The DaVinci Inquest part 3
What About Those Other Gospels?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
May 28, 2006
Acts 20:29-32 (NLT)
For the past few weeks,
we’ve been talking about The DaVinci Code and some of the claims it
makes about Jesus and the Church and Christianity. Today, we’re going
to examine its claims about the Bible.
• Is the Bible really just a product of man?
• Did the Roman Emperor Constantine actually decide which books were to
• Were there 80 other gospels that didn’t make the cut?
• Do those banned gospels really reveal the true, human Jesus?
• Were they the earliest Christian records?
• Has the Bible changed through the years through translations,
additions, and revisions?
Those are the claims of The DaVinci Code; what’s the truth? Well, this
morning we’re going to take a look at how the Bible was put together
and whether or not it’s reliable. And we’ll talk some about those other
Gospels… the Gnostic Gospels… which Dan Brown refers to in The DaVinci
Code and we’ll examine why they’re not included in our Bible. Okay? And
I want to warn you right up front, it will feel a little bit like
school this morning. There will be a lot of information which we’ll
have to cover fairly quickly. But don’t worry, I’m not going to test
you on this. You don’t have to remember everything. But I do want you
to understand some of the process that led to the formation of the New
Testament, and I want you to know that you can trust it. So let’s start
The Formation of the Christian Bible:
Now, in The DaVinci
Code, Sir Leigh Teabing says “The Bible did not arrive by fax from
heaven." Well, that much is true. It didn’t. So where did it come from?
Well, if you’ll all just hop in my time machine, let me take you back.
Let’s go back to the year 50. Because it was right about that time that
Paul was writing some of his letters. In particular, his first letter
to the church in Corinth, written sometime between AD 48 and AD 60. And
in that letter, in chapter 15, this is what Paul wrote…
1 Corinthians 15:1-6 (NLT)
Now let me remind you, dear brothers and
sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it
then and still do now, for your faith is built on this wonderful
message. And it is this Good News that saves you if you firmly believe
it--unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in
the first place.
I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been
passed on to me--that Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures
said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day,
as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the twelve
apostles. After that, he was seen by more than five hundred of his
followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have
died by now.
That’s what Paul wrote as a contemporary of Jesus. He was alive while
those things happened. He may have been witness to some of what he
wrote about; He at least talked to eyewitnesses. And most of those
eyewitnesses were still alive to verify that what he wrote was true.
Paul is writing this within a generation of what had happened. And the
closer the writing is to the actual events, the more likely it is to be
accurate. There were witnesses still alive. And any journalist… any
lawyer… any investigator… they’ll tell you, that the earlier the
testimony, and with the presence of witnesses, it serves to verify what
So here’s Paul, writing very early and summing up the basics of the
Christian faith. And his validation is that he has talked with
eyewitnesses… that he has actually worked alongside the original
disciples of Jesus… the ones who were there through it all.
And then later, those others would write. So we have the Gospels of
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Two of them were original Apostles of
Jesus. The other two worked alongside them. Mark wrote down what he
learned from Peter. Luke wrote down what he saw and what he learned
while traveling with Paul. We’re going to talk more about Luke in a
But the fact is, every book contained in the New Testament was written
within the first century. And some strong arguments can be made that
they were all written before AD 70, though some say the Gospel of John
and perhaps Revelation weren’t written until closer to the end of the
Of course, when they were written, they were not immediately compiled
into the New Testament. Take the letters of Paul, for example. Many of
those letters were written to specific churches and were then to be
shared with other churches. So the early Christians began circulating
these letters around.
If you’re a M*A*S*H fan, you might remember one episode when BJ
received a novel in the mail. Everyone in the camp was starved for
something to read, and so they tore the book into separate chapters and
started handing it around throughout the camp. (episode: The Light That
Well, that’s kind of like what happened with the New Testament. Certain
books began to be circulated throughout the churches. That’s how it
started. But before long, they began to be grouped together.
