The Da Vinci Code and the Bible

dvc.jpg(This paper was originally presented as part of a series on The Da Vinci Code for Red Rocks Baptist Church on April 26, 2006.  It deals with the erroneous claims the book makes about the canon of Scripture.)

SYNOPSIS OF THE DA VINCI CODE
While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. Solving the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of Da Vinci…clues visible for all to see…and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.  

Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and Da Vinci, among others. The Louvre curator has sacrificed his life to protect the Priory's most sacred trust: the location of a vastly important religious relic, hidden for centuries.[1] 

In this segment in our series, the true story of the canon of Scripture will be revealed as contrasted with the erroneous account presented by Dan Brown.

The word canon comes from the Greek word kanon which originally meant “a measuring stick, a ruler.”  Over time, the word has come to mean “a list, a table.”  With respect to Scripture, canon “refers to the recognized list of authentic books that make up the Bible—both Old and New Testaments.”[2] 

In The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown makes the following assertions about the canon of Scripture:

1. The Bible is the product of man.
2. The New Testament is false testimony.
3. More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament.
4. The Bible was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.
5. The modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda…to solidify their own power base.
6. 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.[3] 

Every one of these claims is false, as will be demonstrated in the remainder of this paper.  In addition, the recounting of the history behind the development of the canon will give the believer confidence in the written Word of God. 

THE OLD TESTAMENT CANON
The Old Testament canon, consisting of thirty-nine books written in Hebrew and Aramaic, was closed after the writing of the prophet Malachi in the 5th century B.C.  In order for an Old Testament book to be considered for the canon, it had to have been written by a prophet.  Jesus Himself testified that Old Testament prophecy was ended in both Matthew 11:13-14 and Luke 16:16.  The New Testament treated the Old Testament as a closed canon as well (Matthew 5:17-18; 23:35; Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16).  Historical record outside the Bible also points to the end of Jewish prophecy.  The historian Josephus writes:

From the death of Moses till the reign of Artaxerxes, king of Persia, who reigned after Xerxes, the prophets wrote…From Artaxerxes until our time everything has been recorded but has not been deemed worthy of like credit with what preceded because the exact succession of the prophets ceased.  But what faith we have placed in our own writings is evident by our conduct; for though so long a time has now passed no one has dared to add anything to them, or take anything from them, or to alter anything in them.[4] 

The Babylonia Talmud adds: 

After the later prophets Haggai, Zechariah…and Malachi, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.[5] 

The Dead Sea Scrolls, discovered in 1947 by a Bedouin boy in caves at Qumran near the Dead Sea, provide more proof that the books of the Old Testament were recognized as God’s Word.  About 175 of the 500 Dead Sea Scrolls are biblical.[6]  Quotes from every Old Testament book except Esther can be found in the scrolls.  Many of the scrolls were commentaries and none of these have commented on anything except Old Testament books. 

The church fathers were nearly unanimous in their acceptance of the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament canon.  Only Augustine would include the Apocrypha with the other accepted books. 

WHAT IS THE APOCRYPHA?
The Apocrypha is a collection of 14 books that appeared in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.  This translation is called the Septuagint.  These are books that deal with the 400 years between the writing of Malachi and the birth of Christ.  Because Jesus and the Apostles quoted from the Septuagint, some have wanted to include these books in the Old Testament canon.  However, neither Jesus nor His Apostles ever quoted from these books.  They record the history of the Jewish nation.  They were not written by prophets of God and do not claim to be the Word of God.  Most Hebrews rejected the Apocryphal books because the Spirit of prophecy was not active after Malachi.  Some of the earliest writings of the church fathers are also considered part of the Apocrypha for the New Testament.  The Roman Catholic Church canonized the Apocrypha in 1546 at the Council of Trent. 

There are other collections of writings as well that have been considered by some for inclusion in the Bible.  The Pseudepigrapha were books that claimed to be written by prophets or apostles, but have been proven to be false.  The Gnostic gospels would fall into this category.  It was primarily the books of the pseudepigrapha that stimulated the formulation of the canon.  Some of these books included the Gospel of Nicodemus, the Acts of Pilate, the Proto-Gospel of James and the History of the Childhood of Thomas.  Some of these accounts are very interesting to read, but are not accepted as Scripture.  In one instance, the story is told that Jesus as a young boy was making mud pies with his friends near a river.  When Jesus threw His mud pies into the air, they turned into birds and flew away.[7] 

THE NEW TESTAMENT CANON
While Dan Brown suggests that the Emperor Constantine created a new Bible with the purpose of deifying Christ, it was actually a man named Athanasius who first listed the canon of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament in his Easter letter in A.D. 367.  Ironically, a heretic named Marcion created the first New Testament canon in recorded history.  Marcion wanted to eliminate the influence of the Old Testament so in A.D. 140 he created a canon consisting of the gospel of Luke and ten of Paul’s letters—all stripped of Old Testament references.[8] Although Marcion’s canon spurred the further development of a New Testament canon, the church fathers had some harsh comments for him. 

Tertullian, not without a touch of humor, called him “the Pontic mouse who nibbled away the Gospels…abolished marriage…and tore God almighty to bits with blasphemies.  Polycarp, who knew the apostle John personally, upon meeting Marcion, called him “the first-born of Satan.”[9] 

Although Athanasius’ list of the books of the New Testament occurred after the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325, the evidence shows that the Gospels, giving the account of Jesus’ life and ministry were considered canonical by the end of the second century, well before the fourth century claims of Dan Brown.  The most important document to this effect is a Latin document called the Muratorian Canon, names for Ludovico Antonio Muratori, an Italian historian who discovered it in 1740.  This listing has internal evidence that would date it shortly after the death of Pope Pius I in A.D. 157.  It accepts only four books that contain the gospel and names Luke and John specifically.  It also names works by Marcion that are to be excluded from the church.[10] 

Another church father Origen wrote the following more than one hundred years before Nicea in his first sermon on Luke 1:1. 

