In order to create the wrong idea of Jesus at the Council of Nicea, the Da Vinci Code claims that the ‘Bible as we know it today was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great … More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them.’ (page 313). Again this took place at the Council of Nicea, according to the book.
In fact the issue of which documents should be included in the New Testament was not even debated at the Council of Nicea. It was at the Third Council of Carthage in AD 397 that the New Testament was fixed in its present form. In making this choice the Council was not imposing something new and alien onto the church, it was merely codifying what was already the established practice of Christian communities.
There is internal evidence within the New Testament itself that the Apostles recognised which texts were considered ‘scripture’. In 1 Timothy 5.18 Paul refers to Luke’s Gospel as ‘scripture’ (graphe) quoting both Deuteronomy 25.4 and Luke 10.7 as such. In 2 Peter 3.15- 17 Peter recognises that Paul’s writings were authoritative and then refers to ‘the rest of the scriptures’ and warns his readers to beware of those who twist their meanings. This implies that he considered Paul’s writings to be scripture as well as other documents which are not named.
The writings of early Christians show a clear acceptance of the four Gospels as the genuine account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons around AD 180, wrote, ‘For as there are four quarters of the world in which we live and four universal winds, and as the Church is dispersed over all the earth, and the gospel is the pillar and the base of the Church and the breath of life, so it is natural that it should have four pillars, breathing immortality from every quarter and kindling the life of men anew. Whence it is manifest that the Word … has given us the gospel in fourfold form, but held together by one Spirit.’ (Against Heresies III). He goes on to affirm the Gospels written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as the authentic accounts.
Quotations from the New Testament in early Christian writings are so extensive that it could virtually be reconstructed from these writings without the use of New Testament manuscripts. There are no less than 36,289 quotations from the New Testament in the works of the early Christian writers Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Hippolytus and Eusebius. The New Testament is the world’s best documented work of ancient history, with over 24,000 manuscripts, the oldest of which is part of the Gospel of John, conservatively dated at 125AD. The world’s second best documented ancient book is Homer’s Iliad of which we have 643 manuscripts. (Information from ‘Evidence that demands a verdict’ by Josh McDowell).
So what about the ‘over 80 gospels’ allegedly considered for inclusion in the New Testament? It is true that there are many other writings than the New Testament about Jesus and the Apostles, many of which exist in fragment form only. Some of these writings were little more than fiction using the characters of the New Testament but writing something imaginary like the Da Vinci Code itself. Many of them were written to justify some new teaching which often deviated from the New Testament teaching of the Apostles. Some of these teachings have become mainstream in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
For example in order to make Mary into the Eternal Virgin of Roman Catholicism one has to do something about the fact that the New Testament teaches that Jesus had brothers and sisters, who would have been born in the normal way to Joseph and Mary after the Virgin Birth of Jesus. So a story is invented in the ‘Protoevangelium of James’ of Mary being placed by her parents in the Temple from the age of 3 to be brought up by the priests and then being given to Joseph upon her miraculous pregnancy as a wife. Joseph was an old widower who already had children. By this device found Mary is able to be the perpetual virgin and Jesus is able to have brothers and sisters. Needless to say there is no biblical basis for this at all.
Other writings were created in order to justify views considered heretical by New Testament teaching. For example docetism teaches that Jesus was not really human at all but only seemed to be a man. So we read in the ‘Acts of John’ 93: ‘Sometimes when I went to touch him (Jesus), I met a material and solid body; and at other times when I felt him, the substance was immaterial and bodiless and as if it were not existing at all.’ It is not surprising that such documents were rejected by believing Christians as they conflict with New Testament teaching that Jesus was both fully man and fully God.
The most common heretical view was Gnosticism, a heresy which plagued second and third century Christianity and taught that the Creator God was distinct from the supreme Divine Being. It taught that there was a special knowledge ‘gnosis’ through which people could discover that Being. In many ways this is parallel to modern New Age ideas with its concept of a spiritual experience enlightening you to discover the ‘god within’ and its teaching that God is in everything.
The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas has Jesus say: ‘He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am and I shall be as he.’ ‘The kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realise that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.’ ‘It is I who am the light which is above them all. It is I who am the all. From me did the all come forth, and unto me did the all extend. Split a piece of wood and I am there. Lift up a stone and you will find me there.’
All of these quotations would fit Jesus into the New Age philosophy which is so popular today. They conflict with Bible teaching which tells us that God is separate from His creation and that inside of us is a sinful human nature which we need to be set free from by repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus. He cleanses us from sin and dwells within us by the power of His Holy Spirit when we put our trust in Him.
There was no great conspiracy organised by the Emperor Constantine to reject the other gospels from those considered to be scripture. Early Christians rejected them for the same reasons Christians today reject the Book of Mormon or the writings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology and any other cult group – because they conflict with revealed Word of God.
In ‘The Da Vinci Code’ Teabing quotes from the ‘Gospel of Mary Magdalene’ as one of his sources for the claim that Jesus was married to Mary, saying that this and the Gospel of Philip are ‘unaltered gospels’ (page 334). This might sound a powerful claim, but in fact it is a total fraud. This Gnostic gospel dates from the middle of the second century and is known only from three fragmentary manuscripts.
Although the New Testament does not refer to the Gnostic gospels (for the simple reason that it was written before them) it does refer in the later epistles to the kind of teaching that they would embody. Paul wrote of those who preached ‘another Jesus’ as a result of which people received ‘a different spirit’ and followed ‘a different gospel’ (2 Corinthians 11.4). See also 1 John 2.18 and 2 Peter 2.1. The Da Vinci Code is the product of teachings about ‘another Jesus’ who is not the real one. There is nothing new about this and no doubt it will contribute to the spread of false ideas about who Jesus is in our time. Jesus prophesied that in the end times there will be other ‘false prophets’ and ‘false messiahs’ (Matthew 24.24).