A Critique of Dan Brown's Novel

The Da Vinci Code is everywhere. Book stores, departments stores–even grocery stores carry it. The 2003 novel by Dan Brown has sold over 40 million copies and the numbers are still climbing. The paper back edition of the book proclaims it is “also a major motion picture.” And it has been turned into interactive games as well. We are going to be hearing a great deal about the Code through the coming months! So what is all the fuss about? And is it merited?

The Da Vinci Code (hereafter the DVC) is a fictional thriller which begins with a shocking murder. It moves swiftly from one crisis to another, keeping the reader turning pages as the exciting plot unfolds. Simply as a story, it has garnered enthusiastic reviews. But for several reasons the DVC is far more than that. For one thing, the tale concerns itself with the accuracy of the Bible, and with the Person of Christ. Its central characters supposedly discover an ancient conspiracy that reveals Christianity to be built upon a deliberate fraud.

No wonder Bible-believing Christians have reacted strongly. To demean sacred truths simply to sell books is deplorable. But there is more. According to author Dan Brown, though his main characters are fictional, the underlying details in his book are true! On NBC’s Today Show he was asked, “How much of this is based on reality in terms of things that actually occurred?” His response: “Absolutely all of it.” On ABC’s 20/20 he spoke of his “conversion” to a new way of thinking about the origins of Christianity, confessing he was on a mission to bring his message to the world.

In the early 1940's there was a radio show called “I Love a Mystery.” And we do. Many of us enjoy finding the solution to a puzzle, especially if the answer lets us in on previously hidden secrets. (Consider the books and films alleging a web of conspiracy behind the 1963 Kennedy assassination.) This claim to be revealing mysterious “facts” shrouded in secrecy is one reason for the run-away sales of Brown’s book. But it has an insidious message of its own which must not be ignored. The author’s agenda cannot be taken lightly, especially considering the popularity of the book.

Brown’s Supposed Conspiracy
Dan Brown introduces his novel in the following way. “FACT: The Priory of Sion–a European secret society founded in 1099–is a real organization. In 1975 Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale discovered parchments known as Les Dossiers Secrets, identifying numerous members of the Priory of Sion, including Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo and Leonardo da Vinci.”

The author asserts this group has been opposed by yet another group determined to suppress the “secrets” because they threaten the male power brokers in the Church of Rome. Fascinating. But the statement above is riddled with fiction and falsehood. The Priory, a small Roman Catholic splinter group, was actually founded in 1956 not 1099. And the supposed secret documents about its past were forged and planted in the Bibliothèque Nationale by Pierre Plantard–a man with a criminal record for fraud. In the 1970's one of his co-conspirators admitted to helping to fabricate the materials. Finally, Plantard himself was hauled into court, where he confessed under oath that it was all a hoax. More than a decade ago a series of French books and a BBC documentary revealed the sordid details–which Brown pointedly ignores. The historical figures he names would be grossly insulted at being attached to the author’s bizarre fantasy.

This initial deception is significant because the secrets supposedly preserved by the Priory of Sion are the basis for what the author claims about Christ and the Scriptures. For example:

¤ That the church, at an assembly convened three centuries after Christ, voted (by a narrow margin), to teach the doctrine of His deity

¤ That the four Gospels were altered by order of the emperor Constantine to make Jesus appear to be God.

¤ That Jesus, a mere man, was actually married to Mary Magdalene, and fathered a child by her named Sarah

¤ That Jesus intended His wife to be the head of the church after his death

So how does Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) come into the story? According to the author’s premise, Leonardo was a member of the Priory preserving the truth concealed for centuries by the Catholic church. (“Da Vinci” simply means of Vinci, a town in Italy where he lived.) In 1497 the gifted genius finished painting his conception of the Last Supper on the wall of a convent in Milan. Brown claims Leonardo knew of the secret relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and told the world about it through his masterpiece. Supposedly, the figure to the right of Jesus (on our left) is not the Apostle John as has long been contended, but is actually Mary, Jesus’ wife!