There was no Council that did any of this. In fact, because of
persecution, the early believers had spread throughout the known world.
They were living in diverse geographic regions and in various cultures,
ranging perhaps from India to Palestine and Egypt and Asia Minor and
into Europe. And because of the threat of persecution or even
execution, it was impossible for the early believers to meet together
to talk about which books they’d accept. At the same time, the Church
was growing at a phenomenal rate numerically, including people coming
from a plethora of backgrounds and cultures and beliefs.
Dan Brown was right when he said that the Bible didn’t drop from Heaven
like a fax. They didn’t have fax machines. Or phones, or the Internet,
or telegrams… and so there was no immediate and reliable form of
communication for those early churches. They were separated by months
of travel, and they were forced underground by persecution. And it’s
remarkable to discover how despite all of this, there was an amazing
uniformity in which books were considered to be Scripture.
Many of the books, such as the four Gospels, began circulating together
around the end of the first century. There are records dating back to
the first half of the second century which refer to all four Gospels
together. Some have even proposed that the four Gospels were
circulating together as early as the year 69.
There’s another manuscript that was written between 150 and 200, when
refers to all the books that are now included in our New Testament with
the exception of Hebrews, James, and 1 & 2 Peter. (The
And by the year 200, the four Gospels, the letters of Paul, and the
book of Acts were all packaged together. That’s 4/5 of the books of the
New Testament which had been circulating independently or in smaller
groups before that time, but had always been viewed as authoritative by
all Christians everywhere and were now packaged together.
The remaining 1/5 of the books were simply not well known yet in
certain parts of the world. Remember… a letter written to a church in
Rome in the western part of the Roman Empire would take a while to
circulate all the way to Galatia in the east or even all the way to
India. But as they became known, they were gradually accepted. And when
Christianity became legal, believers were freed to meet together and
discuss issues of doctrine. And councils and declarations in AD 350,
367, 393, 397, and 417 all affirmed the Books of the Bible which were
considered to be inspired.
This is important: those councils didn’t decide which books were
included – no council ever did. They merely affirmed the ones which
were already accepted… the ones which had already been circulating in
one form or another for 250 years. And they didn’t declare any book to
be inspired. Only God can inspire. But they affirmed which ones they
believed had been inspired by God.
And by the way, Constantine and the Council of Nicaea had nothing to do
with it. Nothing. The topic never even came up there.
Okay, so the books of
our present-day Bible were circulating in an organic form dating right
back to the contemporaries of Jesus. But was there some form of
criteria to determine which books would be accepted? Or were all the
early writing accepted regardless of the content?
Well, yes there were criteria which needed to be met. Three in
The Criteria for Inclusion in the New Testament:
1. Authority of
All the writing needed
to have the authority of the apostles attached to them. In other words,
an apostle had to write it or sanction it. The Gospels of Mark and Luke
were accepted because they were written by coworkers with the apostles
– another book, the Shepherd of Hermas, was not included because it
wasn’t written until sometime in the 2nd century and therefore could
not have that apostolic authority.
And by the way, the New Testament in several places verifies itself. In
2 Peter 3, Peter endorses the writings of Paul. Jude quoted from Peter
(Jude 1:17-18). Paul quotes Luke (1 Timothy 5:18). So there’s a
cross-verification going on.
with the Old Testament and teaching of Apostles
This is one reason why
the book of Hebrews was included. No one’s sure of who wrote it… maybe
Paul, maybe Barnabas, maybe Luke, maybe Apollos, maybe Silas, maybe
Priscilla… they’ve all been suggested. We don’t really know who wrote
it. But we do know that it was written in the second half of the first
century, possibly before AD 70. So it was written at the time of the
But the reason it was accepted was because it so powerfully shows how
Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies and laws and rituals. It’s
remarkably consistent with other Scripture.
and continuous acceptance
Here’s what we’ve
already been talking about. The books were not voted on by a Council.
