Well, you know there's an old saying that goes like this. It says, a lie travels halfway around the world while the truth is still getting her boots on. And over the past three years we have seen a sterling example of this when it comes to a book by Dan Brown entitled The Da Vinci Code. Since being published in 2003, The Da Vinci Code has actually sold over 60 million copies.
It's been published in 44 languages around the world. And as a matter of fact, it came out in paperback two months ago and in only 60 days sold over three million copies in paperback. Now, of course, the blockbuster movie is out, directed by Ron Howard starring Tom Hanks, generating a whopping 30 million dollars on the very first day that it was open. And this movie, of course, has sparked a rash of protests around the world. Catholics around the world are boycotting it.
The nation of India refused to release it in that country. So you might ask the question, what is all the hubbub about? Well if you've read the book, like I have, how many of you here have read the book? Well you know if you've read the book what all the hubbub is about.
But if you have not read the book, please allow me to tell you what the hubbub is all about. Dan Brown's book claims that there was a marriage between Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene that produced a daughter. Dan Brown's book says that Jesus intended Mary and her daughter to be the leaders of the early Christian faith. But, according to Dan Brown, in a cheap power grab, the male leadership of the early church branded Mary Magdalene number one as a prostitute, covered up all marriage of Mary to Jesus number two, and number three distorted the New Testament to hide their dishonesty.
You say, wow, wait a minute, there's a lot more. Dan Brown claims that everything the New Testament says about Jesus Christ is distorted and false. He says that the New Testament was formulated and twisted by Emperor Constantine and by the male bishops at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He says that there were many secret books, New Testament books, that contradict everything the Bible says about Jesus Christ and that these books were deliberately omitted from the New Testament by the people at this Council. Dan Brown says that the early framers of Christianity were a bunch of devious, corrupt and power-hungry hypocrites.
And, finally, he says that the Christianity that we know of today is the product of a bunch of male chauvinist bishops who twisted Christianity and made it into a religion that subjugates and represses women. Now, friends, Dan Brown's book is a novel. It's fiction. But lots of people have read his book as though it were non-fiction, as though it were truth. And this has shaken lots of people's faith. This has undermined lots of people's confidence in the Bible. This has deepened lots of people's skepticism about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
And, therefore, I say it's time for the truth to get her boots on here at McLean Bible Church. And that's why we're starting a new series, three parts, entitled Cracking the Da Vinci Code. When I was talking to my youngest son John about this and I told him we were going to do this series, this was months ago, he said to me, well, Dad, what exactly are you going to talk about? If you only have three messages, what are you going to talk about?
And I said to him, you know, John, I'm not sure. Because there is so much error in this book, I don't even know where to start. But I went through and I boiled it down to the three most important issues, most cogent issues that this book touches on. And they are, number one, the formation and the makeup of the New Testament. Number two, the true nature of Jesus Christ. And number three, the esteem given to women by Christianity. And those are the three topics that we're going to talk about.
We're going to start today with the first one of these. That is, we're going to talk about the integrity of the Bible. Now let's ask, as we begin, what's the real issue? Well, the real issue is that the Bible claims to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God to mankind. And in his book, Dan Brown takes issue with this. He has one of the characters say, and I quote, the Bible did not arrive by facts from heaven. The Bible is a product of man, my dear, not of God. But Brown's book never really gets into a serious discussion of the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible. And so therefore, we're not going to get into a serious discussion of that. However, let me say that if you're here today, and you'd like some more information about the historical accuracy and reliability of the Bible, if you would like to know more about whether the Bible's claim to be the inspired, inerrant Word of God can stand the test of an honest, intellectual examination, then right after we're done, go out in our lobby and purchase a copy of a CD that we have out there with two messages from me, where we talk about that exact subject.
And I believe that'll help you. Now the real focus, however, of Dan Brown's attack on the Bible deals with the formation and the makeup of the New Testament. In particular, Dan Brown focuses on the Roman Emperor Constantine and on the church council that he convened at Nicaea in 325 AD.
