Sermon #3 – Errors 8-9: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and the Search for the Holy Grail
Or, How Jesus Really Views Women
Pastor Wes Johnson May 14, 2006 (Mother’s Day) Selected Scriptures
Today, we consider Errors 8 and 9, which concern the spirituality of women in Christian and pagan religions. We begin with an excerpt from an article by Melissa Schubert:
What Women Want: The Sacred Feminine and the Forgiveness of Sins
by Melissa Schubert
Last summer, my neighbor’s women’s book group was reading The Da Vinci Code. She and I were on a morning walk when she began to ask me questions about the reliability of Brown’s account of church history. (My college professor “credentials” often make me the target of all sorts of questions outside of my field. Thankfully, I was prepped for this one.)
So, I started answering her with some historical data that, to my mind, makes Brown’s account dubious. The apostles died martyr’s deaths without gaining earthly power or prestige. Why would they want to do so for teachings which they knew to be false? She listened, but I could tell my response wasn’t getting to the heart of her question.
I paused in my attempt to establish the historical implausibility of Brown’s major claims, and she zeroed in on what was to her the real question. “But what about Mary Magdalene? Was she really Jesus’ wife? The book said that Jesus really wanted her to have power, but the male disciples kept it from her, and the church made it a point to keep the truth from women throughout history. I really like how the book showed how important women are.”
Error #8: The Da Vinci Code asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were central players in an ancient feminist religion which promoted ritual sexuality as a means of contact with the divine.
In the novel, Sophie has been traumatized through witnessing her grandfather (a “member” of the fictitious Priory of Sion) engaged in a “religious” rite with ritualistic sex acts. Main character Robert Langdon, her knowing male counterpart, explains, once again blaming Emperor Constantine:
“… Constantine and his male successors successfully converted the world from matriarchal paganism to patriarchal Christianity by waging a campaign of propaganda that demonized the sacred feminine, obliterating the goddess from modern religion forever.” (DVC, Paperback, p. 133).
“Holy men who had once required sexual union with their female counterparts to commune with God now feared their natural sexual urges as the work of the devil, collaborating with his favorite accomplice…woman.” (DVC, p. 135).
If these ideas sound outrageous, understand that Brown is borrowing from the ancient religion of Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love whose temple was located in Corinth . And her religion was an outrage. The Apostle Paul taught strongly against it in his letters to the Corinthian Church .
Notes on Corinth: “The city was filled with shrines and temples, but the most prominent was the Temple of Aphrodite on top of an 1,800 foot promontory called the Acricorinthus. Worshippers of the ‘goddess of love’ made free use of the 1,000 Hieroduli (consecrated prostitutes). This cosmopolitan center thrived on commerce, entertainment, vice and corruption; pleasure seekers came there to spend money on a holiday from morality.” (Bruce Wilkinson & Kenneth Boa, Talk Through the Bible, p. 381)
In Greek mythology, Aphrodite is the goddess of love, beauty and sexual rapture. Aphrodite loved and was loved by many gods and mortals. Her festival is the Aphrodisiac which was celebrated in various centers of Greece and especially in Athens and Corinth . In Corinth , intercourse with her priestesses was considered a method of worshipping Aphrodite. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aphrodite
This is an example of the so-called “sacred feminine” that Dan Brown writes about in The Da Vinci Code. What an amazing contrast with the teaching of Scripture:
Answer: Union with God is not achieved through physical means, but by grace through faith in Christ Jesus as Lord.
1 Corinthians 6:15-17
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
Answer: Marriage between one man and one woman is a model of the mystical union between Christ and his bride, the Church.
The doctrine of creation maintains the wonderful truth that God created us, both male and female, in His image.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The Bible teaches that the most holy union on earth outside of our union with God is the union of one man and one woman in Christian marriage. Together they form a picture of the intimate communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And as they bring children into the world and share that love generation by generation, they live out the image and likeness of our Triune God. Paul writes:
31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.
Male and female together comprise the image of God. We do not need the so-called “sacred feminine.” Instead, we need to be made holy through faith in the death of Christ for our sins. We need to be joined to him through faith. And Christian marriage is a symbol of that intimacy with Christ.
Error #9: Brown claims that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, that they had a child, and that after the Crucifixion, Mary moved to France and raised this daughter.
“Behold,” Teabing proclaimed, “the greatest cover-up in human history. Not only was Jesus Christ married, but he was a father. My dear, Mary Magdalene was the Holy Vessel. She was the chalice that bore the royal bloodline of Jesus Christ.” (DVC, Paperback, p. 270)
Mary Magdalene was, according to Teabing, …”A woman who carried with her a secret so powerful that if revealed, it threatened to devastate the very foundation of Christianity!” (DVC, Paperback, p. 259).
She, Mary Magdalene, is the Holy Grail!
What?? The Grail is a person? That’s the plotline. Brown leads us to believe that this so-called “fact” of history can be uncovered from two sources: the Gnostic Gospels and the art of Leonardo da Vinci.
Let’s first talk about the so-called Gnostic Gospels. As we said in our last message, these ancient texts, written about 200 years after Christ, presented a much different Jesus that the Christ of the New Testament.
Brown has his character attest: “. . . one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the [Gnostic] gospels. Mary Magdalene. . . . More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ.” (DVC, p. 244)
The so-called Gospel of Philip says: “The companion is Mary of Magdala. Jesus loved her more than his students. He kissed her often on her ____, (the text here is corrupt, and we don’t know if it was meant to say ‘face, hand, cheek’, or what. In the Nag Hammadi website, it says ‘mouth,’ in support of their view that Mary was Jesus’ wife.) more than all his students, and they said, ‘Why do you love her more than us?'” (Lutzer, The Da Vinci Deception, pp. 65-66).
