The Jesus Of The Da Vinci CodeErwin W. Lutzer | December 7, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
Dan Brown’s book,The Da Vinci Code tries to paint a portrait of a very different Jesus than the one found in the Bible. Dan Brown’s Jesus wasn’t God, and He was married to Mary Magdalene. He tries to prove that the Bible is unreliable, and the Gnostic gospels are a preferable historical record.
Pastor Lutzer exposes the lies found in Dan Brown’s book, using history itself, and in so doing, shows us that none of the claims sourced from the Gnostic musings are actually based on fact.
Jesus married to Mary Magdalene? And they had children who intermarried in the French Royal Line? And all this has been known for centuries but it has been kept from the Church? Rumors of this conspiracy have been whispered for centuries says best-selling author, Dan Brown, in The Da Vinci Code. In fact, these rumors have appeared in countless languages, including the languages of art, music and literature, and we are told that some of the most dramatic evidence appears in the paintings of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Well recently I joined the millions of people who are reading The Da Vinci Code. And some of you here today may say, “You know, I’m not interested in The Da Vinci Code.” Well then come up later and apologize to me, would you? Because remember that this is our Jesus that they are talking about, and millions of people are believing this fabrication. It’s a novel but it purports to be based on research and history.
So we’re going to be talking about The Da Vinci Code. In fact, I’m going to read something that I’ve written. I’m just going to read you the highlights, and the details will be available to you later. But I’m going to read the highlights, and then what we’re going to do is to turn to the Scripture and we’re going to see the contrast between the way in which New Testament writers did history, and the history of The Da Vinci Code.
This thriller wraps itself around the events of the New Testament, giving a new interpretation to Christ and the role of the church. I found it interesting, but having a basis in history? No! It is filled with misrepresentations, errors, and plain fantasy, which are paraded as fact (and those of you who have read it will know that that’s the truth). The line between fiction and history is often blurred, and the author passes easily between the two, giving the impression that they are one and the same.
The agenda of the author is not so thinly veiled. This is a direct attack against Jesus Christ, the Church and those of us who follow Him. Christianity, we learned, was invented to suppress women and to turn people away from the divine feminine. Understandably the book appeals to feminists who see in it the need to return to goddess worship.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book, and lying at the heart of it, is the notion that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, and they had a son. And after Jesus’ crucifixion, Mary went to Gaul in France, and there they established French royalty. And this dynasty, we are told, still continues, and some of the members have been Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and Victor Hugo. To this day, the relics of Mary, and the records excavated by the Templers are guarded, shrouded in secrecy and conspiracy.
Well, the upshot is that Christianity is based on a big lie, or rather a few big lies. For one thing, Jesus was not God, but His followers attributed deity to Him. And they did this to consolidate male rule, and to oppress the Worshippers of the Divine Feminine. Indeed, Constantine, at the Council of Nicaea, invented the deity of Christ so that he could eliminate all opposition. Everybody else would be heretics and he could rule. At the Council the decision was made to regard the present canonical scripture as infallible to insure the male control of the church.
“It’s all about power,” one of the participants in the book says. Da Vinci knew all this so in painting The Last Supper, which has many levels of meaning, he painted John. But actually John is feminine, and John actually turns out to be Mary Magdalene. And there is no cup there because Mary turns out to be the cup – the Holy Grail, if you please.
“Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false,” laments one of Brown’s characters. The New Testament is simply the results of a male dominated leadership that invented Christianity to control the Roman Empire and to oppress women. The real Jesus was the original feminist, but his wishes were ignored to foster the male agenda.
Well, in the novel the Holy Grail is reinterpreted to be none other than Jesus’ wife, Mary Magdalene. She was the vessel that held the blood of Jesus Christ in her womb while bearing His children. The book ends with the main character in a tunnel in the Louvre in Paris praying at what could be Mary’s tomb, and saying, “The quest for the holy grail is the quest to kneel before the bones of Mary Magdalene, a journey to pray at the feet of the outcast one.”
Well, there it is, folks! What do you think of this history? (chuckles) Ah, before we get into the details I need to tell you a little bit about history. There are different theories of history that I discuss but we can’t get into that here. There is in postmodernism the idea that history is not looking for facts, but history is to be used for psychological and social purposes. Let me give you an example. The New York Curriculum Guide for Eleventh Grade American History instructs teachers to inform their students of three ideological foundations of the American Constitution. They are The American’s Antecedent Colonial Experience, The European Enlightment, and The Iroqua Tribe System of Government. Now there’s no substantial history that would say that the Iroqoua Tribe’s political system influenced the beginning on the framers of our Constitution, but that does not matter. What matters is the social impact. History is to be used to achieve certain agendas. One postmodern writer, in his desire to hang onto history in some sense, says that we should get people to relate to (and I’m quoting now) “imaginary history.”