And so this is where I want us to focus our attention for the rest of this morning. Here's what Dan Brown says first, and I quote, The Bible as we know it today was collated by the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine. He was a lifelong pagan who was baptized on his deathbed too weak to protest. Constantine was a very good businessman. He could see that Christianity was on the rise and he simply backed the winning horse. Now is this true? Was Constantine merely a cheap opportunist who used Christianity to enhance and expand his own personal power? Well the answer is no, absolutely not.
Let me tell you the real truth. In 312 AD, Constantine was away with the Roman army in Gaul, modern day France, when a fellow named Maxentius usurped the throne back in Rome. Constantine had to march his army back and fight this usurper and the night before the battle, Constantine was really worried he was going to lose and he was up late at night praying to his pagan gods when suddenly he saw in the heavens a cross appear.
And he heard a voice say to him in Latin, Hoc Vincae, which means literally by this, that is the cross, conquer. Later that night Jesus appeared to him in a dream and directed him to have a cross placed on a pole and then to march into battle the next morning under the sign of this cross. Now this account is given to us by Eusebius, the church historian, who says that Emperor Constantine told him this story personally. The story is also recorded by two non-Christian Roman historians and if you really care about the name, come see me after the service, I'll give you their name.
You don't care. But trust me, non-Christian historians record the same story. Well, Constantine did all of this and he won the battle against overwhelming odds and as soon as this was done he immediately declared himself a follower of Jesus Christ. He immediately changed the symbol of the Roman Empire from an eagle to a cross.
He erected a statue of himself in Rome holding the cross up high with the inscription under the statue by this sign, meaning the cross, I deliver this city. And friends the date of this was 312 A.D. Constantine was not on his deathbed too weak to protest like Dan Brown says. As a matter of fact he ruled the Roman Empire for another 25 years. After this victory in 312 Constantine became a proactive champion of Christianity. He ended all persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. He became a friend of all the Christian bishops and would often call them together for church councils which he himself attended. He erased all the pagan symbols from the city of Rome, Zeus and Apollo, all those people. He paid for churches to be built all through the Roman Empire. He declared Sunday to be a day of worship throughout the Roman Empire. He attended church in Rome every single Sunday and would stand during the entire service out of humility for what God had done for him. He led a Bible study weekly in the palace with his palace guard. He was the teacher. He gave his sons a Christian education and his mother, a lady named Helena who was actually a follower of Jesus before him and no doubt prayed him into the kingdom of God.
Queen Helena asked her son in 325 right after the Council of Nicaea if she could go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and see all these great sites that she'd been reading about in the Bible. And I mean what are you going to do? You can't tell your mama no.
I mean you know. So he said okay mom you can go. But he said I'm a little worried about your safety and so I'm going to send along the whole tenth Roman legion with you. And so this woman marched through the Holy Land with 6,000 soldiers with her and everywhere she went she asked where did this happen? Where did that happen? Where did Jesus do this? And wherever the locals pointed out to her she left a contingent of the Roman army there and said build a church here. Build a church here. Build a church there. If you ever go to Israel with me I'm going to tell you that all the great places that we're able to go see that have historical reliability back to the days of Christ they're all there because of this woman going through town in the fourth century. If she hadn't done this they'd all be jiffy lubes today. You understand what I'm saying?
We owe this woman a great debt of gratitude. Friends my point is that Constantine embraced Christianity not because of political expedience. He embraced it because he had had a true spiritual encounter with the living Christ and his actions prove it. Dr. Paul Meyer, professor of history at Western Michigan University said and I quote, historians all agree that Constantine certainly rejected paganism and became a genuine Christian convert in 312 AD. Well based on his completely erroneous understanding of Constantine's faith Dan Brown goes on in his book to propose a scenario of phantasmagorical proportions.
I needed a word that big to describe this. A phantasmagorical proportions about the formation of the New Testament. Listen to what he says and I quote from Dan Brown. Constantine needed to strengthen the new Christian tradition that he had made up according to Brown and so he held a famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea. The Da Vinci Code continues until that moment in history Jesus was viewed by his followers as a mortal prophet. Jesus's establishment as the Son of God was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea. That is a complete lie.
I'll talk to you more about that next week. It was all about power. In an underhanded political maneuver Constantine took advantage of Christ's substantial influence and importance to expand his own power. The early church literally stole Jesus from his original followers. Now we're going to talk more about that next week about the true nature of Christ but Brown goes on to expand his theory of how Constantine's plan influenced the formation of the New Testament.
