Answering the Questions Raised by the Da Vinci Code/Program 4

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2005
Dr. Lutzer talks about the canon of the New Testament. There are many people who think that, at some Council, there was this big debate. “Do you like the book of First Peter?” “Yes, I like it.” “But, I don’t . What books are in the New Testament?”



Today on The John Ankerberg Show, why has the fictional book, The Da Vinci Code, caused so much controversy?

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: Even though The Da Vinci Code is fiction, it’s being passed off as a historical novel. And Dan Brown says in the book that many things are fact, and he gives the impression that all that is fact. And those who have read it will know that it is a vicious attack against the Christian faith.

At the beginning of his book Dan Brown makes this declaration, “Fact: All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.” But is this true? And what about the claims in his book:

  • That Jesus had sexual relations with Mary Magdalene resulting in children;
  • That all the early Christians believed Jesus was only a man, and it wasn’t until 300 AD that the church invented the idea that he was God;
  • That Jesus was the original feminist, and power hungry men in the church suppressed this information, then recast sex as something shameful in order to put down women;
  • That the early Christians believed that men encountered God only through sexual union with a woman;
  • That the original gospels about Jesus life were burned by the Roman Emperor Constantine around 325 AD and false documents were put in their place that form the Bible we now have;
  • That the church has been hiding the truth of Jesus’ marriage in order to suppress the truth of who he really was. If this secret were uncovered, it would destroy Christianity as we know it.
Lutzer: It takes old, heretical ideas and wraps them in a fast-paced novel so people are reading the novel, and they’re getting the idea, number one, the Jesus Christ isn’t God at all; he’s a mere man, but he was elevated to the status of godhood by a man by the name of Constantine, whom we are going to be talking about. And, secondly, people are saying that there is another Bible out there. It’s called a Gnostic Bible, the Gnostic gospels; and these Gospels are more accurate than our New Testament.

Our purpose in this series is twofold. First, if you have read The Da Vinci Code, we want to provide you with accurate historical information about the questions raised in this book. Second, if you are Christian, we want to help you know how to answer the questions of family and friends who have been troubled by this book.

Lutzer: I remember a young woman in a restaurant telling me, she said, “I can never go to church having read The Da Vinci Code, because,” she said, “the church clearly is based on lies.”

My guest today is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, author of The Da Vinci Deception. He has been interviewed by NBC, ABC, and CNN as a Christian authority on this topic, and is senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois.

Lutzer: The Da Vinci Code strikes at the heart of Christianity by denying the deity of Jesus Christ and the validity of the New Testament documents. Now, John, what our listeners need to understand up front is simply this, that the claims of The Da Vinci Code can be shown to be false.

