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The Code, the Canon and the Christ

 

by Dwight A. Randall

The Da Vinci Code is a book (and now a movie) that abounds with false claims about the history and theological development of Christianity.

Dan Brown, the author of the book, has gone to great lengths to mislead people into believing that his book has an historical basis. He gives the impression that the book has been thoroughly researched and is historically accurate. It even contains a “fact” page at the beginning to convince readers of its historical trustworthiness. It is difficult for readers to determine whether the “facts” that make up the skeleton of the book are based in historical events or Brown’s imagination.

With the Bible playing a central role in Christianity, the question of its divine inspiration and historic accuracy is critical to Christians. The Da Vinci Code states, “The Bible is a product of man, my dear. Not of God. ...The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great”.

This statement, like many others throughout the book, is rejected by Christians. From the earliest recorded history of the Church, Christians have believed that Scripture is the inspired word of God. The apostle Paul testified to this when he wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The word that is translated “inspired,” comes from a Greek word that literally means “God-breathed.”

The canon

Concerning The Da Vinci Code’s claim that the Bible “was collated by the pagan emperor Constantine”, the facts of history do not fit the fiction of Brown.

By the time of Jesus, three centuries before Constantine, the canon of the Old Testament was settled and contained the same books that it contains today. What is more, Jesus and the apostles recognised the reliability and authority of the Old Testament writings, as evidenced by Jesus’ teaching: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). Paul writes to Timothy, “from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Timothy 3:15).

Nor was the New Testament “collated” by Constantine. Constantine didn’t have anything to do with the process. All of the books of the New Testament were written under divine inspiration by the apostles and their associates during the first century (approximately AD 40-95).* These books were passed down, read and copied by succeeding generations of Christians.During the period of the Apostolic Fathers (AD 90-160) the Gospels were widely accepted. During the period of Irenaeus to Origen (AD 160-250) in addition to the Gospels, Acts was gaining acceptance, as were most of the Pauline epistles, 1 Peter, 1 John and Revelation—making up most of the books that now comprise our New Testament. During this period Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria first use the phrase “New Testament”.

Answering a question relating to The Da Vinci Code and the timing of the New Testament books in an interview entitled, “Josh McDowell Answers Questions about the New Testament”, McDowell says, “When it comes to dating the New Testament books (our primary source of information about Christ), there are differences between conservative and liberal scholars but only in terms of decades, not centuries. For example, the conservative dating for the Gospel of Mark is between AD 50-60, with more liberal scholars placing it around AD 70. This is remarkable, when you consider that Jesus died somewhere around the year AD 30; these are authentic eyewitness accounts. Generally speaking, Paul’s letters were written between AD 50-66, the gospels between A.D. 50-70, with John’s gospel being written sometime around AD 80-90.”*

He continues, “… the church had recognized these books as the definitive New Testament nearly 200 years before Nicaea. It was only due to the challenge of missions, fraud and heresy that the church leadership felt the need to clearly articulate the list. …There is considerable evidence such as this, that by AD 150 at the latest, the church recognized a New Testament pretty close to the one we have today.”

Answering a question about the accuracy of the New Testament documents, when none of the original documents have survived, McDowell says, “To discover the accuracy of copying for the New Testament material and see whether or not it has been ‘changed,’ you have to look at two factors: One, the number of manuscripts existing today. The more manuscripts we have and the closer the manuscripts are to the original, the more we are able to determine where copyist errors happened and which copies reflect the original.

“For example, the book Natural History, written by Pliny Secundus, has 7 manuscript copies with a 750-year gap between the earliest copy and the original text. The number two book in all of history in manuscript authority is The Iliad, written by Homer, which has 643 copies with a 400-year gap.

“Now this is a little startling: the New Testament has currently 24,970 manuscript copies, completely towering over all other works of antiquity. In addition, we have one fragment of the New Testament with only a 50-year gap from the original, whole books with only a 100-year gap, and the whole New Testament with only a 225-250 year gap.
I don’t think there is any question from all of these early copies that we know exactly what the original documents said.”