And that’s actually a great thing. Because it virtually eliminates the
possibility of it all being engineered and edited for political
reasons. There were hundreds and possibly thousands of copies being
circulated very early in the life of the Church, and believers
throughout the world were discovering first-hand that the books were
inspired… that they were practical… that they were true.
Plus, within a generation of the end of the apostolic age, every New
Testament book had been referred to as being authoritative by some
church father. The 27 books that gelled together so quickly did so
because it was natural for them to do so. They fit. They are consistent
with each other and with the Old Testament, and they have proven
themselves time and time again over the past nearly 2000 years.
But yet, there is one
nagging question… Could the Church have made a mistake?
I mean, even good-intentioned people make mistakes. We’re all fallible.
Could the early believers have made mistakes in determining which books
would be included and which ones wouldn’t be? Well, yeah, they could
have. It’s theoretically possible. But I seriously doubt that happened,
and let me tell you why.
How Can I Trust the New Testament Books?
1. The criteria
for inclusion were sound.
It makes sense. It’s
logical. Authoritative, consistent, and accepted. Pretty good standards.
2. There were
no other credible claims.
There were books… and
not just the Gnostic writings… books like the Didache, the Epistle of
Barnabas, and the Shepherd of Hermas which didn’t make the cut. Why?
Because they didn’t meet the criteria.
And if you think that mistakes were made when the Bible was being
formed, then tell me, which books should have made it that didn’t?
Build the case for it. Or which books were included that shouldn’t have
been? Build the case for that.
3. The 27 books
have amazing uniformity.
All the books of the New
Testament… in fact, all the books of the Bible… fit together perfectly.
There’s an incredible consistency, especially considering the
geographical and cultural differences. Plus, including the Old
Testament, you have the time factor. 40 authors over 1600 years, all
contributing to one overarching story of redemption. Almost as if God
was guiding. Which leads me to…
4. God protects
I do believe that while
God worked through human authors… each with their own style and
perspective… that God guided the process. And I believe that God was
involved as false writings were weeded out and as the authoritative
books gained acceptance. It was all part of His providence.
5. They have
been proven through time.
No other book has ever
withstood such scrutiny as the Bible, and yet it continues to stand.
The New Testament books in particular have been attacked time and time
again, but yet they stand. In fact, many people who set out to disprove
the Bible have turned right around and have accepted it as Truth.
One example: Sir William Ramsay was one of those. He was one of the
greatest archaeologists who ever lived, and when he began his work, he
was very skeptical of the Biblical writings, especially the writings of
Luke. He expected to disprove the Bible through archaeology. But after
examining the archaeological evidence, what did he conclude?
“Luke is an historian of the first rank… This author should be placed
along with the very greatest of historians.”
~ Sir William Ramsay
And that makes sense. After all, Luke was a doctor. He was an educated
man. He knew what it meant to study and do research. And he knew about
logic. And look at what he wrote…
Luke 1:1-4 (NLT)
Most honorable Theophilus: Many people have
written accounts about the events that took place among us. They used
as their source material the reports circulating among us from the
early disciples and other eyewitnesses of what God has done in
fulfillment of his promises. Having carefully investigated all of these
accounts from the beginning, I have decided to write a careful summary
for you, to reassure you of the truth of all you were taught.
Who was Luke writing for? He was writing for Theophilus. That must be
“theophilus” name I’ve ever heard. We don’t know who Theophilus was,
but we do know that Luke referred to him as “Most honorable
Theophilus.” So he was probably someone of some importance. Perhaps he
was a believer, or perhaps Luke was writing to show him the evidence.
Regardless, Luke would have wanted to do a good job and be as accurate
Luke says that there were lots of people talking about Jesus and about
what they had seen. And so he went to them and interviewed them
himself. And he was painstakingly accurate in everything he wrote,
including information about cities and ships and seas and geographic
regions. That accurate attention to detail is what convinced William
Ramsay. Surely Luke paid just as much attention to the actual account
Okay, so that’s our existing Bible. But what about the Gnostic writings
that Dan Brown refers to? What were they, and why were they rejected?
