The power which art possesses to shape culture is unmistakable (which is why I am so passionate about summoning Christians to enter the arts at every level.)
The following article is based on a sermon I preached in 2004, when Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” was first the talk of the town. Looking at our culture more than a decade later, we can clearly see that the theology and sexual philosophy advocated by “The Da Vinci Code” has saturated popular thinking, particularly Brown’s claim that we experience the divine in sexual self-expression and identification. Because Brown’s fallacies about Christianity continue to infect popular culture, it’s critical to refresh our understanding of the biblical truths he tried to destroy.
What if you found out that everything Christians have taught about the Bible for centuries – that it alone of all books is the inspired Word of God with the authority to teach us what we are to believe and how we are to live – was just a hoax concocted by devious men bent on a political agenda?
What if you found out that everything Christians have taught about Jesus for centuries – that he alone of all men is the Son of God, God in human flesh, who came to earth to offer his life as a sacrifice to pay for the sins of the human race, and that after dying on the cross he conquered death and rose from the grave, and is returning again soon to fully establish his kingdom on earth – was a sham, and that instead Jesus married Mary Magdalene and raised a child with her?
What if you found out that everything Christians have taught about true spirituality – that we enter into a relationship with God by repenting of our sins and then pursuing a life of purity and holiness in the strength that Christ provides – was just hogwash, and that the true path to spirituality is actually found in total abandonment to our every sexual desire?
Impossible you say? Well, that’s the premise of an international publishing phenomenon called The Da Vinci Code by author Dan Brown, which has now sold more than 7 million copies worldwide, and will soon catapult to an even higher orbit of popularity when the a new movie by Ron Howard based on the book is released.
A Fad Or A Threat?
When I began reading this book while flying to London a couple weeks ago, my initial thought was that this was just a fad that would soon blow over. The prophet Isaiah tells us pointblank, “Don’t call conspiracy everything the world calls conspiracy.” Christians can sadly get up in arms about way too many things.
But I understand the power of art to shape culture, and The Da Vinci Code is novel-writing the way the modern world likes it. A high-octane thriller, with short, easy-reading chapters, each ending with a cliff-hanger. Oh, and there’s a murder on page one. (Dickens, Hawthorne and Twain would fail miserably today as writers because it takes them forever to kill people off in their books. They’d never hold a reader’s attention today. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” ZZZZZ.
Brown gets right down to it, but he waits 300 pages before he reveals what his message really is. By then, he has the reader totally hooked, and readily convinced that whatever drivel Brown is about to tell them must be true. It became clear to me as I read this book that the average person would not read this book and say, “Well, this is just a good yarn, a good bit of beach reading.” The average person would read this book and come away thinking they’ve just learned something about history, and theology, and more specifically Jesus Christ – the tragedy being that they’d come away believing things which are dead-wrong, even spiritually dangerous.
As if to confirm my suspicions, during our vacation in England, we spent a night with a dear Christian couple we knew from the time we lived there back in the late 80s. We’ve stayed loosely connected over the years, so it was quite a shock to me when I learned that Judith (as I’ll call her) had walked away from the Jesus she said she once loved.
And wouldn’t you know that when she shared with us why she had lost her faith, one of the things she brought up was having read this book. The Da Vinci Code helped Judith confirm her doubts, and helped comfort her that she had made the right choice in walking away from Jesus.
And so it’s time to put on my Myth Buster hat and tackle this red-hot cultural phenomenon. Dan Brown – it’s you and me pal. Let’s get it on.
Claim #1: The New Testament Is A Fraud
The Da Vinci Code purports to unveil several explosive secrets about Christianity which if known, would blow apart historic Christianity as it’s understood today. These secrets have been carefully, even violently, safeguarded by the Priory of Sion which Brown insists on page-one is a real secret-society which traces back to the 11th century. (But is in fact a 20th century forged concoction of a lunatic Frenchman.)
One of the secrets the Priory of Sion has been guarding all these centuries concerns our Bibles. More than halfway through the book, the story’s hero and heroine meet up with an informant who explains the truth of the Bible to them.
“The Bible is a product of man, my dear, not of God,” the informant explains. “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.”
Sophie, the heroine of the story, then asks who decided which books to include. The informant tells her that it all took place early in the fourth century, during a church council convened by Emperor Constantine. “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…The modern Bible 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.”
Clearly, if this is true, then we are in a heap of trouble. The Bible says of itself in 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is God-breathed”. If Dan Brown is right, then those words are lies. Which means the Bible is a fraud and we have no authoritative guidebook for life. Heaven has been silent after all, and we are truly alone in this universe.
We already know that Dan Brown is a schlocky historian. He couldn’t even get his 20th-century history correct – something a simple internet search would have helped him with – so we need to be on our guard when he talks about events that took place 2,000 years ago.
