I believe I am one of the few literate adults living who has not read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. But I did listen to it as an audiobook. The problem with audiobooks, in my experience, is that at points my mind wanders and the words momentarily stop registering. This happened as I listened to The Da Vinci Code. Sometimes when I caught my mind drifting, I would rewind; at other times I would just let it go and try to piece it all together. I confess: This is no way to do justice to a book. I felt that I owed Dan Brown better. After all, we graduated from high school together.

There was, however, a place in the book when I did stop the tape and hit rewind—several times. It was a turning point in the plot that involved the protagonists in a conversation with a character named Leigh Teabing. Brown had styled Teabing as a kind of expert on things early Christian. The point that really caught my attention (and not just me but, I'm sure, millions of readers) was Teabing's very matter-of-fact statement: "More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament and yet only a relatively few were chosen for inclusion—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John among them."

"Wow!" I thought to myself, "talk about provocative." The statement had the sound of being altogether authoritative. And for that reason, it is all the more unsettling for the Christian who is accustomed to thinking that there are only four gospels, the canonical gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Brown is right about the fact that there were other gospels. What needs a closer look is how the "other gospels" were related to the four in the early church. In order to do this, one has to understand how and when these four came to be regarded as a finalized list of authoritative ...

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