“The Da Vinci Code”: Seek the Truth
A Bible Study by Rev. Jayson S. Galler
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The main premise of the book and movie: Jesus was simply a man who married Mary Magdalene and made her queen of an earthly kingdom, leaving her with a child whose descendants live to this day. Like their supposed predecessors the Knights Templar, the good Priory of Sion tries to protect the descendants and the truth (including Leonardo Da Vinci encoding information about the “Holy Grail” in his artwork), while the evil Opus Dei tries to kill off the descendants and preserve the false claims of the Roman Catholic Church (including its repression of goddess worship and women). When the murder of a museum curator drags his granddaughter, Sophie Nevue, and a Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon, into the fray …
- The Davinci Code phenomena are the book and the movie.
- Do you doubt there are “Da Vinci Code” phenomena? Walk into a bookstore, or browse Google’s 145-million “Da Vinci Code” hits. Debuting at the top of the New York Times best-seller list, the book (2003) has sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages. Primarily targeting women, the book is a formulaic cross between a romance novel and a thriller. The book is said to be the second most-read spiritual book after the Bible, penetrating 1 of 5 American homes. Some research suggests a good chunk of the book’s readership is likely to be Roman Catholic (24%) or Protestant (15%, likely mainline), with a college degree and household income of $60,000 or more. (American Protestantism has often been characterized as virulently anti-Catholic.)
- How does the movie impact the phenomenon of the book? Those who never picked up the book (some such people do exist), in a sense are more likely to come under the influence of the movie (2006); Barna’s research suggests 2/3 of those likely to see the movie will have read the book, or that 10 million more people than have read the book will see the movie. With a reported production budget of $125 million, the movie recouped its costs in its first two weeks, grossing more than $150 million in America and more than $460 million worldwide. By normal industry standards, a movie is a “blockbuster” after more than $100-200 million in the United States and after more than $400 million worldwide.
- How do these phenomena fit into what else is going on in society? The book contributed to a growing sentiment in popular culture critical of Christianity, its leadership and its traditional claims. The copyright infringement trial (including author Dan Brown’s statement to the effect that he wouldn’t steal from a book that denied the resurrection) only added to the book’s publicity. The book can be grouped with “The Gospel of Judas” and other publications and TV shows where liberal “religious scholars” are given a platform from which to spew their heretical views. The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown’s earlier book, Angels and Demons is already generating similar controversy: a book by Simon Cox titled Illuminating Angels and Demons, an A&E television mini-series condemned by the Catholic League, and movie rights by the same people that brought you “The Da Vinci Code”.
- The truth is out there.
- What do you hold to be true? Why? Is there one “truth” or are there multiple “truths”? Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Questions about what we know and how we know go far back. Some of the movie’s advertisements say, “Seek the truth”, and we might quickly add “Seek and ye shall find” (for example, Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9).
- What does the Christian faith entail? Christian faith presupposes a number of things. Henry Hamann, for example, in his 1996 book On Being a Christian (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House) lists four things: “The sentence ‘I am a Lutheran because I am a Christian’ asserts (1) that the Christian faith is clearly revealed, (2) that it can be grasped and understood, (3) that it can be accurately stated, taught, and confessed, and (4) that this has been done in traditional Lutheranism” (p.11). Somewhat ironically, faith comes by hearing God’s Word from Holy Scripture, and yet Holy Scripture is not accepted except after coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ. (So, non-Christians are not necessarily going to be convinced if we try to refute their claims with the Bible—it’s part of the cover-up, they would say.)
- Do the book and movie think the truth is knowable? The book and movie present a search for truth, thus acting as if facts and truth are knowable, but at the same time they claim that what is widely accepted as fact and truth are lies and hoaxes. In that same vein, Brown personally questions how accurate history is; he is certain that nothing is certain and self-contradictorily tries to remake the “truth” in his own image. One of the tantalizing lines from the movie is something to this effect: “What if the greatest story ever told turned out to be a lie?” (A twist perhaps on the book’s line: “The greatest story ever told is the greatest story ever sold.”) There is a great deal of irony “that a novel that continually advocates distrust of authority is so easily trusted by millions of readers … that a book so bent on criticizing religion in general and Christianity specifically so overtly preaches the gospel of the ‘sacred feminine’” (Carl E. Olson and Sandra Miesel, The Da Vinci Hoax [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004], p.296).
- Even Brown’s facts based on “impeccable research” are wrong.
- How should the book and movie be classified? The book and the movie are fiction, but the novel’s opening page says: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate” (the movie makes no such claim). Brown presents some things as facts that simply are not, and he only reverts to it being a story when challenged. Just because the book is in print does not mean everything in it is true. (I could tell you my Bridges of Madison County story …) Rev. Dr. Paul L. Maier talks about the distinction in fiction between fictional foreground and accurate background, suggesting that Brown’s fictionalizing both in this case is like a WWII novel where the Nazis win and the Allies lose. One professor of history pointed out that some people who cannot deny the book is fiction at the same time will not “concede that is not reliable as history” (Hoax, 14).
