The Bible Code
(January 1998 – Volume 4, Issue 1)
The ad reads, “The Signature of God: Astonishing Biblical Discoveries has swept the minds of Christians and skeptics alike. His explosive teaching documents mysterious Hebrew codes in the Old Testament that reveal Hitler, Rabin, Jesus, and much more. You’ll be startled by archaeological evidence confirming Christ’s death, the fall of Jericho, and the tower of Babel. Ideal for building your faith, and a dynamic evangelism tool!” This book and video, which is directly targeted for the Christian community, is based in part on the work of Michael Drosnin as popularized in The Bible Code. The Bible Code, which was written by an unbeliever and is purely secular in scope, claims that someone (he speculates that it was extraterrestrials) placed a secret code in the Old Testament over three thousand years ago. This code apparently predicts all of the major events in history. In addition (and this is where things really get exciting) the code reveals events that are yet future to us. By cracking the code we may be able to know with almost complete certainty what lies ahead. Unfortunately past generations were unable to discover, and thus benefit from, the Bible code, due to its complexity. Its secrets could only be unlocked by computer, and so, lucky us, we are the beneficiaries of these long hidden secrets.
Drosnin claims that the Bible code was actually broken by an Israeli mathematician, Dr. Eliyahu Rips. His research, in turn, has received support from other famous mathematicians at Harvard, Yale, and Hebrew University, as well as other experts in various fields. At least that is what we are told. One of the disturbing aspects of The Bible Code is its almost complete lack of footnotes. Statements and quotes are constantly found to support Drosnin’s thesis, yet verification in the form of documentation is almost always missing. It is easy to get the idea that if one could take the time to run down all of these “experts” and ask them about their supposed support, a different story might be found altogether. As a matter of fact, Brendan McKay, a mathematician and computer scientist at Australian National University in Canberra, goes on record, “As far as I know, there isn’t a single statistician in the whole world who supports this” (People, Nov. 3 1997 p,94).
Of course, anyone who knows anything about church history has seen this kind of fanciful interpretation of Scripture before. The ancient Hebrews, for example, developed a system (known later as gematria) in which all numbers have secret meanings and all objects their fundamental numbers. An elaborate mathematical system was devised that resulted in bizarre interpretations.
During the early days of the church, Christians at Alexandria de-emphasized the grammatical-historical interpretation of the Bible and instead developed an allegorical system of interpretation that has plagued Christianity ever since. This type of interpretation is based on the supposition that Scripture has more than one meaning. The obvious meaning of the text was unimportant to these believers, unless a person was immature in the faith. The “mature” spent their time seeking hidden meanings. This system can be traced to the Jewish scholar Philo (20 B.C. – A.D. 54). Philo’s concept, which was his attempt to reconcile pagan Greek philosophy with the Old Testament, was later developed into an organized method of interpretation by the church Father Origen. The Christian church soon adopted this method of hermeneutics, which would dominate biblical exegesis until the Reformation.
A work known as Pseudo-Barnabas, written around A.D.130, demonstrates the allegorical method of Bible study in vogue among the Christians of Alexandria. “He allegorizes the 318 servants of Abraham (in Gen. 14:14) into a reference to Christ’s death on the cross on the basis that the Greek letter for 300 is cross-shaped and the Greek numerals for eighteen are the first two letters of the name Jesus.” (See Protestant Biblical Interpretation by Bernard Ramm pp.24-28), and Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle E. Cairns pp.80, 119, 120.)
While the search for secret meanings behind the obvious words of Scripture is not new, the Bible code approach is, primarily because of its dependence upon the use of computers. The following reviews explain Drosnin’s technique:
For his research, Drosnin actually used the Torah (the first five books of Christians’ Old Testament, written in Hebrew), so his book probably should have been titled, “The Torah Code,” but it likely would not have sold as many copies that way.
He strung the words of the Torah together with all spaces removed, and then used “equidistant letter sequencing” to arrive at the supposed predictions. This process uses a computer program to take every “nth” letter, where “n” keeps changing until some pattern is found. If “n” were 17, it would take every 17th letter of the entire Torah and check for a pattern. If there was none, it would move on to 18, and so on.
As if this weren’t obviously looking for a pattern where random chance would suffice as an explanation, it should also be noted that there are no vowels in the Hebrew Torah. Thus, if the Hebrew equivalent of “RBN” were found, it could mean Rabin, the late Israeli prime minister, or it could mean Robin, Batman’s companion.
Finally, the program didn’t even restrict itself to looking for patterns from right to left, the way Hebrew is read. It looked left to right, up and down, and diagonally as well (with the program deciding where to break the text so that up and down and diagonally have no real meaning) (The State Journal-Register; Nov. 2,1997; p.25; review by David Bloomberg, chairman of the Rational Examination Association of Lincoln Land).