But there are problems with this assertion. For one thing, almost immediately damp and mildew began to destroy the artist’s work. It has been restored and touched up numerous times, but much of Leonardo’s original has been lost. Precisely what the figures looked like is often an educated guess at best. Further, there are only thirteen people in the painting. So if Mary is included, where is John? Added to that, a careful reading of the Scriptures suggests John was indeed positioned on Jesus’ right, and Judas Iscariot was on His immediate left.

That the great painter thought Mary Magdalene was the wife of Christ is ridiculous in the extreme. But what Leonardo believed is irrelevant in any case. He is not the source of truth, or the foundation of our faith.

The Truth About Jesus Christ
Many outlandish claims are made by the characters in the novel, but their rejection of two is the root of all. Two inseparable issues tower above all the rest in Brown’s unwarranted and reckless attack on the Christian faith: the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures, and the true nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. If the Bible has not accurately presented who Jesus is, then He is not who He claims to be. And if He is not who He claims to be, then He cannot have done what He says He did. And if He has not done what He says He did, then He can save no one, and we are all eternally and irrevocably lost. Period.

But the Bible is indeed the inspired, infallible Word of the living God. “All Scripture was given by inspiration of God [it was God-breathed]” (II Tim. 3:16, NKJV, et al.). The human writers plotted neither to concoct or conceal anything. They simply reported and revealed what God directed them to. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21; cf. I Thess 2:13). As Graham Scroggie so aptly put it in his little book, Is the Bible the Word of God? “It claims to be, it seems to be, and it proves to be.” And the Bible presents a crucified and risen Saviour who is God incarnate (Col. 2:9; Tit. 2:13). So let us examine briefly what the Scriptures have to say about the Lord Jesus, and the evidence for the precision and reliability of the record.

There was little that was secret and hidden about the earthly ministry of Christ. The Word of God says, “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35). The Jewish leaders, unwilling to accept His teaching, asked Him at His trial to explain His doctrine. The Lord responded, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing. Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them. Indeed they know what I said” (Jn. 19:19-21).

This openness is significant for the following reason. After Pentecost, the apostles spoke repeatedly in Jerusalem about what Jesus had said and done. Many in the crowds who heard, both friends and enemies, had personally listened to Jesus and witnessed what He did. False claims and inaccurate information would have been challenged immediately. The same holds true for the written record of the four gospels. Conservative scholarship places the writing of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) at some time between 50 and 70 A.D., and the writing of John between 85 and 95 A.D. Again, those who read their work early on had the first-hand knowledge to confirm or deny its accuracy.

The New Testament consistently presents the full deity and true humanity of Christ. Proclaiming both His eternal existence and His identification with Jehovah God of the Old Testament, Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (Jn. 8:58; cf. Exod. 3:13-14). He also declares, “All should honour the Son just as they honour the Father” (Jn. 5:23). His enemies understood what He meant by such statements, accusing Him of “blasphemy, because You, being a Man, make Yourself God” (Jn. 10:32-33). To Thomas after His resurrection Jesus was, “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28). Paul speaks of “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). The writer of Hebrews quotes God the Father saying to the Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever” (Heb. 1:8), and Jude calls Him “God our Saviour” (Jude 1:15).

Since Brown tries to exalt Mary Magdalene to such a high place (saying far more about her than about Christ), what do we know with certainty about her? From her name, we learn that she was from the town of Magdala, in Galilee. And we know that at some point the Lord Jesus delivered her from the oppression of seven demons, and that she, along with a number of other women, supported Jesus and His disciples, sometimes traveling with them (Matt. 27:55-56; Lk. 8:1-3). We know that Mary witnessed the crucifixion and watched to see where Jesus was buried (Mk. 15:40, 47). On the Sunday morning afterward she went to the tomb with other women to care for the body (Mk. 16:1), and she was the first to see the risen Lord (Mk. 16:9; Jn. 20:14-18).