I want to tell you today that The Da Vinci Code is an exploration of imaginary history. But let’s look at the details. Let’s look at the claims and my response. First of all, claim number one: “The Council of Nicaea was convened in 325 by Constantine for the purpose of affirming the deity of Christ and accepting an agreed upon New Testament Canon, thus,” the novel says, “Constantine invented the divinity of Jesus and there were actually 80 books that vied for a position in the Canon, but all were rejected except the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke and the others so that Constantine could identify heretics and keep the leadership of the Church in male hands.” It’s all about power, remember.
Well, how do you like that for historical claims? I want you to know it is true that Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea in 325. Everything else in the novel is bogus. Constantine did not invent the deity of Jesus Christ. The deity of Christ is found in the New Testament and all the church fathers believed in the deity of Christ. We have quotations for the hundreds of years before the Council consistently affirming the deity of Christ. The reason that the Council of Nicaea was called is because there was a heretic by the name of Arius who was denying the deity of Jesus Christ, and the bishops met to resolve the matter.
The novel says, “Well, you know, the deity of Jesus just passed by a close vote.” Really? Just two of the more than 300 bishops refused to sign the Nicene Creed. It’s not exactly a cliffhanger, is it? (Laughter) And there were not 80 books that vied for the Canon. We’ll get into that in a moment. The New Testament was already agreed upon at that time. The Canon was complete in the New Testament. There were one or two books that were still being discussed, but the Canon, as we understand it, was already accepted by the church. This idea that the Council of Nicaea had 80 books to consider is imaginary history.
Well, let’s go on to claim number two, that the so-called Gnostic Gospels give a more reliable account of the life of Jesus than the Canonical Gospels. Canonical, you remember, means part of the Canon, the Bible that we have. The argument is that the Gnostic Gospels presented a Christianity that was pro-feminine where male and female were blended together, sharing with one another in leadership and influence, and ever since, these writings are founded and used in feminist literature.
I’ll give you the summary. In 1945, a peasant in Egypt came across a jar. This is not the Dead Sea Scrolls, which were found in Israel. This is Egypt now, and he came across so-called Gnostic Gospels. Now let me say a word about the Gnostics. They were people who opposed Christianity because they believed that God could never become a man, because all matter was evil. And they believed that man’s problem was not the need for forgiveness but the need for self-realization. And what they did to give their writings credibility is to say that their writings were written by various apostles. For example, you have the Gospel of Thomas, you have the Gospel of Philip, and so forth.
Now, what about these Gnostic Gospels? Even the most radical scholar says that the earliest of them would be about 150 A.D., which would be 100 years after the time that Jesus was crucified, or more. Some of them go to the fourth and the fifth and even the sixth centuries. And the question is whom would you believe, by the way? Would you believe the credibility of someone who was an eyewitness to, say, Lincoln, or somebody who speculated years later as to what Lincoln might have said? The Gnostic Gospels are non-historical and even anti-historical. They contain little narrative and no sense of chronology. They make no serious pretense to being a life of Christ.
See, one of the problems is that when we read a novel like The Da Vinci Code, we say, “Well, what about these Gnostic Gospels?” We wonder what they are really like. And so you know, because you don’t get a chance to read them… Of course, you know, they’ve been translated and some of us have had the opportunity of reading them and catching a flavor. Could I take out a minute of your life to give you a flavor of the Gospel of Thomas, which is the most famous of the Gnostic Gospels?
It claims to have 114 sayings of Jesus. I’ve chosen number 22. “Jesus said to them, ‘When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer, and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make the male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be a male, nor the female be a female, and when you make the eyes in the place of an eye, and a hand in the place of a hand, a foot in the place of a foot, an image in the place of an image, then you will enter the Father’s domain.” (laughter)
It sounds just like Jesus, doesn’t it? You have to read these Gospels before you get the flavor of them. And so these Gnostic Gospels, it is claimed, have some priority to the New Testament. Remember now, we’re talking for the most part hundreds of years after the time of Christ by people who were very anxious to put their own political philosophies and their own religious philosophies in the mouth of Jesus. They’ve always been called pseudo documents. Now they’ve been resurrected in The Da Vinci Code.
