Feb 1 1998
Many of us who love the Bible find it very easy to get excited over the possibility that a recent discovery might add more confirmation to our confidence that God's Word is just that: His inspired, specific revelation to mankind. Whether we learn of an archaeological find such as the recent unearthing of an ancient artifact supporting the historical reality of the biblical King David, or hear about the latest scientific evidence confirming the accuracy of information given in certain verses of Scripture, we are greatly encouraged in our personal faith and very often enthusiastic about sharing that evidence with unbelievers.
Since there are multitudes of Bible-believing Christians who delight in each new support for the Scriptures, it should be no surprise that there is great interest in a current attempt to prove that God is the divine author of the Bible. That interest is being stimulated by a number of bestselling books and articles appearing in major periodicals dealing with finding hidden messages in the first five books of the Bible. The primary claim is that God not only communicated through the normal text of the Scriptures, but that He designed the information in Genesis through Deuteronomy so that encoded words, hidden for more than three millennia, would be discovered by a code which could only be deciphered through the technology of computers. The result would be irrefutable scientific proof of God's hand in the Bible. We stated in past TBC newsletters (9/96; 2/97) that if the claim held up under valid scrutiny, we could see "no alternative but to believe God encoded the Torah...."
Here is basically how the Bible code works: Selected words are searched for by computer in a chosen version (supposedly only a Masoretic text will work) of the Torah (Pentateuch). The method uses a skip code commonly referred to as equidistant letter-sequencing (ELS), which requires the separation of the searched-for letters of the key word or words by an equal number of letters. The search scans the continuous Hebrew letters from Genesis:1:1 through Deuteronomy. Various ELS codes are assigned until the key word is found. For example, in searching for a specific word, every fifth letter throughout the text is examined to find the letter of the word in the correct spelling sequence. If that skip sequence of every fifth letter fails to discover all the necessary letters of the key word, other equal letter-spacing searches are tried. Code sequences run from single digits to numbers in the thousands.
One author claims to have found the name of the assassinated Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in the Book of Deuteronomy by using a separation of 4,772 letters between each consonant. 1 The Hebrew text used has no vowels, therefore they must be supplied arbitrarily by the searcher. So what has taken place by computer is the selection of the Hebrew letter for "Y," followed by 4,772 consonant letters before the selection of the next key Hebrew letter for "t," which is followed by another 4,772 consonants ending at the next key letter, and so on until all the consonants (y,t,z,h,k,r,b,n) of the name are selected. Those eight consonants, by the way, are spread over 22 chapters of Deuteronomy. Then, by adding the necessary vowels to complete the word being sought, you come up with the name Yitzhak Rabin.
The modern "code" work was introduced by three Israelis: Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips, and Yoav Rosenberg. Witztum is said to be the world's leading code researcher. Their work was first published in the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society (1988) and was updated and republished in Statistical Science (1994), both prestigious professional journals. Michael Drosnin, a journalist, then popularized the "code" and made many sensational claims concerning its predictive qualities, in a 1997 Simon & Schuster book titled The Bible Code . Numerous Christian authors are enthusiastically using the "code" to support basic faith in Christ and in the Bible as God's Word.
The fact that Yeshua Shemi ("Yeshua is My Name") is found encoded in Isaiah 53 and Dam Yeshua ("the blood of Yeshua") appears in Leviticus has been hailed by some evangelicals as the greatest discovery and most convincing proof ever revealed. Unfortunately, researchers have subsequently demonstrated that using the same methodology, "the blood of Mohammed" and even "the blood of [David] Koresh" are also found in Leviticus and many additional times throughout the Torah. (Mohammed is found 2,328 times, Krishna 104 times, and Koresh 2,729 times in the Torah, using skip sequences up to 1,000 letters.) Even Buddha is found in Genesis and Lenin and "Rev. Moon" in Daniel. Moreover, the "code" is being used by some rabbis to prove that Jesus was a false Messiah: Yeshua and Mechashif (sorcerer) and Nabi Shekr (false prophet) are found in the Torah with identical skip sequences and even overlapping.
If the above were not enough to raise a red flag, growing numbers of mathematicians, statisticians and scientists are disputing the validity of the "code." There is even disagreement among those who favor it. Ironically, Eliyahu Rips (a respected mathematics professor) has denounced Drosnin's book. In fact, Drosnin pulls the rug out from under his own book with this closing statement: "Is the Bible code...warning us...of a very real danger? There is no way to know. The code may be neither 'right' nor 'wrong.'" So where does that leave us?!
Many top statisticians and mathematicians are coming forward to denounce the Bible "code." For example, Shlomo Sternberg, member of the National Academy of Science and holder of the George Putnam Chair in Pure and Applied Mathematics at Harvard University, calls Drosnin's book "complete nonsense." 2 Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor of Old Testament Daniel Block accuses Drosnin of turning the Bible into another "Delphic Oracle...ambiguous, able to tell you anything you are looking for." Ronald S. Hendel, with a Ph.D. from Harvard (Hebrew Book Review editor for Bible Review ), calls Drosnin's book "a journalistic hoax." Physicist David E. Thomas applied the Bible-code technique to Genesis (KJV) and found 5,812 encoded "UFOs" with dozens hovering close to or flying through the hidden word "Roswell." Thomas (in agreement with other experts) claims that with the right approach one can find anything in any sizable piece of literature.
Although, like many interested individuals, we lack the necessary expertise in mathematics, computer science, Hebrew, cryptography, and other fields pertinent to an evaluation of all the present claims made for the Bible code, we are not so uninformed that we can't recognize some obvious problems. If God encoded the Torah more than 3,000 years ago for the generation whose technology could decipher it, what version do we decode? The claim by the most prominent decoders is that God encoded the original, and the version they used is no different.
