“The Bible is a product of man . . . not of God.” (DVC, 231)
“To rewrite the history books, Constantine knew he would need a bold stroke. From this sprang the most profound moment in Christian history . . . 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.” (DVC, 345)
“The New Testament is based on fabrications.” (DVC, 341)
Welcome to the world of The Da Vinci Code! Could such statements be based on fact? Unfortunately, many have wholeheartedly bought into The Da Vinci Code’s idea that much of the Bible includes later editing that created the text and beliefs we hold today. However, when we cross the line from fiction to facts, we quickly discover that the claims made in Dan Brown’s best seller are just that—fiction.
One reason we may feel frustrated about challenges like The Da Vinci Code is that we do not know how we received the Bible. How was the Bible created, written, and handed down over the generations? If challenged by a friend or coworker about the Bible’s origins, would you have the basic information to explain what you believe?
If you are unsure of how to respond, you’re not alone. A recent study revealed that fewer than 24 percent of American Christians can accurately answer key questions regarding core Christian beliefs.5 So to help in our understanding of how the Bible originally came about, let’s discover what is not true and what is true about the Bible as addressed in The Da Vinci Code.
“The Bible . . . has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.” (DVC, 231)
The Da Vinci Code claims that Emperor Constantine attempted to destroy any gospel records that differed from his choices, but that the Dead Sea Scrolls and Nag Hammadi texts preserve additional information about Christ. Nothing could be further from the truth.
First, many documents called the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956. These extremely well-preserved documents—many complete sections and literally thousands of fragments—are ancient Hebrew texts written before the life of Christ.6 (The most remarkable is a complete copy of the book of Isaiah on display in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.) Considered by scholars a major discovery for Old Testament research, these scrolls include some of the earliest manuscripts of many Old Testament Bible books. Their most significant contribution to historical research has actually been to confirm the accuracy of other Old Testament texts handed down by Jewish rabbis. The Da Vinci Code’s claim that these scrolls contained extra gospels is impossible, since they were written approximately two hundred years before Jesus lived in Israel. The Da Vinci Code is either wrong—or lying. Constantine would likely have not even known they existed.
Second, the Nag Hammadi7 documents were Gnostic8 texts containing religious writings from over a hundred years after the earthly life of Christ. Most were written by authors other than those claimed by each book. No critical scholars agree that the Gospel of Thomas, for instance, was actually written by the apostle Thomas. Between AD 100 and AD 250, several books were written with the name of an apostle attached to them to lend a stamp of authenticity to the writing.
Third, the historical works on the Council of Nicaea never mention arguments over which books to include in the New Testament or disputes regarding other Gnostic books. In fact, only two people of the over three hundred in attendance disagreed on the final decision regarding the Nicene Creed. This could hardly be called a conspiracy!
What The Da Vinci Code Says. . .
And What Really Happened . . .
The Da Vinci Code Says . . . “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.” (DVC, 345)
What Really Happened . . . The four gospels were all written by AD 95. The Gnostic writings emerged from AD 150–225. Constantine commissioned Eusebius to have fifty copies of the New Testament made from writings accepted over two hundred years earlier. There was no vote or discussion on this at Nicaea.
The Da Vinci Code Says . . . “Fortunately for historians . . . some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert.” (DVC, 234)
What Really Happened . . . Brown is wrong. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947. They contained Old Testament books and were written as many as two hundred years before Christ’s birth. These books could not be gospels, since they existed before Jesus even lived on earth.
The Da Vinci Code Says . . .“These documents [the Gnostic Codices] speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms.” (DVC, 234)
What Really Happened . . . The Gnostic stories actually speak of Jesus as one of many divine beings more than the physical Jesus. His human body was seen as evil, something that trapped the divine spark. The divine Jesus needed to escape His material body.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16–17
“Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Luke 1:3–4
So if the Bible didn’t emerge from conspiracy and political motives, how did it come into being? First, we must recognize that the Bible is unique among all the ancient books of the world. The Bible was written by forty authors over a period of 1,500 years. To find the Bible without error and in agreement in its essentials can only be explained through God’s supernatural intervention.
How did the twenty-seven New Testament books come down to us and result in the present form? Everything starts with Jesus. Most scholars hold that Jesus’ earthly ministry began when He was in His late twenties. He chose twelve apostles to follow Him and learn from Him over a three-year period. The New Testament books are intimately connected to the Twelve: those who walked with Jesus.