One noted New Testament scholar said regarding the Gnostic Gospels, “We learn not a single verifiable new fact about the historical Jesus ministry, only a few new sayings that might possibly have been His.” I’ll comment on one of the Gnostic Gospels in just a moment.
Claim number three! We are told that the marriage of Jesus to Mary Magdalene is (and I’m quoting now), “a matter of historical fact.” Really? Well, Leonardo da Vinci was in on the secret, and I’ve already mentioned that he actually painted Mary sitting next to Jesus in the portrayal of The Last Supper. What is more, there is no cup on the table because Da Vinci wanted people to understand that Mary is the cup, the Holy Grail. In the novel, Langdon, one of the primary characters, says that Mary’s presence in the painting represents (quote) “the sacred feminine and the goddess which, of course, now has been virtually eliminated in the church.” Well, most art historians deny that the person sitting next to Jesus on his right is a painting of Mary. It may be an effeminate John, but that’s the kind of people that Da Vinci painted. For example, in his painting of John the Baptist, it’s the same thing. And what about the fact that there was no cup? Well, he was painting John’s Gospel, and in Florence today there are other pictures like that, that do not have the cup, so this is indeed far-fetched.
But the second proof comes from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip, which says that Jesus was seen kissing Mary Magdalene on the mouth, and this disturbed the disciples. Now, even if this were true, it wouldn’t prove marriage. But the question we have to ask is this. We’re back to the Gnostic Gospels, the Gospel of Philip. How credible is it? You have to note that scholars date this writing to about the third century, a few hundred years after the time of Jesus. Again I have to ask this question. Who would know these details unless they were eyewitnesses, and not someone living two or three hundred years after the event?
But this document has no credibility. It is a document that is based upon Gnostic teaching.
Can I give you another quote from a Gnostic Gospel, just so that you get the flavor? In the Gospel of Philip we read, “The world came about through a mistake, for He who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of His desire.” And in the book Jesus is presented as one of the many emanations from God. These texts are clearly intended to articulate a pagan philosophy, not to write something credible about Jesus. You know, you can write anything you like if you are into imaginary history, and that’s what we have here.
Now in about the ninth century… Sometimes we think America is so old because it is 200 and some years (225 or 235) but imagine 900 years after the time of Jesus – 900 years. During that period of time in about the ninth century legends began to grow up about Jesus and Mary Magdalene. And so these legends are resurrected in the book The Da Vinci Code and they are passed off as if they are plausible. “Oh,” you say, “well it’s a novel.” Yeah, it’s a novel, but read the flyleaf. It says, “The following are facts.” It gives the impression of being well researched in the realm of history.
Well, many people have asked me, “What about Jesus and marriage? Could He have been married?” Let’s think about this very carefully. Theologically there’s nothing wrong with saying that He could have been married because – catch this now – marriage is honorable and undefiled. The problem Jesus would have had is to find somebody who was as perfect as He Himself was to marry. And that would be a stretch. But there is a reason why Jesus could never have married. It would have ruined the blessed, glorious picture of His future wedding. He’s engaged to us – the bride of Jesus Christ. And someday we are going to be with Him at what the Bible calls the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. And it is at that time that the marriage will be consummated in the most blessed, intimate union of fellowship imaginable. Jesus will be married, but not to a woman, but to all of us. And Mary Magdalene will be there along with us because we believe that she was redeemed. Jesus will be married, but it is to His bride, the Church, that shows up with the proper clothes, as mentioned in the New Testament. (applause)
Given this larger perspective, Jesus Christ’s celibacy was obviously both necessary and proper. I concur with a Catholic writer who says, regarding The Da Vinci Code, that “blasphemy is delivered in a soft voice with a knowing chuckle.”
So much for imaginary history! Let’s talk about real history. I want you to take your Bibles for a few moments and see how a real historian does history. Turn to Luke 1 where we meet a historian of the New Testament, and he, in the opening verses of his Gospel, the Gospel of Luke, gives us his methodology. And I want you to notice what Luke said. I’m in chapter 1 verses 1-3: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
What does a sober historian do? First of all, he gives careful investigation to the facts. Did you notice that phrase there in verse 3? You can underline it. Is says, “I myself have carefully investigated everything.” Let’s stop there.
What were Luke’s sources? Well, first of all, he, of course, had other documents apparently according to verse 1. There were probably many accounts of Jesus that were floating around, and what he needed to do is to separate them and to find eyewitnesses to verify them and to do some painstaking historical investigation.
