The Da Vinci Code movie was something of a non-event. The movie was enjoyable and even entertaining, but after all the hype it didn’t seem particularly controversial or enlightening. As my wife commented, it was a great scavenger hunt!
If there is something deeper in the Code, perhaps it has to do with the question, ‘how do we know the truth?’
More specifically, how do we know the truth about Jesus?
The attack, if there is one, seems directed at the writings of the New Testament. Doubt is cast over the creation of this particular selection of writings with the supposed suppression of others. The conclusion that we are meant to draw is that the suppressed material contains THE true picture of Jesus. A picture that threatens the male dominated authority of the church.
But, perhaps those other writings were suppressed or rejected for a reason. Suppression does not convey virtue. It does not necessarily infer authenticity.
The Gospel of Thomas is one document quoted in the Code. It forms part of the collection of over fifty ancient texts known as the Nag Hammadi discovered in Egypt in 1945. This is not the first time it has provided the mysterious backdrop for a movie. The 1999 movie Stigmata revolves around the alleged cover up of this document by the Roman Catholic Church because of its emphasis on individual access to God outside of the organized structures and sacraments of the church.
According to the Code, this writing was rejected from the Canon (rule or standard) of the New Testament, along with other gnostic gospels, at the Council of Nicaea convened by Constantine in 325 AD. As Sir Teabing states in the novel, “The fundamental irony of Christianity [is that] the Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine the Great” (p.231)
In truth, the selection process for accepted Christian writings was much more organic and began long before the Emperor Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. In fact, the council of Nicaea had nothing to do with the canon of scripture, as alleged in the Code. Nicaea was about doctrine. Specifically, the challenge to the divinity of Jesus.
The first list of authoritative Christian writings dates back to 170 AD and contains 22 of our current 27 accepted New Testament writings.
By the end of the 3rd century, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea in Palestine, had compiled a list of 22 books with an additional five noted as ‘disputed’. Together, they form the list of our current NT.
It was at the North African Council of Carthage (397 AD) that this full list was ratified by the assembled bishops and passed on to Rome for confirmation.
Very little mention is made of the ‘Nag Hammadi’ writings. Probably because most of them had not yet been written by the time of the first list.
No suppression. No cover up. Really a non-event at the end of a long, natural journey.
Ultimately, however, these collected writings are not the final authority in all matters of faith and practice. Unfortunately, we’ve been taught that they are. That’s why many of us get bent out of shape when the list is challenged. In evangelical circles, this collection of writings has been raised to a status close to divinity. We almost worship this collection . . .
Yet, great historical figures from Augustine to Martin Luther have questioned and wrestled with ‘the list’.
It may be helpful to understand that there is only one authority over the church – Jesus himself! The scriptures and writings testify to him. They are a reliable way of knowing the truth about Jesus. But we have access to him even beyond these writings. Don’t we? The church existed, and even thrived, for four hundred years without an ‘approved’ collection. God’s revelation extends beyond the written page, even to natural and mystical dimensions.
After all, the truth is out there. And in here. And all around us.
Or am I revealing gnostic tendencies?