Who wrote the New Testament?
The twenty-seven books have nine basic sources.
Two apostles, Matthew and John, wrote gospels. John also wrote three letters and Revelation. Peter authored two letters and was a source for Mark’s gospel. Peter also recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16).
Luke based his gospel on the eyewitness testimony of the apostles. He was also a traveling companion of the apostle Paul. Paul later quotes Luke’s gospel as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18. James and Jude were human brothers of Jesus. James did not believe Jesus was the Christ until after Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to him personally. James later became bishop of the Jerusalem church and wrote the New Testament book of James. Jude believed after the resurrection as well, writing the book that bears his name.
The author of Hebrews was well-known to the recipients of his teachings, but not to everyone in the early church, which delayed the epistle’s immediate acceptance. Many claim the author was Barnabas, a fellow missionary with Paul. Others believe Apollos wrote it during his early year with Paul in Corinth. Whoever wrote the book of Hebrews had direct contact with an apostle.
Nine individuals wrote the twenty-seven books received by the churches as Scripture. All the New Testament books were written approximately AD 50 to 80. Only John’s gospel was written in the 90s, but all of these books were received by different church congregations and in circulation before AD 95. Within approximately one generation of the New Testament’s completion, every book had been cited by a church father.9 In AD 367 Athanasius wrote an authoritative list of these twentyseven books.
World-renowned scholars affirm that the Scriptures were not mishandled or mistranslated as they were copied and handed down. After examining and comparing the New Testament documents with other books of ancient history, Sir Frederick Kenyon, formerly director and principal librarian of the British Museum, stated:
In no other case is the interval of time between the composition of the book and the date of the earliest extant [the oldest texts that exist today] manuscripts so short as in that of the New Testament. The interval, then, between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence become so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written, has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established.10
When The Da Vinci Code suggests the Bible’s final content was decided on at Nicaea, it’s untrue. All but two of 318 church leaders held to the divinity of Jesus as worded in the Nicene Creed. The real reason these church leaders gathered was to settle a dispute with Arius, a man who argued that Jesus was a created being rather than the Creator of all things.This assertion stood in opposition to the apostles, including John, who wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1–3). If He is Creator, then He could not create Himself. In staying true to the apostles’ teaching, these bishops affirmed that Jesus was of the same nature as God rather than a similar nature.
How do we know the books in the Old Testament are from God? Norman Geisler presents the case about the facts of the Old Testament this way:
Jesus taught definitely that God was the originator of the Hebrew Old Testament. He taught as authoritative or authentic most of the books of the Hebrew canon . . . he asserted that the Old Testament as a whole was unbreakable Scripture (John 10:35); that it would never perish (Matthew 5:18); and that it must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44) . . . Jesus not only defined the limits . . . but he laid down the principle of canonicity.11
In Matthew 5:17–19 Jesus speaks of the inspiration of God’s Word in the Old Testament.12 “Inspiration,” notes Charles Ryrie, “is . . . God’s superintendence of the human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs.” Several additional New Testament passages affirm this teaching.13
When researching the New Testament, you will find that the number of early texts far exceeds that of any other work in history. The earliest fragments of the gospel of John emerge from within one generation of the apostle John’s life (approximately AD 125).
In total, over 5,300 Greek texts (the original New Testament language), 10,000 Latin texts, and 9,300 other versions exist from the early history of the church. In comparison, of sixteen well-known classical Greek authors, the typical number of early copies is fewer than ten, with the earliest copies dating from 750 to 1600 years after the originals were written.
Outside of the New Testament, several additional early writings connect with the events of historic Christianity. The second generation of Christianity includes eight clear sources supporting its authority.
Why are the church fathers important?
The church fathers were first-, second-, and third-generation church leaders and followers of the apostles who personally served with Jesus. In addition to spreading the teachings as taught directly from the apostles, they help affirm the acceptance and accuracy of the New Testament text from frequent references in their writings. For instance, Irenaeus (AD 170) quoted twentythree of the twenty-seven New Testament books less than a hundred years after the writing of the New Testament books, meaning that he had access to this many books together within a generation of the apostles. This would have been a tremendous accomplishment for a culture whose writings could only be spread through handwritten copies! Some of the early leading church fathers (and sources) include . . .