Those Other Gospels:
= Greek word for “knowledge”
Well, first of all, the word “Gnostic” comes from the Greek word
“gnosis”, which means “knowledge” and it referred to a secret knowledge
which was only available to those who were enlightened. And so, a
Gnostic was someone who was seeking after this knowledge. According to
Gnosticism, we don’t need forgiveness; we need knowledge. And so while
Jesus might be helpful in that process, He’s not essential. It was kind
of a do-it-yourself religion in which you find your own way to
enlightenment. And it tried to blend together Pagan mythology, Greek
philosophy, Judaism, and Christianity.
Now, most of what we know about Gnosticism comes from the discovery of
some Gnostic texts near Nag Hammadi in Egypt. That’s about 300 miles
south of Cairo. Back in 1945, a couple of brothers were out looking for
fertilizer when one of them named, believe it or not, Mohammed Ali
threw a rock into a nearby cave. And he heard it hit something. So he
climbed in to see what it was, and found a pottery container. He opened
it, hoping to find gold, and instead found a collection of Gnostic
Now, Dan Brown says they were scrolls. They weren’t. They were actually
codices, which are like books. He also says there were over 80 Gnostic
gospels in the Nag Hammadi library. Well, there were 52 books… take out
the repeats and there were 45… and only 5 of them were gospels. So once
again, he’s not doing so well on the accuracy which he claims his book
These Gnostic Gospels… they do bear some rather familiar names… The
Gospel of Mary, the Gospel of Philip, the Gospel of Thomas… Using those
names to gain credibility. But Mary and Philip and Thomas had nothing
to do with those gospels. They were long dead before those gospels were
even written. They were basically forgeries.
And it isn’t uncommon for this kind of thing to happen. There have been
lots of forgeries. There have been lots of documents that claim to be
written by someone who never wrote them. We’ve already talked about Les
Dossiers Secret, which Pierre Plantard created in the 50s, 60s, and 70s
but which claim to have been written centuries earlier. Or how about
art? Every once in a while there will be a lost work of art which is
rediscovered, and the experts have to examine it to determine if, for
example, it was a genuine Picasso or if it was simply a painting by
someone copying his style.
Happens in schools. How many times do students pay someone else to
write their essays, and then they sign their own names. Happens in
music. Milli Vanilli.
And that’s the case with the Gnostic books. They claim to have been
written by such familiar Biblical names as Peter, and Mary, and Thomas,
and Philip. But the truth is, they were written several generations
later. In fact, some of them weren’t written until the 3rd, 4th, or
even 5th century. And pretty much every scholar will attest to that…
from the most conservative to the most liberal.
Now, what did these Gnostics believe? It’s actually difficult to sum
that up, because they believed several different things. But let me
tell you three beliefs that most Gnostics shared…
Basic Gnostic Teachings:
A. The deity
that created the universe is not the supreme and true God.
Instead, they would say
that the creator was an evil deity and was probably the God of the Old
Testament. Jesus, on the other hand, had been sent by a greater, higher
deity. So they believed in a hierarchy of several gods, some good, some
evil… like in Greek mythology.
physical is evil.
Since creation was
created by an evil deity, then everything he created must be corrupt
and evil. So anything that is material… anything that is physical… is
evil. And this extended to any sexual expression of the physical. So
with a few exceptions, the Gnostic writings viewed sexuality as
disgusting and vile—especially the woman’s part in procreation. Some
would say that Paul was warning against this Gnostic teaching when he
1 Timothy 4:1-3 (NLT)
Now the Holy Spirit tells us clearly that in
the last times some will turn away from what we believe… These teachers
are hypocrites and liars. They pretend to be religious, but their
consciences are dead. They will say it is wrong to be married…
everything physical is evil, Christ only seemed human.
