Jason Sobel, a Messianic Jewish rabbi, believes he has found a secret, encoded, cryptic messages from the Bible. His method is primarily the use of numerology, a branch of knowledge that ascribes numerical value to words and letters and then attempts to reveal hidden insights. Numerology, when applied to Scripture, has been called “Bible codes” and in modern times was popularized in the book The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin (1997) and in the movie “The Omega Code,” both claiming that messages from God are encoded in the Hebrew Bible and can be deciphered through complicated use of numerology. While the Bible code system has been thoroughly rejected and debunked by serious Bible scholars from all theological branches, it nevertheless persists on the popular level. The Mysteries of the Messiah is a recent example of the idea that God has hidden secret messages, prophecies, and “deep insights” which can only be mined through esoteric and imaginary means.
Sobel believes ascribing numeric value to biblical words and phrases was developed shortly before the time of Christ (pp. xiii-xiv). Throughout the book he uses numerology to find encoded meanings, but in addition he makes liberal use of allegorical hermeneutics (pp. 44, 59, 164), which is prevalent in the Jewish Midrash (AD 400-1200), (pp. xvi, 192-193), Jewish traditions not found in Scripture (pp. 40-45), and rabbical interpretation which is often fanciful to say the least (pp. 45-46, 57). Sobel also testifies that he has received personal revelations from the Messiah on occasion (pp. 1, 102).
When all these means are combined it leads to some bizarre interpretations. For example, observing that 666 is a reference to the antichrist, he claims the book of Isaiah seems to “use 888 as a hidden calculation encoded in the Hebrew text that points to the person and work of the Messiah” (p. 184). If this is not conjecture enough, Sobel adds, “The difference between the number of the antichrist and Jesus is 222, the value of the Bechor (“firstborn”), one of the titles of the Messiah” (p. 184). Why this would matter, even if true, is not revealed.
The danger and tragedy of Sobel’s system is not only in undermining sound hermeneutics, but also in its utter destruction of perspicuity. Perspicuity means that the Scriptures, when read normally and literally can be understood by the average Christian. Its meaning is not hidden; it is not obscure. While certain portions of the Bible demand careful and serious consideration, it is nevertheless understandable by the believer using normal reading methods. Bible code systems, such as Sobel’s, obliterates perspicuity and leads to doubt that Scripture can be understood apart from elaborate systems unearthed only by specialists in obscure codes. In addition, neither are such codes revealed by God nor are the keys to discerning the codes given to man. Numerology is purely a human-invented system that has no value in understanding God’s Word, and at times can lead the reader astray.
by Rabbi Jason Sobel (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2021) 203 + xvii pp, hard $24.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel