THE BIBLE CODE:
PROPHETIC INSIGHT OR FERTILE IMAGINATION?

by G. Richard Fisher

Every few years Christians become infatuated with some new and esoteric trend. And, if you have missed the hoopla in one of the past movements, just wait a few years and something new will surely surface. For example, in the late 1970s, Roland Buck and other Charismatic leaders captivated a segment of the Church with stories of angelic visitations. This cherubic hype lasted a few years and then diminished.

A decade later, it again revived not only within “Christian” camps (through the fables of such celebrities as Benny Hinn), but also took prominence outside the Church. In 1993, both Time and Newsweek magazines featured cover stories on the “new age” of angels. Television series and specials and Hollywood movies all championed the angelic theme. Many Christian booksellers capitalized on the craze by devoting an entire section in their stores to publications, jewelry, calendars, and other items that advanced the subject of angels.1

FORGOTTEN SECRETS

It seems that Christians had all but forgotten Jerry Lucas’s and Del Washburn’s Theomatics: God’s Best Kept Secret Revealed published 20 years ago. These erstwhile authors assigned numerical values to every letter in the Bible, calling the procedure the “mathematics of God.”2 They claimed even more for their alleged “secret,” saying it was a “key that would unlock a whole new dimension in the Word of God.”3 Now, just two decades later, who remembers or even cares?

Mathematical schemes and “keys” to the Bible are really nothing new. They surface regularly and have been promoted by the likes of Watch Tower founder Charles T. Russell, Anglican dispensationist E.W. Bullinger, Second Coming prognosticator Harold Camping and other cultic and aberrant trendsetters.

The dramatic claims of new insights and new knowledge may help to market and sell books, but do little else. They do not bring believers into a deeper sanctification (only deeper debt). They distract us from the real purpose of God’s Word by having us look for secret and esoteric meanings in Scripture. These materials help divert Christians from the truth that God has already “granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). On one hand, it is fortunate they are soon forgotten or go out of vogue. However, on the other hand, some only become antiquated when a new fad comes to the forefront. Or, some merely lay in hibernation until they are reintroduced years later to a new constituency of devotees.

NUMEROLOGY GOES HIGH-TECH

One of the latest fads in Bible numerology comes to us through the aid of modern technology, as it took the computer to get it going. It is a pursuit of clandestine Bible prophecy called equidistant letter sequence or ELS. It has been popularized by Michael Drosnin’s best-selling book, The Bible Code.4 Drosnin’s book, published by Simon and Schuster in 1997, has found its way onto the (nonfiction) best-seller list of the New York Times. The book’s success has also afforded Drosnin guest appearances on popular television broadcasts such as Oprah. Other notables within Christian circles, including Paul Crouch, Hal Lindsey and Grant Jeffrey, have also jumped on the ELS bandwagon.

Drosnin believes that the real message of the Bible is not available in the plain words on the surface:

“Criss-crossing 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. There is a Bible beneath the Bible. The Bible is not only a book — it is a computer program. It was first chiseled in stone and handwritten on a parchment scroll, finally printed as a book, waiting for us to catch up with it by inventing a computer. Now it can be read as it was always intended to be read.”5

So the Bible cannot really be read in the right way unless one has a computer and is able to read Hebrew. That effectively takes the Bible away from most people.

Drosnin admits that his system has failed him in the past because the atomic holocaust predicted for September 13, 1996 did not occur. Fortunately, he returned to the computer and dug up the word “Delayed” somewhere in and around the catastrophe prognostication.6

WE’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN

The idea of the Bible as a fixed understandable book with a code of conduct to be lived out (taught throughout both Jewish and Christian history) is jettisoned by Drosnin when he says:

“We have always thought of the Bible as a book. We now know that was only its first incarnation. ... something that its original author actually designed to be interactive and ever-changing.”7

The Bible Code idea robs people of the Bible. Its author’s contention is that we must get beyond the Bible as mere words in a book, to the deeper level only reached by computer.

