Tim Chaffey, AiG–U.S., examines The Da Vinci Code, equips Christians with necessary information to refute it, and explains why we can be confident that the Bible provides the truth about Jesus.
[Editor’s note: The Da Vinci Code was published eight years ago. Thankfully many Christian leaders denounced the book as well as the subsequent blockbuster movie, and they refuted many of the claims made therein. It has now been five years since the film version was released, and although much of the objectionable claims made against Christ and His church have been debunked, the ideas presented in the book have had a significant impact upon people around the globe. This article examines Dan Brown’s book, equips Christians with necessary information to help those who may have been duped by The Da Vinci Code, and explains why Christians can be confident that the Bible provides the truth about Jesus Christ.]
“FACT: . . . All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”1 Thus begins one of the best-selling and most controversial books in history. Dan Brown’s action-thriller became a cultural phenomenon and triggered a firestorm of debate due to many of the statements about Jesus Christ.
The story involves a quest for a redefined holy grail. Rather than being the cup used by Christ during the Last Supper, Brown claims the grail is Mary Magdalene. According to the story, Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married, and she was pregnant with His child when He was crucified. The apostles were jealous of Mary’s role among the group, so she fled in fear to France where her descendants would eventually become French royalty. However, the apostles changed Christ’s message so they could make the church patriarchal and suppress women. They tried desperately to destroy any documents or evidence that went against their claims.
Supposedly, a secret society called the Priory of Sion passed on the truth to its followers, which included an impressive list of scientists and scholars throughout history, such as Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton.2 Brown claims that da Vinci left clues in his artwork, especially The Last Supper painting. The book centers on the idea that sitting to the right of Jesus in the painting is Mary Magdalene rather than the Apostle John.
But it’s just fiction, right? Everyone knows it’s just a story, so why bother spending time refuting it? Yes, it’s just fiction, but Brown’s opening “FACT” purports that much of the story is true. His claims have deceived millions concerning the truth about the deity of Jesus Christ, His life, His ministry, and church history.
Before examining the more important issues centering on Jesus Christ, it is important to understand that Brown plays fast and loose with even the most basic details. Although these issues are not crucial, they demonstrate Brown’s uncanny ability to miss the truth or his willingness to twist the truth to tell his story. Here is a small sample of mistakes made by Brown on these lesser issues.
|Claim in The Da Vinci Code||Reality|
|At President Mitterand’s explicit demand, the pyramid at the Louvre consists of 666 panes of glass, which created a stir among conspiracy buffs who view 666 as the number of Satan. (p. 18)||The Louvre’s official website states there are 673 panes of glass.|
|The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the 1950s. (p. 198)||The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947.|
|The documents found at Nag Hammadi were scrolls. (p. 198)||The Nag Hammadi documents consisted of codices (bound books).|
|Da Vinci’s The Last Supper is described as a fresco ten times. (pp. 79, 198, 199, 200, 205, 206)||The Last Supper is a tempera, which is why it has undergone numerous restorations. Frescoes are quite permanent.|
|Da Vinci’s The Last Supper did not show Christ’s cup because da Vinci wanted to identify the “Holy Grail” as Mary Magdalene. (p. 200)||The Last Supper was not painted to show Christ’s announcement of the New Covenant (when He used the cup) but was painted to show the moment that Jesus announced His betrayer.|
|The Bible celebrates the Last Supper as the definitive arrival of the cup of Christ. (p. 199)||The Bible never focuses on the so-called grail, nor does it instruct followers to search for it. This became a popular idea in medieval times.|
|Constantine made Christianity the state religion because it was growing in popularity and he was “a very good businessman.” (p. 196)||Constantine did not make Christianity the state religion, but he did enact the Edict of Toleration (AD 311) and the Edict of Milan (AD 313), which legalized Christianity throughout the Empire. Theodosius made Christianity the state religion in AD 386—more than half a century after Constantine.|
The Da Vinci Code repeats the common but erroneous belief that “History is always written by the winners” (p. 215). The idea is that an accurate view of history cannot really be known since the winners have distorted it to paint themselves in the best light. There is little question that this has happened, but is history always written by the winners? Even if it was, does it mean we cannot know what really happened? The well-known first-century historian Josephus was from the losing side. He was a Jewish military leader who was taken captive by the conquering Romans. As a captive of the Roman army, Josephus recorded many of the events he witnessed and is considered to be one of the most important early historians. Furthermore, although everyone does have a bias, it does not preclude the possibility that a historian has accurately reported what has actually happened.
Ironically, if Brown’s claim were true, then it would necessarily refute his attempt to rewrite history. If true history is unknowable because it is only written by the winners, then how could Brown’s characters dogmatically assert that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene along with all of their other lies about Christ? Brown could only make these claims if he had an accurate historical record about such events, but his own claim makes this impossible.
