What about the ‘Bible Codes’?


2 April 1999

There has been much recent media coverage of Michael Drosnin’s book The Bible Code. It is loosely based on a paper, Equidistant letter sequences in the book of Genesis, which passed the referees of the reputable secular journal Statistical Science. Its editor, Robert Kass, commented on the original paper as follows:

‘Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg searched the Book of Genesis looking for pairs of words spelled by picking out every dth letter, where d is some integer. The pairs of words were names of personalities and dates of their birth or death taken from the Encyclopedia of Great Men in Israel. When the authors used a randomization test to see how rarely the patterns they found might arise by chance alone they obtained a very highly significant result, with p = 0.000016. Our referees were baffled: their prior beliefs made them think the Book of Genesis could not possibly contain meaningful references to modern-day individuals, yet when the authors carried out additional analyses and checks the effect persisted. The paper is thus offered to Statistical Science readers as a challenging puzzle.’

So it seems like the codes are statistically valid, and hard to explain on naturalistic grounds. But some of the sensationalist material in Michael Drosnin’s book The Bible Code is going too far. This often happens—a sober, proper scientific paper is often quite different from what popularist authors make of it. These codes cannot be used to predict the future, according to the authors of the original articles. They knew in advance what associations to look for; but the fact of association in itself proves nothing, because interpretation is needed which is often not clear until after the event. Many associations can be found, for example: Yeshua is the Messiah; Mohammed is the Messiah, Lenin and Messiah, Yeshua is not the Messiah, etc. In a large text, such associations are highly probable, and they prove nothing. The published research involved use of pre-determined associations (not concocted by the authors) and probabilities could be calculated which showed that the presence of all these associations was unlikely to have happened by chance.

The codes are good evidence of the extreme care with which the manuscripts of the Old Testament were copied. The codes would not work if there were any copying errors involving addition or deletion of letters, because they would throw out the equidistant letter sequences. No wonder Jesus could claim that neither the smallest letter ('jot’ or yod) nor part of a letter ('tittle’) of the Law would pass away.

However, caution is advisable—one can become so besotted with hidden codes that one misses the message of the plain words of Scripture. The whole tenor of Scripture is that God is proclaiming His message to all mankind in all ages in the plainest possible fashion, aiming for all to hear and understand it, and respond to Him in humility, repentance, and faith. The plain words include plenty of information about the future, in particular Christ’s Second Coming, so there is no need to try to dig for it with numerological techniques.

Published: 14 February 2006

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Christianity for Skeptics
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