Michael Drosnin asserts, "All Bibles in the original Hebrew language that now exist are the same letter for letter ." 3 This is simply not true. There are many spelling variations (and thus variations in letters) among the various Hebrew manuscripts. For example, while there are no significant textual differences that could change meanings between the Isaiah manuscript found with the Dead Sea scrolls and other later manuscripts, there are some significant letter differences. This is critical, because any spelling differences which developed since the original allegedly "encoded" version was inspired by God, though they do not change the meaning of the text, create havoc for the alleged "code" as presumably placed in the original manuscript. And no one has a copy of that original.
Another major obstacle to the validity of the Bible code is this: If God indeed placed hidden messages in the Torah for the purpose of substantiating His Word as being of supernatural origin, it must be demonstrated that results produced by the Bible code method (or any other verifiable method for that matter) are beyond the capacity of man, and absolutely unique to the Bible. That is a critical point in proving that God has done the encoding and that the cryptic messages are His. If comparable results (re content and statistics) could be produced using the same code method on other sources, obviously the claim of divine involvement and uniqueness (on that basis) would not stand.
Since the initial excitement over The Bible Code , applications of the skip-code sequence to secular books have produced results of significance equal to that of the Torah code research. For example, the Hebrew translation of War and Peace produced more than 50 "Chanukah-related words encoded in the text." 4 War and Peace is an excellent piece of literature, but hardly of divine origin. The ELS method was also used in an effort to show that the Bible-code-claimed revelation of the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin was not supernaturally encrypted. The researcher using the same method found "13 'predicted' assassinations of public figures, several of them prime ministers or presidents or their equivalents" in the novel Moby Dick. 5 There is mounting evidence which indicates that when the Bible-code method is applied to any sufficiently long document, any sought-after message can be produced. Those are not the sort of results that would impress today's skeptical generation. In fact, the principal fruit of the Bible code phenomenon seems to be confusion.
Here the axiom well applies: Something that can prove anything, proves nothing.
It now seems clear that enough questions have been raised by competent experts (which we are not) to create serious doubt as to the "code's" validity. Our earlier willingness to go along with the "code" was based upon the assumption that it was founded upon irrefutable mathematics. That now seems clearly not to be the case. There are enough qualified experts who claim to be able to refute the "code" to cause us to back away from giving it any credence.
The fact that the experts are in disagreement frees us to arrive at certain conclusions which we did not assert so long as there was "irrefutable mathematical support" for the "code." That support is now in disarray. The whole thing turns out to be too complicated to evidence the hand of God at work. As one secular authority (Dr. Jeffrey Satin--over, with expertise in mathematics and physics and advanced degrees from MIT and Harvard), who has thoroughly investigated the "code" and wants to believe it, has said, "To be fair, I myself can't be 100 percent certain of the results." 6 God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor:14:33).
The Bible, as it repeatedly states, is "sharper than any two--edged sword" (Heb:4:12) and sufficient in itself (2 Tim:3:16-17). The Bible is filled with proof that it is God's Word, proof which we have dealt with in the past and won't enumerate again in this article. Its prophecies concerning Israel and her Messiah provide irrefutable proof that the Bible is God's Word, that Israel is His people and land, and that Jesus is the Savior. We need no further proofs, but we have more. Many of these are presented in my [Dave's] 1996 book, In Defense of the Faith . And for those of us (and all who have gone before) who open our hearts to Christ, we have the witness of the indwelling Holy Spirit. We have come to know God personally through our Lord Jesus Christ and need nothing further.
Contrary to the complexity of the Bible codes, God hides His truth "from the wise and prudent" and reveals it "unto babes" (Lk 10:21). It would therefore be out of character for God to provide a "proof" so complicated that one would have to be an expert in mathematics and statistics and computers and cryptography in order to understand it—and still find oneself in disagreement with other equally qualified experts.
Nor is there any hint in the Bible of any hidden code. Rather, the Bible itself declares that God's truth is revealed only by the Holy Spirit and to His sheep, not to mathematicians and statisticians any more than to psychologists. The Bible code smacks of elitism. Like the cultic claim that only the first presidency in Salt Lake City (for Mormons), the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society in Brooklyn (for Jehovah's Witnesses) or the magisterium of bishops, cardinals and the pope (for Roman Catholics) can interpret the Bible, the "code" leaves the average person at the mercy of presumed experts.
The fact is that even if the "code" could be proven and the experts all in agreement, it would offer "evidence" which the Bible says would be meaningless. We are told that the most spectacular truth one could ask for—someone returning from the dead to tell what hell is like—would not be convincing to those who would not heed what God has spoken in His Word (Lk 16:27-31). The same would seem to apply to the much less spectacular Bible code. Thus it is worthless.
What we need is sound doctrine, solid teaching from God's Word—a return to the Bible, not to the Bible code. Many are now spending much time and energy chasing a hidden code to the neglect of what the Bible clearly teaches. May the Lord renew in all of our hearts a love for His Word, the diligence to study it, wisdom to rightly divide it, and the passion to live it and communicate to others the truth which sets free (Jn:8:31-32).
We may be certain that all of the examples we have of living by God's Word (Deut 8:2-3; Mat:4:4), of meditating upon it (Ps:1:1-3), of heeding it and being cleansed thereby (Ps:119:9), etc., refer to the text itself, not to a hidden code. When Paul said, "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up" (Acts:20:32), we know what "Word" he meant. We commend our readers and ourselves to the same. TBC
1 Bible Review (Aug. 1997), 24.
2 Time (June 9, 1997), 56.
3 Bible Review , op. cit., 23.
5 "Tracking God's Secrets Across the Net" ( The Christian News , 10/13/97), 22.
6 John Weldon, Decoding the Bible Code (Harvest House Publishers, 1998), 44.