What about the "Bible code"?
Please note: this page is under construction!
The saga begins. . .
My first introduction to the concept of equidistant letter sequencing (ELS) in the Torah came when I was reading a theological journal in the early 1990s. A short article reported the discovery that taking every nth letter of the Hebrew Torah produced the repeating word "torah" (or more specifically, "trh", since the Hebrew vowel points are not considered part of the inspired text). This discovery was reported as something of a curiosity--at least, that's how I took it. It was somewhat impressive, though I had my reservations about the discoverer's conclusion that this repeating sequence of consonants was tangible proof of the Pentateuch's inspiration and unity of authorship.
Yet I knew Hebrew, and after giving it a little thought I became considerably less impressed with this discovery. The letters of the repeating sequence "trh" are some of the most commonly used consonants in Hebrew. The letter 'taw' is a common component of noun and verb endings. So is the letter 'resh'. 'He' is not only a common noun and verb ending, but it is also the definite article and an interrogative marker. Besides this, all three letters are commonly used in the roots of Hebrew words. All this added up to the conclusion that the repeating sequence 'trh' can quite possibly be mere coincidence.
Don't get me wrong. I believe in the verbal inspiration of Scripture and nothing would please me more than to see actual scientific proof that the Bible has a supernatural origin. I don't expect that desire to come true, though. Phenomena like ELS present a very real danger--the danger that phenomenon replaces faith, or even becomes the object of faith. Little did I realize how strongly this would work in the case of the so-called "Bible code".
The "Bible code" develops
My next encounter with ELS came in 1996. Drosnin's "The Bible Code" had come to our small town library, so I took it home for two weeks but only had time to skim it a little. I finally read Drosnin's book in 1998, after finding a copy for $2 at the local Borders. A closer reading of the book in 1998 showed me that I had reached valid conclusions in '96. The "Bible code" is simply wordplay rather than divine messaging.
The "Bible code" is an extension of the ELS discovery reported in the early 90s. Proponents claim that God has encoded hidden messages in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, specifically the Pentateuch. By treating the Hebrew text as one long unpunctuated string and then taking every nth letter of the text, for example, by taking every 10th letter and skipping those between, you can supposedly find messages which predict the future (at least, they would have been future events when Moses wrote these books). This form of letter sequencing has been extended by breaking up the text, lining it up in rows and columns such as a wordsearch puzzle, and then looking for supposedly related words in this matrix. Words can be found running forward or backward, horizontally, vertically or diagonally. Several computer software packages do this work for you--you simply type in words you wish to find and the software (allegedly) translates your request into Hebrew, permutes the form of the text and searches for the word or words you're seeking. Proponents of the "Bible code" claim that this process often yields a number of related words in close proximity to each other, thus proving that the Bible text contains hidden messages about many subjects and historical events.
Technical criticism of the "Bible code"
-- Hb is good language for wordplay
-- Playing with arrangement to suit can yield any results desired
-- Some of the gymnastics used are far-fetched
Theological criticism of the "Bible code"
Much of the criticism of the "Bible code" I've seen has been technical. Far too often the more important theological problems with the "Bible code" theory are ignored. Yet a theological evaluation of the "Bible code" is far more important and gives a far clearer picture of this movement. Although the "Bible code" movement claims to value Scripture highly, it actually destroys the true meaning and purpose of the Bible.
- The "Bible code" is used to produce trivial messages
One way in which the "Bible code" demotes Scripture is its emphasis on finding messages which really are trivial. In his book, Drosnin states that on any day you can find the lead stories encoded in the Torah, if the stories are important enough. He reports that Clinton's '92 election along with numerous current events in Israel were predicted by the "Bible code."
Sometimes you simply have to wonder about the importance of the messages supposedly hidden in the text. Paul Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network was able to find (or have someone find) his own name, along with the names of his son and daughter-in-law. Either these antitrinitarians are important historical figures or someone is finding trivial messages in the Bible text. Allegedly TBN's movie "The Omega Code" was also foretold to be a great success. The truth of that prediction is debatable, but again, either that movie was an earth shaking, monumentally important work, or someone is finding trivial messages in the text of the Bible.
- The "Bible code" gives incorrect prophecy/only details past events
In Deuteronomy 18:22 Moses tells us how to tell true prophets of God from false prophets: "If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." That gives a pretty high standard which many prophets of all time have not met. And many don't seem to care. Yet these words still give us a standard by which to judge all who claim to speak for God. Do their predictions come true, or do they fail? Over and over again, we see the "Bible code's" predictions fail.
