of Christianity that the Son of God is eternal with the Father and a share all of the divine attributes. The emperor seeing that his empire is experiencing this kind of tension and this kind of split calls the theologians of the church, the Bible teachers of the church to gather in Nicea in the summer of 325. They wrestle this question. They talk about this question. They examine the Bible together. They argue. They fight. They slap each other on the back and then finally, they come to the decision which is expressed to us in the Nicean Creed. Was there a vote taken? Probably, probably several. The issue is that somehow through working this way and massaging this and pressing this point, the counsel decided to issue a statement which we know as the Nicean Creed which declares that the son of God is indeed of the same essence, the same substance and the same nature as the Father.
What is interesting although this was the decision of the Nicean counsel it didn't necessarily become the main position of Mediterranean world. After the Counsel of Nicea in 325, perhaps we can say the majority of the Mediterranean world continued to follow Arias. That was a theological battle that then took place as orthodox theologians argued against Arian theologians until finally in 381 at the Counsel of Constantinople was the issue of Arianism finally put to rest. The creed of Nicea did not solve the problem of Arianism. What it did was to put forth a statement of faith which then became the basis by which orthodox theologians continued to argue against the Arian theologians finally winning the day in 381.
Darrell:Jeff isn't it the case that when this creed was put forward people signed onto it in effect. I heard the number of bishops running from anywhere of 216 to just over 300 attended that counsel. That all the two signed on when it was all said and done. Is that correct?
Jeffrey:There certainly was a grand, huge movement of affirmation of it. Whether I can confirm your number of two or not is someplace I'm not sure I can go but yes, if we are talking about the majority, absolutely. This is the strong position of Nicea.
Darrell:It wasn't close. The numbers ranged anywhere from 17 objectors at the start all the way down to this figure of two at the end. I heard the number of five when it came to the point of anathmatizing Arias. There were five that didn't agree with anathemitizing or putting a curse, if you will, on Arias. So regardless of what the exact number is we aren't talking about a close vote. We are not talking about something that was close. At Nicea, this was a very clear affirmation of the vast majority of the bishops who were present.
Jeffrey: Yes, absolutely.
Announcer: This concludes part 1. Please continue with Part 2.
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