NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“The Da Vinci Code” is out on DVD, and no doubt, will be under many Christmas trees this year.
That likely will lead to the resurfacing of questions that surrounded its theatrical release during the summer: Is the Bible we have today trustworthy? Why were certain books included and others left out? Was Jesus, as the Bible says, really God?
New Testament scholar Darrell Bock tackles those questions in a new book that its publisher, Thomas Nelson, also hopes will be under a few Christmas trees. The book, “The Missing Gospels: Unearthing the Truth Behind Alternative Christianities,” examines the reliability of false gospels — such as the gospel of Thomas and the gospel of Judas — that are not included in Scripture but nonetheless often are cited by liberal scholars and were mentioned in The Da Vinci Code itself.
Bock, professor of New Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, recently spoke with Baptist Press about his new book. Following is a partial transcript:
BP: “Why did you set out to write the book?”
BOCK: “It was clear to me in reading [The Da Vinci Code] that what [author] Dan Brown had done was to sloppily work with some of these [alternative gospels] that are actually being taught on numerous university campuses and that are in numerous books in religion sections of Borders and Barnes and Noble, etc. I recognized that the real issue wasn’t The Da Vinci Code but instead the issue was these missing gospels. You also have numerous specials, documentaries, etc., built around this material that keep showing up regularly on television.
BP: “What is the book’s audience?”
BOCK: “It is anything from a lay audience to pastors.”
BP: “So, Christians and unbelievers?”
BP: “One claim that The Da Vinci Code makes is that the church has suppressed these gospels for centuries. How do you respond to that?”
BOCK: “The church did suppress these gospels starting in the fourth century. There’s no doubt about that. We have that recorded. But the issue is the status of this material before we even get to the fourth century. And, even when it was circulating [prior to the fourth century] there was the reaction by orthodox folks against this material, in highlighting the fact that it did not reflect the apostolic tradition or the Rule of Faith or the teaching of the church. … We’ve known about these works for a long time, but the problem that has surfaced is the charge [by unorthodox scholars] that the material has been critiqued from a particular point of view, and that our knowledge of it was through its critics, rather than us having direct knowledge. And what the Nag Hammadi [archeological] finds in Eqypt did in 1945 was give us direct knowledge of this material, where these people could speak for themselves.” [Editor’s note: Nag Hammadi is a town in Egypt where texts of many of these alternative gospels was found.]
BP: “Why do you think these false gospels are so popular in academic circles, television programs and movies?”
BOCK: “I think there’s just a fascination with new material. And the fact that they do express in Christian-kind of language a different way of theologizing about Jesus also has drawn some interest. It raises the natural historical question of the relationship of these people claiming to be Christians and what Christianity has been known as.”
BP: “Why shouldn’t people view these other gospels on the same level with the biblical Gospels?”
BOCK: “Because they aren’t as closely in touch with Jesus and the apostolic circle as the material that ended up in the New Testament. That’s the major reason. [With the New Testament books,] you’re talking about the people who were closest to Jesus telling us what He’s taught and what He believed. The biblical materials — which are also our earliest sources — put us in direct touch with this in a way that these other materials do not.”
BP: “These other materials also contradict what is in the Gospels themselves, correct?”
BOCK: “That’s correct. That’s part of the issue — whether or not there were alternative Christianities out there from the very beginning. That’s why the discussion in the book [‘The Missing Gospels’] that deals with the relationship to Judaism is so important. What I’m trying to show is that Christianity came out of Judaism, and a work that is anti-Jewish in theology would have never been welcome as authentic Christianity.”
BP: “Do you view these controversies over The Da Vinci Code as opportunities to teach Christians the history of the Christian church?”
BOCK: “Absolutely. I think it’s very important that people understand what their spiritual genealogy is.”
For more information about “The Missing Gospels,” visit www.thomasnelson.com/missinggospels