Was it true that there were over eighty gospels running around together side by side for the first few centuries? Was it true that the early church had no idea which books were sacred and which were not, and that it took a fourth-century political decision to iron it all out?
There’s an important word you each should know. It’s the word canon. Our good friend Webster defines canon as “an authoritative list of books accepted as Holy Scripture.” Back in the days of Jesus, God’s people already had a canon – we call it the Old Testament. Jesus and his disciples regarded those books as sacred scripture.
But what’s interesting is that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as the disciples themselves began writing their gospels and letters about Jesus, it became clear to them and the early church that what they were writing down was also scripture, was also canonical.
For that reason, what they wrote was copied and circulated about. At the end of his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells them, “See that this letter is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.” When Peter commented about Paul’s letters, he warned that ignorant and unstable people would try to distort Paul’s writings “as they do the other Scriptures.”
By the end of the first century, there was already a consensus brewing among the church that most of the books we now call the New Testament were in fact sacred scripture. Early in the second century, the four gospels were already being packaged in a new form of writing called a codex (closely resembling modern books) and were being circulated together. As were the letters of Paul.
Where did Dan Brown get the idea of eighty gospels existing? They come from the writings of several Christian-cult communities which began springing up in the second century. Jesus himself warned that false Christs would appear on the scene. Paul gave severe warnings against anyone who brought a gospel different than the one he and the apostles taught. Peter, in the verse just quoted, warned how some were already attempting to distort Paul’s writings.
When we read the writings of second and third generation Christians, we find they are already taking on these false teachers by name: Gnostics. Marcionites. Ebionites. It shouldn’t surprise us that counterfeit cult communities sprang up, and it shouldn’t surprise us that they wrote their false teachings down, and tried to flood the market with their writings. What should surprise us is that modern liberal theologians and historians can’t see what is so clear to everyone else – that the New Testament books came first.
It wasn’t eighty gospels springing up altogether and all at once. It was Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and then a couple generations later, the flood of counterfeits. And it didn’t take four centuries to sort out the canon either. The four gospels, and all but a handful of the remainder of the New Testament books were accepted as God-inspired and canonical from the very beginning. The fourth century church councils merely tied up some loose threads to a process that was largely over the by the end of the first century.
Sadly though, Dan Brown is just getting started. There’s another secret the Priory of Sion has guarded over the centuries.
Claim #2: Jesus Christ Is Not Who We Think He Is
Let’s go back to the book and hear what the informant tells our hero and heroine about who Jesus Christ really is.
The heroine of the story reacts as some of you are reacting, with alarm, at this proposal. “Not the Son of God?” she asks. “You’re saying Jesus’ divinity was the result of a vote?” “A relatively close vote at that,” the informant adds.
As it turns out, Jesus married Mary Magdalene, enjoyed a sexual relationship with her, and fathered a daughter before his crucifixion. This is the Jesus you get in The Da Vinci Code. And this is the Jesus that my friend in England, Judith, claimed to find attractive and compelling – not the Jesus of the Bible.
What does the Bible tell us about Jesus? It was the Jesus of the Bible who claimed the divine authority to forgive sins, who accepted worship when it was offered him, who claimed to be perfectly sinless, who claimed Oneness with the Father, who claimed to be the Alpha and Omega. It is the Jesus of the Bible in whom the apostle Paul said the whole fullness of Deity dwells bodily. It is the Jesus of the Bible whom the book of Hebrews says is the exact representation of God’s being, whom the angels worship, who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Bible tells us unequivocally that Jesus is God.
Once you establish the authority of the New Testament as the Word of God, then you must accept what the New Testament says of Jesus. And this is what it says. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”
This is the Jesus with whom you must deal, not a mere mortal, not simply a fallible, sexual, sinful human being – perhaps a good teacher, perhaps an inspiring leader, but certainly not God.
And it didn’t take a fourth century church council to figure out who Jesus was either. Dan Brown is lying through his Gnostic, New Age, pagan teeth to put that on paper.
The apostles declared it in their writings, preached it in their sermons, then sealed it with their own blood, that Jesus was their great God and Savior. The second generation of Christians said the same. The church father Ignatius wrote in the early second century, “God himself was manifested in human form.” The third generation of Christians said it. Clement wrote in the middle of the second century, “It is fitting that you should think of Jesus Christ as of God.” Tertullian, the great third century Christian apologist, wrote powerfully of Christ’s divinity.
By the time the fourth century rolled around, Christ’s divinity was a slam dunk, and no it was not a close vote. The teaching of the latest false teacher to come round, a heretic named Arrius, was causing cultural turbulence, but was resoundingly condemned by the leaders who gathered at the Council of Nicea, most of whom bore actual scars of torture on their bodies because they would not say the words, “Caesar is Lord (i.e. Caesar is God”) but would only say the words, “Jesus is Lord.”