To learn the truth about The Da Vinci Code, we invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’re talking about The Da Vinci Code. Have you read the book? It’s being translated into more than 40 different languages, more than six million copies have been sold. If you’ve read it, then we’re talking to you. If you haven’t read it, you probably know somebody that has read it. Why don’t you call them and tell them to join us right now, because we’re going to unscramble the myths and the broadsides against Christianity that Dan Brown has put into that book.
Let’s start with this. Do you know what the most profound moment in Christian history is? Well listen to what Dan Brown thinks it is. He says, “From this,” and we’ll talk about this in a moment, “sprang the most profound moment in Christian history. Constantine [King Constantine, about 325 AD] 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.” Alright? What Dan Brown does in his novel, that Dr. Erwin Lutzer, our guest, who has written a book called The Da Vinci Deception [points out;] one of the broadsides is this: The Gnostic Bible is more important than the Bible that you have in your home right now, okay? Another one is: the “secret message” that Dan Brown wants you to realize is only found in the Gnostic Bible. “The Gnostic books were written before the four Gospels” [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John]; that’s just nuts, any scholar will tell you that’s not true.
How were the New Testament Gospels assembled? Who chose the books in the New Testament canon? That’s what we’re going to talk about today. Brown says Constantine did a political power grab, and he and the Council of Nicea are the ones that actually chose which books ought to actually be in, and they knocked out a whole bunch of books that, if they had included those books, we’d have a different message about Jesus.
Now Erwin, this stuff has bothered a lot of people. Let’s unscramble it for them today.
Lutzer: Well, let’s begin by saying that the History Channel often plays a segment, actually a program, called Banned from the Bible. So, we need to clarify a couple of things here. Those books that were “banned from the Bible” that the History Channel talks about were never banned from the Bible. They were never even thought of as being included. Many of these are just legends about Jesus; like when Jesus was a boy, he killed a child by pushing him off the roof and when accused, he used his power to raise him from the dead. You have stories that Jesus made little clay pigeons and then he breathed on them and the pigeons would fly away.
So you’ve got all of these myths that grew up around Jesus. And of course, they were never a part of it [the Bible]. And neither are these writings a part of the </nowiki>Gnostic scriptures. So, we need to keep these things distinct.
Ankerberg: And the reason we know these things are myths and are not true is because the early Christians who knew the apostles said, “Hey, this is ‘nutso’.”
Lutzer: Right, and then you have the Gnostic gospels. These are the ones that Dan Brown refers to. And the Gnostic gospels, as we showed on previous shows—and it’s very important for those who are listening to get the whole serieswe talked about how fraudulent they were. First of all, spurious authorship: they claimed to be written by apostles. No scholar thinks that the Gospel of Thomas was written by Thomas, or the Gospel of Philip was written by Philip. These Gnostics pretended that they were written by these apostles to give their ideas, their way out Platonic ideas, credibility.
Ankerberg: Yes. “Gnostic” is simply a word that says “knowledge.” These guys thought they had secret knowledge that superseded that which the apostles actually wrote down.
Lutzer: Right, exactly. And then, of course, you have the late date of the books. So there is no reason to accept these Gnostic gospels.
Ankerberg: Okay, but now, let’s go on to the claim that, “Look, the whole way that you guys have your New Testament, and actually your Bible, came into being in a political power grab here 300 years after Jesus.”
Lutzer: Let’s separate truth from fiction. Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325, okay, and we discussed that in our first program. Now, Constantine did commission that 50 copies of the New Testament, or 50 copies of the Bible, be copied for the churches of Constantinople, but he had no control as to what those books were. And those books were the books that are in our New Testament today. So, I have to say that Dan Brown’s claims are really totally bogus.
Ankerberg: And the reason that Constantine did that is that just before him, Diocletian tried to kill off all the Christian leaders, as many Christians as he could find; and he tried to wipe out as many of the Christian books as possible. So there was a need. But the fact that Eusebius, who was commissioned by Constantine to do this, went to the churches and he got that which was already accepted before Constantine ever was on the scene, alright. And those are the books that he copied.