But that is all we know. Some have tried to identify her as the unnamed “woman...who was a sinner” mentioned in Luke 7:37, or as the woman taken in adultery (Jn. 8:1-11), but there is not a shred of evidence for this. We know nothing of her parentage, her marital status, or her age. A character in the DVC states that “the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is part of the historical record” (Chapter 58). But what record would that be? Where are the contemporary witnesses? Where are the confirmations from those who were there? There are none. None. Mary never became the wife of the Lord Jesus, nor did He relinquish His headship over the church to her after His ascension (cf. Eph. 1:19-23).

On a related matter: Is the Bible we have today an accurate reproduction of what the original authors recorded? Yes it is. We can have full confidence we have before us “the faith [the body of truth] which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3; cf. vs. 17). There are over 5,000 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament available for comparison, ranging from fragments to complete Testaments. Some date back to within 25 to 50 years of the originals. In addition, there are thousands more ancient translations of the Scriptures into Latin, Coptic, Syriac, and so on.

All of these testify to the amazing accuracy of our Bible. But that is not all. The early church fathers (church leaders from roughly 100 to 250 A.D.) produced commentaries on the Scriptures. While their writings are not inspired and infallible as the Bible is, their affirmations of the truth and accuracy of the New Testament are surely significant. Some of them knew the apostles personally. (For example, Polycarp (circa 69-155), was a disciple of the Apostle John.) And there is wide agreement among textual scholars that the Bible they quote from, the foundation of what they believed and taught, is essentially the same as ours.

The Scriptures tell us, “The Word [Christ] was God....and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:1, 14). And Ignatius, writing around 105 A.D. says, “God Himself was manifest in human form.” Irenaeus, around 180 A.D. says, “He is God, for the name Emmanuel indicates this” (cf. Matt. 1:23). Tertullian writes of “Christ our God” around 200 A.D., and Origen says around 225 A.D., “No one should be offended that the Saviour is also God” Keep in mind that from 64 A.D. in Nero’s time, and for over 200 years afterward, wave upon wave of terrible persecution battered the infant church. To stand up for what you believed often meant imprisonment, torture, and even death. For these men to endure such things for a known fraud would be ludicrous.

Finally, a word about the emperor Constantine and the church Council at Nicea. As noted earlier, Brown accuses Constantine of tampering with the Scriptures, and says it was only a narrow vote by the Council that foisted the doctrine of the deity of Christ on the world. But the facts are these. Before a battle in the year 312 A.D. Constantine prayed for help. He claims to have seen a vision of the cross with the accompanying words, “Conquer by this.” Flawed though his understanding of Christianity may have been, there can be no doubt that this experience changed his thinking from that day onward. In 313 A.D. he issued the Edict of Milan, granting religious freedom to Christians throughout the empire. The times of official Roman persecution had finally ended.

Around the same time Arius, an influential preacher from Alexandria in Egypt, began proclaiming that Jesus is not God the Son at all, but merely a created being. The pagans were comfortable with his ideas, but understandably his writings caused a strong reaction from Christians. In 320 A.D. Arius was excommunicated (cast out of the church) for his unbiblical teachings, but that was not the end of it. He had a popular following, and his views threatened not only to divide the church, but caused serious unrest and even riots here and there. To deal with the situation, the emperor called together more than 300 bishops from all over the empire to meet in the city of Nicea, in Asia Minor.

Arius was summoned to present his teachings to the assembly, and he did so. Afterward the church leaders strongly condemned his views. Not only that. They produced what is called the Nicean Creed, affirming the deity of both the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. It describes Christ as “very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father.” Each of the bishops was asked to sign the document. Of the reported 318 who were present, only two refused. (So much for the “narrow margin” of the vote of which Dan Brown speaks!)

Consider the significance of these deliberations. Their purpose was not to somehow alter the biblical record. That had been firmly established for about two centuries. Copies of the relevant Bible books were available all over the empire, and had been for a long time. Tinkering with them would have been strongly opposed by believers everywhere. The New Testament books contained a record of the Lord’s Person and work the bishops had believed and taught for years. And many of them bore on their bodies the marks of torture endured for the cause of Christ. They did not vote on some proposed new doctrine about the deity of Christ. They voted to condemn Arius for denying it, and firmly reasserted what they had believed all along. Brown is trying to sell the world a bushel of false teaching founded on nothing but the vain imaginations of men.

