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Apocrypha Now

On The Da Vinci Code.


I had never been angry at a book before I read The Da Vinci Code. I am no biblical scholar, and it was clear to me that Dan Brown is not either. The book was overtly blasphemous, and, worse, it was popular. It really bothered me how many people liked it. (A thriller based on the Gnostic Gospels isn’t exactly my idea of entertainment anyway.) But my outrage soon gave way to reflection, and the novel prompted me to think for the first time about how the real Bible actually came to be. In its way, The Da Vinci Code is what led me to the Catholic Church.

I was raised in a Protestant family who moved freely among churches and denominations and non-denominations. We always believed in God, and we believed in the Bible and read it. We said some prayers now and then. We lived in a particularly religious area: western Michigan is the region’s Bible Belt. We were less religious than the region but at least as religious as the average American. We did not go to church every Sunday, but we went to church many Sundays, and there were certainly times where we did go to church every or almost every Sunday. When I became an adult, moved out, and went off to college, I was not going to church frequently. But I still had my own faith, praying most frequently when I found myself in some kind of trouble. I did go to church in college at least a few times. I tried various local Protestant churches in the East Lansing area but remained at none. I read some theology. I also continued to read the Bible, regularly and without commentary. But I didn’t know the history of the Bible. I had never heard of Saint Jerome, and I wouldn’t have recognized the word “Vulgate.” I just knew the Bible was the Word of God.

When I read The Da Vinci Code, which was inescapable for several years, I began to think about its treatment of texts outside the canon of Scripture and the possibility of other Bibles. I knew that Catholics had “added” some books to theirs—the mysterious Apocrypha, which I assumed was pretty much just Maccabees. I didn’t think any of it was theologically significant and assumed that Catholics’ divergent views came from things popes had declared rather than from their understanding of Scripture. Messing with the Bible was clearly a bad idea; the last page of it had a stern warning about adding to or subtracting from the book. I was ignorant without knowing it and had a quintessentially American view: the Bible is the Bible, and we all know that, and we all know what’s in the Bible. But Dan Brown of all people made me wonder: who gets to decide?

I had faith that the people who decided and compiled the Bible were right and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Gnostics were out, and for good reason. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were inspired by the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit had acted through some men to protect the canon of Scripture so that we could have it two millennia later. Once I started thinking about this, and read about the context, I started to see a problem. If the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, then people who preserved it down through the ages were guided by the Holy Spirit too. This seemed a necessary precondition to biblical Christianity—that the Bible we hold is right and true. But for this to be the case, the Catholic Church must have been inspired and protected by the Holy Spirit to preserve the Bible inerrant and intact for more than a thousand years only to deliver it . . . to Martin Luther? I was simultaneously forced to believe that God had established the Catholic Church to pass on the Bible and that everything the Church had passed on was false. I did not yet know the phrase Sacred Tradition, but I somehow arrived independently at the conclusion that if the Holy Spirit had guided these men to preserve, translate, and transmit the Bible to me, maybe the things they said about it were worth paying attention to. If you don’t accept that someone—some institution—has been entrusted by God to tell us that the Gospels were true and the Gnostics were false, what makes The Da Vinci Code wrong? The only candidate for that someone to speak this truth was the Church.

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J. C. Miller is an attorney, author, and father living in Michigan.