Lutzer: And that’s why today we’re going to talk about the development of the New Testament. Because there are many people who are watching, who are asking several questions: Who made the decisions as to what books would be in the New Testament, and when were those decisions made? You know, the usual understanding is that there was some Council somewhere that debated the books and some people said, “Well, I think that these books should be in the New Testament,” and somebody else stood up and said, “No, I don’t think so.” Interestingly, that’s not how the decisions were made. So, John, let’s begin from the beginning to help people understand the sequence here.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Lutzer: There are some books that when they were written, say by the apostle Paul, they were immediately recognized by the church as Scripture. For example, if I may quote the words of the apostle Paul exactly, he speaks about the fact that some books would be accepted. First Thessalonians, for example, “I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.” That’s 1 Thessalonians 5:27. He knew that when he was writing, he was writing documents that were to be spread to the churches because they were inspired by God. So he knew that early on. And the churches received these documents as being inspired. Now, if I could take a moment to read what I think is a very interesting text from 2 Peter.
Ankerberg: Okay.
Lutzer: And I’m reading this text so that the listeners understand how early the New Testament documents were accepted as Scripture.
Ankerberg: I think all of our listeners know that Peter was Jesus’ right-hand man, okay? He was the chief apostle. Now you’re reading what Peter said. Let’s hear what he says.
Lutzer: In the book of 2 Peter, he writes: “regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote to you, as also in all of his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which some things are hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” [2 Peter 3:15-16, emphasis added].
I hope that people caught the implication. Peter is saying that what Paul wrote was Scripture. It was inspired Scripture. Now that’s during Peter’s lifetime, it’s during Paul’s lifetime, that what he is writing is Scripture.
The point to be made is that the Early Church, from the beginning, began to recognize these books as being Scripture. Now to put this in context, you have the Old Testament canon, which the church was acquainted with—the word “canon” meaning that group of books that were inspired of God.
Ankerberg: One ‘n’ in the canon means it’s the rule, it’s the standard; two ‘n’s is something we shoot off, that’s a gun.
Lutzer: So, we’re talking about the canon, that’s the rule, that’s the Scripture. Those books were collected by the Jewish people. Were there some disputes? Yes, some people thought that Esther, maybe, since it didn’t mention the word “God,” they debated whether or not it should be in the canon. The Song of Solomon seemed a little too sensual for some people. But, basically, this group of Scriptures was inspired of God, and accepted by the Jewish people as inspired by God.
Ankerberg: And Jesus put his stamp on that.
Lutzer: Yes, absolutely. Jesus put his stamp of authority on those books—and none others, by the way.
Ankerberg: That’s right.
Lutzer: But that’s a separate story. Then you have the Christians coming along; they already had in their mind the idea of inspired Scripture. So, as Paul began to write, as later on you have the Gospels being written, they accepted these as Scripture. They were accepted by the churches. Now, were there some disputes? Yes. Some people thought that the book of Revelation was a little too mysterious, a little too esoteric, and they wondered whether or not it was inspired Scripture.
But, John, the thing that we need to understand is that the Early Church did not have fax machines, they did not have cell phones—and perhaps they had the good fortune of not having cell phones—they did not have communication the way in which we did. These documents were painfully, and very carefully, copied and spread abroad.
So obviously, the development of the canon took time. There were some lists of the New Testament that excluded the book of Revelation. Is that because the book of Revelation wasn’t inspired or people didn’t think it was inspired? Well, we’re not sure. In some instances, the book of Revelation simply was not known in that area. But over a period of time, you have a body of books that were accepted by the New Testament Church.
Some people thought that The Shepherd of Hermes should be included. But, John, there again, you can see how God superintended this process. If you’ve ever read The Shepherd of Hermes, you know that it says that, basically, we are saved by works. So it was inconsistent with the teaching of the apostles; so eventually it was rejected and we’re very glad it was.
So, these books developed over a period of time. Councils came along and ratified the list. But here’s the critical point: No Pope, or no Council, imposed upon the church decisions regarding these books. Because, the Councils could only ratify what the church already accepted. And that is critical.
Ankerberg: Yes. Eusebius, that was commissioned by Constantine to actually write the 50 copies, has over 100 books that we have in our libraries—the Church Fathers, and the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers—where you’ve got all of these people, he takes pains to document how they talk about all these books that are in our New Testament today. And he goes right back to the time of the apostles and their students, and he starts documenting what they said. And he documents that those guys knocked out, they fought against, some of these Gnostic gospels when they came out in 200 or 150 to 250 AD. They documented the fact that those were false and the reasons why. All of that was before Constantine, and it is solid proof that what we have in the New Testament today is what the apostles wrote; what God intended; and it’s the truth about Jesus Christ.
Now, we’re going to talk more about this. We’re going to take a break. We’re going to come right back, so stick with us.