Listen to what he says. He says because Constantine upgraded Jesus's status to divine almost four centuries after Jesus's death thousands of documents already existed chronicling Jesus's life as a mere mortal. Now that's an absolute lie. So Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ's human traits and embellished those gospels that made Jesus look God-like. These earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up and burned. Our modern Bible Brown says was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda, namely to promote the divinity of the man Jesus Christ and to use his influence to solidify their own power base. Constantine's Bible has been the church's truth for ages so almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.
End of quote. Now what evidence does Dan Brown give to support this claim about the formation of the New Testament? Well quoting one more time, fortunately some of these gospels that Constantine tried to eradicate managed to survive.
They were found in 1945 at Nag Hammadi, Egypt. These documents speak of Christ's ministry in very human terms. Of course the Vatican tried hard to suppress the release of these scrolls and why wouldn't they? The scrolls highlight glaring discrepancies and fabrications in the Bible's presentation of Jesus Christ.
Now folks here are the questions therefore we have to answer today as we draw to a close. Number one, did the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD decide the makeup of the New Testament or were the contents of the New Testament settled long before then? Question number two, do these scrolls found at Nag Hammadi commonly called the Gnostic gospels, do they represent a truer account of who Jesus really is and why were they omitted from the New Testament? And finally, number three, on what basis did the early church decide which books went into the New Testament and which books didn't? Question number one, here we go, did the Council of Nicaea really decide what the contents of the New Testament are? Well the answer is no.
No, most emphatically no. The formation of the New Testament had taken place long before, centuries before the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD ever met. Here is the evidence. Peter writing in 65 AD, 2 Peter chapter 3 verse 16, already in 65 AD is referring to Paul's letters as quote, scripture teaching us that even in the first century AD the early church already had an understanding of what books qualified as inspired by God and were therefore scripture and meant to be part of the New Testament. Then we move on to the years 100 to 250 AD. This is as you know, two centuries or so before the Council of Nicaea and we find the writings of the early church fathers, men like Polycarp, Papias, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius and we find lists in every one of their writings of the books that were considered to be in the New Testament in the first, the second century, the third century and these lists are identical to the New Testament that you and I have in our Bible today. In 200 AD we found an official copy, from 200 AD we found it, an official copy of the Apostle Paul's letters all bound together in a book form that was obviously circulated among the churches. They're referred to as the Chester Beatty papyri and what this tells us is that in 200 AD the Apostle Paul's letters were considered to be scripture authoritative and they were circulated among the churches as such. And finally, the most important piece of evidence is the Muratorian Canon. This is a list of all the books that were recognized to be in the New Testament.
It's from 170 AD. That's 150 years before Constantine ever convened the Council of Nicaea and in this list we find an identical listing to the books of the New Testament with only a little bit of difference in the order in which the books are written. R. Laird Harris, in his classic work The Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible says and I quote, in the Muratorian Canon we have a history of the New Testament books as an authoritative collection almost exactly like our New Testament. From someone who wrote less than 70 years after the death of the last apostle and who may well have talked with many people who knew the apostles.
So let's summarize. Emperor Constantine did not commission and finance a new Bible at the Council of Nicaea like Dan Brown says. On the contrary, by the time the Council of Nicaea rolled around in 325 AD, friends the makeup of the New Testament was a long established conclusion at that point. And besides, we know from history that the Council of Nicaea never even discussed the makeup of the New Testament. It was never even on their agenda and they never even talked about it at this council.
I'll talk to you more about that next week. Now that leads us to question number two and that is do these scrolls found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, do they represent a truer account of who Jesus really is and why were they omitted from the New Testament? Well these scrolls, commonly called the Gnostic Gospels, were discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1946 actually. And the reason they are called Gnostic scrolls is because they were written by a group of heretics, a sect of heretics called the Gnostics. The name for this sect comes from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis, beginning with a G. These were a highly secretive sect of people like the Masons who believed that they had been entrusted with secret knowledge from Jesus that nobody else had. These guys had some pretty wacky beliefs. As a matter of fact, they believed that the true God of the universe created two angels who had sex and had a child and this child became the God of the Old Testament.