I know a certain gospel which 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. 

How was a book decided to be included in the New Testament canon?  There are as many as ten tests which were used in this process: 

1. Indication of eye-witness, apostolic authorship or evidence of apostolic influence
2. Consistency with the gospel, with previously revealed truth
3. Testimony of the Holy Spirit
4. Harmony with other New Testament teaching
5. Dynamic character
6. Recognition among early churches
7. Endurance of the writing
8. Truthfulness
9. Testimony of other New Testament writings
10. Testimony of church fathers 

So, to answer the assertions of The Da Vinci Code in the area of canonicity: 

Is the Bible is the product of man?
Absolutely not.  By faith, we believe as the church has since the closing of the New Testament canon that the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are in fact God-breathed words. 

Is the New Testament false testimony?
Absolutely not.  By faith, we believe that Jesus was who He said He was, the Son of God, equal with God, our Savior who died and rose again for us. 

Were more than eighty gospels considered for the New Testament?
Absolutely not.  There was no consideration given to the pseudepigraphal books or the Gnostic gospels.  All the church fathers except one did not believe the Apocrypha to be Scripture and it was the Roman Catholic church in the Middle Ages that included the Apocrypha in their version of the Bible. 

Was the Bible collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great?
Absolutely not.  The Bible was recognized by the church over a period of time that ended before the third century.  What Constantine did do was commission the historian Eusebius of Caesarea to make fifty Bibles, to be copied onto good parchment by trained scribes for use in the churches of Constantinople, the same twenty-seven books we have today.[11] 

Was the modern Bible compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda…to solidify their own power base?
Absolutely not.  The men who compiled the various canons of Scripture did so for noble reasons: (1) to preserve the canon in times of extreme persecution[12], (2) to combat the error of Marcion and other heretics and (3) to establish apostolic roots as the ground for truth. 

Did Constantine commission and finance a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike?.  Were the earlier gospels outlawed, gathered up, and burned?
Absolutely not.  There is no historical record that suggests Constantine was involved in the creation or alteration of the Bible, nor is there record to assume any destruction of previous gospels.  By the fourth century, there were hundreds or perhaps thousands of copies of the New Testament books, making it all but impossible for Constantine to collect them all. 

How does the historical record of the development of the canon apply to believers today?  It should give great confidence to the believer to know that he possesses all that God communicated to man through inspiration.  Knowing that erroneous and fake gospels have been excluded brings purity to the Bible that no other book can claim.  The canon is complete.  Even if a new letter of Paul were discovered today, it would not be included in the canon.  Why? For over 1900 years, the canon of Scripture has been closed.  The Bible itself tells us that we are not to add or take away from it.  From the early church, when the Apostles began to pass off the scene, God has provided everything believers need for life and godliness through His completed Word.


[1] http://puzzles.about.com/library/weekly/blvinci.htm

[2] Garlow, James L. and Peter Jones. Cracking Da Vinci’s Code (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2004), p. 132.

[3] Brown, Dan. The Da Vinci Code (New York, NY: Doubleday, 2003), pp. 231, 234, 345.

[4] Josephus. Contra Apionem, 1.8.

[5] Babylonia Talmud, 7-8.24.

[6] Ryrie, Charles. Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1986), p. 106.

[7] Garlow, James L. and Peter Jones. Cracking Da Vinci’s Code (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications, 2004), p. 146.

[8] Carson, D.A. and Douglas J. Moo and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), p. 492.

[9] Garlow, p. 133.

[10] Bock, Darrell L. Breaking the Da Vinci Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004), p. 111-112.

[11] Lutzer, Erwin W. The Da Vinci Deception (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), p. 71.

[12] The Roman Emperor Diocletian decreed in A.D. 303 that all sacred books of the Christians were to be burned or destroyed.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by ojie stephens on April 13, 2007 at 6:50 am

    I’ve been reading about the NT canon. Everything seems to come from the Catholic Church (today called the Roman Catholic Church.) How did they know which books were inspired and which books were not. If they couldn’t interpret scripture correctly how could they recognize it correctly? thank you, Ojie S.

    Reply

  2. Ojie,

    There is no easy answer to this question. The Roman Catholic Church was not really formally organized until Constantine in 313. Remember, at the beginning, there were just Christians, followers of Christ. There was no organized catholic (universal) church. Small churches, under the authority of the Apostles, sprang up all over the Roman Empire. These Christians went through periods of intense persecution under emperors such as Nero and Diocletian who thought themselves to be god.

    That all changed when Constantine became the emperor and saw his vision about a cross. From that moment on, Christianity started to become more prominent. In large cities, groups of churches came under the rule of bishops. Because of the prominence of Rome, the Roman bishop became the most powerful of all.

    In 380, Emperor Theodosius declared Roman Catholicism the legal religion of the empire. Although Marcellinus is the first recorded bishop to use the title of “Pope,” it was not until the 11th century that the title was legally tied to the Bishop of Rome.

    All that being said, when the NT canon was being recognized in the 4th century, the Roman Catholic church looked nothing like it does today. Papal infallibility was not declared by the RCC until 1870!

    The fact is, that all Christians in the Roman Empire were connected in various ways. They did not consider themselves “Roman Catholics.” They did not pray to Mary until the Middle Ages. They did not practice transubstantiation (bread/wine change into the body/blood of Christ) until the 11th century.

    So, the hermeneutical misinterpretion of the Middle Ages and later should not be applied to those involved with the recognition of the canon. They used the 10 tests given in the above article to recognize the Word of God.

    Reply

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