Bible Study
Study Topic: The Bible Code: What enthusiasts overlook

Douglas S. Winnail

Many have wondered about the "Bible code." Does it prove that God inspired the Bible? Does it really predict the future? Does it give us remarkable new insights into Scripture and the world around us? Michael Drosnin’s 1997 book, The Bible Code, was an instant best-seller that enlivened talk shows and spawned a series of "copycat" novels, films and videos that were immediately snatched up by a fascinated public. Interest in predictions runs high—especially at the beginning of a new millennium! But is the Bible code real? Is it credible? Is it of God? Or, is it a passing fad and a hoax? John Weldon, who holds a doctorate in comparative religion observes, "we are dealing with either one of the greatest revelations in human history, or one of the greatest mistakes" (Decoding the Bible, Weldon, 1998, p. 11).

In this article, we will examine what has been discovered and written about the Bible code by its promoters and its critics. We will see what history reveals about Bible code methodologies, and—more importantly—how the statements of Bible code enthusiasts compare to actual statements in Scripture. We will learn why the Living Church of God has not embraced, endorsed or promoted this "remarkable discovery." We will also learn some important lessons about how to evaluate sensational new information—even when that information appears to promote God and the Bible!

Codes, Computers and Critics

In The Bible Code, Michael Drosnin makes the claim that "there is a Bible beneath the Bible… crisscrossing the entire known text of the Bible, hidden under the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, is a complex network of words and phrases, a new revelation" (The Bible Code, p. 25). To find the Bible code, he mentions that researchers "eliminated all the spaces between the words, and turned the entire original Bible into one continuous letter sequence, 304,805 letters long" (Ibid.). Computers were then programmed to search for words by looking at letters at various intervals—every second, fifth, 100th or 1,000th letter, etc. These are called "equidistant letter sequences" or "skip codes" because the intervening letters are skipped over when constructing words. Using this method Drosnin claims to have discovered remarkable predictions by finding key words associated with critical world events—John Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, Scud missiles and the Gulf war, the date of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Rabin (Ibid., pp. 14, 26). While this sounds amazing, we need to ask—just how credible are these claims, and how trustworthy is the methodology behind the Bible code?

The Bible code assumes that modern Hebrew texts are exactly the same as what God gave to Moses. In fact, Drosnin claims "all Bibles in the original Hebrew language that now exist are the same letter for letter" (The Bible Code, p. 194). Yet this is simply not the case! Various critics point out that spellings of Hebrew words have changed over the centuries, that numerous scribal variations have accumulated during recopying, and that the original Hebrew text may actually have been shorter than modern texts (see Christianity Today, July 12, 1999, p. 60; also Who Wrote the Bible Code, Ingermanson, 1999, p. 27). Dr. Ronald Hendel writes, "every known ancient Hebrew manuscript of the Bible, including every manuscript of the traditional Masoretic text, has a different number of letters. This is a fatal problem for a computer program that relies on the manipulation of exact numerical sequences of letters" (Bible Review, August 1997, p. 23). Professor Shlomo Sternberg comments that an eleventh-century version of the Torah (Leningrad Codex) "differs from the Koren edition… in 41 letters in Deuteronomy alone" (Ingermanson, p. 27).

Another critical factor Drosnin does not mention is that the Hebrew text fed into a computer contained no vowels. The words he found when searching for predictions were only consonants—to which he added the vowels. In this situation, the person doing the searching can determine the prediction by choosing which vowels to insert. In addition, when you eliminate spaces and run letters together and then create new words, you mutilate the original text and eliminate the original meaning! This process of textual manipulation becomes very subjective and enables the researcher to find whatever he is looking for.

Peter Coy, an associate economics editor, writes that The Bible Code is a classic example of what errors can be committed when "data-mining" occurs—when you simply look for patterns in large amounts of data. Recognizable patterns can be found, but that does not mean there is a definite relationship between the items—the occurrences may be purely coincidental! Coy mentions it is worth studying Drosnin’s book "because his methodology is so bad that it’s a valuable example of how not to read data" (Business Week, June 16, 1997).

The original code researchers claim they were unable to find hidden codes in other books such as a Hebrew translation of War and Peace. Drosnin asserted "when my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick I’ll believe them" (Time, June 9, 1997, p. 67). Yet Brendan McKay, an Australian mathematician, took up the challenge "and found predicted assassinations of Gandhi and Nicaraguan president Somoza, among others" in Moby Dick (Christianity Today, July 12, 1999, p. 60). Physicist David Thomas "has found thousands of hidden occurrences and many complex messages in the English King James translation of Genesis, and in a well-known court case" (Weldon, p. 50). Thomas writes "I was able to easily produce complex hidden messages in all the texts I worked with… once I learned how to navigate in puzzle space, finding ‘incredible’ predictions became a routine affair" (Ibid., pp. 50–51).