Then The Da Vinci Code makes the claim, “As any Aramaic scholar will tell you, the word companion, in those days, literally meant spouse.” Of course, we should point out that this account did not come down to us in Aramaic, but in Coptic. For another, the word companion in either language is frequently used for friendship; by no means does it always mean marriage.” (Lutzer, p. 66)
Dr. Lutzer also points out that the so-called Gospel of Thomas was written about two hundred years after the time of Jesus—and that it also claims that there are “many animals that exist in the world which are in human form…” and that “it is wrong to pray in winter.” (Lutzer, p. 67)
Next, regarding the art of Leonardo da Vinci:
DVC also claims that Leonardo has painted Mary Magdalene into the Last Supper. As you look the painting over, you notice that the person to the right of Jesus looks a bit feminine in face and hair. What’s with that, anyway? Could it truly be Mary Magdalene?
“Sketches for the painting make it pretty clear that the person on Jesus’ right is John and not Mary Magdalene; the fact that John looks admittedly feminine is explained by Bruce Boucher, of the Art Institute of Chicago: ‘St. John was invariably presented as a beautiful young man.’ And, there is the obvious question: with only twelve disciples with Jesus, if one is Mary, where is John?” (Mona Lisa’s Smirk, The Hidden Story of Renaissance Art, in The Da Vinci Code, Companion Guide to the Movie, p. 12)
Fred Sanders writes, “Every age has its own standards of fashion, taste, and human beauty. In the Italian Renaissance, a handsome young man was usually portrayed in a way that emphasized his rosy cheeks, conspicuous beardlessness and curly hair. Since ‘the disciple Jesus loved’ is always portrayed as a young man, Leonardo paints him according to Renaissance standards. Look at any five paintings of ‘The Last Supper’ from a century on either side of Leonardo, and you will see the same kind of face for John. Either all the artists were in on the conspiracy, or there isn’t one. All The Da Vinci Code proves in this respect is that John looks girly to Dan Brown, but not to Leonardo.” (Fred Sanders; Art, Truth and ‘The Da Vinci Code’ — Separating Fact From Fiction) http://go.family.org/davinci/content/A000000090.cfm
Answer: If Jesus was married, why didn’t any of the New Testament authors mention it?
1 Corinthians 9:5
Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?
Certainly, if Jesus were married, it would have strengthened Paul’s argument that he could also travel with a wife. This would have been a great time to mention it.
“Not a single one of our ancient sources indicates that Jesus was married, let alone married to Mary Magdalene.” –Dr. Bart D. Ehrman, Department Chair of Religious Studies, University of NC , Chapel Hill .
No serious scholar argues that Jesus was married, let alone that the church went to murderous lengths to hide it. But while Mary Magdalene cannot seriously be considered a lover or wife, she did have an important relationship with Jesus. Her true relationship with Jesus reveals some of Christianity’s forgotten history with women.
Answer: The New Testament documents clearly show that Mary Magdalene is a devoted disciple of Jesus, nothing more, and nothing less.
(The following material is drawn from Finding the True Mary Magdalene at ChristianBibleStudies.com Christianity Today International.)
1. The gospels portray Mary Magdalene as a valued disciple of Christ who faithfully testified to his life, death, and resurrection.
The Da Vinci Code is right that Mary Magdalene has suffered from a case of mistaken identity. In the Middle Ages, beginning with a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great (540–604), Christians began to associate Mary Magdalene with the anonymous sinner (a prostitute) mentioned in Luke 7, who anointed Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Rather than this being a ploy to destroy Mary’s position and reputation in the church, centuries of Christians have turned to Mary as a model of faithfulness, hope, and repentance. Important theologians like St. Augustine called her the New Eve, and the Catholic Church declared her a saint.
1 After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God . The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
2. Mary’s identity as a witness teaches us about the value Jesus and his church placed on women.
Jesus was extraordinary for having recruited and traveled with both female and male followers. Most of Jesus’ contemporaries would have been scandalized, as it was customary that women would travel only with their family.
All four gospel writers place Mary Magdalene as an important witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. In first-century Jewish society, the testimony of women had little value. While the broader culture may not have placed stock in Mary’s presence, the early church saw her role as important. Unlike other disciples of Jesus, Mary Magdalene saw it all and was remembered as the one who remained by his side.
“The New Testament,” argues biblical scholar Ben Witherington III, “offers a very high view of women and their roles as teachers, preachers, prophets, patrons, deacons, apostles, house-church leaders, and a host of other roles in early Christianity. This includes the roles that Mary Magdalene played.”
Mark 15: 40-41
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
After his resurrection, Jesus commissioned Mary Magdalene to carry the news to his disciples.
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Biblical scholar C. H. Dodd once declared John 20 to be the most convincing proof of the gospel’s account of Jesus’ resurrection—why else would the author record that the Savior of the world first appeared to a nobody like Mary Magdalene? What does it say about Jesus’ view of women that he would appear to Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb?
Looking at these verses, why do you think the Catholic Church gave Mary the title “Apostle to the Apostles”?
3. Jesus’ only claim to marriage is as the Bridegroom who has taken the Church as his Bride. Just as Jesus loves us as his bride, he calls us to love each other.
6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.
8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)
The bride is the church, who is loved, cherished, and “betrothed” to Christ so as to become one spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:15–17). Even though God loves us lavishly, Christians do not always follow Jesus’ example of treating God’s children—men and women—with equal love and respect.
Mary Magdalene was not the wife of Jesus. But she was a mother to us all…bringing to life the Good News that Jesus is Risen. And that because of him, our sorrow can end, our despair lifted, our lives filled with hope for eternity.
Your response today:
Honor the Real Jesus.
Honor women as Jesus does.