1. CLEMENT. He was a leading elder in the church at Rome. In his epistle to the Corinthians (AD 95), he cites portions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and introduces them as the actual words of Jesus.
2. PAPIAS. He was bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia and author of Exposition of Oracles of the Lord (AD 130), citing the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, presumably as accepted works. He specifically refers to John’s gospel as containing the words of Jesus.
3. JUSTIN MARTYR. He was the best-known defender of Christianity in the second century (AD 140) and considered all four gospels to be Scripture.
4. THE DIDACHE. This served as an ancient manual of Christianity that dates between the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century. It cites portions of the first three gospels, referring to them as the words of Jesus, and quotes extensively from the gospel of Matthew.
5. POLYCARP. A student of the apostle John, he quotes portions of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, referring to them as the very words of Jesus (AD 150).
6. IRENAEUS. A student of Polycarp (AD 170), he quotes from twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books, omitting only the shortest New Testament books such as Philemon and 3 John.
7. THE MURATORIAN FRAGMENT. Dating to about AD 175, it includes Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the four gospels. In total, this list includes twenty-three of the twenty-seven New Testament books.
8. PAPYRUS 45. This fragment, dated around AD 200, includes all four gospels together. 14
New Testament Greek scholar Kurt Aland comments that the New Testament “was not imposed from the top, be it by bishops or synods, and then accepted by the communities. . . . The organized church did not create the canon [New Testament]; it recognized the canon that had been created.”15
But just how were the New Testament books selected? How can we know that these books are accurate and reliably the Word of God? The basic historical rules that guided recognition of the canon are as follows, listed in question format:16
1. Was the book written or supported by a prophet or apostle of God? This was the most important factor. The reasoning here is that the Word of God which is inspired by the Spirit of God for the people of God must be communicated through a person of God. Second Peter 1:20–21 assures us that Scripture is only written by God’s people. In Galatians the apostle Paul argued support for the book of Galatians by appealing to the fact that he was an authorized messenger of God, an apostle.
2. Is the book authoritative? In other words, can it be said of the book as it was said of Jesus, “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22). Put another way, does this book ring with the sense of “The Lord says . . . ”?
3. Does the book tell the truth about God consistent with previous revelation? A group called the Bereans searched the Old Testament Scriptures to determine whether Paul’s teaching was true (Acts 17:11). They knew that if Paul’s teaching did not resonate with the Old Testament writings, it could not be of God. Agreement with all earlier revelation was essential (Galatians 1:8).
4. Does the book give evidence of having the power of God? Any writing that does not exhibit the transforming power of God in the lives of its readers could not have come from God. Scripture says that the Word of God is “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Second Timothy 3:16–17 indicates that God’s Word has a transforming effect. If the book in question did not have the power to change a life, then the book could not have come from God.
5. Was the book accepted by the people of God? In Old Testament times, Moses’ scrolls were immediately placed into the ark of the covenant (Deuteronomy 31:24–26), as were Joshua’s (Joshua 24:26). In the New Testament, Paul thanked the Thessalonians for receiving his message as the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Paul’s letters were also circulated among the churches (Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). It was common that the majority of God’s people would initially accept God’s Word.
But what exactly is canonicity? Geisler writes, “Canonicity refers to the normative or authoritative books inspired by God for inclusion in Holy Scripture. Canonicity is determined by God. It is not the antiquity, authenticity, or religious community that makes a book canonical or authoritative. A book is valuable because it is canonical, and not canonical because it is or was considered valuable. Its authority is established by God and merely discovered by God’s people.”17 Or, to put it another way, “God determined the Canon and man discovered it.”18
Far beyond Dan Brown’s deceptive allegations against the Bible, it is an amazingly consistent book. Multiple authorship, hundreds of years of compilation, thousands of additional documents stretched across time and geographic places, again and again prove the Bible’s reliability and consistency.
In speaking with others about Scripture in relation to The Da Vinci Code, try the following:
Ask leading questions:
“How much of The Da Vinci Code do you feel is accurate? Why?”
Refer to Scripture:
“How much of the Bible have you read yourself?”
“What do you think about it? Are there parts you don’t understand?”
Keep communication open:
“The next time I see you, let’s talk about how some of the people and events in the Bible fit together.”