Michael Drosnin appears to arrive at some of his startling predictions by a process of creative mistranslation. Numerous critics point this out. In Genesis 25:11, "after the death of Abraham" is translated by Drosnin "after the death of the prime minister." In Leviticus 26:12–13, "[you] will be my people. I am [the Lord your God]" is rendered by Drosnin as "July to Amman." In Numbers 26:64, "[the men] numbered by Moses" becomes in Drosnin’s book "the code will save." For a more detailed discussion of mistranslations that become startling predictions, see Weldon, pp. 71–74; Christianity Today, July 12, 1999, p. 60; Hendel, "The Secret Code Hoax," Bible Review, August 1997.

Drosnin also claims to be able to predict the future using Bible codes, yet leading code experts flatly state "it is impossible to use the Torah codes to predict the future… most of Drosnin’s claims are unreliable" (Weldon, pp. 42–43). For these and other reasons one of the discoverers of the Bible code comments, "I do not support Mr. Drosnin’s work on the codes nor the conclusion he derives… the book is on extremely shaky ground" (Ibid.). Theoretical physicist Dr. Randall Ingermanson concluded, after running computer tests for associated letter frequencies on every book in the Old Testament, "the Torah has no Bible code… there is no Bible code" (Ingermanson, pp. 134, 137).

Mystical Origins

But where did the idea of a Bible code come from? What prompted researchers to look for a code with a computer? Historical sources offer very interesting answers! Drosnin mentions that when the code researchers arranged the Hebrew text into a continuous letter strand of 304,805 letters, they felt they were "actually restoring the Torah to what great sages say was the original form. According to legend, it was the way Moses received the Bible from God—contiguous, without break of letters" (Drosnin, p. 25). But who were these sages who gave birth to the legend? Where did they get their ideas that you can read the biblical text forwards, backwards, vertically and diagonally and create a hidden text by dropping out letters? One of the code researchers explains, "according to mystical sources in Jewish tradition, the Torah can be read and understood on many levels, including the level of a hidden text" (Weldon, p. 20).

Numerous reviewers have noted the connection between the methodology of the Bible code and Jewish mysticism—Kabbalism. Kabbalists have been trying to find hidden messages in the Torah for centuries. Kabbalism incorporates elements of Gnosticism, Neoplatonic philosophy, magic and oriental religion. Dr. Weldon writes, Kabbalism "represents a rebellion of sorts against traditional Judaism… both philosophical and practical Kabbalism are opposed to the doctrine and commandments of the Torah and the rest of the Jewish scriptures" (p. 146). Kabbalists teach that God is an androgynous being who is indescribable and unknowable. The god of Kabbalism is definitely not the God of the Bible—but resembles instead the esoteric ramblings of Gnosticism! The Encyclopedia of Judaism states, "ever since the second century CE, there has been a trend in Jewish culture which is not satisfied with traditional ways to approach God" (Ibid.). This has generated attempts to gain a mystical experience with God by trying to find hidden messages in Scripture and by inducing trance-like states by repeating sacred names for God in order to "receive" divine messages from God.

For Kabbalists, the surface meaning of any biblical text is secondary or inferior to the hidden meaning, and "readers who focus on the surface meaning of the biblical text and its historical narrative are said to be harming themselves spiritually" (Ibid., pp. 154–155). This Kabbalist approach to interpreting Scripture (looking for hidden meanings behind the surface text) strongly influenced many fathers of the Church up through the Middle Ages.

Kabbalists "saw themselves as transmitters of divine secrets" that they alone could glean from Scripture (Ibid.). According to the EncyclopÊdia Britannica, Kabbalists believed "esoteric [hidden] doctrines are contained in the Hebrew Scriptures. The uninitiated cannot perceive them; but they are plainly revealed to the spiritually minded, who discern the profound import of this theosophy beneath the surface of the letters and words of Holy Writ" (11th Ed, article: "Kabbalism"). These are almost Drosnin’s exact words! Similarly, one leading code researcher has stated that "he alone could properly conduct code searches" because of the complexity of the codes (Cracking the Bible Code, Satinover, 1997, p. 17). Historical sources clearly reveal that the origin of Bible code ideas and methodologies originated from Jewish mysticism, pagan philosophy and heretical Gnostic speculations—not the God of the Bible!

The Bible vs. the Bible Code!