Drosnin wonders if we could reach even deeper levels than he already has. He cites Dr. Eliyahu Rips, who first discovered the ELS code:

“It is almost certainly many more levels deep, but we do not yet have a powerful enough mathematical model to reach it.”8

The deeper incarnations are given a mystical, eerie, frightening, almost godlike quality:

“The computer program that reveals the Bible code is almost certainly not the last form the Bible will take. Its next incarnation probably already exists, waiting for us to invent the machine that will reveal it. ... No one yet knows if each of us, and all of our past and all of our future, is in some still unknown higher-level code in the Bible, if it is in fact some Book of Life. But apparently every major figure, every major event in world history, can be found with the level of encoding we already do know.”9

MICHAEL, OPEN THE BOOK

Whether knowingly or unknowingly Drosnin aligns himself with cult mentality and makes the same suggestion that multitudes of cult leaders have made in the past. Namely, that his code is the final fulfillment of Daniel 12:4 and 9:

“But you, Daniel shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end. ... Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.”

Drosnin expresses his amazement: “But until this moment I never realized that the Bible code might be the secret book.”10 He then lets it all hang out: “The Bible code is the secret ‘sealed book.’”11

ET PHONE HOME

Though Drosnin mentions God, He is not the all-powerful, eternal, all-knowing God of Scripture. Drosnin even wonders if “God” is still around and identifies God as “The long-awaited contact from another intelligence.”12 All God seems to be is a super extraterrestrial being (or beings) that locked secret codes in a book till Drosnin could discover them in 1997.

Drosnin posits a weak God who would be welcomed by process theologians when he says: “He could see the future, but he could not change it. He could only hide in the Bible a warning.”13 Isaiah would say otherwise: “I am God, there is none like me. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient things that are not yet done, saying My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

The message of the mighty, all-knowing God, the Messiah and redemption seem to pale considering these new and amazing discoveries. Drosnin needs an introductory course on the Doctrine of God and Christ.

Drosnin believes that the world’s final outcome is uncertain and can ultimately be decided by us.14 He then puts forth this grandiose claim:

“The code seemed, instead, to be from someone good, but not all-powerful, who wanted to warn us of a terrible danger so we could prevent it ourselves. ... A warning is encoded in the Bible so that we can prevent the threatened Apocalypse.”15

What an incredible thought. God can’t prevent the Apocalypse, so it is up to us!

If Drosnin’s ideas were not so aberrant and misleading they would almost be laughable: “What Moses actually received on Mt. Sinai was an interactive data base, which until now we could not fully access”16 and “The code suggests that even the writing of the laws on two stone tablets may have been computer-generated.”17

IT WAS THERE ALL THE TIME

Drosnin’s major premise is that current events and world leaders like Yitzhak Rabin, Bill Clinton and Adolph Hitler have been recorded on the pages of the Old Testament in hidden codes all along. One obvious downside is that much of what Drosnin decodes is what could be labeled as “after the fact” revelation. “Prophecies” such as the assassinations of “President Kennedy,”18 “R.F. Kennedy”19 and “Yitzhak Rabin”20 are only identified after they’ve happened.

There are, however, alleged messages deciphered that tell of impending natural and man-induced catastrophes; great earthquakes in Los Angeles in the year 201021 and one in Japan sometime between the years 2000 and 2006.22 Besides the earthquake, Japan is to suffer fire and economic collapse.23 Drosnin is bold to say:

“But the Bible code for the first time gives us a direct line to the future. Instead of relying on prophets who see visions and interpret dreams, we can now access by computer an ancient code hidden in the Bible.”24

This is not subtle at all. We no longer need the prophets or prophecies of Scripture. That is outmoded and old hat. The new more exciting, deeper level has come. What the Bible says on the surface is no longer important or needed. The hiss of the serpent (Genesis 3) can be discerned in these thoughts.

