Chapter 4

To what extent has the church devalued women?

According to The Da Vinci Code, “Powerful men in the early Christian church ‘conned’ the world by propagating lies that devalued the female and tipped the scales in favor of the masculine. . . . Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine” (p.124).

In addition, The Da Vinci Code refers to the Catholic Inquisition and to victims that “included all female scholars, priestesses, gypsies, mystics, nature lovers, herb gatherers, and any women ‘suspiciously attuned to the natural world.’ Midwives also were killed for their heretical practice of using medical knowledge to ease the pain of childbirth” (p.125).

It is public knowledge that followers of Christ have not always treated women with the love and respect that Jesus Himself showed the women who followed Him. Yet the truth is that the persecuted groups listed by Brown were not specifically targeted because of their gender. The Inquisition targeted men and women— priests, nuns, artists, transients, and political enemies among others.

To the extent that The Da Vinci Code is right about the church’s devaluation of women, it is only because followers of Christ have missed the spirit of their own Scriptures and Leader. For 2,000 years, the Bible has urged its readers to break not only with the fertility cults and goddess worship of pagan religions, but also to reject the kind of patriarchal culture that treats women as servile, sexual objects, or property. Even though the spirit of the culture has often crept into the church, Jesus’ treatment of women and the apostle Paul’s teaching that men should love their wives as Christ loved the church have changed the hearts of men who are open to the Spirit of Christ (Eph. 5:25).

Because of this influence, the church has, in many cultures, raised the status of women from legal property to a relationship of “being heirs together” (1 Pet. 3:7).

Was Mary Magdalene ever worshiped as a goddess?

According to The Da Vinci Code, Jesus wanted Mary Magdalene to restore to the church the concept of “the sacred feminine.”

Robert Langdon, Brown’s Harvard symbologist, explains: “The Holy Grail represents the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the church. The power of the female and her ability to produce life was once very sacred, but it posed a threat to the rise of the predominantly male church, and so the sacred feminine was demonized and called unclean” (p.238).

By that rationale, and with second-century Gnostic documents, Brown builds his case that Jesus not only took Mary Magdalene as His wife but planned to make her the founder of His church (p.254).

All of this, however, is contrary to what many scholars regard as the oldest and most reliable accounts. The New Testament portrait of Mary Magdalene is in sharp contrast to Dan Brown’s vision of her. According to the gospel of Mark, Jesus delivered her from seven demons (16:9). Grateful for being set free, she became a follower who, along with many others, provided financial support to Jesus and His disciples (Lk. 8:1-3). She was a witness of the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Mt. 27:55-56; Mk. 15:40). John’s gospel says Mary was the first to see Jesus after His resurrection (Jn. 20:11-18).

In short, the New Testament paints a picture of Jesus and Mary that is honorable and above reproach. Their relationship is consistent with that of a woman who, along with the other disciples, followed a man who could heal withered legs, walk on water, and turn water into wine. The Gospel accounts of their friendship are marked by a reserve and spiritual connection that does not even hint at romantic involvement.

Yet despite the historical evidence that Mary Magdalene was one of many followers who witnessed the miracles and unparalleled life of Christ, The Da Vinci Code portrays a romantic relationship that leads to marriage and a child.

Did Jesus and Mary Magdalene marry and have a child?

Although the New Testament never explicitly says that Jesus remained single, it gives indirect evidence that He did not get married like His apostles and brothers. The apostle Paul later wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” (1 Cor. 9:5). If Jesus had married, Paul would have included Him in the list.

The combined evidence that Jesus lived a single life of devotion to His mission, however, does not show up in The Da Vinci Code. In fact, one of its main characters claims, “Almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false” (p.235).

In the context of a novel, such a statement reflects “freedom of speech.” But fiction is not something on which to stake our lives.

Darrell Bock, who is a research professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, says this about Jesus being married:

Most scholars have long believed that Jesus was single . . . . No early Christian text we possess, either biblical or extrabiblical, indicates the presence of a wife during His ministry, His crucifixion, or after His resurrection. Whenever texts mention Jesus’ family, they refer to His mother, brothers, and sisters but never to a wife. Furthermore, there is no hint that He was widowed (Breaking The Da Vinci Code, p.41).

Bock goes on to give three arguments against the claim that Jesus and Mary were married:

1. Mary is never tied to any male when she was named (Mt. 27:55-56; Mk. 15:40-41; Lk. 8:2; Jn. 19:25).

2. A minister’s right to marry was cited without reference to Jesus (1 Cor. 9:4-6).

3. Jesus showed no special concern for Mary Magdalene at the cross (Jn. 19:25-27).

Even though the Bible gives us compelling reason to conclude that Jesus and Mary were not married, why should we trust its claims over the claims of the Gnostic gospels and The Da Vinci Code?

Why should we trust the biblical accounts of Jesus and Mary?

The trustworthiness of any ancient document depends on its ability to stand up under time-tested criteria. Let’s see what that measure of authenticity is and how the New Testament and the Gnostic gospels stand up to it.

In the ancient Greek world, Aristotle cast a giant shadow of scholarly and scientific insight that touches us today. Long before the invention of the printing press, Aristotle used well-reasoned criteria for recognizing the trustworthiness of an ancient document. He listed three guidelines that have stood the test of time: (1) Was the person an eyewitness to the event he recorded? (2) How many copies of the record do we have and how close are they to the event they describe? (3) Are there other sources outside the document that corroborate the document’s claims? Even today, historians follow these guidelines. They remain foundational to the science of textual criticism.

Such guidelines help us to see some of the many reasons that the credibility of the New Testament has stood the test of time. The Nag Hammadi documents (Gnostic gospels), by comparison, were written about 100 to 200 years after the life of Jesus. Being later in time and lacking connection to those who knew Christ, they reflect Gnostic doctrines of the second and third centuries rather than a first-century record of witnesses.

By contrast, the New Testament gives us eyewitness accounts, with more copies, closer to the event than any other document from the first century. Even though the oldest manuscripts are not complete, textual critics are able to piece together the evidence. Small portions like the Chester Beatty and John Ryland papyri fragments bring scholars back to within 40 years of the writing of the gospel of John (F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents—Are They Reliable? pp.17-18). Likewise, F. F. Bruce in his book Jesus And Christian Origins Outside The New Testament shows how historians have used other early documents to confirm the reliability of New Testament accounts.

Even in the face of such evidence, The Da Vinci Code can still cause confusion. By developing a cleverly written plot that commingles “a good read” with a mixture of historical fact and fiction, the casual reader is unable to tell where the truth starts and stops. A good example of this distortion of history is The Da Vinci Code’s view of Emperor Constantine.