One of the most helpful and instructive ways to evaluate the Bible code is to compare the claims of code promoters to the clear statements of Scripture. When you do this, striking contrasts emerge! We are told in the Bible that "surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets" (Amos 3:7). The prophets of God believed in God, feared God and obeyed God. Their prophecies were often warnings of what would happen if people would not repent and obey God. Michael Drosnin, by his own admonition states, "I’m not religious. I don’t believe in God. I’m a total skeptic" (Drosnin, p. 181). The focus of The Bible Code is on predicting the future—not on repentance! 2 Peter 1:19–20 tells us that God has given a more sure word of prophecy to His Church, and that no prophecy is to be interpreted privately. Drosnin’s entire book is about his own personal interpretation of prophecy. He is not affiliated in any way with God’s Church. He does not even believe in God. Would God totally contradict His own inspired word and do things in a manner just the opposite of what He has told us He would do? Think about it!

The Bible indicates repeatedly that the prophecies of God are sure and certain (Daniel 2:45; Isaiah 14:24, 27; 48:3–7). However, Drosnin and code researchers suggest, "all probabilities are in the Bible Code" (Drosnin, p. 44). Drosnin goes on to assert, "The Bible is a warning of sudden and inevitable doom. But the real message of the Bible code is just the opposite. A warning is encoded in the Bible so that we can prevent the threatened Apocalypse… The message of the Bible code is that we can save ourselves" (Ibid., pp. 103, 179). This idea denies the need for the return of Jesus Christ, and abolishes Christ’s role as the Savior of mankind (see Matthew 1:21; 24:3, 22). For Drosnin, "the code will save," not Jesus Christ! While Drosnin may mean well, this is truly a different Gospel—which the Bible condemns (see Galatians 1:6–9).

The suggestion by Bible code researchers that in order to recognize and decipher the hidden codes you must understand Hebrew, have a high powered computer and be able to run sophisticated statistical analyses to verify your findings, simply runs contrary to what God has revealed in His word. We do not find any implications of hidden codes in Scripture. God says "I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place… I declare things that are right" (Isaiah 45:19). Again we read, "But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word" (Isaiah 66:2). God says He will listen to those who humbly seek Him and believe what is plainly recorded in the surface text of the Bible. People who speculate and argue over Scripture and seek hidden meanings that contradict the obvious message will not understand the Bible. The Bible plainly states, "If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). That is a pretty strong statement!

The biblical texts on which Drosnin and other code researchers focus their attention clearly forbid divination (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:9–14). The Bible also warns that we should not listen to or be deceived by diviners (Jeremiah 27:9; 29:8). Divination is an attempt to foretell the future by some physical means. The ancients tried to do this by slaughtering an animal and examining the inner organs. Today people use Ouija boards, tarot cards, astrology, crystal balls—and, most recently, computer programs that eliminate all the spaces between letters in the Bible and search for "hidden" messages in reassembled words! If the Torah contains every detail of a person’s life (as Kabbalists believe) then "the Bible could become the greatest divination tool of all time" (Weldon, p. 83)!

Michael Drosnin and the Bible code researchers are using the Hebrew text as a "Delphic oracle" to divine information. They are more interested in finding hidden messages than following the clear instructions of Scripture. When we compare what promoters claim about the Bible code, we see a remarkable contrast with the Bible. We see two different approaches to God and to divine revelation. The prophet Elijah addressed this very issue when he contrasted two different belief systems and warned the ancient Israelites "How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him" (1 Kings 18:21). We face the same decision today!

Important Lessons

Predicting the future is a fascinating subject. It creates an immediate audience, yet it is a subject that needs to be approached with caution. The Bible gives us important guidelines for evaluating information. Solomon wrote "the first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17). Solomon also wrote, "in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22). Books that promote the Bible code make it sound like an astounding, airtight discovery. Yet when you take the time to read books and articles that critique the research methods and conclusions of code promoters (getting a multitude of counsel) an entirely different picture emerges—one that has some pretty big and dangerous holes.

Jesus admonished His disciples to "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16). We cannot afford to accept and believe just any book or author who is out to prove that God inspired the Bible. We must be cautious and carefully evaluate what is being said.

One final lesson is that we need to know and understand what the Bible actually says. Paul admonished Timothy to "be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings" (2 Timothy 2:15–16). Jesus warned numerous times that widespread religious deception would exist just before His Second Coming (Matthew 7:15–23; Matthew 24:4–5, 11, 24). Brethren, keep your eyes open. Study your Bible. Learn to think carefully and critically. Determine to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). The Bible code promotes a mystical, Kabbalist interpretation of the Bible that ignores the plain message of Scripture. Skip codes turn the Bible into a mass of letters and create messages that contradict Scripture. There is nothing hidden or secret about this matter—it is obvious—when you compare the Bible code to the Bible!