Dan Brown has completely misrepresented and twisted church history.
Dan Brown has completely misrepresented and twisted church history. It seems his real goal is to promote Gnosticism, a popular belief system in the second and third centuries. Gnostics believed the physical world was evil and that men needed to seek enlightenment by finding secret knowledge (Greek: gnosis).
So much of the revisionist history centers on the famous Council of Nicaea in AD 325. According to Brown, this is where Jesus was proclaimed as God by a “relatively close vote” (p. 197) and where the Bible was compiled. Once again, he is not even close to the facts.
Most of what we know about the Council of Nicaea came from the pen of the famous church historian Eusebius. One of the debates at Nicaea did focus on the nature of Christ. Due to the teachings of Arius, some had come to believe that Jesus was a created being who in turn created everything else. This belief system, known as Arianism, was strongly opposed by Athanasius and many others. In the end, 318 bishops were present when the Council voted. 316 voted on the Nicene Creed, which affirmed Christ’s full divinity and rejected Arianism. Two bishops, apparently in favor of Arianism, did not vote. This is not a “relatively close vote,” as Brown claimed.
In one of the more ridiculous claims of the book, Brown’s “Grail historian,” Leigh Teabing, stated, “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament . . . . The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great” (p. 195). It’s true that Constantine convened the Council, but there is not a single mention from any primary document from the Council of Nicaea that supports the notion that the canon of Scripture was discussed.
There were never 80 competing gospels either. Only a handful of early Gnostic writings, dating to the second and third centuries, were called gospels, including The Gospel of Truth, The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of the Egyptians, and The Gospel of Mary, but they did not vie for inclusion in the canon—they were never even considered. This is a far cry from 80 gospels, and none of these were written by the person for whom they were named.3
At one point in the novel, Teabing told Sophie to read from The Gospel of Philip in an effort to prove Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married. “And the companion of the Saviour is Mary Magdalene. Christ loved her more than all the disciples and used to kiss her often on the mouth. The rest of the disciples were offended by it and expressed disapproval” (p. 207). Teabing asserted, “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.”
There are several problems with this claim. First, the document is very old and has several holes. There just happens to be a hole after “kiss her often” so that we do not know where Jesus allegedly used to kiss her, according to this document. It could have been the hand or forehead. Second, the document we have today was written in Coptic (from ancient Egypt), and even that was probably a translation of the Greek form of the document in which it was originally written. So it does not matter what an Aramaic scholar would tell us. But if it did, there are no Aramaic or Hebrew words that normally mean spouse.4
Christianity has done more to elevate women to equality than any other belief system because the Bible states that both male and female are made in God’s image.
This leads us to another problem in the book. Dan Brown portrays church history as one long assault against women and what he called “the sacred feminine,” which was allegedly honored throughout ancient pagan cultures. The church has certainly had its share of mistakes since its inception. After all, the church is made up of sinful men and women who make mistakes. However, Christianity has done more to elevate women to equality than any other belief system because the Bible states that both male and female are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27).
Brown thinks he elevates women in his book by discussing “the sacred feminine” and “the goddess.” The book’s protagonist, Robert Langdon, told Sophie, “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” (p. 261).
On the surface, this seems to elevate women above men, but look closer. It’s hard to imagine something more demeaning to women. Imagine telling young men that the only way they could ever achieve knowledge of the divine was to have sexual intercourse with women. Countless women would simply be used as a means to an end. Rather than endorsing the Bible’s instruction to love one’s wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), The Da Vinci Code endorses using women as sex objects.
Dan Brown would have his readers believe that Christianity is to blame for suppressing women. However, consider the following statement from The Gospel of Thomas, a Gnostic text. “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary [Magdalene?] leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit, resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven’” (saying 114). This Gnostic text says that women cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless they make themselves male—whatever that might mean.
The Bible, on the other hand, clearly teaches that both men and women are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27), we have all sinned and are all in need of redemption (Romans 3:23), and both men and women are saved by God’s grace alone, received through faith alone, in Christ alone (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:8–9). Each woman has been designed by God to fulfill His unique plan for her life. She does not need to become male in order to be saved. Like any man, she needs to repent of sin and have faith in Christ alone to be saved.
What about Brown’s insistence that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene? After all, marriage was instituted by God, so it couldn’t have been wrong for Jesus to marry, could it? This is an interesting question because marriage is from God and it is not sinful for a man and woman to marry under the right circumstances (1 Corinthians 7:28). However, the Bible also indicates that when husband and wife come together, they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). This would be problematic in Christ’s case because He was sinless and could not become “one flesh” with someone who was a sinner, which Mary clearly was (Luke 8:2).