The Way of the World
There is a reason why the DVC is so popular–and why Hollywood is eager to bring it to the screen. Long ago Jesus said, “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil” (Jn. 3:19). God has given sinful human beings the truth in His Word but, in Peter’s phrase, “they willfully forget” (II Pet. 3:5). Novelist Herman Wouk calls this “the will not to believe.” Many people are chronically enamoured with newness and novelty (Acts 17:21), and they love to have their ears tickled with comforting ideas (II Tim. 4:3). As the Lord said to Israel, “This is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord; who the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us right things; speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits” (Isa. 30:9-10).

That wilful blindness gave the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day a ready following. While God’s servant, with tears of grief, warned of a judgment soon to fall, others offered an appealing message of peace and safety. It sounded wonderful. But Jeremiah thundered against them, “The Lord has not sent you, but you make this people trust in a lie....You have taught rebellion against the Lord” (Jer. 28:15-16). Any philosophy that rejects and denies the inspired Word is a lie that ultimately promotes apostasy.

Dan Brown’s “smooth” words appeal to those who want to create a god in their own image, a salvation of their own doing, and a moral standard to their own liking. The DVC is a seductive invitation to free one’s self from the shackles of traditional religion. The Library Journal says Brown’s work “should be mandatory reading.” And a writer for the Washington Post is quoted on the cover of the paperback edition as urging us to “read this book and be enlightened.” But how can spiritual darkness enlighten anyone? The latter reviewer might better have said, “Read this book and be deceived and confused. Believe it, and plant your feet firmly on the road to destruction.” Satan is up to his old tricks, determined to stir up doubt regarding the Word of God any way he can. His venomous taunt in Eden still echoes down the ages, “Has God indeed said...?” (Gen. 3:1).

Though he spoke of “science,” and not pseudo-history, the words of the famous preacher Joseph Parker are relevant. From his pulpit one Sunday he said, “Some have found fault with me. They say I am old-fashioned and out of date; I am always quoting the Bible. Why not turn to science this morning. There is a poor widow here who has lost her only son. She wants to know if she will see him again. Science shall give the answer, and I will put the Book away. Will this woman see her son again? Where is he? Does death end all? What has science to say?” There was a long pause. “We are waiting for an answer, the woman is anxious.” Another long pause. “The woman’s heart is breaking. Science must speak. Nothing to say? Surely? Then....we will stick to the Book!”

Brown has become a counterfeit apostle of “a different gospel,” a circumstance which places him under the curse of God (Gal. 1:6-9). Intentionally or not, he is a beguiling false prophet. In the words of columnist Laura Miller, “The only thing more powerful than a worldwide conspiracy, it seems, is our desire to believe in one” (New York Times, Feb. 22nd, 2004). According to a survey published in The Ottawa Citizen (June 24, 2005), nearly one third (32%) of the Canadians who have read the novel say they believe in Brown’s cover-up theory. The devil has successfully filled the minds of many with doubts about God’s holy Word. Like the birds devouring the seed in Jesus’ parable, he is snatching away from them the message of salvation in Christ (Lk. 8:5, 12).

Nearly two millennia ago, when many sensation-seekers who had flocked after the Lord began to drift away, He said rather wistfully to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Peter answered Him, in a moment of penetrating insight, “Lord, to who shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ [the Messiah] the Son of the living God” (Jn. 6:66-69; cf. Jn. 3:16). The witness of the Spirit of God in the heart of each believer is surely prompting a similar response.

Frankly, my advice to you is not to purchase or read Brown’s book. (The same goes for seeing the motion picture.) Why should our money profit those who are teaching destructive error? And what benefit is there in people intentionally exposing themselves to cleverly fashioned heresy? (Would we drink poison to see if it is deadly?) We are not to discern evil by trying it out, but by saturating our minds with what is good and true (Phil. 4:8; cf. Rom. 16:19). Isaiah’s admonition still stands: “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa. 8:20). Let us stick to the Book!