Question: Are “Bible Codes” valid? Do they validate the reliability and inspiration of the Scriptures?
I was recently asked this question by a teenager, though I imagine many Christians have this question in the back of their mind. For those of you who have never heard of “Bible Codes,” I will begin with a short introduction to the subject.
“Bible codes” are supposedly detectable codes found in the Hebrew Old Testament of the Bible that are derived numerically from the Hebrew letters. Though Jewish scholars have been involved in this type of investigation for centuries, the current interest escalated when three Israeli mathematicians published a scientific paper in 1992. They proposed the idea of using letter sequencing to find hidden messages, especially in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament). This procedure they entitled “Equidistant Letter Sequences (ELS).” They discovered “hidden” messages in the Torah by beginning with one letter and skipping to another letter in sequence. An example of this formula would be starting with the second letter, skipping to the fourth letter, then to the sixth, etc., skipping one letter each time. They reasoned that these codes had been undiscoverable until now because the technology of computers was unavailable until recently.
In 1997 Michael Drosnin stimulated further interest by publishing the findings of the three Israelis in a book entitled Bible Codes. He suggested that this method was valid, and that through its use predictions of past events as well as yet future events were so encoded into the Scriptures. He supposedly found predictions concerning the assignation of John F. Kennedy, the exact day the Gulf War would start, and the assignation of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a man named Amir.
Response to his book was mixed at best, but some controversy ensued. Many claim that a 3000 year old book could not know anything of the future, while some Christians claim this is proof of the divine inspiration of the Bible.
What, then, should be our response to these writings? Allow me to suggest several:
1. Bible Codes go directly against the character of God. God’s Word is His revelation of Himself to man, and we are accountable for the plain meaning of it. God would not hide esoteric codes in the Old Testament and then hold us accountable for finding them, nor would he hide info in his Word that would be impossible to find for thousands of years. The focal point of the Old Testament is Christ, and Bible Codes changes this emphasis to these esoteric codes. In fact, the Bible condemns the quest for obscure messages (Colossians 2:2-9; 1 Timothy 6:20-21). God desires us to know and understand His Word (1 Timothy 3:16-17), and the Holy Spirit assists us in understanding God’s direct revelation (1 Corinthians 2:6-13).
2. The original manuscripts of the Hebrew Old Testament are not available to us, and the manuscripts we do have reveal differences by the different scribes that made the copies in matters such as spelling, deletion and insertion of words, etc. While none of these variations affect the truth that God has revealed, the insertion or deletion of a word or letter would certainly throw the ELS off.
3. The “messages” discovered by using ELS would be completely arbitrary. They are arbitrary in how they are discovered as well as how they are interpreted. The messages that have been found are often single, disjointed words or very short phrases, making them extremely ambiguous. All that has really been discovered is that man can program computers to find non-random messages in random texts.
4. Bible codes are not good scientific methodology; they are, in fact, a pseudoscience. Claims are made that the probability of finding a complex message in such letter sequencing is too low for chance to explain it, and that the size of their sample is small and the number of possible significant messages is one. Both of these claims are untrue. Almost any message can be found in a sufficiently lengthy text. A number of scientific scholars have proven that, given a large enough book, randomly chosen letters could spell out words and even sentences. In other words, the process is not unique to the Bible.
5. Drosnin and other proponents of Bible codes have discovered messages that have not proven true. In the book Bible Codesis a failed prediction of the assignation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Michael Drosnin, The Bible Code, pp. 157-165). According to the Bible, any prophet or prophecy that is not 100% correct is false and not of God (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
6. Bible codes are not a good apologetic method. The absolute best prophetically and statistically sound proofs for the reliability and inspiration of the Bible are the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament that were completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ. These were all the validation that the apostles needed.
7. Merely studying and even believing Bible codes are no guarantee that someone will put their trust in God. Michael Drosnin, after years of studying Bible codes, admits he is still an atheist. Said Drosnin: “I had proof there was a code, but not proof there was a God. . . . I don’t believe in God. . . . The message of the Bible code is that we can save ourselves” (Michael Drosnin, The Bible Code, pp. 103, 179). If this is the only lesson to be learned, we would be better off reading God’s Word as it is to encounter the God of the Bible directly through His own words.
In summary, Bible codes are not provable, reliable, or necessary means to provide apologetic material for the reliability of the Bible or the existence of God. As with many other fads that have hit the Christian market, this one has no credibility or usefulness for Christians.