Wednesday, April 8, 2009

DaVinci Code: Jesus as God

In The Da Vinci Code, Leigh Teabing says to Sophie, “Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet….a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal. “Not the Son of God?” “Right, Teabing said. “Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea…a relatively close vote at that” (233).

A few historical corrections may be in order. First, the vote at the Council of Nicea in AD 325 was not about whether Jesus was in some sense the Son of God. Both sides agreed on that. The question was what, precisely, did that mean. The followers of Athanasius (a black bishop from North Africa—one of my personal favorites) taught that Jesus was God. The other side, headed by Arius (a priest), also worshiped Jesus and taught that Jesus was a divine being—just not the same as God. Neither side thought of Jesus as a mere mortal as The Da Vinci Code claims.

Second, historians are not sure how many bishops attended the Council but the vote was not close, as The Da Vinci Code claims--out of over a hundred bishops, all of them except two sided with Athanasius. (As an aside, I find it amusing how, in the 60’s some black leaders condemned Christianity as a white man’s religion, when in fact the entire course of Christian history was affected by the intellect, dedication and raw courage of Athanasius, a black bishop, who suffered much for his faith).

Third, the idea that no one thought of Jesus as God before this council, is historically absurd. To give just a few examples, just over 100 years before this council met a church leader named Tertullian wrote, “Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God….” Fully 130 years before the Council of Nicea, Irenaeus, a church leader in what is now called France, was commenting on the Gospel of John when he wrote, "and the Word was God,’ of course, for that which is begotten of God is God." About 160 years before the Nicean Council a man named Justin, who was martyred for his faith, wrote, “…the Father of the universe has a Son; who also, being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God.”

About the same time as Justin, another church leader named Polycarp—who, was burned at the stake for his faith—wrote, “our Lord and God Jesus Christ….” About fifty years earlier in his life, Polycarp received a letter from another Christian leader named Ignatius. Ignatius was under arrest on his way to Rome to be executed for his faith when he wrote “I bid you farewell always in our God Jesus Christ.”

In another letter, almost 220 years before the Council, Ignatius wrote that Jesus was “God existing in flesh.” Then there was another Christian writer known only as “Mathates” (Greek for “disciple’), writing some time in the first or second century who likened God to a king saying, “as a king might send his son who is a king; he sent him as God” (Mathates to Diognetus 7).
Even before all this, back into the first century, Paul and the writers of Matthew, Mark, Luke John and the book of Hebrews all affirmed that Jesus was God.

Of course all of these are Christians—do we have any other evidence? Yes! Just over 210 years before the Council there was a Roman governor named Pliny the Younger who had a problem. It seems that Christians were all over his part of the empire like jackrabbits and he wasn’t sure what to do with them so, he started an investigation. In AD 112 he wrote to the Roman Emperor, Hadrian, saying that he found that on a certain day these Christians “were accustomed to come together before daylight and to sing by turns a hymn to Christ as a god.” About the same time a satirical writer named Lucian had nothing but contempt for Christians. Apparently disgusted by their intolerance, he wrote that Christians “deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage….”

Ok, but what about all those writings that the powerful Christian bishops supposedly kicked out of the Bible—the ones that, according to the Da Vinci Code, treat Jesus as just an ordinary man? Well, one of them is called the “Teachings of Silvanus” which says of Jesus, “Although he was God, he [was found] among men as a man.” Another one, known as the “Letter of Peter to Philip” (not the real Peter and Philip) writes, “according to the orders of our God Jesus.” Yet another of these “lost” writings, known as the “Tripartite Tractate” puts Jesus in the holy trinity, writing of “the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Then there is the “Trimorphic Protennoia” which speaks of Jesus as “the Christ, the only-begotten God.”

The fact is that Jesus is treated as a divine being in virtually all of these “lost” documents. In fact, one significant difference between the ideology of these “lost” writings and the theology of the church is that the church viewed Jesus as truly man and God whereas these lost writings generally treated Jesus as divine, but not human! Dan Brown had it completely backwards.

The point of all this, of course, is not to try to prove that Jesus was God, but only to show how historically ridiculous Dan Brown’s claims are. I find it somewhat amazing that some of those who were so outraged about the relatively minor dramatic liberties taken by Mel Gibson in his “Passion of the Christ” don’t seem to mind at all about all the historical travesties in The Da Vinci Code. Why is that?