And then, of course, he himself was able to talk to many of the people involved. Luke was a doctor, and as a doctor, I can imagine that it is not a surprise to us that he’s the one who gives us all of these details in the birth narratives. He’s the one who probably talked to Mary. He talked to Elizabeth, and said, “Tell me the story of what happened.” And Mary would have been able to tell him even about such things as the shepherds coming, and the stories, and Luke was in a position… You’ll notice the text says (I’m now in verse 2) “Those who from the first were eyewitnesses.” And Luke says, “I have these sources, and I’m going to chase them down,” because it’s almost as if Luke is saying, “I’m doing the most important task of my life. I am writing this biography of this man and all of these events and I had better get it right.” And so he investigated it, and based his ideas on verifiable, historical evidence.
And of course, you know that Luke was a traveling companion of Paul. He wrote the book of Acts, as we shall see in a moment, and therefore, he was well versed. It is also said historically that he was an interpreter for Peter, so I can imagine that as Luke sits down to write these accounts he says, “Now, Peter, tell me exactly what happened.” And, of course, Peter isn’t the only eyewitness, as we learned last time. There were other eyewitnesses. There was John, and there was Matthew. And so, as they wrote it together, they said, “This story has to be told, but we have to get it right.” And so that’s the way in which Luke did it. He was a loving physician and a very careful historian.
Secondly, I want you to notice how he organized his material. I love this, and it’s again in the last part of verse 3: “It seemed good to me also.” You say, “Well, since there were others who were doing it, why did he do it?” He may have had access to more sources. The other accounts may have been fragmentary. We don’t know because they don’t really exist unless he was referring to Matthew and Mark and John. But he says, “It seemed good to me also to write an orderly account of what happened.”
Now when you read the Gospel of Luke you know that all of his Gospel is not necessarily chronologically orderly. It does follow chronology, but sometimes he groups themes together. Sometimes he groups events together so that we can better hang on to them. But when you read the Gospel of Luke you get the impression that he’s beginning with the beginning, indeed, as he talks about Zechariah and John the Baptist and Elizabeth, and then moves on to the virgin Mary, etc. And what you see is an orderly, sensible progression of facts that he has accumulated, that he has written about so he does it first of all with careful investigation. Secondly, he does it with organization. And third, you’ll notice he expects an informed response. This is critical.
Notice what he says in the last part of verse 3 and verse 4: “It seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” The name Theophilus means God lover. Apparently this was some official that he had contact with, a friend, who may at this point not have been a Christian, by the way, because it was unusual for Christians to call one another by such a title. But nonetheless, he says, “I’m writing this so (Luke may not have fully understood that he was not just writing for him, but for millions of other people who would read his Gospel.) that you may know the certainty of the things you’ve been taught.” The Greek word certainty means that you might have a firm foundation upon which to stand.
As Peter says in 2 Peter, “We did not follow cunningly devised fables. We don’t want our faith to be based on imaginary history. We need a faith that is rooted in the facts.”
You say, “Well, did Luke have a deep conviction about what he wrote?” The answer is, “Yes.” Did that disqualify him? Was his conviction so deep that you couldn’t trust his research? No, not any more than you could distrust someone who came through the Holocaust who has written about it with passion and with conviction. We believe their history, their eyewitness accounts, and they are not disqualified just because they are passionate about what they write, and neither was Luke.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how good of a historian was he really?” That’s a good question to ask, and those of you who might be out there who are skeptics, you are kind of asking that in the back of your mind, and you ought to ask a question like that.
For a moment I want to talk to those of you who may be keeping Jesus at arm’s length. You are kind of saying, “Well, you know you’re not going to convince me of anything, but you can try.” There may be some of you out there like that. And you are saying to yourself, “Well, you know, how good a historian was he?” Well, I’m so glad you asked that question, by the way. Thank you.
Would you take your Bible now and turn to the book of Acts? You know that Luke also is the author of the book of Acts, and I’m going to give you time to find this so that you read verse 1. He says in Acts 1:1: “In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote all that Jesus began to do and to teach.”
Isn’t it interesting that in Luke he called him most excellent Theophilus. Here he just simply calls him Theophilus, maybe because in the process Theophilus became a Christian. We’re not sure. But Luke says, “I wrote to you my former book, and now I’m going to write this one.”