Last week we talked
about how Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. The Gnostics didn’t
believe that. They maintained that Christ couldn’t have been human. And
there are some variations on that believe. Some Gnostics would say that
Jesus was a man who was inhabited by the spirit of Christ at his
baptism, and that spirit left him on the cross before he died. Others
would say that it wasn’t really Jesus on the cross, because Jesus
wouldn’t have had an actual body. This was the specific issue the
Apostle John was addressing when he wrote…
1 John 4:2 (NLT)
If a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ
became a human being, that person has the Spirit of God.
So let’s take another
look at what Dan Brown claims in The DaVinci Code. He says the Gnostic
writing were the earliest Christian writings. Earliest Christian
writings? Well, he’s one-third correct. They were writings… but they
were neither earliest nor Christian. The earliest one, the Gospel of
Thomas, was written between AD 130 and 150… at least a century after
the time of Jesus, and perhaps a century after the first writings of
Paul and 50-80 years after the entire New Testament.
Dan Brown in The DaVinci Code claims they were written in Aramaic. They
weren’t. They were written in Coptic. And that will be really important
next week when we talk about Mary Magdalene.
Dan Brown also says the Nag Hammadi library emphasizes the humanity of
Jesus. But most Gnostics actually denied that Jesus was human. Whereas
the Gospels in our Bible do portray Him as being fully human and fully
Dan Brown claims that the Gnostic writings show that you can find God
through sexual rituals. But according to the Gnostics, sexuality was
Dan Brown claims that the Gnostic writings promote the sacred feminine…
the worth of women. But repeatedly, the Gnostic writings condemn
womanhood. One example… in the Gospel of Thomas, Peter is talking with
Jesus about Mary Magdalene, and says, “Let Mary leave us; women aren’t
worthy of life.” Now, you’d expect Jesus to rebuke him, wouldn’t you.
You’d expect Him to say, “Peter, where have you been? Haven’t you been
paying attention? Time and time again I’ve validated women.” That’s the
picture of Jesus we have in the New Testament, but in the Gnostic
Gospel of Thomas, this is what Jesus tells Peter… “I will lead her to
become male, so she can become a living spirit like you males. For
every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Right. Time for that sex change operation.
The DaVinci Code also claims that the Gnostic Gospels “highlight
glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications.” Actually, the
Gnostic writings provide no historical context. They are writings about
alleged conversations and sayings, but make no reference to actual
places or events. Unlike the Gospels of the Bible which were written as
narrative biographies with geographic and historic details which are
continually verified by archaeology today. There has never been a
discovery which has contradicted the Bible… there have been hundreds
and even thousands which have validated it.
So the Gnostic writings were written far too late to be seriously
considered as reliable, plus they contradict the already accepted
Scripture of the Old Testament, and they’re packed full of strange and
even foolish says. I already read what Jesus supposedly said about
Mary. Let me read a couple of other sayings from The Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said: Blessings on the lion if a human eats it, making the lion
human. Foul is the human if a lion eats it, making the lion human.
~ Gospel of Thomas
Again Jesus said: Whoever has come to know the world has discovered a
carcass, and whoever has discovered a carcass, of that person the world
is not worthy.
~ Gospel of Thomas
And then Teabing in The DaVinci Code says about the Gnostic Gospels…
“Troublingly, they do not match up with the gospels in the Bible."
~ Sir Leigh Teabing
I’m really not that troubled by that. I’m actually kind of glad they
don’t match up.
Look, if you want to check out the Gnostic Gospels for yourself, go
ahead. You can find them in the bookstore, they’ve been available
online for over a decade. Go ahead and read some of them and you’ll see
that there’s absolutely no credibility to them.
There’s one more claim that The DaVinci Code makes about the Bible that
I want to address here this morning. In the book, Sir Leigh Teabing
“[The Bible] has evolved through countless translations, additions, and
~ Sir Leigh Teabing
How Do I Know My New Testament is Reliable?