Answering a question about whether he has read The Da Vinci Code, and what role Constantine played in deciding the New Testament canon, McDowell answers, “Hah, yes I have. Well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to hand it in as a history or religion paper, but it’s a fictional book so obviously the author took liberties. Constantine had nothing to do with deciding on the books of the New Testament.”

The Christ

The Da Vinci Code attempts to convince readers that the New Testament canon was “collated” by Constantine in the fourth century in order to lay the foundation for another equally preposterous proposition. It claims that during the three century period between Jesus and Constantine, Jesus was viewed as a great prophet and nothing more—a mere mortal. It claims that the attribution of deity came three centuries after his death at the direction of Constantine. “Until that moment in history,” it states, “Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. … By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity.”

Yet, Christ’s divinity was taught plainly in many passages in the New Testament (which, as already noted, were written during the first century). When Jesus himself was questioned about his special knowledge of Abraham, he replied, “‘I tell you the truth’, Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” (John 8:58), claiming to be eternal and applying to himself God’s personal name — “I am” (Exodus 3:14). This resulted in his hearers wanting to stone him because he “was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). On another occasion, seeing the wounds in Jesus’ hands and side, Thomas fell at his feet and exclaimed, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). These passages, and many more like them, make it plain that the Gospels (and the other New Testament books) taught that Christ proclaimed himself as God and was recognized as God centuries before Constantine lived or the Council of Nicaea took place.

The disciples also believed Jesus’ claim. Writing to the Colossian Christians Paul exclaims, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). The author of Hebrews cites God’s own testimony about Jesus, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8).

What is more, the followers of Christ who lived after the apostles but before Constantine also regarded him as God.Ignatius wrote in AD 110, “For our God, Jesus Christ, was conceived by Mary in accordance with God’s plan: of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit.” Tatian wrote in AD 170, “We are not playing the fool, you Greeks, nor do we talk nonsense, when we report that God was born in the form of a man.” Tertullian wrote in AD 210, “God alone is without sin. The only man who is without sin is Christ, for Christ is also God.” The Da Vinci Code’s claim that the deity of Christ was invented by Constantine is nonsense that enjoys no credible support whatsoever.

Answering a claim made in The Da Vinci Code about the discussion on the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea, McDowell says, “It did relate to the deity of Christ but the issue was whether Jesus’ status was lesser than the Father—was he coeternal? No one believed or debated if he was merely a man or prophet.”

Answering a claim made in The Da Vinci Code that the vote at the Council of Nicaea concerning the deity of Christ was close, McDowell responds, “According to recent research done by historian Dr. Paul Maier at Western Michigan University, ‘the vote was 300 to 2.’ So, no, I wouldn’t say it was very close, and again the issue was simply whether Jesus was coeternal with God the Father.”

Conclusion

The Da Vinci Code’s attacks on the reliability of Scripture and on the deity of Christ are false and offensive. Dan Brown does not offer any credible evidence to support his attacks. There is, however, much historical evidence to disprove his theories.

In order to find out about the true Jesus Christ, people should not be encouraged to read The Da Vinci Code or see the movie, but to read the true and faithful account inspired by God himself in the pages of the New Testament. It is in these pages that millions have found God and salvation.


Appendix

Matthew: Donald Guthrie, Ph.D., believes Matthew was written between AD 50-64. William Hendriksen, Ph.D., dates it AD 63-66. J. Wenham, Ph.D., thinks it could have been written as early as AD 40 [less than 10 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus!]
Mark: William Hendriksen, Ph.D., believes Mark was written AD 40 to 65, favouring the earlier date. Bruce Metzger, Ph.D., dates it AD 65 to 75. J. Wenham, Ph.D., favours AD 45.
Luke: Donald Guthrie, Ph.D., believes Luke was written AD 62 to 64. William Hendriksen, Ph.D., dates it AD 61-63. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D. believes it was completed by AD 62.
John: William Hendriksen, Ph.D., believes John was written AD 80 to 98. Richard C.H. Lenski, D.D., dates it between AD 75 and 100, probably 80 or 85. Leon Morris, Ph.D., dates it pre AD 70. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., favours AD 65.
Acts: Donald Guthrie, Ph.D., believes Acts was written AD 62 to 64. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., believes it was completed by AD 62.
Romans: Jack Cottrell, Ph.D., believes Romans was written AD 56, to 58. James D. G. Dunn, Ph.D. dates it AD 55 to 57. William Hendriksen, Ph.D., favours AD 57 or 58.
1 Corinthians: Charles Hodge, Ph.D., believes 1 Corinthians was written AD 57. Simon J. Kistemaker, Ph.D., dates it AD 55. Ralph R. Martin, Ph.D., dates it AD 54. Paul D. Wegner, Ph.D., favours AD 55.
2 Corinthians: Charles Hodge, Ph.D., believes 2 Corinthians was written AD 57. Simon J. Kistemaker, Ph.D., dates it AD 56. Paul D. Wegner, Ph.D., favours AD 56.
Galatians: William Hendriksen, Ph.D., believes Galatians was written AD 50-53. Paul D. Wegner, Ph.D., dates it early AD 49.
Ephesians: William Hendriksen, Ph.D., believes Ephesians was written A.D. 61-63. Charles Hodge, Ph.D., dates it AD 61-62. John F. MacArthur, PhD., dates it AD 60-62. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it early AD 58. Paul D. Wegner, Ph.D., favours AD 57-59.
Philippians: William Hendriksen, Ph.D., believes Philippians was written AD 61-63. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it early AD 58. Paul D. Wegner, Ph.D., favours AD 60-62.
Colossians: F.F. Bruce, Ph.D., believes Colossians was written about AD 60. William Hendriksen, Ph.D., dates it A.D. 61-63. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., favours AD 58.
1Thessalonians: F.F. Bruce, Ph.D., believes 1 Thessalonians was written AD 50-51. Paul D. Wegner, Ph.D., dates it AD 50.
2 Thessalonians: F.F. Bruce, Ph.D., believes 2 Thessalonians was written AD 50 or 51. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it AD 51. Paul D. Wegner, Ph.D., also favoursAD 51.
1 Timothy: John MacArthur, Ph.D., believes 1 Timothy was written AD 63-64. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it AD 55.
2 Timothy: John MacArthur, Ph.D., believes 2 Timothy was written AD 66. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it AD 58. Paul D. Wegner favours AD 65.
Titus: John MacArthur, Ph.D., believes Titus was written AD 63-64. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it AD 57.
Philemon: William Hendriksen, Ph.D., believes Philemon was written A.D. 61-63. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it AD 58.
Hebrews: John MacArthur, Ph.D., believes Hebrews was probably written AD 67-69, but perhaps as early as 65. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., dates it AD 67. Ray C. Stedman, favours AD 67 or 68.
James: F.F. Bruce, Ph.D., believes James was written AD 51-62. Donald Guthrie, Ph.D., dates it AD 40-50. John MacArthur, Ph.D., favours AD 44-49.
1 Peter: David A. Fiensy, Ph.D., believes 1 Peter was written AD 65. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., also favours AD 65.
2 Peter: David A. Fiensy, Ph.D., believes 2 Peter was written AD 64-65. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., favours AD 61 to 62.
1 John: J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., believes that 1 John was written early AD 60s. Stephen S. Smalley, Ph.D., favours AD 90 to 100.
2 John: J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., believes that 2 John was written early AD 60’s. Stephen S. Smalley, Ph.D., favours AD 90 to 100.
3 John: J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., believes that 3 John was written early AD 60’s. Stephen S. Smalley, Ph.D., favours AD 90 to 100.
Jude: Richard J. Bauckham, Ph.D., believes that Jude was probably written in AD 50s. Gary Holloway, Ph.D., dates it between AD 55 and 80. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., favours AD 61 to 62.
Revelation: Richard C.H. Lenski, D.D., believes that Revelation was written AD 93-96. John MacArthur, Ph.D., dates it AD 95-96. J.A.T. Robinson, Ph.D., favours AD 68-70.
 
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