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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

23 May 2006

Da Vinci Code: Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Martin Luther

Q: A review of the new movie The Da Vinci Code from Entertainment Weekly said that “it can’t be proved that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were ever intimate (though Martin Luther believed so).” Amazing! Is there any truth to this?

Vitruvian ManA: Like many a good lie, there’s a very small kernel of truth contained within. Since a recent essay from Aardvark Alley dealt with this question, I include portions of it (with permission) in my response.

The Aardvark notes, “Are [these comments] baseless slander? Do they have a germ of truth behind them? Or did Martin Luther actually believe and say such things? Actually, these are not our only choices. I contend that [Da Vinci Code author] Dan Brown [and others] ... misunderstood the Reformer and distorted his words.”

Luther came from our Western Christian tradition that often associates Mary Magdalene with some of the unnamed sinful women in the Gospels, although there’s no Scriptural evidence to support or deny that assertion. Of Jesus, sex, and marriage, Luther actually said, “Christ was an adulterer for the first time with the woman at the well, for it was said, ‘Nobody knows what he's doing with her’ [John 4:27]. Again [he was an adulterer] with Magdalene, and still again with the adulterous woman in John 8 [:2-11], whom he let off so easily. So the good Christ had to become an adulterer before he died.”

Anyone who reads Luther’s Table Talk laments that the students taking notes didn’t always include much context. Particularly in this case we wish that John Schlaginhaufen would have let us know what provoked this comment. Still, as the Aardvark says, “There are a few things that we can know from understanding all of Luther’s theology and beliefs.”

He continues, saying that we know that Luther was a firm believer in Scripture’s testimony concerning Jesus and there’s nothing in his mature writings to indicate that he believed that our Lord ever married. Instead, Luther “properly understood that Christ came to claim and cleanse the Church as His bride (see Ephesians 5:22-32 and Revelation 21).”

The Aardvark goes on to point to one of two possible conclusions. One is that “Luther may have been examining Jesus from the perspective of His First Century witnesses, who were shocked that He ate and drank with ‘sinners’ and that He’d sit and talk one-on-one ... with a woman. With Luther’s frequent invective against gossips, we can easily imagine him paralleling the suspicious minds and wagging tongues of Christ’s time with those he knew in 16th Century Germany.”

Weimar AltarpieceHis other possible conclusion “is that Luther was speaking theologically [specifically, Christologically]. Talking with, granting forgiveness to, and allowing anointing by these women was emblematic of Jesus’ entire earthly ministry.... While sinless, He took our sins upon Himself that He might fully forgive us. Paul summarized this work in 2 Corinthians 5:21, saying, ‘For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’

“Hanging cursed upon the tree because of our transgressions, Jesus, in the Father’s righteous judgment, had become ‘adulterer’ to save sexual sinners. Likewise, He was ‘murderer’ to save the hateful, as well as ‘oath-breaker,’ ‘liar,’ ‘sorcerer,’ and every other type of wicked person, even though He never committed a single one of these sins.”

Since we’re left with only the fragmentary quote from Luther, we cannot finally choose between either of these interpretations. They both fit the facts; perhaps Luther intended both meanings to continue in his students’ minds. However, neither interpretation gives any credence to the pack of lies, historical distortions, and theological errors Dan Brown has worked into his book and film.

Luther quoted from Luther’s Works, Volume 54: Table Talk, © 1967 by Fortress Press.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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Blogger David C. said...

I found a wiki-based site that would benefit from your remarks and insight Pastor Snyder.

Looks like a ‘Code’ author has dumped his content into a wiki so anyone can go in and edit what’s there or add new content. Seems interesting...the URL is

24 May, 2006 02:42  

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