Drosnin programmed his PC to search . . . for “skip codes” — letters of words arranged in equal distance from each other, such as every third letter, or hundredth or thousandth. When a key word popped up (say, for instance, “Hitler”), the program would rearrange the layout of the text so one line equaled the length between skip codes (if the distance between each letter in “Hitler” was 31 letters, that’s how long it would make the line of text). This creates an array of Hebrew letters that contain the key word in a straight line. Drosnin would then search for additional words around the key word to decrypt “God’s message.” In the case of “Hitler” (found in Genesis), he also found “evil man,” “Nazi and enemy” and “slaughter” (New Man; 9/97; p91).
Only through the use of modern computers is such “decoding” possible. What Drosnin wants us to believe is that thousands of years ago some intellectual source hid secrets within the Hebrew Scriptures that would be revealed only by our generation. Grant Jeffrey, in The Signature of God, wants us to believe that that intellectual source was none other than God Himself.
What is the fascination with this type of twaddle? It is the almost irresistible draw of the uncovering of secret knowledge. Whether it is the prophecies of a Nostradamus, the apparitions of the Catholic Church, the mysterious books interpreted by Joseph Smith of the Mormon church, or the visions of the Charismatics, the draw is the same.
In the early centuries of the church Gnosticism often plagued the church. The Gnostics taught that a few select individuals were privy to mysterious, secret knowledge. Other believers had to be content with the clear teachings of the the Bible — but not the Gnostics. They had special, esoteric insights and understandings that others did not have.
Gnosticism has never really died, it has just been repackaged in many forms. The Bible code just happens to be one of the latest fads to borrow from the Gnostics’ book.
What are we to make of the Bible code? Is it of God? Has our Lord truly hidden secret messages that He wanted us to find at the end of the twentieth century? Would this information help verify the Scriptures for a skeptical age? Has our Father chosen to reveal the future to His children in this manner? Let’s take a look.
An Examination of the Bible Code Itself
We have already outlined the techniques used to “decode” the Bible, and some of the claims made by Drosnin and others. In analyzing the book we should be careful to note numerous unbiblical concepts, outlandish notions, and outright deception.
Drosnin hedges his statements and predictions. On the one hand he has written a book that claims a code has been discovered that actually predicted events which are now history, such as the assassination of John Kennedy, the 1991 Iraqi war, the rise and fall of Hitler, etc. With this backdrop the logical assumption is that with careful study we can unveil the future. Indeed the Bible code predicts a major collision for earth with the comet “Swift” in the year 2006. This must be taken seriously since the Bible code accurately predicted (we are told) that on Sept. 27,1992, this very comet would be discovered. If the Bible code was correct concerning the appearance of “Swift,” then surely it will be on the mark concerning its bombardment of the earth. But wait, the code seems to predict the same thing for the years 2010 and 2012 (pp. 150ff). Which is It? Any or none. It is right here that Drosnin fudges. Even as he is making outrageous claims for the Bible code he repeatedly states, “No one can tell you whether an event that is encoded is pre-determined, or is only a possibility. My own guess is that it is only a possibility — that the Bible encodes all the probabilities, and what we do determines the actual outcome” (p.18). Similar statements are made on the following pages as well: 42, 44, 67, 78, 79, 82, 102, 104, 120, 159, 164, 173. In other words, while the Bible code is supposedly accurate with history, it is only presenting possibilities for the future.
Drosnin’s predictions are inaccurate. Drosnin’s theory of probability comes in handy as he looks to the future. For example, an atomic weapon attack against Israel was predicted for Sept 13,1996 (pp.78ff). As we know, such an attack did not occur. In light of this failure, Drosnin decides that what was actually encoded in the Bible was that the “End of Days” would begin in 1996, and an atomic holocaust as well as a world war would be part of these last days (pp. 85ff). He actually believes that “The apocalypse was now — that the ‘End of Days’ had already begun, that the real Armageddon might start with an atomic attack on Israel” (p.105).
So, although the Bible code proved in error concerning the invasion of Israel, we are to believe that it is accurate in declaring that we have entered the last days. How does Drosnin get around this? By returning to his theory of possibility (pp.164ff). Drosnin’s view is well expressed by these thoughts: “Why didn’t the Bible code just tell the one real future? The answer appears to be that there isn’t just one real future, there are many possible futures” (p.165). If this is the case what is the value of the code? What use are prophecies that may come true, but then again, maybe not? Ultimately, Drosnin believes, “The message of the Bible code is that we
can save ourselves. In the end, what we do determines the outcome” (p.179). This concept alone ought to raise some red flags for the believer.
In addition to the preceding devaluing of the sovereignty of God, note these samplings:
- He believes the Bible code to be the sealed book of Daniel 12:4 (pp.90-99). There Daniel is being given revelation concerning the future of Israel during the Tribulation and at the second coming of Christ. Verse 4 reads, “But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time.” Daniel was not being instructed to hide a book that would somehow be unearthed at the end of time. His prophecies have been open and available for almost 3000 years. Daniel was merely being instructed that these revelations were intended, not for him, but for those who would be living in the last days.
