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'The Da Vinci Code': Fiction, Not Fact
Paul G. Irwin, President of the American Bible Society


"The Da Vinci Code" movie, is based on Dan Brown’s mega best-seller novel. Christians who are inspired by the Scriptures have experienced a combination of confusion and sometimes anger at the theories about origins of the New Testament put forth in the book.

It is important to note that the book and the movie are fiction. The theories about the origins of the New Testament Scriptures put forth in the book — namely that church officials held back important information about the life of Jesus in various secret conspiracies that have lasted centuries — may make fascinating background for a murder mystery, but the truth lies somewhere else.

The origins of the New Testament are well documented.

It is not possible to know exactly when all the books of the Jewish Scriptures were finally collected. Some of the writings in the Jewish Scriptures may go back as far as 1100 B.C., but the process of bringing the books together probably didn’t begin until around 400 B.C.

The process of deciding which books would be part of the official Jewish Scriptures went on until almost 100 A.D., the time when the Jewish Scriptures were translated into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint. This Greek version of the Bible was used by Jewish people throughout the Roman Empire and was used by the early Christians as well.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus, around 30 A.D., the stories about Jesus, as well as his sayings, were passed on by word of mouth. It wasn’t until about 65 A.D. that these stories and sayings were gathered and written in books known as the Gospels.

The earliest writings of the New Testament, however, are probably some of the letters that the apostle Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers throughout the Roman Empire.

For nearly 300 years, the early church leaders and councils argued about which New Testament writings should be considered holy and treated with the same respect given to the Jewish Scriptures. In 367 A.D., the bishop of Alexandria wrote a letter that listed the 27 books he said Christians should consider authoritative. The writings he named are the same 27 books that today we call the New Testament.

In 383 A.D., Pope Damasus I assigned a scholarly priest named Jerome to create an official translation of the Bible into Latin. It took him about 27 years to complete. His translation became known as the Vulgate and served as the standard version of the Bible in Western Europe for the next 1,000 years.

By the time Johannes Guttenberg invented the modern printing press in the 1450s, the use of the vernacular (local or national) languages was becoming acceptable in official matters. As more people began to read, there was more of a demand for the Bible in vernacular languages, met by translations in the various Western European languages. That process of Bible translating continues today, helped by a number of developments, including the discovery of ancient Greek manuscripts of the New Testament that have been found in the last 150 years, and the famous Dead Sea scrolls.

The Bible is a very old book that has come to us because many men and women have worked hard copying and studying manuscripts, examining important artifacts and ancient ruins, and translating ancient texts into modern languages. Their dedication has helped keep the story of God’s people alive.