Monday, May 22, 2006

The DaVinci Code Cont.

Next, I want to consider claims 4-7. The Da Vinci Code draws conclusions about Jesus based on the Gnostic Gospels including that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. It also tries to show that the New Testament excludes women and that the early church tried to cover up the truth for fear that it would damage the church. Again, I find these claims, at best misleading, or entirely false and this is why.

I, nor do many other Christians, find the thought of Jesus being married threatening to my faith or the church. There would be no reason to cover up this truth about Jesus.

If Jesus were married, which he could have been (although I doubt it) there is no evidence that he was married to Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene is first mentioned in Luke 8 as a person whom Jesus has freed from a demon. She is mentioned with other women in this text. She is also mentioned as a witness as Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. Again, there is no sign of her having a special relationship with Jesus. She is mentioned as being one of the women. The closest evidence to her and Jesus being married is found in The Gospel of Philip, which is a Gnostic text. It says “And the companion of the _______ Mary Magdalene __________ (loved) her more than (all) the disciples (and used to) kiss her (often) on her __________.” The lines signify the missing pieces and the brackets denote the pieces of the text that are inferred in translation. As you can see, this statement, even if we take the Gospel of Philip to be a credible source, which I don’t, there is still a lot of speculation in order to make the lead from this text to Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene. At best the text says that Jesus loved her more than the others and kissed her often. Ben Witherington suggests that this could have been kisses on the head, hand, cheek or mouth. We have no clue.

Although Mary Magdalene more than likely was not married to Jesus, she is significant in the Gospel stories. This is very important to note because in the first century, women were only good for bearing male children to their husbands. In the Gospels, we see women who followed Jesus and played an important role in his ministry and the early church.
The Da Vinci Code Cont.

The Da Vinci Code makes several claims about the Bible and Jesus. As best I can tell, these are the claims it makes:

1. The people who were in power in the 4th century decided which books to canonize based on a political agenda. In the process, they excluded the books that depicted the truth about Jesus.
2. The books that we commonly call Gnostic Gospels are the books that were excluded, but they are the ones that contain the truth.
3. Gnostic Gospels depict Jesus as being human while the Gospels in the New Testament only show him as being divine.
4. Gnostic Gospels clearly show that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and had a child.
5. Gnostic Gospels also show that women were a major force in the early church, but the Bible as we have it limits the impact of women.
6. The early church was forced to cover up this information because it would have destroyed Christianity; therefore they burned all the evidence. Luckily some of the books have survived and the story of Jesus and Mary has been kept among a small group.
7. The Holy Grail, which is the bloodline of Jesus, contains this secrete.

To begin with, I want to talk specifically about claims 1 2, and 3. The Da Vinci Code makes it appear that there were around eight books that could have made it into the New Testament, but the group that was in power chose to only selected the 27 that spoke of Jesus’ divinity. I am quite certain that this is not the case. Rather, I understand the Bible came to take the shape it did primarily because the books that were included were the ones that were use by most of the communities in the early church. In other words, the New Testament that we use today were the letters and books that were given priority by the early church and these were the books that led the church to form the belief in Jesus’ divinity. Here are the reasons why I think this:

A. The council of Niece met for the reason of clarifying the nature of Jesus divinity. The question that was debated was whether or not Jesus was “of the same substance” or of “similar substance” as the Father. The latter was the Arian position. The interesting thing about the Arians was that they defended their position by using the four gospels. The Arians lost the debate and the doctrine of Jesus was that he was of the same substance as the father. Therefore the Nicene Creed reads, “We believe in one Lore, Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father.” Just to make sure everyone got the point, it goes on to say, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father.” Again, the thing to note is that the Arian still appealed to the same set of texts as those who believed in what we called “Orthodox Christianity.” This means that the Gnostic Gospels were not authoritative in the same way the four gospels were, even before the Bible was officially put together.