Now the book of Acts, you know, is filled with historical detail from beginning to end. We’re talking about rivers and lakes and trails and cities and distances. It’s all in the book of Acts. How good a historian is he? There was a man by the name of Sir William Ramsey. Sir William Ramsey bought into religiously liberal ideas about the Bible, and when he set out to study Luke’s Gospel and to trace all of the trails and do archeological and historical work, he fully expected that Luke would found to be in error. But he wrote a book on his findings, and let me give you one phrase of his book. He says, “Luke is a historian who is unsurpassed in his trustworthiness. He was a doctor who did his work well.” Isn’t it wonderful to have a book like this rather than complicated codes, theories, ideas, speculations, imaginary history? This is real history. I mean I’m telling you today that you can read the Gospel of Luke and you can trust what it is that you are reading because you are reading something that can be depended upon, something that can be even checked out historically and archeologically.
There are two very important conclusions. Number one is that our eternal destiny is rooted in God’s historical intervention in this planet. Did you know that? Jesus didn’t come just to teach us how to love each other. How do you take selfish sinners and teach them how to love one another? There’s some value in it, but it’s not transforming value.
The Bible says that Jesus came as a rescue effort to save us from our sins. That’s what it’s all about. We have a sin problem. Remember those rescuers there at 9-11 going up the stairs trying to rescue people in the Twin Tower. Disaster! Many of them died rescuing others. God bless them!
Jesus did much the same thing. He came to a world, and this world was filled with violence and injustice and greed and envy and cruelty. And He Himself was nailed to a cross. He died, too, in the rescue process. But the good news is that three days later He was raised from the dead, another powerfully historical event. He was raised from the dead, number one, proving that death could not keep Him, and proving that really He had triumphed over death, and now the Good News of the Gospel is He invites us to participate in that triumph if we embrace Him as our Savior. That’s wonderfully good news (applause) in a world that is wracked by sin.
Now, there’s a second conclusion, and that is this. I want you to look at your conscience today. I know you can’t take it out and look at it this way. I just want you to be honest and look into your heart for a moment. Our conscience tells us, and the Bible verifies, that we owe God more than we can pay. Many people try to pay by good deeds, and by doing this and that to somehow balance the score, but you can’t. And the good news of the Gospel is that when Jesus intervened, and when He came and He was born in a manger, and then He grew up to become a man and He died on the cross, the purpose of the cross was for Jesus to pay our debt if we are willing to believe in Him.
Listen, if you don’t trust Christ as your Savior, think for a moment what you are missing. You are missing an opportunity to be rescued from your sins, and from a dark eternity. Wow!
Back in 1834 there was a man by the name of Edward Mote. He was a churchgoer in London and one day when he was going to work he thought of a poem that he decided to write. It’s wonderful in our busy world, isn’t it? We normally don’t take enough time to meditate, but I guess in those days, back in 1834, they had more time. So he took the words and he wrote them on a piece of paper, and he put them in his pocket.
The next Sunday when he was leaving church, a friend of his by the name of Mr. King said to Edward, “Edward, my wife is dying. I wonder if you’d come over and would you spend a few moments? Let’s pray together and let’s read some Scripture and maybe sing a hymn just to encourage her.” And so Edward said, “Sure.”
When it came time to sing a hymn he said, “You know there’s this poem that I’ve written and I have in my mind some kind of a tune (The tune wasn’t fully formed at that point.),” so he gave the poem to the dying woman. He read it, and she was so encouraged by it, she said, “Leave it here.” And so he actually left the poem there and then he went home and he had to recreate it in his mind from memory because he didn’t have a second copy. And then, of course, the rest of the poem was perfected, and then it became a song.
You say, “Well, what encouraged Mrs. King as she was dying?” Now I’ll tell you that’s an important question, and let me tell you why it is important, because all of life ultimately is preparation for death. And if you can’t answer the question of what your faith does for you when it comes time to die, if you can’t answer that question, you have a question that screams for an answer.
The words that encouraged this woman were these:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand.
The Da Vinci book is sinking sand. (applause) You can plant your feet on that and your feet are firmly planted in mid-air. All other ground is sinking sand.
Jesus! You say, “Oh, but you need faith to trust Jesus.” Of you need faith, but it’s a reasonable faith. It’s a verifiable faith. It’s a rational faith. It’s not myth and speculation and fancy codes that we need people to help us figure out. So where is your faith planted - mid-air or the solid rock of Christ?
Let’s pray to Him right now.
Father, today we thank You so much for Jesus. We thank You today for His intervention in this world. We thank You that He came to save us from our sins, and we ask today in His holy and blessed name that those who have never embraced Him as Savior may say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus. I believe in historical, verifiable accounts. I trust Him.” Oh Father, we thank You. Birth in our hearts a greater love for Jesus, even as He is being attacked, we pray in His matchless name, Amen.