Virtual Reality Christianity: The Da Vinci Code and the Brown-Out of Historical Christianity, Part Five

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

1. Which Gospels Really Are the Oldest?

Teabing, the leading theological figure in The Da Vinci Code, and the one whom I’ve quoted here almost exclusively, stated as I quoted earlier that Constantine “commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned” (p. 254). Teabing then boldly declares that the Bible we have today “was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda – to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and use His influence to solidify their own power base.” In reply to a question by the character Langdon, Teabing responds that “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” (emphasis in The Da Vinci Code, p. 255).

I already mentioned Brown’s evident views that until the Council at Nicea in 325, “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet” (p. 233). And we also heard from this character about the early Church hijacking the real Jesus from history, deifying Him, and utilizing His life as a key means to a powerful controlling end. It was at this point that Teabing says that Nicea was about a controlled and compensated vote to upgrade Jesus status to divinity.

The root of the rubbish finally surfaces when Teabing goes on to explain his supposed historical basis for making such claims. “Because Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status four centuries after Jesus’ death, thousands of documents already existed chronicling His life as a mortal man. To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history” (p. 254). Supposedly, according to Teabing, Constantine and the council ignored four centuries of documents clearly reflecting Jesus’ humanity, gathered them all up, outlawed them, burned them, and then overturned the tables of history to proclaim Jesus as divinity.

It is at this point that fiction and scholarship meet up like hot and cold air forming a truth twister of sorts, essentially rewriting history himself instead of the other way around as Brown and his character claim. My contention is that history is clearly on the side of the fact that documents declaring Jesus’ divinity and humanity were not just floating around the first century but were used, copied, and circulated among all the others. And this was taking place just thirty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In light of the documentary evidence available to virtually anyone having access to a religious library or the internet, it is preposterous to even intimate that documents point to Jesus’ divinity were not around until after the Council at Nicea in 325. The council’s decision, represented and supported by a huge chunk of the Christian community around the known world at that time, merely affirmed verbally and confirmed in writing what these communities has already believed for three centuries. I’ve already mentioned some of this evidence. According to one source,

A. Based on manuscript evidence, both conserv­ative and liberal scholars agreed on the following things:

1. They agree that Paul wrote the book of Romans before the year A.D. 59 (long before the "secret" gospels mentioned in The Da Vinci Code were written and over 265 years before the Council of Nicaea). Paul wrote in Romans 8:9, "What the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh." (Romans 8:3)

2. They agree that Colossians, written some time between A.D. 57 and 80, says" [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.. .For by [Jesus] all things were created.. .For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him."

3. They agree that the book of Hebrews was written well before A.D. 70. The author leaves us in little doubt when writing Hebrews 1:1-3 "God, after He spoke long ago.. .has spoken to us hi His Son.. .And He is the radi­ance of His glory and the exact represen­tation of His nature..."

B. Based on this fact, consider the evidence to Jesus’ divinity from within these historically reliable and accurate gospels.

1. The Apostle Paul and his testimony to the resurrected Jesus is virtually undisputed among scholars today of various religious flavors. Many debate whether or not he was telling the truth. But hardly any debate that he lived in the first century and wrote most of his letters just thirty to fifty years after the death of Jesus. His letters date between A.D. 50 and 68, almost three hundred years before Nicea!

o Galatians 1:11-24. In his own words, Paul persecuted Christians and approved of their arrest and execution until he saw the risen Jesus. This one fact, testified to by Paul again and again in almost all of his letters, is proof positive that such a man was indeed God.

o 1 Corinthians 8:5-6. This is the first of three confessional texts by Paul in which he witnesses to the transformation of his own life because of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Paul made mention of the fact that while those around him worshiped numerous other gods, he and the church only worshiped on God and one Lord Jesus Christ: “Although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” I might add here that in the koine Greek of the day, kurios, the word for “lord” was chosen by Christians to utilize in referring to Jesus as God, not by just using the title, but by referring to what Jesus was doing. According to this confessional text, Jesus was the constant source from which all things come and continue existing.