This was an evil child and the purpose of this evil God of the Old Testament was to make sure people never got to heaven. And so Jesus had to come and give us this secret knowledge so that the people who were initiated into the Gnostic sect could get to heaven. Now these Gnostic believers or these Gnostic people, whatever they were, they also wrote some accounts of Jesus's life, Gospels if you will. And in his book, Dan Brown claims that there were 80 of these Gnostic Gospels that were rejected by the New Testament. Actually we've only ever found five, not 80.
We found five. The Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Judas. You may have heard about that if you've been reading the paper much. The National Geographic Association is making a fortune on the Gospel of Judas. They were all found here and these Gnostic Gospels have Jesus saying and doing some of the most far-fetched and crazy stuff you've ever heard of in your life. These are the books that Dan Brown says the true story of Jesus ought to come from. But the problem with his theory is that the early church leaders knew all about the Gnostic Gospels long before the Council of Nicaea and they had rejected them long before Constantine ever lived as heresy.
Let me give you some evidence. 180 AD, Irenaeus in his famous treatise against heresies outlined the teaching of the Gnostics in his treatise and he said and I quote, such are the falsehoods that deluded people have invented. In 200 AD, 125 years before the Council of Nicaea, Tertullian speaks of the Gnostics and says that the entire church had rejected both them and their writings.
So let me summarize. The reason these Gnostic Gospels were omitted from the New Testament is simply that the early church considered them to be heretical and to be wrong and this happened centuries before the Council of Nicaea. New Testament scholar Dr. Norm Geisler says and I quote, it was not Constantine who branded Gnostic beliefs as heretical, it was the apostles themselves.
End of quote. And that leads us to question number three, which is, well then, how did they decide way back then what got into the New Testament and what didn't? I mean they obviously decided that these Gnostic Gospels didn't, but how did they decide what did? Great question. The answer, R. Laird Harris, once again the inspiration and canonicity of the Bible and I quote, he said the New Testament writings were not distinguished from others based on intuition.
Stop there for a second. Do you understand what he's saying? He's saying the early church leaders did not all get around at a table one day and sit there with all these books spread in front of them on the table and then raise their hands, close their eyes and go in, out. That isn't how they did it, okay? How did they do it?
Well look, he says to the contrary. In John chapter 14, Jesus promised a special work of revelation to the apostles whom he had ordained to be the teachers and founders of his church. The apostles became the spirit ordained and recognized spokesman of God and the teaching of an apostle was received by the early church and given immediate authority simply because he, the author, was an apostle commissioned of Christ. Harris continues, this fully explains, he says, the sudden rise of the New Testament as an authoritative corpus of undoubted authority. In other words, this is why it didn't take centuries for people to decide what went in the New Testament and what didn't.
Writings of the apostles were received at once and granted absolute immediate spiritual authority. So then, to answer our question, the basis used by the early church to decide which books went into the New Testament was apostolic authorship, pure and simple. Did an apostle write this? Did an apostle dictate this?
Was an apostle associated with the person who wrote this? That's how they decided and if an apostle was, and remember, there were no provisions made by Jesus to pass on the office of apostleship. Paul says he was the last one to be the last apostle.
One of the requirements of being an apostle is you had to see with your eyes the risen Lord Jesus and Paul says, 1 Corinthians 15, he was the last person to ever do that here on earth. There were only the apostles that Jesus ordained ending with Paul and that was it. And if they wrote something or they dictated something, the church granted it immediate authority and anything else written that had nothing to do with them, the church rejected from the New Testament.
I love what R. Laird Harris says. Dr. Harris says, the Lord Jesus did not give us a list of the 27 New Testament books. He did, however, give us a list of the inspired authors, Matthew, John, Paul, Peter, James, etc. And friends, this is exactly why the five so-called Gnostic Gospels founded Nag Hammadi did not get into the New Testament. It was not because they presented a non-divine picture of Jesus that threatened some kind of unscrupulous power grab by Emperor Constantine. They didn't get into the New Testament because they were fraudulent documents written in the second century after the apostles had all died and they were not written by one of the true apostles.
Dr. Norm Geisler says the Gnostic writings were not written by apostles but by men in the second century pretending to use apostolic authority to advance their own teachings. Today we call this fraud and forgery, end of quote.