The Bible Code warns of approaching warfare and claims we have entered the “end of days,” which began in 1995-1996, Drosnin says.25 Yet Drosnin’s premonition is not without a measure of circumvention:

“I checked every year in the next hundred years. Only two years, 2000 and 2006, were clearly encoded with ‘World War.’ The same two years were also encoded with ‘atomic holocaust.’ They were the only two years in the next hundred encoded with both ‘atomic holocaust’ and ‘World War.’ There is no way to know whether the code is predicting a war in 2000 or 2006. The year 2000 is encoded twice, but 2006 is mathematically the best match. And there is, of course, no way to know if the danger is real. But if the Bible code is right, a third World War by the end of the century is at least possible, and a World War within the next ten years is a probability we cannot ignore.”26

DECODING THE BIBLE CODE

The Jerusalem Post International Edition panned Drosnin’s volume by presenting findings from the very one who discovered the ELS code, Hebrew university mathematician and computer expert, Eliyahu Rips. Rips told the Post:

“All attempts to extract messages from Torah codes or to make predictions based on them are futile and of no value. This is not only my own opinion but that of every scientist who has been involved in serious codes research.”27

Dr. Brendan McKay, computer science teacher at the Australian National University, corroborates Rips noting, “We believe that there are flaws in the mathematics and we have serious concerns about other aspects.”28 He further challenges the way in which Drosnin turns letters into words by establishing that the process can be done with any other writing. In his article “Tracking God’s Secrets Across the Net” he shows how one can derive secret messages from the book War and Peace. Additionally, using Drosnin’s methods, McKay found information about Microsoft magnate Bill Gates in the book of Revelation.29

Dr. Ronald L. Giese, Jr., Associate Dean at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, notes that “The Bible Code” is really a skip code. That is, a letter is found and then a word or message is created by skipping across an equal number of spaces. You can go forward, backward, vertical, horizontal, or diagonal. You can skip five letters or 50 letters (or any number for that matter). It is really nothing more than a giant “Seek ‘N Find” or “Word Search” puzzle with endless possibilities, given that you make up the parameter of the search as you go. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, just increase the boundaries by expanding the playing field with additional rows and columns. And while the technique may take thousands of hours by hand, a computer can accomplish the procedure in seconds.

Drosnin’s concept is further aided by the fact that the Hebrew language is made up of consonants and no vowels. Thus “Rabin” could equally be “Robin” or “Reuben.” And although Hebrew is read from right to left there are no fixed parameters with the new code game and you can go in any and all directions. Drosnin readily admits: “... you can’t find anything without knowing what to look for.”30

Giese further shows that the so-called code can work with just about anything in writing. A telling example is his taking a statement Drosnin made about Israel’s Eliyahu Rips and finding a message by doing a four-letter spacing:

Rips explained that each code is a case of adding every fourth or twelfth or fiftieth letter to form a word.”31

There it is — “read the code”! How could anything be clearer? Thus, we could conclude that even Drosnin’s words have secret messages. And then we could stretch it even more by saying this is a “prophecy” as to the success of his book. There is no end to the foolishness. Giese reports, “I am not aware of one Hebraist or one statistician that has written a positive review of his discoveries.”32

Others critics agree. Peter T. Chattaway, in his article “The Bible Code — God’s fingerprints?” points out:

“For one thing the Bible is not the only text in which computers may find coded prophecies. [Orthodox rabbi Shlomo] Sternberg together with Australian mathematician Brendan McKay, claims to have found the names of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza encoded in the text of Moby Dick, overlapping such phrases as ‘the bloody deed’ and ‘he was shot.’”33

Chattaway further notes that according to Martin Abegg, Jr., director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University:

“... similar codes have allegedly been found in phone books, and says it is ‘foolish’ to place too much emphasis on such findings. ‘We really should expect to see these sorts of things, even in DNA molecules or Moby Dick.’”34

Yet Drosnin’s view is that the Hebrew Bible is a big puzzle and not a clear and open unfolding of God’s work and God’s will for His people.

I TELL YOU A MYSTERY

Some Drosnin enthusiasts may contest, “But how about the fact that the Bible uses the word mystery so often?” However, even when the Bible uses the word mystery, the Greek word musterion means an open secret or new truth being given. Clearly, the immediate context in which the word mystery is used gives the details of the open secret.35

For instance, Colossians 1:27 tells us that the mystery of the Gospel is now manifested. And then in 1 Corinthians 15:51 Paul says, “Behold, I tell you a mystery,” and then unfolds information about the resurrection and the resurrection body.