I’m sure all of you have
played the game of telephone at one time or another. You know… you have
twenty or thirty people together, the first person whispers something
in the second person’s ear, they repeat it to the third, all the way
around the circle until the last person receives the message. And what
always happens? It’s always something different than the first person
We could try that here this morning… I could whisper something in your
ear, and by the time it reached the back of the room, it would be
something entirely different. And if that could happen in a room this
size in just a matter of a few minutes, what could happen when the
message crosses cultures and crosses languages and crosses continents
and crosses the centuries? Sound like a realistic problem, doesn’t it?
But think it through. First of all, the message wasn’t being whispered.
And the there was plenty of opportunity for the original speakers to
clarify what they had said. If the listener got it wrong, the speaker
could correct them and say, “No, you misunderstood… this is what I
But still. It’s been two thousand years. How do I know today that my
Bible hasn’t been corrupted through the centuries? It’s actually pretty
simple. We have ancient documents to examine.
The New Testament was originally written in Greek. We have over 5000
ancient manuscripts in Greek, some dating back very early.
Also, the New Testament was translated into other languages of the
region. And we have over 25,000 manuscripts in these other languages.
Plus, we have the other writings of early church leaders. Just from the
first 300 years… before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea… we have
30,000 quotations. In fact, if we lost all the other manuscripts and
only had the writings of these church leaders to go on, we could
completely reconstruct the New Testament with the exception of 11
verses. And the historical context of the Bible is verified in other
Jewish and Roman writings. We have some very reliable evidence that our
Bible is accurate.
In your notes you’ll see a chart. This is a chart to give you a sense
of the reliability of the New Testament as compared to other ancient
The Bible is by far the
most reliable historic document in existence. We have 20,000 ancient
documents which confirm that. In fact, listen to this. If you were to
examine those 643 copies of Homer’s Illiad, you would discover that
there’s a variance of 5% in the text… there are 764 lines of text which
scholars aren’t quite sure of.
For the New Testament, on the other hand, looking at 20,000 copies,
there’s only a 0.5% variance, and in no way does the non-confirmed text
alter our perception of Jesus or the Gospel. Scribes have been
extremely careful through the centuries as they’ve made copies. In
fact, if they made one slip of a pen while copying a page, the entire
page was burned. That’s how seriously they took their task.
Oh, and those Dead Sea Scrolls? They contained a copy of Isaiah which
was 1000 years older than our next oldest copy at the time of its
discovery. So there was a lot of curiosity about what differences there
might be. And what they found was that there was no difference of any
consequence. The differences there were, were mainly just variations of
spelling, like we have a variation between how we spell the word
“centre” with an “re” and the way Americans spell “center” with an
“er”. The Dead Sea Scrolls which Dan Brown referenced in The DaVinci
Code actually support the accuracy and the reliability of the Bible.
In The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown lists Sir Isaac Newton as one of the
Grand Masters of the Priory of Sion which supposedly knows the true
story about Jesus and follows the Gnostic Gospels. Well, that makes it
really interesting for Sir Isaac Newton to say this…
"There is more reliable truth in the Bible than any other record of
~ Sir Isaac Newton
Just as I finish up, I want us to look at one more passage…
1 John 1:1-3 (NLT)
The one who existed from the beginning is
the one we have heard and
seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched
him with our own hands. He is Jesus Christ, the Word of life. This one
who is life from God was shown to us, and we have seen
him. And now we testify and announce to you that he is the one who is
eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was shown
to us. We are telling you about what we ourselves have
actually seen and heard, so
that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the
Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
What’s John saying here? Why so much repetition? Well, Gnosticism was
already starting to develop. But here’s John, and emphasizing, “I was
there! I was with Jesus. I’ve seen Him, I’ve touched Him, I’ve heard
Him. And I’m telling you exactly what happened!”
The Bible is reliable. It’s the authentic Word of God. You can trust
its teachings, you can follow it’s directions, and through it, you can