Monday, April 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code Movie--- Are You Ready to Rumble?

May 19th lurks just around the corner and I have just returned from yet another Da Vinci Code seminar, this one in Burlington, N.C. a town of about 50,000. 2,000 of them turned out for the event! The anticipation, angst, excitement about this movie is palpable. My prediction is that it will eclipse all other previous movies in sales including Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, perhaps in short order. And in fact the church is trying to respond to the book and the whole Da Vinci phenomena, but its response is piecemeal and inadequate. We need to do a better and more concerted job of ramping up for the impact.

While in N.C. I was privy to a conversation between Andy Griffith and the man who once played his son on the Andy Griffith show--- Ron Howard (aka Opie!). Griffith, who is a commited Christian made clear to Opie over dinner he was not best pleased about this movie but that he was a Christian and he still loved him. There was that balance of mercy and critique we should all strive for.

How then can we best get ready for the blitzkrieg that is coming? My suggestion is that the church has a teaching moment and it needs to do its homework on the Da Vinci Code issues and be prepared to give a reason for the hope within them. This is why I have written the Gospel Code ,and of course more than a dozen others have written critique books-- the best of which is Darrell Bock's in terms of dealing with the actual Gnostic materials.

My wisdom about preparation for the impact of all this is as follows:

1) if you are a mature Christian well grounded in your faith and you haven't read the novel and don't really know the issues, then read it.

2) Read as well one or two of the critique books on the novel;

3) Have Sunday school lessons on the issues in the novel--- ranging from, when did the church first believe Jesus was the divine Son of God, to when was the canon formed, to what should we think of Gnosticism, to was Jesus married, and does it matter in terms of Christian doctrine?

4) Have special seminars on these subjects

5) provide congregations with hand outs or guides to read the novel by.

6) Preachers should offer topical messages of relevance on the subject.

7) Get ready for next year-- the sequel novel will be out sometime in 2007.

Lest you think this is much ado about nothing, I would remind you of a few facts:

1) This novel sold 43 million in hardcopy--- a record.
2) the paperback which came out in March has already sold 6 million.
3) in 2004 this novel outsold the Bible in America.

We are at a crossroads in our culture when it comes to the issue of the waning influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition on this culture. Our culture has a taste now for new answers to old questions. We must be read to give a reason for the hope that is within us in a winsome fashion and explain why these new answers and revisionist history about Jesus and the early church can't hold a candle to the old answers about 'the old, old story'.


Jonathan Moorhead said...

Good wake-up call. I've got to get around to reading the book.

Layman said...


I agree with all that you write here.

I have read the book, plus The Da Vinci Hoax, Bock's book, and Josh McDowell's book, plus a lot of online material. The CADRE has set up a page devoted to providing online resources, as well as book recommendations, responding to The Da Vinci Code. We are also covering discrete topics regularly on our blog (here and here)

Bock's book is excellent by the way, and the right (small) size for most purposes. But I found The Da Vinci Hoax to be the most exhaustive of the responses, though probably too lengthy for most people who are simply interested in the book.

I am also proud of my pastor. We will be doing a teaching session with the College and Career group together, and then go see the movie together. Thereafter, we will hand out the movie guides that Josh McDowell's group has put together. The Sunday after the movie premieres, the pastor and I are going to take the full service to teach about the historical behind The Da Vinci Code, as well as pass out more fliers, movie guides, and materials.

There are promising signs of life in the church, but there needs to be a lot more planning and cooperation. Churches should take the time and shell out the money for the materials. An entire generation will have their opinions about the history behind Christianity shaped in the coming months.

Hannah Im said...

Excellent advice, and not only for those in North America. The #1 best selling book in South Korea last year was "The DaVinci Code." I see copies of it everywhere in Korean bookstores. And the movie looks like it will be just as big.


Frank Walton said...

Another great way to prepare is to read Ben Witherington's book on The DaVinci Code.

Sean said...

Ben, would it be possible to post your BAR article on the Da Vinci code here? I'm reading through the Gospel Code, but it would be so helpful to point to an article online that offers a serious critique. What say you? Thanks, sean D.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Sean:

Unfortunately, BAR has the copyright, and I do not to that article.


Ben W.

Expax said...

Maybe are people are just wanting a scandle and hope for it so much that they are ready to be ludacris things? Who knows.

