Story Magazine - First Quarter, 2004

Cracking The Da Vinci Code

When Matthew Skinner read The Da Vinci Code, he found the plot of Dan Brown's best-selling novel "contrived" and the characters "flat." But as a scholar, he found the book "exciting--and frustrating."

"It's frustrating because the author plays fast and loose with history. But the book does serve as a vehicle to bring issues of faith into a public venue. In particular, it causes readers to ask, 'Who is Jesus?'" says Skinner, who is assistant professor of New Testament at Luther.

Last January, when Skinner was invited by Edina Community Lutheran Church to explore some of the questions raised by the novel, organizers expected about 50 people to attend the event. Instead a standing-room-only crowd of over 300 people showed up to learn more about such issues as these:

  • Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene? Skinner notes that the biblical texts are silent on this issue. "The novel's assertions are based on groundless claims about the meaning of a couple of non-biblical texts," he says.

  • Did the Emperor Constantine "rig" the selection of gospel texts to reinforce the view that Jesus was God? Skinner points out that although Constantine probably financed the Council of Nicea in 325, there is no evidence that he controlled its deliberations or set himself up as theologian. In addition, discussions about the true nature of Jesus began long before Constantine came on the scene.

  • Were the noncanonical gospels suppressed because they show Jesus as more human than divine? The truth is that many of these texts present Jesus as much more than an ordinary human being. On the other hand, "Jesus looks very human in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke," Skinner notes.

  • Was there a plot to eliminate women from church leadership? We know from the New Testament that women held formal, public leadership positions in the early church. By the end of the second century, women leaders had little political power. Scholars dispute what happened, but Skinner believes that "to attribute this to a concentrated plot is simply too reductionist."

This spring Skinner will offer "The New Testament and The Da Vinci Code: Exploring Questions about Faith, Fiction, and Early Christian Texts" in Luther's Lay School of Theology. "I'm not trying to refute the book--it's a work of fiction, after all. But the issues it raises are important for our faith, and people want to think deeply about them," he says.