Jesus was very clear when He said in John 18:20, “I spoke openly to the world ... in secret I have said nothing.” Yet some would have us believe that to really find truth we must search under the text of Scripture and string together sequences of letters from the Hebrew Bible (which must be done by computer) to find the secret meanings and prophecies long hidden.

Codifying the Bible has long been a practice of cultic and aberrant teachers. It was Herbert W. Armstrong who told his followers just a year before his death that:

“I found the Bible to be a coded book with all the paramount mysteries confronting all humanity. The revelation of these mysteries was lost, even to the Church of God, although the revelation of them has been preserved in the writings of the Bible. Why, then, has the world not clearly understood? Because the Bible was a coded book, not intended to be understood until our day in this latter half of the twentieth century.”36

IT’S A LONG STRETCH

What is really misleading are the illustrations of Hebrew text with boxed or circled letters giving the impression that words are found in close proximity. Cases in point are the words “Yitzhak Rabin,” “assassin will assassinate” and “Amir.” “Rabin” is found in Deuteronomy 2, then we must jump to Deuteronomy 4 for “assassin will assassinate” and then all the way back to Numbers 35 for the word “Amir.”37 It really sounds like a patch and paste method of random findings. One must know what to look for to create the messages and prophecies.

Moreover, Drosnin modifies into English what is found in Hebrew. Ronald Hendel, expert on the Hebrew Bible and teacher at Southern Methodist University, claims:

“... that Drosnin can’t even get the surface meanings of the text right. In Deuteronomy 4:42, the verse that supposedly predicts Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, the Hebrew words that Drosnin translates ‘assassin that will assassinate’ should, in fact, read ‘murderer who murders inadvertently.’ And that, says Hendel, is just one of many such mistranslations in Drosnin’s book.”38

THE OPEN SECRET OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

Christians, quite frankly, have trouble enough obeying the plain and obvious things that we do understand from Scripture without making up other things. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that, “Those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” Scripture is there to obey, not to trifle with. Jesus commanded us to “teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), not spend our days looking for secret hidden messages in random patterns of letters.

Looking for secret codes is one big detour and diversion like the backward masking craze popular a few years ago.

Apologist Hank Hanegraaff refers to ELS as “magic apologetics” and denounces esoteric methods of biblical interpretation. In a recent article, he shows that Grant Jeffrey, Paul Crouch and others embellish both the facts and statistics around ELS. Hanegraaff’s weightiest point is that:

“ELS shifts the focus of biblical apologetics from the essential core of the gospel — the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4) — to esoteric speculations.”39

Ignoring the clear and plain message of the Bible takes us down a detour of speculation and away from the practical pursuit of obedience and growth. The speculative chasing of “Bible codes” is not something found in historic orthodox Christianity. Seeing the “inner” meaning of Scripture as opposed to the literal and historical meaning was a mania of the Kabbalists in the 14th century. These Jewish mystics guided by Theosophy, mystical psychology, Gnosticism, myth and superstition ignored the plain, straightforward meaning of the Scripture.40

Jesus admonished His disciples that it is not Bible codes or some secret knowledge that we need; it is not clandestine wisdom or so-called prophecies hidden in secret spacing to which we must devote our attention. He warns, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him — the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48). Ignore ELS and you are the better for not wasting your time. Ignore the words of Jesus to your own eternal peril.

ELS is not prophetic insight. It is statistical probability fueled by a creative imagination. It is worthless to one who is computer illiterate or does not own a computer. It is beyond the grasp of the average person (since it is dependent on knowing Hebrew) thereby taking the Bible’s allegedly juiciest morsels away from most.

The pursuit of a Bible code is not about gain in any sense but about incredible loss. There is the loss of the Bible, the loss of the true knowledge of God and the Savior of mankind. It is about the loss of Bible doctrines regarding salvation and sanctification. Losing these we fail to search the Scriptures as we should (Psalm 1) and lose the information on how to find Christ and mature in Him (2 Timothy 3:14-17).