Maybe we have developed the idea of sustaining oursselves individually so much that we have become paranoid and thrive or even enjoy conspiracy theories.

Jody Harrington said...

It really is a great opportunity for the church to clarify and re-inforce its message about the truth of the biblical story.

I am leading a 6 part series on the book (using your The Gospel Code as part of the materials) and I have about 20 adults coming who would NEVER have come to a class on early Christian history, the development of the canon and the Gnostic heresies otherwise!

Ben Witherington said...

A lot of things have become clear to me after doing the Da Vinci Code seminar around the world. Many people are looking for permission to dismiss, deny, or reject the traditional claims of Christianity and this book/movie helps give them permission to do this. That is it's greatest danger. By this I mean that both not well grounded Christians and seekers are the one's most in danger from this. Of course if you believe in the possibility of apostasy within Christian groups, as I do, you tend to take this whole matter far more seriously than if you tend to think saved/elect Christians are bullet proof.


Ben W.

RC said...

Great post...I really like thing I think is important for Christians to know is that they should not boycott the movie, because that's pointless...

but going and seeing the movie opening weekend is not good because that will be the point they're making their marketing decisions of how long it should stay in the theater, what time of television promotions they will do and how they will arrange the DVD release schedule...

A lot of people seeing the 2nd weekend or on a monday will limit it's power and influence...maybe not by much but my some.

--RC of

Chris Whisonant said...

Thank you for the post. That's interesting about Andy Griffith and Ron Howard. This movie is primed to be huge. Between it and the Gospel of Judas, there is a lot of room for believers to make an impact.

Just this morning my coworker and best friend was saying that he talked to someone close to him who just saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in Charlotte (I still need to see them myself!). Then my boss and another coworker, being the antagonists and unbelievers that they are, fired something off about the Gospel of Judas just being discovered and how Judas was Jesus' "right hand man". Then they said the usual "there are hundreds of other books not in the Bible."

Honestly, it's tiring. So I just chimed into the conversation with the following: "So, did you know that the Gospel of Judas also says that an angel created Adam and Eve in a cloud?" Of course the answer was "Well I haven't read it." Then I just said "Well, the media reports don't want you to know something that strange is in the book, do they?"

As Pastor Mark Roberts has labeled it, it's really an "Opportunity" for us!

Ben Witherington said...

Speaking of which, I am asking all you in blogoville to remember in prayer this weekend as I go to Seattle and western Washington to do the Da Vinci Code bop for the Pacific Northwest Evangelical Convocation..... I need extra energy and prayer support....



Anonymous said...

I have heard some on other blogs say this will be no bog deal. Maybe they are right...

Either way, I borrowed and read the book recently. I had to laugh at some of the points brought up in the book. Even with my limited knowledge of the making of the Bible and of Gnosticism, I knew Dan Brown got it all wrong.

I envision that I will try to sort some of this out for some folks in our Sunday school class.

Layman said...


I will be praying.

Thanks for all your efforts on this. It is encouraging to see New Testament scholars like you and Bock getting your hands dirty at this level. It is not the Academy but its sorely needed.


gmw said...

Dr. Witherington,

This is tangental to the Da Vinci discussion, but in the vein of challenges to early Christian history. I wonder if you could either write some posts or point me to sources that deal with the perspective that Bart Ehrman has been presently in the past few years in his books. I was introduced to him through The Teaching Company courses that he offers there. I'm currently listening to his "After the NT: Writings of the Apostolic Fathers" and enjoying it, but curious about what impact Ehrman's popular work will have on folks.

Makeesha said...

Off topic: I was just reading your post from Feb. about 1 Tim. 2 which was, in a word, SPECTACULAR. Considering that I am not a Greek scholar, much of it was over my head but what I understood was really good "meat". I also read all of the comments and was very impressed by your patience and grace. You mentioned your commentary several times and I noticed you already have a commentary on the subject available for purchase, will this new commentary be different from Women in the Earliest Churches?

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Makeesha:

The Letters and Homilies of the NT Vol. 1 will be out in the fall including the Pastorals, and it is much more in depth than Women in the Earliest Churches.


Ben W.

Makeesha said...

Thank you. I'm looking forward to it.