The most glaring example of this lately is Y2K. For months and months at the end of 1999, "Bible code" practitioners warned of great hardships and disasters which would accompany the change to the year 2000, as computers everywhere shut down and left us helpless. What happened? The exact opposite! The worldwide global meltdown predicted by the "Bible code" readers and by numerous televangelists didn't happen. Some of the televangelists have repented and can be excused; they were misled by hype and bad information. But the "Bible code" practitioners cannot be excused. They claimed to proclaim a message direct from God. They claimed to foretell the future and they failed. A true message from God would not have failed, according to Deuteronomy 18:22.
The only place where the "Bible code" can be proven 100% accurate is in its details of past events. But is that prophecy, in the sense of foretelling? For that matter, can it really be considered prophecy in the sense of forthtelling? Can that really be considered a message from God? Only if you already consider the "Bible code" to be a message from God, and that's a circular argument.
- The "Bible code" turns attention to what doesn't matter
This is somewhat different from the "trivial messages" item above. The "Bible code" is used for many purposes: to warn us about the horrors of Y2K (which didn't happen), to "prove" that historical events which have already happened were foretold in the Bible, to warn us of the coming horrors of nuclear war in the Middle East (hmmm, sounds like the scenarios painted by Hal Lindsey, another false prophet by the standard of Deuteronomy 18:22), and even to "prove" the existence of extraterrestrial life (because only advanced aliens could have encoded human history in the Bible--yes, some people actually believe this).
What is quite noticeably missing from the "Bible code" hype is Christ. Proponents of the "Bible code" get themselves so wrapped up in their "discoveries" and theories that they don't have room for what really matters in the whole of Scripture: Jesus Christ, forgiveness and heaven. They arguably have no interest in him from the start. The focus of the "Bible code" is on this earth, on human history and on the future of this planet. But are those the focus of the Christian's attention? Not according to the clear message of the Bible itself.
In an attempt to correct this major problem with the "Bible code" phenomenon, some Christian writers have attempted to find information about Christ encoded in the Old Testament text. Excuse me? Christians believe that a great amount of information about Christ is already clearly proclaimed in the Old Testament text, from Genesis 3:15 onward. Why should Christians have to find details about Christ hidden in the Old Testament text? This only comes across as a feeble attempt to Christianize a Christless phenomenon. Christianity and Christ do not need the "Bible code." Jesus' life, death and resurrection are enough to validate the Word.
- The "Bible code" makes the Bible's true message unimportant
The message of the "Bible code's" proponents is not forgiveness, salvation and heaven. The only type of "salvation" I've seen in "Bible code" literature and teaching is the idea hthat through searching the Bible for hidden messages, we can try to find warnings of future disasters and avoid them, saving ourselves and others. This kind of earthly, bodily "salvation" is not the Bible's clear message. In fact, this new "salvation" really turns eyes away from the Bible's clear and urgent teaching: that human beings need to be concerned about the future of the soul rather than the body, that human beings are sinful and need God's mercy, that we have God's mercy and forgiveness through Jesus Christ alone. This has always been the Bible's most important message for Christians.
What does the "Bible code" movement do with the Bible's message of salvation? The "Bible code" proponents don't deny or argue against this message, but rather ignore it. That's more dangerous for Christians. Paul warns in Galatians 1:8: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!" This is a serious warning against false messages, a serious warning to false teachers such as the proponents of the "Bible code," and a serious warning for Christians too. Jesus says, "Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life." That road is not to be found in the false prophecies and misdirected gaze of the "Bible code."
Don't you hate it when Christian fanatics go around branding everything "demonic?" Yet if you look at the "Bible code" phenomenon--not the ELS concept itself, but what fanatics have done with it--you see a very dark influence. The "Bible code" phenomenon is driving a renewed interest in studying the Bible, but not to find Christ. The purpose of this new interest is to find man's past and future, leaving out the One who really matters. What more could the devil want than to turn the eyes of Bible readers away from Christ? Peter warns that "your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Ask yourself about the "Bible code" as you do about every message and messenger: Is this proclaiming Christ? Is this proclaiming his forgiveness? In the case of the "Bible code" phenomenon, the answer is clearly "no." The "Bible code" phenomenon condemns itself.
A page with some scientific and technical criticism can be found here. The author writes from an interesting Jewish perspective.
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