The Da Vinci Code undercuts the Bible’s credibility |

The Da Vinci Code undercuts the Bible’s credibility

Rev. Jack Van Ens

Brian Williams, NBC News anchor, signed off on Friday, April 7, commenting on what upheavals in Christianity had been reported in the past week. He zeroed in on the blockbuster “The Da Vinci Code,” gathering huge interest with the May release of a movie version of the book starring Tom Hanks. This novel asserts that the Christian church under Emperor Constantine, by a harshly argued, slim majority vote, declared Jesus divine. Bishops acted like oily politicians who strike dirty deals to get their candidate voted in. To top it off, Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. They had a love child. The Church has kept this secret in its Vatican vaults for centuries. Then Williams pointed to a discovery making paleontologists rejoice and Christians knocking evolution retreat. What’s been discovered is a creature dubbed a “fishapod.” It is the sort of transitional animal Darwin hinted at, a creature adapted to both water and land. It appears to have been a fish with four legs, a link between humanity’s origin from primeval watery slime to land on which the fishapod walked.Brian Williams ended by noting a stunning revelation, the announcement of another inside story on Jesus, The Gospel of Judas. It clashes with the biblical description of how Judas became a turncoat, hastening Jesus’ death. Not so, claims the Gospel of Judas. Judas acted like a dutiful pawn Jesus moved on His chessboard. He really betrayed Jesus, handing him over to the Romans with a fatal kiss, in order to fulfill Jesus’ secret, his earnest desire to die. The Gospel of Judas reports on a conversation Jesus and Judas had, hatching a plot that we would expect to see in a Mission Impossible movie. “Look, you have been told everything,” says Jesus to Judas. “You will exceed all of them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”If all this stuff sounds familiar about how the Bible with its four Gospels lacks credibility because of new revelations in “Gnostic” literature, then read The Da Vinci Code. Author Dan Brown attractively packages in his exciting plot the same condemnation of the Bible. It is unreliable because other Gnostic gospels really tell the truth. The Vatican, through its secret societies like the shadowy Priory of Sion, has covered up for centuries what writings like the Gospel of Judas reveal, claims Brown.Read again the indictments The Da Vinci Code makes against the Bible’s credibility. “More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament” but were suppressed by the church and then destroyed. Gnostic writings, including the Gospel of Judas, part of an ancient library of Coptic Scrolls found near the village of Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 “highlight glaring discrepancies and fabrications … (of) the modern Bible.”Elaine Pagels, a renowned biblical scholar raised in evangelical Christian circles, is recognized as the expert on the Gospel of Judas’ style of literature. She has written the widely acclaimed “The Gnostic Gospels” and “Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas.” Harvard trained Pagels is professor of religion at Princeton University, a community next door to where I studied theology for a decade, Princeton Theological Seminary.Pagels is a formidable opponent for Christians who claim the Bible with its four gospels is reliable because it breathes God’s truth in credible fashion. Pagels denies that the Bible is an error-free transcript of God’s speech. Rather, it is composed of human records of how God prompted ancient people. Pagels has a gift for taking esoteric topics and making them compelling to the person on the street who cares little for academic theology. Her style is richly emotive, compelling clear and concise, like how an ace reporter writes. She doesn’t hide behind dense, academic prose like many evangelical scholars do.Pagels wrote an essay, “The Gospel Truth,” in the New York Times (April 8). She claims that Jesus, like other rabbis, taught on two levels, comparable to regular classes in high school history and accelerated classes for gifted students. The Gnostic writings, says Pagels, are like accelerated classes where history is taught in depth. Gnostic is a transliteration of the Greek word “to know.” Jesus took Judas aside and gave him the inside scoop. He knew secrets from Jesus other followers never picked up.Writes Pagels, “Many scholars who first read these gospels had been taught that they were ‘heretical,’ which meant that they were the wrong gospels. When I was introduced to them as a student, we called them ‘Gnostic’ gospels, the name given them nearly 2,000 years ago by Irenaeus, one of the fathers of the church, who denounced them as false and ‘heretical.'”How do I, an evangelical Christian, respond to Pagels’ insights?She and I were taught that the error-free Bible directly came into being by God’s hand. God inspired the Bible, handcrafting it with his word. The Holy Spirit shepherded what books went into scripture. Scholars call this special collection of writings the biblical canon. That’s how Pagels and I were taught the Bible originated. Pagels shows convincingly, I believe, that different pockets of Christians lifted up assorted writings, some communities favoring the Gnostic gospels. It took years for Christian enclaves to decide what books to accept as radiating divine truth. It’s too simplistic to believe that somewhat magically the Holy Spirit solely edited the Bible.What “The Da Vinci Code” and Pagels do not emphasize, though, is that most Gnostic literature, with the exception of the “Gospel of Thomas,” was written long after the Christian Bible. The New Testament gospels were written before 70 AD. “The Gospel of Judas” was written far later, after 150 AD. “The Gospel of Philip,” which reports that Jesus kissed Mary Magdalene on the lips, and “The Gospel of Mary,” both upon which “The Da Vinci Code” relies to spread its spurious Holy Grail nonsense, were written after 150 AD. The upshot is that early eyewitnesses to Christ preserved the four biblical gospels. They separated what’s reliable from what’s not credible. The Bible’s four gospels, by the Holy Spirit’s influence through human judgement, are trustworthy. As Judas rejected Jesus, so wise Christians reject as unreliable the gospel by his name.The Reverend Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads CREATIVE GROWTH MINISTRIES, enhancing Christian worship through lively storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95 per copy.Vail, Colorado

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