Brown’s second attack on Christianity is the claim that Jesus was not divine, nor claimed to be divine. Teabing alleges that in the 4th century Constantine, for business and political reasons, decided to adopt Christianity as the official church religion. He shifted the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday to coincide with pagan worship of the sun, then in order to strengthen the new tradition, held the famous ecumenical gathering known as the Council of Nicaea.[i] At this council they established many aspects of Christianity including the divinity of Jesus. Teabing explains, “Until that moment in history, Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal.” Teabing goes on to enlighten the reader that calling Jesus the “Son of God” and instituting his deity was the result of a relatively close vote at this council. Teabing adds, “Establishing Christ’s divinity was critical to the further unification of the Roman empire and to the new Vatican power base.”[ii]
Brown makes some unsubstantiated claims on the origins of Christian beliefs and practices to address later. Let us examine briefly what the New Testament has to say in regard to Jesus’ divinity, since we have established that these documents are the earliest writings and uncorrupted. Some easy to remember references are John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1. In John 1:1 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Later, John reveals the Word (Greek logos) is Jesus who became flesh (verse 14). This is clearly claiming the ontological nature of Jesus being that of God.
In Colossians 1, Paul informs us that Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (verse 15), that “all things were created by him” [Jesus] (verse 16) and that he was “before all things” (verse 17). Paul finishes with the claim that “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (verse 19). Paul notifies the reader of Jesus’ divine status throughout his letters and all of them are dated pre 62AD, even by the most liberal scholars. This places the claim of Jesus’ divine status within a generation of his life, not three hundred years later at the Council of Nicaea. The writer of Hebrews is also unmistakably declaring Jesus as God by directly referring to Jesus a passage from the Psalms (originally toward Yahweh). In Hebrews 1 we read, “But about the Son he [the Father] says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever’” (verse 8).
In addition to Paul and the writer of Hebrews, Jesus also claimed to be divine directly and by his actions. Jesus called himself the “Son of God” (John 5:18) – which in a Jewish context made himself equal of God. He also called himself the divine name (I AM in John 8:58) equating himself with God in the burning bush in Exodus 3:14. Jesus additionally claimed, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30). In all three of these cases, his life was threatened either by stoning or plotting to kill him as his Jewish audience clearly understood that he was equating himself with God charging him with blasphemy. Jesus’ actions are also credentials to his divinity in his lack of sin (I John 3:5, I Peter 2:22, John 8:46), accepting worship when God is the only one we worship (Matthew 28:9, Luke 4:8, Acts 10:25-26), the miracles performed and ultimately his resurrection. This resurrection event itself is the most well attested event of the ancient world and is testable, whereas some writings from the second century (or even modern writings) that came from creative imaginations should rightly be set aside as rubbish.
For argument’s sake, let us grant Brown his opinion that there are issues with accepting the New Testament as the true story of Christianity’s beginnings. Do we have historical evidence that the early church did not consider Jesus as divine in the interim period from the late first century until Constantine? Again, Brown’s scholarship is woefully remiss of the writings of the late first century fathers, second century apologists/theologians or even secular writers regarding Christianity. Clement of Rome (writing in 96AD) is one of the Apostolic Fathers in that he had contact with the apostles. His letter to the Corinthians was thought of so highly that some considered it canon. Although my intentions are not to prove the doctrine of the trinity, his letter bears witness to God the Father, to the Son, to the Spirit, and mentions all three together. He also speaks of the pre-existent divine Jesus when he says “The Sceptre of the Divine Majesty, the Lord Jesus Christ, did not for all his power, come clothed in boastful pomp and overweening pride, but in a humble frame of mind.”[iii]
Another Apostolic Father, Ignatius of Antioch, was the second successor of the apostle Peter. On his way to his well attested martyrdom in the great Flavian Amphitheatre of Rome, he wrote seven epistles addressed to six Christian communities and to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. Ignatius composed these letters in 110 AD and over ten times he refers to Jesus as God. In his epistle to the Ephesians he writes, “God became man, true life in death; sprung both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then incapable of it – Jesus Christ Our Lord.”[iv] If this reference is not clear enough of the high Christology in Ignatius, later in the same epistle he writes, “The fact is, our God Jesus Christ was conceived by Mary according to God’s dispensation of the seed of David.”[v] What is even more revealing from Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch concerns their diverse geographies in the church in close historical proximity; Clement being in the Eastern Church and Ignatius in the Western Church. This demonstrates the prevalence of the teaching of Jesus’ divinity throughout the emergence of early Christianity.
In the same historical period, we also have confirmation of the belief in Jesus’ divinity from a secular source. Pliny the Younger was a Roman author and administrator who served as the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. He wrote many letters and speaks of Christianity in his province as he executed those that continued firm in their belief under the threat of death. This passage appears in this tenth book written in 112AD, “They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god.”[vi] Pliny clearly confirms that Jesus was worshipped as a deity by early believers.
The Apologists (Justin Martyr and Irenaeus) of the late second century also express conviction in Jesus’ divinity. Justin Martyr is concerned with the attacks against Christianity and writes in 150AD in The First Apology regarding the Son, “who being the logos and First-begotten is also God.”[vii] He also refers to Jesus as “both God and Lord of hosts”[viii] in Dialogue with Trypho. Irenaeus is regarded as the greatest theologian of the second century and ironically was alarmed about the same sources of Christian heresies that involve this paper (namely the Gnostics and their esoteric subjective truths). He is the first Christian writer who has the entire New Testament (as recognized later) in his hands and writes in approximately 185AD, “Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, Savior and King.”[ix] Irenaeus also affirms the three articles in the rule of faith and baptism in his book On The Apostolic Preaching, which acknowledges not only the Trinitarian doctrine, but also indirectly the deity of Christ. Irenaeus states later in the book, “Therefore the Father is Lord and the Son is Lord, and the Father is God and the Son is God.”[x]
Another theologian, Clement of Alexandria writes around 200AD, “truly most manifest Deity, He that is made equal to the Lord of the universe; because he was His Son.”[xi] One could continue with more quotations from these same authors and other authors writing in the second and third century, but I believe the point has been established successfully that Jesus was considered divine from the earliest writings in the New Testament to the Apostolic Fathers to the apologists and theologians of the second and third centuries. Even those in opposition to Christianity (such as Pliny) recognized the Christian belief of “Jesus is Lord” which put itself at odds with “Caesar is Lord”.
[i] Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 232-233.
[ii] Ibid 233.
[iii] Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians 16:2.
[iv] Ignatius, To The Ephesians 7:2.
[v] Ignatius, To The Ephesians 18:2.
[vi] Pliny, Letters, translated by William Melmoth, rev. W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), vol II, X:96.
[vii] Justin Martyr, The First Apology 63.
[viii] Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 36.
[ix] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 10:12.
[x] Irenaeus, On The Apostolic Preaching 2:47.
[xi] Clement of Alexandria, Exhortation to the Heathen 10.