Why would someone like my friend Judith prefer a human and fallible Jesus over the real Jesus – the Jesus the Bible presents, the Jesus the true church preaches, the Jesus the empty tomb proves exists? Why would someone like Dan Brown deliberately ignore or distort actual evidence which proves him wrong? Why would someone choose the myth over the Messiah? The legend over the Lord?
I asked Judith, “If you ignore the evidence, if you turn away from what is factual, how then do you determine if something is true or not?” To this day, her answer is chilling. She looked at us and said, “I determine what is true by what I feel inside.” To which my daughter, who had been listening to this conversation, said, “So if I decide to murder you tonight because I feel inside that it’s true, then that makes it okay.” Bulls-eye, Hannah.
We cannot live in a world where truth is determined by what I feel inside. Truth must be a standard outside of myself, something to which my thoughts and my actions can be measured and evaluated. And therein is the rub.
Because we human beings are sinful, prideful, self-centered little creatures, we don’t want there to be an outside standard to which we are accountable. We’d rather run the show ourselves. If it feels good to us, then we want to do it, and don’t want anyone sticking their nose in our faces saying we ought not do it.
Which is why a human and fallible Jesus is so attractive to sinful, prideful, self-centered little creatures like us. Such a Jesus can’t require my worship, can’t demand my obedience, can’t command me to pick up my cross and follow him. All Dan Brown’s Jesus does is blow kisses at me as I go about my merry way doing whatever I feel like doing. I can be sinful – and spiritual – at the same time.
Not surprisingly, a third lie The Da Vinci Code puts forth as truth, is of just this order.
Claim #3: You Can Be Sinful And Spiritual At The Same Time
If you haven’t read the book, you’re going to be shocked when you learn what Dan Brown considers getting close to God looks like. Getting connected to God is depicted in the novel by the “Hieros Gamos” – a group sex ritual, taken straight from the playbook of the pagan nations which surrounded Israel in the Old Testament, and the pagan mystery religions which surrounded the early church.
Here it is, described in the book. “Hieros Gamos had nothing to do with eroticism. It was a spiritual act. Historically, intercourse was the act through which male and female experienced God. The ancients believed that the male was spiritually incomplete until he had carnal knowledge of the sacred feminine. Physical union with the female remained the sole means through which man could become spiritually complete and ultimately achieve gnosis – knowledge of the divine. Since the days of Isis sex rites had been considered man’s only bridge from earth to heaven.”
This is no small deal. This isn’t you say to-ma-do and I say to-may-to. The very behavior which Dan Brown says will bring us closer to God is behavior which the Bible says will cause us to be separated from him for eternity.
But it’s more than just sexual immorality that makes Hieros Gamos so devilish. Hieros Gamos is the ultimate expression of pagan self-worship, of looking inside myself for the divine. It’s the god our own culture is rushing headlong to worship as it overthrows the biblical sexual ethic which has stood firm for 2,000 years. These days, I can decide for myself the sexual behavior, even the sexual identity, which I want to be known for.
In the end, The Da Vinci Code while pretending to give to us Christianity as Jesus meant it to be, ends up advocating a lifestyle and a belief system that is the very polar opposite of what Jesus Christ lived and died for.
What The Da Vinci Code promotes is as old as the mountains and as dark as the seas. It was there from the very beginning of time when God gave humanity a choice. Stay by my side, God said, love me with the freedom of a son or daughter and you will live. Or strike out on your own. Find other gods to worship. And fall into an abyss of despair and death.
We made the wrong choice back then, and have been suffering the consequences to this day. But that is why Jesus Christ came. To rescue us from the abyss. And through his death on the cross, we are given forgiveness by God and a second chance to choose again whether or not we will become God’s sons and daughters. Whether or not we will have this relationship of love with God our Creator.
You have that choice before you here, now, this very moment. Which way will you choose? Will you take the Jesus of Dan Brown? Fallible, human, dead. Or the Jesus of the Bible? Sinless, resurrected, returning, divine.
Dan Brown’s Jesus will let you do anything you want and never make you feel guilty about anything. The real Jesus demands that you repent of your sins and come to the cross for forgiveness and ask for his help is leading a new and holy life.
Dan Brown’s Jesus doesn’t care for you one whit, because he’s dead – in fact there is no God in Dan Brown’s world – just the idle fantasy that you are divine, and once you realize that truth, you’ll be happy.
But just a moment’s worth of honesty should convince you that that is a lie, that you are not divine, but are a broken, lonely, flawed creature that needs the help of someone outside of you. The real Jesus is what will give you what you need. The real Jesus loves you so much that he became flesh and blood, then allowed his flesh to be broken and his blood to be spilled to save you from the mess that’s inside of you, and once you realize that, and come and fall before him, and start doing the things that he tells you to do in His Word, then you’ll know the God who really loves you and really wants a relationship with you.