The Da Vinci Code Claims that Emperor Constantine created the New Testament canon – the list of books to be counted as Christian Scripture alongside the Old Testament – and rejected thousands of alternative texts by the Gnostics. Brown writes: ‘The fundamental irony of Christianity! The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great’ (p. 313).
Emperor Constantine was born after Lists of New Testament books existed
The claim that Constantine created the canon is not true. Emperor Constantine did ask bishop Eusebius of Caesarea to have fifty copies of the New Testament reproduced for the new imperial capital at Constantinople. But the work of collating the New Testament books had been done over the preceding centuries. The evidence for this is abundant. The most famous documentary example is a piece of writing known as the Muratorian fragment. This fragment dates from the end of the second century and is named after the Italian scholar who first published it in 1740. It is a list of books recognized by the church: four Gospels (though the first two are missing due to damage to the fragment), the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen epistles of Paul; three epistles of John; Jude; the Apocalypses of John and Peter. Significantly, the Muratorian canon rejects Gnostic works by Valentinus and others. This is important for showing that Brown is wrong, because it proves that as early as the end of the second century the church was already denying the truth of Gnosticism, and the canon of Scripture was being formed.
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Emperor Constantine – Did he remove books from the Bible?
The Da Vinci Code Claims that the four Gospels were selected by Constantine from eighty others. Brown writes: ‘Constantine commissioned and financed a new Bible, which omitted those gospels that spoke of Christ’s human traits and embellished those gospels that made Him godlike. The earlier gospels were outlawed, gathered up, and burned’ (p. 317). Or again: ‘More than eighty gospels were considered for the New Testament, and yet only a relative few were chosen for inclusion’ (p. 313).
This is wrong. Many early Christian texts written well before Constantine’s time say that there are and can be only four authoritative Gospels. Irenaeus, who died in around AD200, over a century before Constantine’s reign, writes this in his great work Against the Heresies:
It is not possible that the Gospels can be either more or fewer in number than they are. For, since there are four zones of the world in which we live, and four principal winds, while the church is scattered throughout all the world […] it is fitting that she should have four pillars […]. From which fact, it is evident that the Word, […] who was manifested to men, has given us the Gospel under four aspects, but bound together by one Spirit. (III. xi. 8; Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:428)
This may seem like a strange argument to us – four winds so four Gospels – but the point is clear. There is no evidence that there were ever anywhere near eighty Gospels, and the selection was made many years before Emperor Constantine was even born.