Ankerberg: Alright we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, and we’re talking about The Da Vinci Code. Here’s the question: How do we know that the early Christians didn’t make a mistake, they didn’t err, in which books would be included the New Testament canon? Erwin, what do you say?
Lutzer: Well, you know when someone asks me that question, what I say to them, John, is two things; first, show me some book in the New Testament that you think should not be there. The simple fact is when you read the 27 books, they all fit together, they agree theologically. I mean, they are coherent. And really there is no book that that we could say should not be there. The second question though, and this is the critical one: What book do you know of that you think should have been included in the New Testament?
There again, what we find is: there’s no other book out there that gives us any serious competition at all. Now, someone else may press me and say, “Well, but could the church have made a mistake?” Theoretically, yes, because the church is not infallible. So we have a church that is fallible, choosing infallible documents. And what we need to say is that the early church can only recognize the documents as being infallible. You can’t have a church having a Council and deciding, “Oh, this book is inspired by God,” if, in point of fact, it isn’t. All the Councils in the world can’t make an uninspired book inspired.
Just like this, if you have a letter by Abraham Lincoln, [if] it’s an authentic letter, all the Councils in the world can’t make it unauthentic. On the other hand, if you don’t have an authentic letter from Abraham Lincoln, all of the Councils of the world cannot make it authentic.
So, let’s recognize here that the church is fallible. And that shouldn’t surprise us when you stop to think of it: it is fallible human beings that did write infallible scripture. I mean, David certainly was not a man who was infallible, he sinned greatly, and yet he wrote inspired scripture. In the very same way, the church, though it is fallible, we believe, chose documents that are completely free from error; documents that have come to us inspired by God.
But anyway, there’s the challenge. Show me the books. Show me the books. Show me what you’ve got, if you think that a book should have been included.
Ankerberg: Yet, Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code has Langdon, his Harvard Professor, saying, “Anyone who chose the forbidden gospels [that’s the Gnostics], over Constantine’s version [that’s what we think we have in the New Testament right now], was deemed a heretic.” He’s got it reversed, in the sense that, the fact is, the [New Testament] gospels were there before the Gnostic gospels
Lutzer: Let’s just lay this down once and for all, John: Gnosticism was a parasite. It was trying to feed off the success of the Christian movement. And here you have Platonic ideas about one’s relationship with God, and all kinds of mystical experiences, and so forth. And you have these teachers who are insistent that they are going to promote their views and pretend that they are Christian. The early Christian church saw through this, wrote against these things—we think of Irenaeus, who wrote a book entitled Against Heresies. And, by the way, Irenaeus has an awesome quote I have to throw in here. He says the Gnostics take the Scriptures, and they are like a person who takes a beautiful photograph of a King, cuts it in pieces and reassembles it to become a fox [Against Heresies, 1.8.1]. That’s what the Gnostics did with the New Testament writers.
Ankerberg: And, keeping that in mind, of what Irenaeus said, in The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown says something different. He says, “Fortunately for historians, some of the gospels that Constantine attempted to eradicate [again, these Gnostic gospels], managed to survive,” like it’s a good thing.
Lutzer: Well, yeah, we can be glad that the Gnostic gospels were found. I mean, let them survive. What we’re pleading for on this show, John, is simply look at the evidence; there’s nothing hid under the table here, some kind of a great secret: you know, “They were lost and now they’re found and, oh, these wonderful secrets have been revealed.” Now let’s look at these “secrets”, let’s compare them with the New Testament, and we’ll soon find out how badly they come off. And we’ll see how fraudulent the Gnostic gospels are.
So, again, the listening audience needs to understand that Constantine made no decisions about what books would be in the Bible. Not one single shred of historical evidence. It’s all fabrication.
Ankerberg: Yes. Old Papias, the student of the apostle John, records what the apostle John told him. Basically, you have Matthew, Mark and Luke as being Gospels that are recognized by the apostle John. And then, of course, Papias knew the Gospel of John itself. And then he starts talking about Paul’s letters, okay? So this is about 120, 110 AD. That’s 200 years before Constantine. So you have the Gospels in place. And then, as you go through, the other church Fathers that go up to about 150 AD, even in the writings against Marcion, Marcion talks about the four Gospels that are already in place. He talks about some of the things in Paul’s letters. And the fact is, the church Fathers respond by quoting from the New Testament documents.
In fact, this is something I think is real important for people to realize. If we didn’t have any one of the 24,000 copies that have survived coming down from the original books, that have been copied, if we lost all of those, you could replace the entire New Testament, except for eight verses, just from the quotes of those documents in the church Fathers. That according to the British Museum.
Lutzer: John, this is why people who are listening, who are about to leave the church because they’ve read The Da Vinci Code, that would be a huge mistake. Do not leave Christianity behind because of The Da Vinci Code. We’re talking about fabrication built upon myths. We’re talking connecting dots where no dots even exist. Simply look at the evidence, and know that our faith in Jesus Christ is strong. We believe that he died on the cross for sinners. And the great message, and the great hope, that many of us have experienced, is the fact that his death was a sacrifice for sinners; so that if we humble ourselves, acknowledge our sin, and we believe on a divine/human Christ—the only one qualified to bring us into God’s presence—we are saved. And we are saved, not because of our righteousness, but because of his righteousness, which God accepts. Bottom line, there’s no other religion, certainly not Gnosticism, that has such an awesome message of grace and love.
Ankerberg: Alright, let’s take our questions and the statements that Brown makes in his book. Let’s go through them in light of what we just said. Number one: the Gnostic Bible is more important than our Bible.
Lutzer: Nonsense.
Ankerberg: Number two: the secret message is found only in the Gnostic books, not in our real Bible.
Lutzer: Nonsense.
Ankerberg: Number three: the Gnostic books were written before the four Gospels.
Lutzer: Nonsense.
Ankerberg: Number four: The New Testament Gospels were assembled in a power play by Constantine and the Council of Nicea.
Lutzer: Pure nonsense.
Ankerberg: [Laughter]
Lutzer: If nonsense can be “pure.”
Ankerberg: One more word of encouragement for people that are listening. This might be the first time they heard it. What would you advise if they want to know more?
Lutzer: What they should do is to read the Gospel of John. Twenty-one chapters; take a twenty-one day experiment. I’ve used this with atheists. Twenty-one day experiment: read the Gospel of John and take a chapter a day and ask yourself, “Could this Jesus have been made up by men? Who is he?” And even if you don’t believe in God, pray and say, “God, if you’re real, show me whether or not this is the truth.” I had one man do that, and he said, “All of my arguments were like puffs of smoke in the presence of the Jesus of the New Testament.”
You’ll never get that in the Gnostic Jesus, the fraudulent Jesus. Stick with the New Testament.
Ankerberg: Next week, we’re going to close with sex. The fact is that, Brown, through the novel, is talking about goddess worship as being the original message; and that was being suppressed by the church. Let’s hit it, Erwin, and let’s talk about what Brown is promoting and what the Early Church said about that. You won’t want to miss it. I hope you’ll join us.

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