- What Moses received on Mt. Sinai was not the clear commandments of God but a computer program. “What Moses actually received on Mt. Sinai was an interactive data base, which until now we could not fully access. The Bible that ‘God’ dictated to Moses was really a computer program. First it was carved in stone and written on parchment scrolls. Then it was bound into a book. But in the code it is called ‘the ancient computer program.’ Now the computer program can be played back, and reveal the hidden truth about our past and future” (p.98).
- Drosnin believes that the Bible and the Bible code are in conflict. Referencing the book of Revelation he writes, “The Book of Revelation states that the Final Battle will come by surprise, like a thief in the night. In fact, the words that come right before Armageddon are, ‘Behold, I come as a thief.’ 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” (p.103). Thanks to the Bible code, we can apparently alter the very plans of God.
- The Bible code supports the view that the dinosaurs were killed by an asteroid sixty-five million years ago (p.148). This of course solves a lot of problems for us. We no longer have to wonder how dinosaurs became extinct. Nor do we have to question the age of the universe. Also, apparently the theory of evolution can now be substantiated by the the Bible code, for we are told, “Scientists now agree that mankind would never have evolved unless the dinosaurs had been wiped out by the asteroid” (p.148).
Critique by others
Some Christians are buying into the Bible code premise on the basis that it is receiving strong support from both the scientific and mathematical community, as well as from Christian scholarship. I have found no evidence of this on either account.
On the scientific/mathematical level we find an almost universal denial of the validity of Drosnin’s claims. Some examples:
- Even Eliyahu Rips, the man who discovered the code, says, “It is literally impossible to make future predictions based on codes.” He and others say that any appearance of prophecy is mere coincidence or loose interpretation (New Man, Sept 1997, p.91).
- The claims for a hidden code in the Bible has been duplicated in other works. Drosnin challenged in Newsweek, “When my critics find a message about the assassination of a prime minister encrypted in Moby Dick, I’ll believe them.” Taking up the challenge was Dave Thomas, a mathematician and physicist, who found similar messages in War and Peace. Brendan McKay, the mathematician and computer scientist mentioned earlier, found messages in Moby Dick (see People, Nov 11/3/97 p.94). Apparently the combination of chance, the power of a computer, and the methods used by Drosnin and others, can produce messages of sorts, in any literature, if one wants to believe in them strongly enough. So far Drosnin has not relented.
- The same claims are made for other religious books. In The Signature of God, Jeffrey claims, “While these incredible patterns exist in the Hebrew text of the Torah, no other apocryphal texts display this pattern, nor can they find it in any other Hebrew religious or secular texts” (p.11). However, according to Professor William D. Barrick of The Masters Seminary, Muslim scholars make exactly the same kind of claims for the Quran. As a matter of fact, Muslim scholars cite numerical codes in the Quran as proof that it is a God-given book (The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 8 #2 p.238). What a shame that both Hal Lindsey and Jack Van Impe have recommended Jeffrey’s book.
- For further study an incredible Web site, pointing out errors and dealing with the issues, has been established by Brendan McKay (http://cs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/torah.html). McKay claims that all important code proponents have disowned Drosnin.
As for the Christian community, one of the best responses appears to be found in an article by Ronald S. Hendel (a biblical scholar from Southern Methodist University) and Shlomo Steinberg. The article entitled, “The Bible Code: Cracked and Crumbling” is found in Bible Review 13 (August 1997):22-25. In essence Hendel and Steinberg declare the Bible code a complete farce.
Robert Liparulo, in New Man, suggests that “Drosnin may be guilty of what statisticians call ‘data mining.’ The theory states that if you crunch enough data enough different ways, you’re bound to find what you’re looking for” (p.91).
None of what we, or others, have said will stop the publication of a Bible Codes 2, or its Christian mimics. People love secrets and mysteries, and they don’t seem to mind being duped as long as they are kept interested (witness the sales of The National Enquirer and other such rags). We would hope that sincere Christians would examine carefully what has been said in this article.
In addition, we would trust that they would also think through these questions: If Bible codes are real and necessary, why did God not alert us to their existence? If He found it necessary to encode the Bible why did He use unsaved men to discover His code and then try to convince the Christian community? This is not in keeping with the biblical norm of revealing His truth through His people. What do the codes actually accomplish? They seem to attract a great deal of curiosity, but do they bring people to Christ and strengthen the faith of the believer? This does not seem to be the case. Even Drosnin remains an unbeliever. What do we really gain from the Bible codes, even if they are legitimate? Looking back on history and plugging in the right names seem to produce some kind of messages — but going forward is another matter. Can the Bible codes reveal to us who our President will be in ten years? Can it predict the timing of the next economic depression? And even if these things can be found, Drosnin has shown that the code reveals only possibilities, not facts. Of what value are such predictions?
The Bible code is a hoax that unfortunately will be swallowed by all too many sincere, but naive, believers.