The thriller, the writer — and the facts

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A lot of people like to read mysteries and thrillers. As a writer in this genre, Dan Brown has developed a following. His books are everywhere.

I don't begrudge his readers their enjoyment. Nor do I begrudge Brown his marketing success, financial reward or personal acclaim.

I find fault with him only because he is devious and deceptive when he writes about the historic origin of the Christian movement. His errors about the Roman Catholic Church throughout the ages are also numerous, but we'll set those aside for another time.

One of the cardinal rules of modern fiction writing concerns accuracy. Any writer may create and use a character that serves as an expert witness in the story. But the "expert" must display accurate knowledge and communicate accurate information.

For example, a wine maker must know something about grapes. What he says in the story should be recognized as true by real-life wine makers. A forensic expert who talks as an expert in the story line must say things that real-life forensic scientists would recognize and accept.

Dan Brown promises in "The Da Vinci Code" that all historical information is accurate.

But it isn't. This is where he lets us down.

Brown puts into the mouth of an "expert" character words that are demonstrably inaccurate. One character is supposedly an expert on the history of the early church, the gospel books, and the life of Jesus Christ. Yet he makes the outlandish claim that Jesus was not referred to as the Son of God until the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

This is an audacious falsehood. There is plenty of historical and documentary evidence that Jesus was referred to as the Son of God for more than 250 years before the Council of Nicea.

Historian Charles Moule of Cambridge University argues cogently that Jesus was acknowledged in early Christian circles as Son of God within 10 years of his crucifixion. The great German historian, Martin Hengel, concurs. The historical reason for this early and widespread affirmation that Jesus was (and is) the Son of God and Messiah of Israel is his physical resurrection from the dead.

Even if Dan Brown doesn't want to personally believe that Jesus rose from the dead, he need not have distorted the record about what the earliest Christians believed and taught. As I said, there is plenty of documentary evidence that long predates the Council of Nicaea. That evidence makes clear that early Christians were united in worshipping Jesus as the Son of God.

Brown also seeks to inform us that the New Testament was put together under the direction of Emperor Constantine the Great.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Writers who lived long before Constantine listed the books and letters that were sacred to Christians. None outside of the historic New Testament collection were ever considered worthy by the early Christians. This is a matter of historical record.

The four Gospel books in the New Testament - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - had a venerable history of being used across a wide region, and were recognized as coming from the apostolic generation who actually knew Jesus. They had been in use well over 200 years before Nicaea.

Brown errs when, through the mouth of his "expert," he states that there were other gospel books ("more than eighty") that had been accepted in the churches until Nicaea outlawed them. The so-called "lost gospels" were myths, fables and Gnostic writings that were not written during the time of the apostolic generation, but were written in later years.

This means that they were not written by eyewitnesses who had actually known Jesus, nor by those who had access to eyewitnesses. For this reason, they never achieved a widespread acceptance in the early Christian churches. They were not considered historically reliable or valuable theologically. They were not genuine.

I doubt that these errors slipped into the "Da Vinci Code" narrative by accident. Spreading confusion like this helps undermine the respect people have for the historical reliability of the New Testament witness to Jesus of Nazareth.

Spreading confusion helps people avoid coming to grips with the truth about Jesus. What is the truth that so many want to avoid? It is that God has spoken and acted with finality in and through the life of this unique man. It is that God has revealed Himself in a specific historical context.

If this man truly was connected to God as the Messiah and Son who can reveal God's heart, and lived a life that death could not ultimately terminate, then it is amazing news. It means, among other things, that death and annihilation may not be the final word about human destiny.

It means that there is a deeper meaning to human life than an accidental spark that will burn a moment and then get snuffed out. And it means that God is involved in human history and is not disconnected from our future.

The real truth about Jesus gives me a thrill that no thriller can match, especially one that can't get the basic facts straight.

The Rev. Mark Koonz is pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, 628 Lincoln St. in Walla Walla. He can be reached at 509-525-6872 or by e-mail at emmanuel@charterinternet.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at catherinehicks@wwub.com.

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