An editorial in The Christian News offered the following perceptive warning:

“With Drosnin’s interpretation the Bible is reduced to the level of ten psychics making predictions for the New Year’s issue of the National Enquirer. ... Christians, beware of Drosnin’s work. Any work that draws an interpretation of the Bible and doesn’t lead to Christ is the work of the devil. All Biblical interpretation, whether based on the words or the structure of the Bible, must lead to Christ.”41

REINVENTING THE OUIJA BOARD

One must ask: What is the difference between this approach and the Ouija board? This is, in fact, a technological Ouija board. Rather than let our fingers do the walking, we let the computer do it for us. We scan for letters and words to tell us the future and to guide us into that future. Apparently, this is a frightening new form of occultic technology.

For centuries the Christian Church has heralded the message: Jesus saves! Drosnin’s new Gospel is: “‘Code will save.’ ... It is not a promise of divine salvation. It is not a threat of inevitable doom. It is just information. The message of the Bible code is that we can save ourselves.”42 If all we have is a personal computer/Ouija board what else do we have? The Apostle Peter says we have “all things that pertain to life and godliness” through the “precious promises” (2 Peter 1:3-4). These are available all over the pages of the Bible — no computer needed.

In his conclusion, Drosnin asks the reader to make a massive leap of faith by saying: “we must assume that the warning in the Bible code is real”43 although on the same page he suggests that the Bible code may merely be giving scientific gloss to millennium fever and admits there is no way to really know. Why then should I accept his assumption?

It is sad that the Church is falling into the Athenian error of fadism and spending their time (and money) in nothing else but either to hear and tell some new thing (Acts 17:21). The issue is plain — the misleading morass of the “Bible Code” or the pursuit of just plain “Bible Compliance.” Jesus again said; “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14).

 

Endnotes:

1. See further, The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 14, No. 3, “Angels We Have Heard on High?”, pp. 4, 10-12.
2. Jerry Lucas and Del Washburn, Theomatics: God’s Best Kept Secret Revealed. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1977, pg. 12.
3. Ibid.
4. Michael Drosnin, The Bible Code. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
5. Ibid., pg. 25.
6. Ibid., pp. 158-159.
7. Ibid., pg. 45.
8. Ibid.
9. Ibid., pg. 46.
10. Ibid., pg. 90.
11. Ibid., pg. 99.
12. Ibid., pg. 97.
13. Ibid., pg. 102.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., pg. 103.
16. Ibid., pg. 98.
17. Ibid., pg. 95.
18. Ibid., pp. 108-110.
19. Ibid., pg. 111.
20. Ibid., pp. 27-29.
21. Ibid., pp. 141-142.
22. Ibid., pg. 147.
23. Ibid.
24. Ibid., pg. 100.
25. Ibid., pp. 88-89, 92-93.
26. Ibid., pg. 123.
27. Judy Siegel, “Torah Codes Authors Pan Book,” Jerusalem Post, June 14, 1997, pg. 32.
28. Dr. Brendan McKay, “Tracking God’s Secrets Across the Net,” The Christian News, Oct. 13, 1997, pg. 22.
29. Ibid.
30. The Bible Code, op. cit., pg. 29.
31. Dr. Ronald L. Giese, Jr., “Hidden Biblical Secrets Or Modern Day Hype?”, Jerry Falwell’s National Liberty Journal, September 1997, pg. 10.
32. Ibid., pg. 22.
33. Peter T. Chattaway, “The Bible Code — God’s fingerprints?”, Christian Info, October 1997 reprinted in The Christian News, Oct. 27, 1997, pg. 3.
34. Ibid.
35. See further, “Mystery” in The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, pp. 769-770.
36. Herbert W. Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages. Pasadena, Calif.: Worldwide Church of God, 1985, pg. xii.
37. The Bible Code, op. cit., pg. 29.
38. “God’s fingerprints?”, op. cit.
39. Hank Hanegraaff, “Practical Apologetics,” Christian Research Journal, Summer 1997, pg. 55.
40. See further, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, pp. 414-415.
41. “Bible Code: A Nationwide Best Seller,” The Christian News, Sept. 29, 1997, pg. 4.
42. The Bible Code, op. cit., pg. 179.
43. Ibid., pg. 182.

 

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