- Along with radical feminist and neo-Gnostic agendas and the promotion of a relativistic and indifferent attitude toward truth and religion, there are lots of factual and representational errors and inconsistencies in the book and movie (not the least of which pertain to the Emperor Constantine), but can you name three major theological problems? Three chief theological problems are the following: first, Christ was only human and not divine (John 1:1-5, 14; Colossians 2:9); second, Scripture was produced by men without God’s inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16-4:4; 2 Peter 1:21); and third, Mary Magdalene and not the Church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-32 [note the sacramental connection]; Revelation 21). On the last point and its relationship to the feminist agenda, The Da Vinci Hoax authors say, “the point of the mythical marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is not to advance a better understanding of marriage or deeper appreciation for the feminine; it is to destroy the truth about the covenantal union between God and man that has taken place in the marriage between Jesus and his true Bride, the Church” (pp.99-100). There are also implications of the feminist and Gnostic agendas for the Office of the Holy Ministry.
- What about Brown’s reasoning? Not just Brown’s facts are wrong but his logic is also bad and inconsistent. One example is that Mary Magdalene is said to be important because of her being the first witness to the Resurrection, but the same people promoting her for that reason deny that the Resurrection took place or call the Gospel accounts that tell of her role “inaccurate and untrustworthy”. Another example is Brown’s claim in terms of Da Vinci’s artwork that people see what they are told to see, and then he proceeds to tell people what to see! Moreover, the friend I saw the movie with pointed out that much of the movie is premised on their being able to find Mary’s remains and thereby prove that Sophie is a descendant of Jesus and Mary, but Mary’s DNA would only prove whether Sophie was Mary’s descendant, since no one has Jesus’ DNA. None of the material I have read refuting the movie raises this most basic of logical inconsistencies.
- Who is behind these phenomena?
- What have you heard? Aside from Dan Brown being the author responsible for the book (the book at its core simply promotes his ideological concerns), I’ve read all sorts of claims, including one on-line that a Muslim man funded the movie as an attack on Christianity. In The Da Vinci Hoax, the book is described as a “major weapon in the campaign to discredit the Christian faith once and for all” and said to be “purposefully written to challenge what people believe about God, Jesus, the Bible, Mary Magdalene, religion, history, and the nature of truth itself” (Hoax, 16, 18).
- What previous attack(s) does this one most resemble? Especially given the source material behind this particular attack, we say it most closely resembles Gnosticism, “a heretical movement that promised salvation through an occult of secret knowledge” (in the Greek, gnosis, from which we get our word "knowledge"). Gnosticism’s disdain for the flesh led to an indulgence in immorality. Contrary to Brown’s claims, Gnosticism emphasized the divinity of Christ at the expense of His humanity, unlike the Gospel accounts accepted into the Bible that have far more earthy detail about Jesus than the so-called Gnostic gospels, which may number several dozen, not in the thousands as claimed by Brown. Gnosticism was addressed already in the New Testament and was treated then as now: as heresy. (While a friend of mine was seeing the movie the film caught fire, and one of the pastors with her commented that that’s what happens to heretics.) Still, we can say that Christ’s Church has suffered worse and will suffer worse. Incidentally, one of the movie’s actors responded to all the criticism by commenting that the movie could have been worse: Jesus could have been portrayed as gay.
- What can this battle ultimately be reduced to? Francis Cardinal George rightly said, “Antagonoism to the Church and her teaching ultimately entails some kind of rejection of Jesus Christ as he has revealed himself in history” (Hoax, 12), and we know who is ultimately behind such antagonism. We can identify Dan Brown as the author of the book and Ron Howard as the director of the movie, but, to the extent that they both are full of lies, we should ultimately regard them as agents for the Father of Lies (John 8:44).
- What do the book and movie matter?
- What were people’s reactions to the movie “Flight 93”? How is that instructive in this case? The producers tried very hard to be as factual as possible and work with those involved, but they still had to “make up” stuff to produce the movie and ended up offending families of the survivors and others. The Da Vinci book and movie similarly pass off as true many more things that have virtually no basis in fact. And, the fact that mere published cartoons ridiculing Mohammed resulted in deadly violence in a number of countries around the world but no such violence has resulted over The Da Vinci Code or its movie indicates a double standard of a sort. If Muslims or Jews were being targeted the way Christians are, you know reaction around the world would be different. Yet, unlike Muslims and Jews with their theology of glory, Christians expect to be persecuted by the world and endure it, for such is the way of the cross.
