Christian History Home > 2003 > Thanks, Da Vinci Code …
Thanks, Da Vinci Code …
… for sending us back to Christianity's "founding fathers"—and the Bible we share with them.
It's been a while since Christian History got an online response to rival the emails that poured in after last week's "Behind the News". We enjoyed reading your responses to staff writer Collin Hansen's fact-checking piece on Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code.
One thing that encouraged us about your letters is this: In the face of spurious claims from a man who poses himself as a historian even as he writes a novel ("All descriptions of … documents … in this novel are accurate"), some of you turned to the apostles and church fathers, to see what they and their Bible really had to say about the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Anything that leads people back to those dynamic early centuries of the church can only help the Christian cause. Obviously no human untruth can obscure the truth of the Gospel. And the first thing you notice when you read the early "church fathers" is that they are completely convinced Jesus is God himself. I'm talking about those bishops and teachers from the 100s and 200s too—long before the Nicean council (Brown claims) enforced on the church the supposedly minority position of Christ's divinity.
True, few Christians need the knock-down argument that these earliest teachers provide—at least, to convince themselves that Jesus is God. We may find that early testimony helpful in talking with those who have become muddled by Brown's book. Or to respond to those who have grabbed hold of that book's "historical" arguments as a blunt instrument against a faith they already dislike.
But the church's earliest teachers—Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and others—provide us with many more valuable things.
These were, after all, the church's "founding fathers." I don't mean that in the precise political sense used by the Catholic and Anglican confessions: that today's bishops and popes stand in a direct, traceable succession with all the other bishops (for many of the "fathers" were bishops) back to Peter. Rather, I'm talking about the process of discernment that played itself out in the church's first centuries.
Make no mistake, the questions the first Bible scholars and theologians wrestled to the mat were some of the most momentous ever decided in the church. The question of how the man Jesus could be (as he and the apostles claimed) God himself was only the first of these.
The early fathers also asked how Jesus could be both wholly divine and wholly human—having two natures in one person. They asked which documents being circulated and read in the early congregations could be trusted to continue building up that church in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4, KJV) They asked which of these were most consistent with the first eyewitness reports and, especially, the continued experience of a Jesus who still lived and moved and had his being in his people—the Body of Christ.
But these thinkers faced another crucial question about the Bible—beyond identifying the books that, by the church's second century, had already begun to form themselves into a recognizable New Testament. They asked, what do we do with the Scriptures that Jesus himself used, which describe who God is and how he has decaption with his people before we showed up? That is, how do we read the Torah?
By a few decades after the resurrection, when the church had launched out from its original Jewish population base and was spreading through the empire like a firestorm, this was the question of the hour. The Greek-speaking gentiles, used to their philosophers' high-toned, abstract teachings about a God who was "thought thinking itself," just didn't know what to do with the Hebrew Scripture. It was so—well—"earthy." The God in its pages was always getting his hands dirty in the affairs of humans—kings, wars, marriages. And the Hebrews described God's character with such startlingly concrete, personal metaphors and terms—wings, hands, emotions.
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