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Kurt:
Great to hear from you again. Don't feel alone, we have posts from England, Austrailia, Russia, and various other places. I think you are right that the residual effect of Catholicism is one reason many Europeans who were at least formerly Catholic know enough history to take the Da Vinci Code with a grain of salt. In America however, the Catholic Church has been enmeshed in controversy throughout its existence here, and so the reaction is more visceral. I did a Da Vinci Code seminar with three nuns in Nashville Tenn. and they were furious, and not just them, so also the lay people.

When I am down with the Da Vinci apologetics tour next fall, I think I should write a chronicle of what I have discovered about the various audiences--- it will be called Gullible's Travels.


Ben W.

john alan turner said...

Dr. Ben,
I've seen such an overwhelming response to this whole controversy. When I first wrote about it in the fall of 2003 I thought it would go away shortly, but it's like a runaway train!

Ken Boa and I have written a book (THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE DA VINCI CODE) that's been published by Broadman & Holman this week. We sold out of the first printing before it actually hit stores!

As I've done seminars in various places, I've found a helpful question to ask those who are skeptical about the New Testament documents is this: If I could demonstrate the historical reliability of the New Testament, would you become a Christian?

Generally, the answer has been: No.

What I've found is that people don't really have as much objection to the historical claims of the New Testament as they do to the message of the New Testament itself. As you said, people are looking for an excuse to dismiss the text b/c the text calls them to change.

Keep up the good work, and I'll be praying for your trip to Seattle.

My Reflections said...

As a pastor and professor of philosophy and religion in Chico, California, I take to heart your challenge for churches to seize the opportunity provided by the release of "The Da Vinci Code" movie. Indeed, it may even be a "kairos," a God-moment for the church to respond thoughtfully to a listening world.

As one response, I'm teaching a class for the community at my church, and I've enjoyed your "Gospel Code" immensely. (In addition, "Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, written by a friend and scholar and colleague of yours, Joel Green, has proved excellent for background materials.)

At any rate, at Bidwell Presbyterian Church (, we see this as an opportunity to highlight key questions about Jesus and the history of early Christianity. For example, a podcast of my first class lecture will be posted in the next few days. Since the scholarship of "The Da Vinci Code" is so inadequate, I don't have to be defensive at all! (I've interacted a little with this on my blog as well as another form of outreach.) Nevertheless, the issues are exciting. If I had titled a class, "The Development of the Canon," who would come? When it's week three of "The Da Vinci Code: Fact and Fiction," 70 people appear.

So, thank you, Dr. Witherington, for your work in historical Jesus studies. It's an inspiration to me.

Tenax said...


I'd like to echo Guy's request above for perspectives on Ehrman. While it has produced enormous impact, the DVC is, frankly, the literary equivalent of a Big Mac; Ehrman is a genuine scholar.

I've read most of Misquoting Jesus, and it felt unbelievably narrow to took an entire book to point out a couple possible orthodox amendations? Now I'm told almost all of these texual variations don't in fact affect content?

But certainly Ehrman is one of the scholarly voices who support Brown's fictional vision of an early, multi-faceted Christianity slammed into orthdoxy, and he does so for academic readers. Ehrman's ad in Scientific American borders on sensational, except I believe he actually views church history that way.

So, yes, any good responses you know to Ehrman's work would be appreciated by myself as well.

Sincere appreciation.

yuckabuck said...

Dr. Witherington actually did just post about Ehrman's last book, before all the gospel of Judas stuff came out. It can be found here:

Ted M. Gossard said...

John Alan Turner, The point you make is the very same one Scot McKnight makes on "Jesus Creed". And with that is the question he asks and thinks we should be asking and thinking through: Why is it that there is this strong pull in our society to pull away from Christianity or the church? (my memory of his question). What part do we/ have we played in this being true? In other words, turning the mirror on ourselves.

Dr. Witherington, I so much appreciate what you're saying here, and doing. Thanks for your thoughts to us.

Benson said...

Dr. Ben,

As you know, I very much appreciate your work and you have had a huge impact on my life. On the issue of the "Da Vinci Code" issue however, I have a question: Why are we taking a fictional book so seriously? When you go to any book store in America or any best-seller list, you have to go to the section called "Fiction" in order to get a copy of this book. It's NOT in the sections called History, Biography, Religion, Non-Fiction-- it is in with fairytale books.

Why isn't our answer, "The book is exactly what it says it is--FICTION!!"

Love your blog and your work Dr. Ben.


Benson said...
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