- For Christians? At first the book and movie might appear as a harmless temptation; we might even think of the serpent’s statement in the Garden, “your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 KJV). The book and movie are not harmless temptations, however. They will put ideas and pictures in your mind and memory that will never go away. (I could give you all sorts of illustrations from my own life …) The Da Vinci book and movie are hoaxes consisting of lies that you have probably never imagined and don’t want to. Even if you could convince yourself that such things are not possibly true, these lies will never really go away but resurface when you least expect it. In many ways I wish I had never read about them, seen the movie, and was not talking about them right now. Don’t read the book or see the movie (if for no other reason than to not support those profiting from these lies). The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago rightly wrote, “It matters what we read, what films and televisions shows we watch. If we feed our minds on error, we risk losing touch with the truth about who we are and how we ought to live” (Hoax, 11).
- For non-Christians? Those who do not believe and are not believe may find the book and movie reinforcing their position, giving them, for example, yet another way to escape the Bible’s judgment on them. For those who are borderline believers, the book and movie may help generate opportunities for the Holy Spirit to work through the Word and create faith in them. The book and movie raise important and influential questions, with much depending on the answers. Much has been written and said about its use for “evangelism”, and we want to talk more about that.
- Apologetics are a form of evangelism.
- What impact are the book and movie having on people? Surveys about their effects conflict. British research found, for example, that readers of the book there were twice as likely as non-readers to believe Jesus fathered children and four times as likely to think Opus Dei is a murderous sect. The Da Vinci Hoax says the book, “has proven to be an effective tool for attacking Christian doctrine and undermining faith of those uncertain of how to respond to the many accusations leveled against the Church” (p.30). On the other hand, Barna research of Americans found that 24% said the book was extremely, very, or somewhat helpful to their spiritual growth or understanding (vs. 72% for Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt) and that only 5% said they changed their beliefs or perspectives because of the book (still, that’s 2 million people, and another 500-thousand could change their beliefs or perspectives because of the movie). The bottom line on this question is probably that the effects do differ and are really beyond the ability of such surveys to measure.
- Can the book and movie be used for evangelism? Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council said trying to make the movie an evangelistic opportunity “was a big mistake”. To the extent that you would send someone to the book or the movie in order for them to come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, I agree: that’s a mistake. I don’t know anyone who is doing that, however, but people I know are trying to respond to the book and movie. John Alan Turner, one of several authors of books responding to the book and movie, rightly says they can provide opportunities to proclaim (or witness or answer for) the truth about Christ and the Bible. Perhaps to some extent Christians are responsible for the success of the book and movie. At a minimum, we want to be able to help those who have read the book or seen the movie and thus are confused. To the extent that Christians are confused, the church also must take some responsibility for failing to teach better the faith and the related church history, although people shouldn’t try to get their church history from “pulp fiction”.
- Who do you say Jesus is? (Matthew 16:13-17) Our Lord’s question to His disciples is a question we ourselves must answer in many ways every day. And, like Peter’s answer, ours is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Peter himself recognizes that we are to be prepared to give such answers about our “hope”, whether Jesus, Scripture, or the Church (1 Peter 3:15). When we are dealing with those who enjoyed the book or movie we should not immediately blast the book or movie, but “with gentleness and respect” (NIV) should address its false claims and counter with the truth. At the same time, we cannot fail to identify the book and movie as what they are: attacks on the Lord Jesus and His Gospel of salvation. (See the tension between these two things expressed in the “Letters to the Editor” of the June 2006 issue of Lutheran Witness.)
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
(Philippians 4:8 KJV)
Some worthwhile "Da Vinci" links:
- April 2006 Lutheran Witness article on “The Da Vinci Code” movie. (And see a quite similar earlier article by Paul Maier.)
- Easter 2005 Canadian Lutheran article about the book. (The Canadian Lutheran is the magazine of the LCMS’ sister synod in Canada, Lutheran Church— Canada.)
- “Award winning” May 2004 Lutheran Witness article on The Da Vinci Code book.
- Despite quotes to the contrary, Martin Luther did not say he believed Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married.
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s May 13, 2006, article critiquing book and movie with scholars debunking the premise and the details.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler’s undated review of the book as reckless heresy with an agenda.
- Roman Catholic journalist Sandra Meisel’s 2003 detailed blast at the book and its sources. (The article helped launch the book The Da Vinci Hoax, which book is being used by Prof. Kurt Marquart in his Modern Apologetics class in Austin this summer.)
- Ronald Huggins’s well documented response to three main “cracks” in the Code: the Gospel of Philip, the interpretation of da Vinci’s Last Supper, and slanders about Constantine.
- James Patrick Holding’s response to the book, primarily a dissection of the “factual” claims of Brown’s “historian” named Teabing, including Bible translation, Constantine, the Council of Nicea, Jesus’ celibacy, and others.
- St. Louis University Professor of History Dr. James Hitchcock’s response to the book, principally regarding the Gnostic Gospels from where many of its claims come.
- A web-based study on the site of Concordia Lutheran Church, San Antonio.
- A six-part, 106-page study by Dr. Laurence L. White.
- Lots of “Da Vinci” tidbits linked as part of Grace’s Daily Lectionary Biblog (use the search function).
- A handout (PDF) for using the content of this page as a one-session Bible Class of approximately one hour.
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