o 1 Corinthians 15:3-4. This is the second confessional text from Paul, perhaps the most famous one. “3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

o Philippians 2:9-11. If ever there was one thing that upset the Jews more than anything it was taking the descriptions of divinity in the OT and applying them to the man Jesus. This is what drove the Jewish leaders to try to kill him on more than one occasion. This was blasphemy and the eventual reason why they crucified Him. Yet Paul continues this pattern, having no qualms whatsoever about utilizing the language of Isaiah the prophet in describing God to also describe Jesus. “9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Here is a text, written early in Paul’s ministry, somewhere in the mid to late 50’s, describing Jesus as the object of worship of every knee and every tongue on earth, bearing the title of Lord. Using the language of Isaiah 45:23, Jesus is described as occupying the same position as God Himself. Jesus receives worship just as God does.

o Hebrews 1:1-13. This same sort of thing occurs in Hebrews 1:1-13 in which the author quotes from Psalm 102:25-27 to prove the same thing that Paul does with Isaiah in Philippians.

o John 1:1, 2-3, 14. John also writes unambiguously that Jesus was divine. There is no mistaking John here. When he said that the Word became flesh, the Word is God and God became flesh and Jesus was that flesh.

o Mark, Matthew, Luke. If some scholars would say that John and Paul’s view of Jesus is different from that of the other three gospels, that would not be true either. Probably written in this order, according to most scholars – Mark, Matthew, Luke – and dating somewhere between the sixties and eighties, they are first century documents which bear witness to Jesus’ divinity in ways different than John does. There is no mistake that in these gospels Jesus is a blasphemer, claiming to be God, seated at the right hand of the Father. The transfiguration, for example, in Matthew 17 is unmistakably the most remarkable event in Jesus’ and the disciple’s lives before the resurrection. Matthew recounts the event in order show the Jews, his audience, that this man was in fact God. Luke describes miracle after miracle in order to establish the fact that no man could do such works if there were not divinity present. And the recounting of Jesus’ baptism makes no mistake that Jesus was called the Son of God, a Hebrew title for one who was God Himself.

C. Now consider some historically reliable and accurate textual evidences from outside the Bible. Stepping outside the NT writings themselves, we don’t have to look far before we find evidence of documents attesting to Jesus’ divinity still two hundred years or less prior to the Council of Nicea. One author utilizes what he calls the fourfold authority of the gospels (Bock, Breaking The Da Vinci Code, p. 110 ff.).

1. Catholicity – which gospels were the most widely accepted, read, copied, and utilized in the local churches.

2. Rise of competing views of the faith – the argument from the church fathers constantly is that competing views only arise to combat what came before them. Therefore, the gospels that were present before the competition must be the legitimate ones.

3. Apostolic roots – works written by apostles or those they discipled were obviously favored the highest, for after all they were the ones who walked and talked with Jesus Himself. It only make sense to acknowledge the eyewitness evidences as the most reliable.

4. Persecution. I’ve already alluded to this one before. Which works were those being martyred for Jesus actually reading and carrying with them and citing in their own writings before they died. But another noteworthy fact is that there were writings that were outlawed, gathered up, and destroyed, but they were not the Gnostic gospels, and it was not by the hand of Constantine, and it didn’t take place in A.D. 325. It took place at the hands of men like Diocletian who in A.D. 303 outlawed all Christian writings, and ordered them to be burned or destroyed. What standard do you suppose was used to correctly identify which books were the bad ones and thus to be subsequently destroyed? “Those who would defy such an order needed to know which books were worth dying for.”[2]

D. Allow me then to give you a quick run down quickly of the extra-biblical works available in the second and third century, still yet a century before the Council of Nicea, which affirm Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the first four gospels.

1. The Muratorian Canon

o In 1740 Italian historian Ludovico Antonio Muratorio discovered one of the most important lists of the books of the Bible probably ever discovered. Written in Latin, and only a copy of the original, what is concluded is that the original contained more than 85 lines of text, broken at the beginning of the copy, and dating from the eighth century. However, the document makes a reference to the work entitled The Shepherd of Hermas and to the fact that Pius I had recently been bishop. Based on the fact that Pius I was bishop around A.D. 157, this would date the original of the eighth century copy to the late second century. Do the math and you’ll find that’s 150 years earlier than Nicea.

o As I said before, the manuscript copy is broken at the beginning. But what follows the broken part deals a crushing blow to Brown’s thesis that the first four gospels are the oldest of the gospels. The beginning of the eighth century copy reads, “The third book of the gospel is that according to Luke,” and refers to John as, “The fourth of the gospels is that of John, one of the disciples.” It only names four gospels as bearing the title “gospels.” And so this is unmistakable evidence from the second century that “the gospel” is found in the four Gospels and only in them.

o What is more, the Muratorian Canon also names the writings of Valentinus and Marcion (two second century heretics) whose works are to be rejected by the church.

