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Breaking The Da Vinci Code
So the divine Jesus and infallible Word emerged out of a fourth-century power-play? Get real.
I guess Christians should be flattered. Who knew the Council of Nicea and Mary Magdalene could be this hot? Thanks in large measure to Dan Brown's fictional thriller The DaVinci Code, early church history just can't stay out of the news.
If only a more worthy work could have prompted such attention. Brown first grabbed the headlines and prime-time TV in 2003 with his theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene. But The DaVinci Code contains many more (equally dubious) claims about Christianity's historic origins and theological development. It's left to the reader whether these theories belong to Brown's imagination or the skeleton of "facts" that supports the book.
Brown claims "almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false." Why? Because of a single meeting of bishops in 325, at the city of Nicea in modern-day Turkey. There, Brown argues, church leaders who wanted to consolidate their power base (he calls this, anachronistically, "the Vatican," or "the Roman Catholic church") created a divine Christ and an infallible Scripture—both novelties that had never before existed among Christians.
Watershed at Nicea
Brown is right about one thing (and not much more). In the course of Christian history, few events loom larger than the Council of Nicea in 325. When the newly converted Roman Emperor Constantine called bishops from around the world to present-day Turkey, the church had reached a theological crossroads.
Led by an Alexandrian theologian named Arius, one school of thought argued that Jesus had undoubtedly been a remarkable leader, but he was not God in flesh. Arius proved an expert logician and master of extracting biblical proof texts that seemingly illustrated differences between Jesus and God, such as John 14:28: "the Father is greater than I." In essence, Arius argued that Jesus of Nazareth could not possibly share God the Father's unique divinity.
In The Da Vinci Code, Brown apparently adopts Arius as his representative for all pre-Nicene Christianity. Referring to the Council of Nicea, Brown claims that "until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet … a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless."
In reality, early Christians overwhelmingly worshipped Jesus Christ as their risen Savior and Lord. Before the church adopted comprehensive doctrinal creeds, early Christian leaders developed a set of instructional summaries of belief, termed the "Rule" or "Canon" of Faith, which affirmed this truth. To take one example, the canon of prominent second-century bishop Irenaeus took its cue from 1 Corinthians 8:6: "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ."
The term used here—Lord, Kyrios—deserves a bit more attention. Kyrios was used by the Greeks to denote divinity (though sometimes also, it is true, as a simple honorific). In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint, pre-dating Christ), this term became the preferred substitution for "Jahweh," the holy name of God. The Romans also used it to denote the divinity of their emperor, and the first-century Jewish writer Josephus tells us that the Jews refused to use it of the emperor for precisely this reason: only God himself was kyrios.
The Christians took over this usage of kyrios and applied it to Jesus, from the earliest days of the church. They did so not only in Scripture itself (which Brown argues was doctored after Nicea), but in the earliest extra-canonical Christian book, the Didache, which scholars agree was written no later than the late 100s. In this book, the earliest Aramaic-speaking Christians refer to Jesus as Lord.
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