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Deity of Christ: Divine Life and Doctrine

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The Da Vinci Code and the Deity of Christ

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

In the best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code, the character known as Sir Leigh Teabing “enlightens” one of the story’s main characters, Sophie Neveu, about a number of matters that lay at the heart of Christianity. One of the subjects that he broaches with this young French government cryptographer is the deity of Christ. According to Teabing, until the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325,

Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet...a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.... Jesus’ establishment as ‘the Son of God’ was officially proposed and voted on by the Council of Nicaea.... By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable (Brown, 2003, p. 233, italics in orig., emp. added).

Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death.... Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike (p. 234, italics in orig., emp. added).

No doubt, millions of readers have examined these words and pondered over their truthfulness. Was the “master storyteller” Dan Brown simply trying to sells books with such statements, or are we to consider these words by the fictional character Sir Leigh Teabing as absolute, historical truths? Was Jesus considered only a man before Constantine’s alleged transformation of Him at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325? Or, was He from the beginning of the Christian era considered by inspired writers and the early disciples as God in the flesh?

Exactly where Dan Brown includes historical facts in his novel, and where he simply includes information for entertainment enhancement purposes, is difficult to decipher. Since Brown includes a “FACT” page at the very front of his book that alleges, “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals in this novel are accurate” (2003, p. 1, emp. added), one gets the strong impression from the very outset of the book that when documents such as the New Testament manuscripts are mentioned, Brown (through his fictional characters) must be telling the truth. The problem is, much of what he says about Christianity, especially about the nature of its Founder—Jesus—is woefully inaccurate.

First, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah wrote of the coming Messiah’s deity 1,000 years before the time of Constantine. “For unto us,” Isaiah foretold, “a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (9:6, emp. added). Isaiah also prophesied of the virgin birth of the Messiah, and that His name would be “Immanuel” (7:14), which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23, emp. added). Early Christians had access to these Jewish Scriptures, even in the Greek language (i.e., the Septuagint), which they could consult regarding both Christ’s humanity and deity. In fact, in the late second century A.D., Irenaeus quoted from Isaiah 9:6 in defense of Jesus’ divinity (3:19).

Second, when Jesus came to Earth in human form in the first century, He repeatedly referred to His divine nature. The fact that He claimed to be the Messiah (Mark 14:61-62), is proof enough, since according to the Old Testament, the Messiah would be called “Mighty God.” Jesus also claimed to be “One” with the Father (John 10:30), and that “all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father” (John 5:23). He accepted worship time and again (Matthew 14:33; John 9:38; Luke 24:52), which is due only to God (Matthew 4:10)—not mere human beings (Acts 12:23; 14:8-18; cf. Hebrews 1:6). Truly, Jesus came from heaven (John 3:13; 6:33,38,41) and ascended back into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father (Matthew 26:64; cf. Psalm 110:1).

But in The Da Vinci Code, historian Sir Leigh Teabing alleges that such statements as these, which allude to Jesus’ divinity, were “embellished” by Constantine in A.D. 325 in order to make Christ “godlike” (p. 234). Is Teabing, who in the movie version of The Da Vinci Code is played by Ian McKellen, factually accurate? Not at all. The truth is, numerous copies of the various New Testament documents and quotations from those documents by early Christian writers exist that predate the time of Constantine by 100-200 years. Constantine did not write or “embellish” John 1:1 (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” emp. added; cf. 1:14). Copies of this passage (found in manuscripts designated p66 and p75) go back to the late second and early third centuries—100 to 150 years before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. Jesus’ claim, “I and My Father are One” (John 10:30), and the Jews’ recognition that Jesus made Himself, not just a man, but “God” (John 10:33; cf. 5:18) also predate Constantine by more than a century (cf. manuscripts designated p45, p66, and p75). What’s more, a copy of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, in which he affirms “Christ Jesus, Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,” existed long before Constantine’s supposed embellishment of the nature of Jesus (p46).