2· Ignatius (A.D. 107) wrote that Jesus was "God Incarnate...God himself appearing in the form of a man."

3· Medito of Sardis (A.D. 177) wrote of Jesus, "He was man, yet He is God..."

4· Irenaeus, Against Heresies.

o A second century church father, Irenaeus defended and explained the faith that had been passed down through the three generations of Christians preceding him. In Book 3.11.7 he makes explicit reference to “Matthews Gospel,” “that according to Luke,” “the Gospel by Mark,” and “that according of John.”

o In Book 3.11.8 of the same work he explained why there could only four key Gospels, describing his opinion and perception of what he thought to be God’s reasoning for four gospels. Later in the same passage he coined the expression “the gospel in quadriform” referring to the one gospel expressed in four Gospels. Again, he didn’t create them, but is merely affirming his acceptation of them and giving reasons why they were preeminent.

o In 3.1.1 Irenaeus believed that the gospels which were written by or connected with an apostle were the preeminent ones. Matthew and John were written by these men respectively. And Mark’s gospel was influenced by Peter, and Luke’s by Paul. What this means is that by the second century Mark and Luke, though not written by an apostle, were believed to have the same authority and those written by an apostle since they were influenced and perhaps even commissioned by an apostle.

5· Justin Martyr, believed to be a spiritual grandson of the apostle John, wrote a work entitled Dialogue with Trypho in the second century, even earlier than Irenaeus.

o In 103.19 he referred to the gospels as, “the memoirs which I say were drawn up by His apostles and those who followed them.” Using this phrase – “memoirs of the apostles” – some fifteen times, he is clearly communicating that there is more than one memoir, more than one gospel. These references all cite Matthew, Mark and Luke.

o In 106.3 he refers to Mark as the “memoir of Peter.

o In 66.3 he referred to the “memoirs of the apostles” and noted they were also called “gospels.” This tells me that the term “gospels” was a title well known for these works by then.

6· Tatian – a second century student of Justin Martyr, later became a follower of the heretic Valentinus.

o Before this he was the first to combine the four gospels into what we could call today a harmony, which is weaving the accounts together into one continuous story about Jesus. The majority of this work quotes from the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John with a few other sources quoted. “Even those on the side of the Gnostics recognized the centrality of these Gospels by the end of the second century” (Bock, p. 119).

o Don’t you think it might have been easier to just accept Tatian’s work as a substitute for the four gospels? After all, having one work instead of four would certainly simplify things. Yet what is interesting is that the church never accepted Tatian’s work as a replacement. Instead, they continued to affirm the four gospels as too important and well established to be combined into one account and authoritatively received and used.

6· Origen – who lived from 185-254.

o I love this quote from Origen who, again some 100 years before Nicea wrote the following on his first sermon on Luke 1:1. “I know a certain gospel which is called “The Gospel according to Thomas” and a “Gospel according to Matthias,” and many others have we read – lest we should in any way be considered ignorant because of those who imagine they possess some knowledge if they are acquainted with these. Nevertheless, among all these we have approved solely what the church has recognized, which is that only the four gospels should be accepted.”

o In his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew Origen again defended the idea of a set four gospels. “Among the four gospels, which are the only indisputable ones in the Church of God under heaven, I have learned by tradition that first was written that according to Matthew.” He goes on to explain that Mark was the second, Luke the third, and John the fourth. Again this is 100 years before Nicea!

So then, works like The Gospel of Thomas (which, along with the notorious and never discovered but firmly embraced “Q”, the Jesus Seminar puts the most stock in) and other later gospels were clearly not written by or connected with the apostles so that early Christians didn’t assess them with such authority. That’s why they weren’t copied as much, distributed as much, read as much, and associated as much with the local churches. It is as if everyone and their brother knew that such gospels were not legitimate gospel accounts of Jesus Christ.

[1] “The Da Vinci Code” in Christian History Institute at index_editorial_etc/da_vinci_code.html
[2] Bock, p. 121.
[3] See for more information

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