Bible Codes: Real or Fake?

One of the most enduring claims to be made about the Bible is the claim that it contains hidden messages or coded information within the manuscripts which predict the future or tell special things about contemporary personalities. The problems that such a claim makes are numerous, but on an apologetic note there is a profound influence. If a person accepts such a claim and believes it to be a part of the biblical record, it is very easy to have one's faith in the Bible destroyed when the code claim turns out to be false. Over the 32 years that this journal has been in existence, there have been a half dozen claims made by people claiming to have found hidden messages or codes in the Bible. One of the more recent and more popular is the book The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin (see page 15 for a review of this book). While there are several other similar books and programs stretching back over many years, they all have the same problems that Drosnin's book has, so we will confine this discussion to his methods.

The direction of letters. Drosnin's codes are found by eliminating spaces between words and then conducting a computer search called Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS). Whether you skip three letters or 100 letters is up to the programmers. What they do is to keep trying different ELS values until something shows up. Using every 50th letter in Genesis 1, for example, produces the word Israel.

Before pointing out the most basic problem with this technique in Hebrew, let us point out that this methodology is infallible as far as producing what the author wants. You determine what you will accept, and you keep trying different ELS values until you get what you want. Brendan McKay, an Australian mathematician, found that using this method on Moby Dick could predict (after the fact) the assassinations of Gandhi and Somoza (Ben Witherington, "A Cracked Code," Christianity Today, July 12, 1999, page 20).

In the biblical case, there is another problem. Hebrew in the original language is written right to left. Drosnin and most other biblical code claimants do their analysis left to right as we do in English. Who were the codes written for--only English speaking people? Would not a Hebrew message written in Hebrew be for Hebrews?

No original Hebrew Bible exists! Drosnin and others claim to use a universally accepted original Hebrew text as the basis for their studies. The problem is that no such document exists. In the original Hebrew texts, there were no vowels. Drosnin and others usually use a text in which vowels have been supplied. This is a conscious choice which again means that the person doing the search is controlling what will be used and what will not.

In addition to the vowel problem, there are numerous biblical manuscripts where the order of words is not the same in all documents, or where an explanation was added by a scribe writing at a later date. That is why your Bible may have an indication that a phrase "was not in the earliest manuscript."

Let us hasten to add that this does not mean that there is a question as to the basic message or the credibility of the Bible we have, but it does help to show us that the Bible is a means of conveying God's word to us, not an object to be worshipped. In a dynamic changing world of multiple languages and cultures we can all understand the message, but to make each letter of the Hebrew language convey something special is a form of idolatry.

Deliberate alterations of translations have been done to make ELS work. Ronald Hendel, writing in Bible Review, August, 1997, reported that deliberate mistranslations had been used to get desired results. One example Hendel gave was Genesis 25:11 where your Bible will say "After Abraham's death" Drosnin used "After the death of the Prime Minister." The Hebrew Abraham was divided to Ab and raham making two words, and the ELS connection was Rabin.

There are many other problems with claims of coding, but the most basic point is that there is no need or evidence that such coding exists. The emphasis of the Bible is not on the political, social, cultural, or economics future of mankind. The emphasis is on the spiritual future of mankind. Trying to find hidden messages and meanings is not something needed or desired. The crucial need is for people to learn to use the Bible to order and direct their lives in a way that pleases God, enriches their fellow human beings, and brings peace and fulfillment to them.

--John N. Clayton

Back to Contents Does God Exist?, NovDec99.