B. The Gnostic Gospels tend to be written well after the four gospels we find in the New Testament. It is suspected that the earliest Gospel is Mark, written near 70A.D. It is believed that Matthew and Luke were written sometime after this and that they both used a copy of Mark and a document called Q which is a set of sayings that are found in Matthew and Luck, but not in Mark. Then, the gospel of John was written in the 90’s. The earliest Gnostic Gospel written was the Gospel of Thomas, which was not composed until the mid to late 100’s. This means that if one were to weigh the historical evidence, the Gnostic Gospels would be less reliable than the four accounts we have in the New Testament.

C. The Gnostic Gospels themselves contain material that is directly opposed to the larger teachings on the New Testament. This means that the material that most of the church used to construct its belief about God and Jesus did not match up with the teachings of the Gnostics. For example, Gnostics teach that certain people receive “special revelation” and that this is the correct knowledge. This revelation remains secrete to the world at large. The New Testament teaches the opposite. It teaches that the church is to be a light to the world and the Jesus love the whole world and revealed himself the world he loved. Gnostics also believed that the body was completely evil and spirit is completely good. The New Testament teaches that all creation is good, including the body and that God wants to redeem all of creation and restore it to its original goodness.

D. The Gnostics believed that Jesus was purely a spiritual being, which would make him “antihuman.” Ironically, the Da Vinci Code claims that Jesus is only human and that the Bible teaches us only of his divinity. The truth is that it is the Gnostic Gospels that only teach that Jesus is divine. The Gospel of Mark in particular that shows us that Jesus is both human and divine. This is the position that the early church takes as well.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Getting Ready for The Da Vinci Code

A couple of summers ago I read The Da Vinci Code at the request of my family primarily. I read the book while on vacation in Hawaii and I was captivated by the story. As I read the book, I did encounter some things that I found far fetched and other things that I blatantly disagreed with. However, I read the book for the enjoyment of the story rather than its historical content. After all, I was under the impression that it was fiction.

After reading the book and had several people ask me questions about some of the content in the book. Most of the people were disturbed, but others were captivated by the new ideas. I realized that although the novel was fiction, its readers were quickly turning it into reality. I had some knowledge of the events the book was claiming, but I decided to read a couple of books on the subject matter, namely The Gospel Code by Ben Witherington and Breaking the Da Vinci Code by Darrell Brock. I found both books insightful and they reaffirmed my convictions as I read through the book.

In reading these books, I did find something troubling. Both Witherington and Brock quoted Dan Brown as saying that “if he had been asked to write a piece of nonfiction on these things, he would change nothing about what he claimed in the novel.” The reason I find this troubling is that while I find the book interesting and intriguing as fiction, I find it equally troubling as nonfiction. Over the next several blogs I want to talk about three claims that the DaVinci Code makes about the Christian faith. I will be drawing material out of both The Gospel Code and Breaking the Da Vinci Code. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in this topic to read both these books.

Before addressing the issues brought up by Dan Brown (and others before him) I want to echo something in Brian McLaren’s new book The Secrete Message of Jesus

But many people seem to share my hunch that neither a formulaic religious approach nor a materialistic secular approach has it all nailed down. Think of all the people who in recent years have read (or seen) The Da Vinci Code – not just as a popular page turner but as an experience in shared frustration with the status quo, male dominated, cover-up-prone Christian religion. Why is the vision of Jesus hinted at in Dan Brown’s book more interesting, more attractive, and more intriguing to these people than the standard version of Jesus they hear about from churches? Why would they be disappointed to find that Brown’s version of Jesus has been largely discredited as fanciful and inaccurate, leaving only the church’s conventional version? Is it possible that even though Brown’s fictional version misleads in many ways, it at least serves to open up the possibility that the church’s conventional versions of Jesus may not do him justice?

I think McLaren is saying something that the church needs to wake up to. I know in recent years I have become disillusioned by popular Christianity. I think the world wants the real Jesus to stand up. I pray that we as a church learn a valuable lesson from the Da Vinci Code. The church has the greatest gift and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the most radical thing that we can read. The church must relearn how to engage a hurting world with the truth of the gospel in a way that is not shallow or abusive. We need to understand why Jesus and the Bible truly do matter.