“‘What I mean,’ Teabing countered, ‘is that almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false’” (p. 198). The Da Vinci Code proposes a radical redefinition of Jesus Christ. Rather than Jesus being fully God and fully man, the Son of God, and the Second Person of the Trinity, Dan Brown claims that Jesus was only a man.
“‘My dear,’ Teabing declared, ‘until that moment in history [the Council of Nicaea], Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet . . . a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal’” (p. 197).
We have already seen that the Council of Nicaea overwhelmingly affirmed the full deity of Jesus Christ. But where did the idea of Christ’s divinity come from? Was it invented by the church during Constantine’s day to “expand their own power,” as Brown claims (p. 197)?
The reason the bishops affirmed the deity of Jesus is because that is exactly what He claimed about Himself and what the New Testament authors taught. It was also the view of the early church up until that time and ever since.
Jesus affirmed His divinity on numerous occasions. In John 10:30 Jesus stated, “I and My Father are one.” Look at the response by the Jews. They picked up stones to kill Him for apparent blasphemy. When He asked them why they wanted to stone Him, they replied, “. . . because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (John 10:33).
In John 8:58 Jesus stated, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Here Jesus identified Himself as the God of the Old Testament. Once again, the Jews knew exactly what He was doing, because they immediately took up stones to kill Him.
In John 18:4–6, when He was about to be arrested, Jesus once again applied God’s name to Himself when He said, “I am He.” The word He does not appear in the original. So Jesus again appropriated God’s name for Himself, and this time, the troops and officers fell to the ground.
Jesus claimed to be able to forgive sins (Matthew 9:2; Luke 7:48). He healed people from paralysis (Mark 2:11), leprosy (Matthew 8:3), and blindness (John 9:6–7). He demonstrated His power over nature (Matthew 14:25, 32) and over death (Matthew 9:25; Luke 7:14–15; John 11:43–44). All of these miracles testify loud and clear that Jesus truly was and is God.
The gospel of John starts with this statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Lest there be any confusion about the identity of the Word, John added, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). In fact, John revealed that he wrote his gospel so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).
After the disciples witnessed Jesus walk on water and calm the storm at sea, they declared, “Truly You are the Son of God” (Matthew 14:33). One day, Jesus asked His disciples what the people thought about Him. After a couple of responses, He asked them directly, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13–16). Peter repeatedly used the title “Lord Jesus Christ” in his letters (1 Peter 1:3; 2 Peter 1:8, 11, 14, 16) and identified Jesus as the Son of God (2 Peter 1:17). When Thomas (often called Doubting Thomas) saw Jesus after He had risen from the dead, he declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).
The Apostle Paul regularly proclaimed that Jesus is God. In Romans 1:3 he called Jesus “our Lord,” and the “Son” of God. In Colossians 2:9 he wrote, “For in Him [Jesus] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” In Philippians 2:10–11 he stated, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The words of Scripture are inspired by God and therefore infallible. So when the Bible proclaims that Jesus is God, that settles the matter. However, Dan Brown has alleged that the early church was divided on whether or not Jesus should be seen as divine. Once again, Brown is in error. Here is a list of what several early church fathers, prior to Nicaea, said about Jesus (dates are approximate).
More names could be added to this list, but these are sufficient to show that Christ’s divinity was not concocted by Constantine and the church in an attempt to grab power.
Finally, Dan Brown’s character Teabing claimed, “Constantine’s underhanded political maneuvers don’t diminish the majesty of Christ’s life. Nobody is saying Christ was a fraud, or denying He walked the earth and inspired millions to better lives” (p. 197). Stripping Jesus of divinity, thus making Him a liar many times over, does, in fact, “diminish the majesty of Christ’s life.” That’s exactly what Brown has attempted to do in this novel, but God’s Word will stand the test of time. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
Entire books have been written to refute the many errors and lies found in The Da Vinci Code. This brief summary has demonstrated that Dan Brown’s novel is full of falsehoods, even though he has claimed that the historical details are entirely accurate. He missed the mark on dozens of simple facts that can be easily checked out. He has misrepresented Christian history and put it in the worst possible light. He has lied about the identity of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and slandered Him and His followers.
Christians can rest assured that they possess the accurate record of history in the Bible. Jesus is exactly who He claimed to be, the Son of God who came in the flesh to die for the sins of the world and to rise from the dead three days later. Contrary to Brown’s claim that a man’s way to the divine is through sexual intercourse with a woman, Jesus proclaimed that He is the only way to God and that no one can go to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24).
One day Jesus will return to this world He created, and those who have placed their faith in Him will be saved from judgment. Those who refuse His gracious offer of eternal life will suffer for eternity apart from Him. Dan Brown’s words will pass away, but the words of Jesus will last forever.