I will periodically interact with groups that believe in bible codes and secret messages in Scripture, or be asked about them at church. Looking for a secret message in the Bible is seductive and has a long history with many Christian and Jewish advocates. Is there any evidence that the Bible contains a secret message or a hidden code?
One individual who would answer in the affirmative was Chuck Missler (1934–2018). Missler was a very intelligent man who had a background in information sciences (computers, cryptography, etc.). In some of his written works and lectures on bible codes, he taught there is a secret message in Scripture. Chuck Missler provides a good template for explaining some of the faulty thinking behind the idea that the bible contains a secret message.
We will focus on two of many problematic ways of searching for a secret message in the Bible. First, we will look at the idea that there is a secret message built into passages of Scripture through name meanings. Second, we will look at counting letters (i.e., finding a secret message through equidistant letter sequences).
A Secret Message in the Names of Scripture
Some individuals search for a secret message in the layout of names in Scripture. For example, Chuck Missler believed you can find a prophecy of redemption in the meaning of the names in Genesis 5. Others have argued similarly, arguing that the names of Genesis 5 provide a secret message promising redemption.
|English Name||Hebrew Name||Alleged Name Meaning|
|Mahalalel||מַהֲלַלְאֵל||The Blessed God|
|Jared||יֶרֶד||Shall come down|
|Methuselah||מְתוּשֶׁלַח||His death shall bring|
According to this information, the secret message of Genesis 5 is as follows: Man (is) appointed mortal sorrow; (but) the blessed God shall come down teaching his death shall bring the despairing comfort (or rest).
I readily admit that names in Scripture are often significant (cf. Gen 32:27-29). But the idea that these names combine into secret message is grasping at something that just is not there. This can be shown by the following logic.
First, it is a faulty presupposition that the secret message is supposed to make sense in English rather than Hebrew.
The Hebrew language is distinct from English with regard to verb use and word order. If you are going to assume a secret message, the above message would likely be read in Hebrew, not English. Thus, the message would better be translated, “Man, the appointed one of mortal sorrow, is the blessed God….” (If you didn’t catch it, this is heretical!).
In the Hebrew language, the verb comes before the subject, so the last phrase would probably read, “The teaching shall come down, his death to bring despair and rest.” But really this is all conjecture since there are a variety of other ways it could be translated since all the nouns are pointed as names, and are not meant to be treated as verbs. The main point is that a translation of the sequence of names presupposes what it attempts to prove, relying on English rather than Hebrew.
Second, some of the name meanings are mistranslated.
Although many of the names are debated as to their meaning, a couple examples show that the proposed secret message in Genesis 5 is not possible. For example, Kenan (קֵינָן) is almost identical to the name Cain (קַיִן), the only difference being the diminutive ending. In fact, the LXX translates them essentially the same. In Genesis 4:1 we see the name Cain relates to the idea of having “gotten a [child].” Thus, the name is not related to sorrow, but to having obtained something (in this case, a child).
Similarly, Lamech likely does not have anything to do with despair. Many scholars think the name may not even be originally Hebrew. In Arabic, the word refers to a strong youth, so its possible that it is a name which simply conveys the strapping-young-lad imagery.
There are other problems with some of the name meanings, but I hope the point is already well established. The attempt to string together name meanings in Genesis 5 to ascertain a secret message is a task laden with problems.
Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Bible
It is quite popular in some circles to look for a secret message in the Bible by using equidistant letter sequences. An equidistant letter sequence is when you count a certain number of Hebrew letters (e.g., every 7 or 49 letters) and it spells out a secret message. For example, some bible code advocates claim that if you count every 7 letters in Leviticus you can find the phrase dam Yeshua (“the blood of Jesus”). However, this appears much less significant when one finds the phrase dam Mohammed (“the blood of Mohammed”) in Leviticus 13 using the same method. The phrase dam Mohammed is also found 14 times in the Torah at an equidistant spacing of 7 letters.
Looking for a secret message in the Bible by skipping intervals in the text is suspect for a many reasons. I will give only two that will show the absurdity of looking for a secret message this way.
First, the Hebrew language underwent a significant shift in how words were spelled.
The Hebrew language has a long developmental history. This history shows that special Bible codes using equidistant letter sequences can’t exist in the Hebrew language, because Hebrew has undergone spelling changes through time.
Before 500 A.D., Hebrew was written as a consonantal text. In order to help differentiate words, the consonantal text would often use matres lectiones (mothers of reading) which functioned as vowel markers in the text. As is demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls (dated from 250 BC to 100 AD), the spellings that existed pre-500 AD would often differ due to the insertion of these matres lectiones.
For example, the word for God is elohim. With vowel pointings it is usually spelled אֱלֹהִים. But, in the Great Isaiah Scroll (1QIsa-a), which is a well preserved copy of Isaiah found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, elohim is spelled אלוהים (inserting an extra ו to mark the “o” part of the word). This and other insertions of Hebrew letters would shift the consonants by one letter so that any secret message would actually be found at a new interval now.
A similar phenomenon happened in the English language. For example, the word frend eventually was replaced by friend in the English language. The meaning was the same, but the spelling differed. What this means is that if there ever was a secret message or Bible code using equidistant letter spacing, there is no way we could know what it was because of the variations of spelling changes that the text has undergone.
Second, the Hebrew manuscript used for these number sequences is not inspired.
In order to find a secret message, the Hebrew text is usually brought up in a computer program and a sequence is run to find the secret message. However, the text used for these searches is usually equivalent to the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (BHS). The BHS is a reproduction of Codex Leningradensis B19a, which is a complete Hebrew manuscript which dates to 1008 AD. However, this codex is not inspired in and of itself. There are verifiable errors in the text of Leningradensis. For example, this manuscript is actually missing Joshua 21:36-37.
There are many places where our English translations differ from the Hebrew represented by the BHS (e.g., Deut 32:8; Ps 22:16). Thus, looking for a secret message in the BHS doesn’t make any sense if that Hebrew production does not claim to be inspired. The text that many use for their Bible code searches is flawed in some minor ways—but that is enough to throw the number counting off.
A Concluding Note on Secret Messages and Bible Codes
It is really only with the advent of computer programs that we have had a resurgence and wide influence of bible codes and a renewed quest for a secret message. But, the motivation to ascertain a “deeper meaning” or a secret message has always been there. Many of those who are searching for this secret message are well-intentioned. However, the truth is that the quest for a secret message of the Bible is simply a distraction from the all-important encouragement and instruction found in a plain reading of Scripture.
Paul himself encouraged Timothy to be approved by “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). This was in direct contrast to those who devoted themselves “to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith” (1 Tim 1:4). To rightly handle the Word is to read it in accordance with the author’s intent, without seeking some special, secret message.