Our church studied the main faith issues in The Da Vinci Code for two Sundays. After the first Sunday my phone rang; it was Mike, one of the guys from church. “Hey, Keith,” he said, “I’m in an airport waiting for my flight, and wouldn’t you know . . . the guy right across from me is reading Da Vinci Code!” I hung up feeling great, because Mike was ready for whatever conversation would happen.
Are you ready? Allow me to suggest some “talking points” in case you bump into someone with questions. Here are the main faith issues, a quote or two, and a few key things to know:
1. Factual It Is Not
Dan Brown’s opening page says: “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate.”
Nope. We’re told, with a hint of mysterious foreboding, that a famous pyramid in France has 666 panes of glass. It has 673. Or, in one of the opening scenes, a metal security gate in the Louvre comes crashing down. There is no gate in that hallway of the Louvre.
These things may seem trivial, but it shows that if Dan Brown will re-invent reality about small things and say they are “accurate,” he is likely to do the same with the bigger issues in the book. This matters because one of Brown’s main characters says, “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” (p. 235). When you read this book, knowing what is true and what is not becomes tremendously important.
2. The Bible
The book says, “The Bible is a product of man. . . . . Not of God . . . [The Bible] has evolved through countless translations, additions and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book” (p. 231). It also says, “More than eighty different Gospels were considered for the New Testament” and “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine the Great” (p.231).
Actually, not even secular historians can find “80 gospels.” And Dan Brown includes the Dead Sea Scrolls in that number, but those were written prior to Jesus and therefore never mention him at all. The rest of the “gospels” he seems to refer to were from a hybrid, heretical religion called Gnosticism and were written, in fairy-tale fashion, 200 to 300 years after the events of Jesus’ life on earth.
The truth is that, like travelers on a well-worn path, Christians selected the books of the New Testament simply by using them with such consistency. Most scholars think the New Testament was fairly “definitive” by around 100 A.D.—centuries before Constantine was alive.
Speaking of Constantine, he was not “lifelong pagan” (p. 232). After his conversion in 313 A.D., he left a long track record of commitment to Christianity.
Finally, of course the Bible was written by human beings—Christianity has never disputed that. Christians simply believe those human beings wrote “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). And, of course, it was translated—that’s why we can read it.
3. The Divinity of Jesus
Dan Brown’s character Leigh Teabing says that until the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., Jesus was viewed by Christians as “a mortal,” and that “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicea.” And it was “a relatively close vote at that” (p. 233).
No. Christians, from the earliest days, died blood-spattered and persecuted deaths proclaiming Jesus as the divine Son of God. The delegates to Nicea believed that too. The question they voted on concerned when Jesus became the Son of God: Was he co-eternal with the Father? Yes, they did vote on that. They declared Jesus was co-eternal with the Father, divine from eternity, by a vote of 300 to 2.
4. Jesus and Mary Magdalene
This is probably the part of the book you’ve heard the most about. The Da Vinci Code says that Jesus and Mary Magdalene married and had children, and that their descendants live on through the French royal family.
One main storyline has to do the Priory of Sion, “a European secret society founded in 1099” (opening page) to protect the truth about Mary Magdalene and to protect her descendants from the murderous intentions of the Roman Catholic Church. Dan Brown says that secret parchments were discovered about the Priory in 1975 in Paris’ library the Bibliotheque Nationale.
Well, there is a Gnostic Gospel, written more than 200 years after Jesus by people who departed from the core teachings of Christianity, which suggests the disciples were upset that Jesus was kissing Mary.
Other than that, there is not another whisper in any true, reliable history—not even in all the fanciful Gnostic Gospels—that Jesus was married to anyone, much less Mary Magdalene.
But secret documents were discovered in 1975 in Paris that established the Priory of Sion. They were written by a Frenchman, Pierre Plantard, in 1956, with some friends of his, and they planted the documents in the Bibliotheque Nationale. Plantard, who had been convicted of fraud and jailed, and who, by the way, mentions himself as a descendant of Mary Magdalene in those documents, testified to this under oath in 1993.
There is much more to know, but, I hope, if you bump into a Da Vinci reader while on a layover in an airport, you can feel confident in discussing the issues raised in the book.
About the Author
Rev. Keith Mannes has served as an ordained pastor for 30 years. He and his wife Alicia live in Holland, Mich.