Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Didn't Tell You

  • J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, Daniel B. Wallace
  • Aug 1, 2006
  • Series: Volume 9 - 2006

J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer and Daniel B. Wallace, Reinventing Jesus: What the Da Vinci Code and Other Novel Speculations Didn't Tell You. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006. $16.99. 347 pp. Paperback. ISBN 0-8254-2982-X.

Few could have speculated how the critics would pan the Da Vinci Code movie or anticipated that by the time this book was released the market would be glutted with good responses to the fiction-presented-as-fact in Dan Brown�s novel. Otherwise a different subtitle for this volume would have been chosen. This is not just another response to the issues raised in the novel and the film. It is a serious, detailed, yet eminently accessible refutation of the exaggerated skepticism of bona fide scholars like Bart Ehrman or Robert Price and of the outright misinformation in frequently-believed pseudo-scholarship circulating on the web or via little-known publishing houses.

Dan Wallace is one of today�s premier American evangelical textual critics, teaching New Testament at Dallas Seminary. Komoszewski and Sawyer are Dallas Th.M. and Ph.D. graduates, respectively. The former teaches Bible and theology at Northwestern College; the latter, theology and church history at Western Seminary. Together they have combined to cover several important topics touched on more briefly in some of the other responses to The Da Vinci Code, but nowhere else is this precise package of issues deal with as accurately and helpfully as it is here.

The book divides into five main parts and eighteen total chapters. Part 1 contains three chapters that deal with the order and composition of the Gospels, from the period of oral tradition, where careful memorization accounted for a fair amount of the transmission of the material, to the earliest written sources to the final, completed Gospels. Appropriate criteria of authenticity and their legitimate use form the final topics of this section. With James D. G. Dunn, the Evangelists produced remembered history�selective, theologically meaningful and purposive�but it was also remembered history.

The next five chapters all deal with textual criticism. This is not only the longest but also the strongest main section of the book. �King James Only� mythology is refuted just as the one-sided distortions in Ehrman�s Misquoting Jesus are exposed. Information about the numbers and kinds of New Testament manuscripts available and comparisons with similar data for other ancient sources are up-to-date as of the beginning of 2006. En route, readers also get introductory lessons in the art and science of sifting through textual variants to determine the most likely original readings.

The third segment is entitled, �Did the Early Church Muzzle the Canon?� The first chapter here discusses the books that were included without debate or with debate in the New Testament and those that were excluded. Particularly important was the concept of apostolic authority. The fact that books like Mark, Hebrews, 2 Peter, and Revelation could all eventually be included despite different kinds of questions surrounding their authorship shows that at one level the canonical works simply put themselves forward with such intrinsic quality that they were chosen despite certain doubts that surrounded them. The second chapter highlights the unanimous rejection that known forgeries met. The third chapter nevertheless highlights the generally orthodox belief in the deity of Jesus that the New Testament apocrypha and Gnostic texts presented. If unorthodox Christology appeared, it had to do with doubting Jesus� humanity, not his divinity.

Part 4 treats the debate over whether or not belief in Jesus� deity was a late doctrine in the development of the first centuries of Christianity. An overwhelming amount of evidence shows that it was not. This, of course, is not the same as demonstrating that Jesus was God, but to argue that there was no well-developed belief in his deity by the mid-first century demonstrates either appalling ignorance or inexcusable distortion of the facts. By the second century, one can quote even Christianity�s enemies to show the widespread nature of this belief. The council of Nicea had nothing to do with the discussions about the canon of Scripture but everything to do with clarifying the details of Christ�s divine nature�was he of the same essence as the Father or just very similar. The Nicene Creed, recited in many Christian churches ever since its initial formulation in A.D. 325 resoundingly opted for the former.

The final section of this work turns to the allegation that Christianity borrowed significant concepts from pagan religions, especially with respect to the virgin birth and the death and resurrection of Jesus. J. G. Machen�s The Virgin Birth of Christ (1930) remains the detailed demonstration (often ignored but never refuted) of how radically different the supposed parallels were�almost always involving a �god� in human or animal form literally copulating with a human woman centuries ago in a mythical past�not the restrained claims of deity overshadowing a young woman who gave birth during a period of time still vivid in the memories of some living. Nor do claims of Christianity borrowing the concepts of the dying and rising gods of Greco-Roman mythology (or of the mystery religions, especially Mithraism) stand up. The pre-Christian �parallels� are too distant; the post-Christian ones, too late. If anything, paganism began to mimic Christian concepts by the fourth century because it was quickly losing its appeal. Even then, there are no parallels, period, to a god dying an atoning, substitutionary death for sinful humanity. Neither are there any to the full bodily resurrection of someone known to have been a human being in the recent past.

Sixty-four pages of endnotes round out the volume. A fair number of these are one or more pages in length, responding to the outlandish claims of various scholars and free-lance writers, including some whose views are accessible only via their websites. The internet is the great democratizer of opinion, but it also means that people can brazenly set themselves up as authorities about things they are not, with no scholarly checks and balances, so that web-surfers must beware in the extreme before believing any source of information without checking its authors� credentials and its track record for accuracy. In stark contrast, the documentation that our trio of authors provides remains exemplary.

Until recent years, perhaps somewhat unfairly, Kregel Publications have been best known for reprinting outdated Christian classics and ultra-conservative Christian critiques of mainstream evangelicalism. Under academic books editor, Jim Weaver, this has been quickly changing. Reinventing Jesus is one of the best recent counterbalances to that older, perceived trend. It is a must read for anyone interested in the questions it discusses. Thanks to Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace for a labor of love in checking and cross-checking their facts and presenting such important information in so readable a format.

Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament
Denver Seminary
August 2006