And again Dr. Harris, he said, we have no evidence whatever that there were any true writings of the true apostles that the early church ever refused, rejected, or lost. They all got into the New Testament. So let's summarize. How you doing? Y'all all right out there? A few of you look glazed over.
Y'all all right out there? Okay let's summarize. Let's conclude. We've examined Dan Brown's theories about the formation and the integrity of the New Testament and we found that every single one of them are wrong. Emperor Constantine nor the bishops at Nicaea rewrote the Bible for their own personal and political gain.
Nicaea had nothing to do with choosing the books of the Bible. Furthermore, the bishops who came to the Council of Nicaea, my friends, these were not unscrupulous, cheap political hucksters like Dan Brown presents them. These were godly men. These were men who had suffered for their faith in Christ. These were men who had seen their friends, their loved ones, family members put to death for their faith in Christ. These were men who could pull up many of them their shirts and show you the scars on their backs because of their faith in Christ. And they came to the Council of Nicaea as godly men for a godly reason that had nothing to do with the makeup of the Bible.
I'll tell you what that reason was next week. Finally, the Nag Hammadi, these Gnostic gospels that were found were not omitted from the New Testament because they were true. They were omitted from the New Testament because they were forgeries, they were fraudulent, and they were wrong. Dr. Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament, Dallas Theological Seminary, and I quote, he said, we have examined Dan Brown's claims about the New Testament and found them wanting at every point. The dots do not connect historically in his book. Fiction is fiction and readers should appreciate fiction as such, end of quote. As a matter of fact, if you want a really good treatment of the Da Vinci Code from a biblical point of view, we have Dr. Bock's book available for purchase in the lobby. Go out there and get yourself a copy and I promise you he'll help you to really work your way through it.
It's a wonderfully done book with great scholarship in it. Now please allow me in closing to remind you what Jesus said. Jesus said, Matthew 24, heaven and earth will pass away.
The Da Vinci Code will pass away. But my words, Jesus said, will never pass away. And friends, I want to urge you not to let in any way the lies of Dan Brown's book shake your confidence in the integrity and the veracity and the trustworthiness of the Bible. I want to urge you to place your full and utter trust in the written Word of God, to base your eternal destiny on the written Word of God, to build your earthly life on the teachings of the written Word of God.
Because let me tell you what Jesus said about people who do this. He said, Matthew chapter 7, that a person who'll do this is like the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the rains came down and the floods came up and the winds beat against that house but it did not fall because it had as its foundation on the rock where it had been built. That's where its foundation was and that's why the house stood. And this is the kind of house, my friends, God wants you and me to build. He wants us to build a house that will withstand the storms of this life and will withstand the storms of eternity and you build that kind of life on the B-I-B-L-E. The wise man built his house upon the rock and that's what we should do too.
Or something like that. I don't know, I'll make up a new song. But that's what we should do too. And so I want to encourage you today, if you've read that book, don't you let anything in that book cause you to question the truthfulness of God's Word. As you heard Dr. Bach say, the books dots do not connect historically.
It's all wrong and good scholarship can prove it. And if you're here today and you've never read the book, well I'm not encouraging you to read it. I'm just here to tell you don't you let anything anybody tells you about that book. Shake your faith in the Word of God.
You get the CDs from this series and you hand it to your friends and say, you know what, I don't think you got anything to teach me pal, I think we got something to teach you. Alright? Yeah? Are we okay? Alright, let's pray together. What do you say? Let's pray together.
Come on. Heavenly Father, thanks for teaching us truth today. And Lord, we know that the Da Vinci Code is just another one of Satan's lies.
He has many of them that he's tried to use to undermine God's Word and undermine the truth of the Bible and get people to doubt the trustworthiness of the written Word of God. And I pray today that we as believers in Jesus here in Washington, D.C., that we would hold up the truth of the Word of God to the people in this town. And Lord, that we would not allow the lies of Dan Brown's book historically, that we would not allow them to undermine our confidence in the Word of God or our willingness to build our lives upon its teachings. God, encourage our faith today and encourage our confidence in the veracity of the Word of God. Change our lives because we were here. And we pray this in Jesus' name. And God's people said, Amen. Amen.
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