In The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts, edited by Philip Comfort and David Barrett, more than 60 of the earliest Greek New Testament manuscripts are transcribed (including those mentioned above). Many photographs of these early manuscripts (the originals of which are housed in museums throughout the world) are also contained in the book. Interestingly, in the introduction to this massive 700-page volume, Comfort and Barrett state: “All of the manuscripts [contained in the book—EL] are dated from the early second century to the beginning of the fourth (A.D. 100-300)” (2001, p. 17). In fact, “[s]everal of the most significant papyri date from the middle of the second century” and thus “provide the earliest direct witness to the New Testament autographs” (p. 18). Comfort and Barrett even concede that “it is possible that some of the manuscripts thought to be of the early second century are actually manuscripts of the late first” (p. 23). New Testament manuscripts with descriptions of Jesus’ deity from the middle second century, and possibly the late first century? But The Da Vinci Code says that Constantine purposefully manipulated the scriptures in the fourth century (A.D. 325) in order to make Jesus sound divine when really He was not? The facts speak for themselves. The story told in The Da Vinci Code is dead wrong. We have ample proof that Constantine did not change the New Testament documents by elevating Jesus’ status from man to God. Unfortunately, millions of Dan Brown’s readers have been duped into believing that Jesus is not Who the Bible claims that He is.

But, that’s not all. Writings from early Christians (all of which predate Constantine by well over a century) also exist that reveal much about the early church’s view of Jesus. Ignatius, who died in the early second century and is thought to have been a companion of the apostle John, referred to Jesus Christ as “our God” several times in his letters to the Christians in Ephesus (Chapter 7; Chapter 8) and Rome (Introduction; Chapter 3). Polycarp, who was a contemporary of Ignatius and died around A.D. 150, wrote a letter to the church at Philippi in which he called Jesus “the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest” (chapter 12). Another “church father” from the second century, Justin Martyr, wrote that Jesus, “being the first-begotten Word of God, is even God” (First Apology, chapter 63). Irenaeus also provides us with valuable insight into what Christians (living more than a century before the time of Constantine) thought about Jesus. In approximately A.D. 200, He wrote:

...this is Christ, the Son of the living God. For I have shown from the Scriptures, that no one of the sons of Adam is as to everything, and absolutely, called God, or named Lord. But that He is Himself in His own right, beyond all men who ever lived, God, and Lord, and King Eternal, and the Incarnate Word, proclaimed by all the prophets, the apostles, and by the Spirit Himself, may be seen by all who have attained to even a small portion of the truth. Now, the Scriptures would not have testified these things of Him, if, like others, He had been a mere man. But that He had, beyond all others, in Himself that pre-eminent birth which is from the Most High Father, and also experienced that pre-eminent generation which is from the Virgin, the divine Scriptures do in both respects testify of Him: ...that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him (Book III, Chapter 19, emp. added).

Even certain second-century enemies of Christ give testimony to the fact that Christians viewed Jesus as divine long before A.D. 325. In a letter that Pliny the Younger (Roman governor in the Asia Minor province of Bithynia around A.D. 115) wrote to the Emperor Trajan, he stated: “They [the Christians—EL] were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds...” (10:96). Another individual who opposed Christianity was the Greek rhetorician and satirist, Lucian. He wrote:

The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.... You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws (11-13, emp. added).

Thus, aside from the non-hostile witnesses that testify of Jesus being God, even His enemies, who lived both in the first century (e.g., Pharisees; John 5:18; John 10:33) and second century (i.e., Pliny the Younger and Lucian), recognized that both Jesus and His followers, believed that He was God, and thus worthy of worship.

In truth, Jesus was viewed as divine by His followers long before the Council of Nicaea convened in A.D. 325. The leaders who gathered at that council nearly 300 years after the death of Christ (not “four centuries” as Teabing stated in The Da Vinci Code, p. 234) did take a vote regarding the nature of Christ (which was not nearly a close vote—another strike against the historical accuracy of The Da Vinci Code, cf. p. 233). But, that vote did not settle the matter regarding His deity. The nature of Christ was settled hundreds of years earlier when Jesus and the first century apostles and prophets who were guided “into all truth” by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13) taught that He was “God” (John 1:1,14; 10:30; 20:28; etc.).

...Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:5-7).

REFERENCES

Brown, Dan (2003), The Da Vinci Code (New York: Doubleday).

Comfort, Philip W. and David P. Barrett (2001), The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House).

Ignatius (1973 reprint), “Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Ignatius (1973 reprint), “Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Irenaeus (1973 reprint), “Irenaeus Against Heresies,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Justin Martyr (1973 reprint), “The First Apology of Justin,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Lucian (1905 reprint), “The Death of Peregrine,” The Works of Lucian of Samosata, trans. H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, [On-line], URL: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm.

Pliny (1935 reprint), Letters, trans. William Melmoth (Cambridge: Harvard University Press).

Polycarp (1973 reprint), “The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians,” The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).




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