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The Gospel Code

Posted on by arlen

I don’t like books “exposing” flaws in The DaVinci Code, if for no other reason than they display a lack of sportsmanship. Finding errors in that book is like fishing at a trout farm; the only real question is how many minutes will it take to catch one. That having been said, I’d like to offer a solid recommendation for Ben Witherington’s The Gospel Code.

The major difference between Witherington’s work and the rest is that he limits himself to pointing out just seven major errors, occupying less than the first third of his book. The rest of his book is spent in analysing the deeper errors, made by some more renowned scholars, which tend to feed into books like The DVC.

Witherington spends most of the book challenging the revisionists, those attempting to rewrite church history, exposing just how little they actually know about the subject and how biased their aproaches are. He points out that such revisions are possible only if one succumbs to “historical amnesia.”

Along with pointing out errors of history, Witherington spends a lot of time describing the major players and the questions confronting the church councils of the fourth and fifth century (along the way pointing out that the canon was pretty well established centuries before the council proclaimed it, with only a few books questioned and a few more proposed — BTW, none of them were gnostic, the favored son of the revisionists). He also suggests that we should by all means examine the gnostic texts, but in doing so we should be sure to subject them to the same rigors of criticism we subject the “orthodox” texts to (and when we do so, none of them survive the scrutiny).

One of the good things about this book is the amount of “positive knowledge” to be gained from it. Most books from this category are flooded with “negative knowledge,” that is to say, they give you a long laundry list of things Brown asserts that aren’t true. Here we are treated to a fairly well-done overview of what actually happened; the book spends more time teaching you what actually occurred than it spends on what didn’t occur.

He travels through the early history of Christianity, showing us how most of the cannon was settled in the second century, before any of the gnostic literature even appears on the scene. Even if you haven’t read DVC (or, like me, aren’t interested in debunking badly-written fiction) the book is a worthwhile read, as it’s one of the better overviews of early church history I’ve run across.

But I’ve saved the best for last. Witherington doesn’t just drop these things on us and say “trust me, I’m a scholar” as all too many do. Here’s one of my favorite quotes:

This book has in some respects been hard-hitting, but I don’t want it to impede the search for truth about Jesus and early Christianity. All leads should be followed and all evidence evaluated (and not ignored, much less destroyed) — the same critical scrutiny that is applied to sources like the Gnostic Gospels should be applied to the canonical material as well. Fair is fair. But when we examine all of the evidence and clues, we find that our oldest sources are still the best sources on Jesus and the history of early Christianity.

It’s rooted in a principle I’ve always held dear: the Truth is never afraid of questions. In any fair comparison, the Truth will emerge victorious.

The Gospel Code. Highly recommended. And I’ve added another author to my “watch for” list.

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September 2006
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