Hermeneutics,  Old Testament,  Textual Criticism

Is there a Secret Message or Code in the Bible?

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?

photo of secret message and 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
Adam אָדָם Man
Seth שֵׁת Appointed
Enosh אֱנוֹשׁ Mortal
Kenan קֵינָן Sorrow
Mahalalel מַהֲלַלְאֵל The Blessed God
Jared יֶרֶד Shall come down
Enoch חֲנוֹךְ Teaching
Methuselah מְתוּשֶׁלַח His death shall bring
Lamech לֶמֶךְ The Despairing
Noah נֹחַ Comfort, Rest

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.

Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He loves studying the Bible and helping others understand it. He also runs the Bible Sojourner podcast.

9 Comments

  • Dwight Osborne

    There are no hidden messages in Scripture. Why would Yehovah seek to make things complicated? When it comes to the Bible, man does a good enough job of that on his own. God revealed exactly what we need to know and believe. As for Chuck Missler, he’s disreputable and far-out, believing in aliens living on Mars. Such “Bible teachers” need to be ignored and dismissed.

  • Alexander Krause

    There are some Christians who believe that God hides Himself to a certain degree (Is. 45.15); and yet, believe in the perspicuity of scripture. It seems the natural man is unable to grasp spiritual things since comprehension of scripture occurs by the Spirit of revelation opening the eyes of the heart. At least that is what I read somewhere.

  • Bethsheba Ashe

    My special interest is the art and practice of ancient biblical hermeneutics and the worldviews and beliefs of biblical scribes. I am working on my third book which is a guide to the art and practice of biblical gematria. I also curate the database of the Shematria gematria calculator. In my work I present evidence for the use of three biblical ciphers and show that the practice of gematria was formalised and had conventions consistent with a system of rhetoric math.

    Your criticism should be levelled at the more freeform practice of numerology rather than gematria. When we apply the correct ciphers (only discovered 5 years ago) for the bible then they provide us with key pieces of information that makes holistic good sense out of biblical narratives.

    Biblical gematria used flag-words to signal important calculations. הנה (Behold) is one such flag-word. There were also verbs and prepositions reserved for use as calculating words and the practice knew conventions for mnemonic words – words with a set value, usually related to the pictographic origins of letters. i.e., The word “doors” (in Hebrew or Greek) is always valued at 4 for the letter daleth.

    Examples of biblical gematria with the correct ciphers:
    בראשית + אלהים + השמים + הארץ = 700
    בבאאהוה = 800 (through notariqon and the reversal cipher)

    The days of the week:
    ראשון שני שלישי רביעי חמישי שישי שבת

    And Jesus has the cutest thing working for him.
    Ιησου Χριστου = 719
    But ‘love’ in Hebrew or Greek was a mnemonic word that carried the value of 1.
    719 + 1 = 720.

    720 minutes is 12 hours, and that is significant because in John 11:9 it says: Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? If ‎anyone walks in the daytime, he will not stumble, because ‎he sees by the light of this world.’ So we see the strong solar connection with Jesus extending into his numerical profile too.

    If you have an interest in this subject beyond seeing it as a seemingly easy stalking horse to debunk, and assuming that you level up, you are free to submit your findings to our curated database.

    Thank you for listening.

    • Peter Goeman

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Bethsheba. Although I’m sure your book will be most fascinating, there is a major presuppositional problem with your statement that the correct ciphers were only found 5 years ago. When the prophets wrote Scripture, the message was intended to be understood from day 1, not hidden until 2016. The idea of hidden codes is also impossible due to the changing of the spellings of the text over time (as my blog article talks about). Minimally, if you were going to argue for secret ciphers you would have to say they are manmade and not from God.

      • Bethsheba Ashe

        Thanks for replying Peter. :-)

        To clarify matters, I discovered the ciphers several years ago and made them public knowledge, but they were discovered by Aleister Crowley in 1900 (he kept them secret but incorporated them into his writings). In the middle ages they were known to perhaps a handful of top Kabbalistic teachers and their students. They were known by the Sages of the Tannaic period, and by most writers of the New Testament and the Tanakh. The writings of the Prophets would have been decipherable by ancient scribes – from day 1 as you say, and there’s a body of evidence that points to the fact that later scribes (for instance John/Revelation) deeply studied the gematria of Genesis 1-2. The first time we come across a 666 in the bible is Gen 1:26 (the creation of Adam), and John writes “a man it is!”

        Re: changing spellings. You have a decent theory but it doesn’t play out in practice. One of the reasons (there are many) why biblical gematria is so exciting is that we can actually use it to detect textual corruptions and determine the original sentence & calculation. For instance, George Lamba suggested a possible corruption of the word Shiloh in Genesis 49:10. The word seen there is: שילה but in the books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel the word is missing a yod: שלה. However because the scribe embedded gematria in that verse, we can find out which word is correct and original to the text. Let’s look at the verse and then the sum:

        לא יסור שבט מיהודה ומחקק מבין רגליו עד כי יבא שילה ולו יקהת עמים

        We have the לא (“Not”) to tell us to ignore the next word יסור. We also have the word מבין (“between”) to tell us to divide ומחקק (“and the staff”) by 2. Thus we have the sums:

        שבט מיהודה + (ומחקק / 2) + רגליו שילה יקהת עמים = 787
        (with the yod in Shiloh)
        and:
        שבט מיהודה + (ומחקק / 2) + רגליו שלה יקהת עמים = 777
        (without the yod in Shiloh)

        So obviously George Lamba was right and the text of Genesis 49:10 has been corrupted. The word written should be שלה.

        Usually the text is only corrupted by a single letter or two which is easily handled. Its a simple logic problem. This technique would be found wanting for larger corruptions but it works well for most scribal interpolations.

        I *do* argue that these gematria compositions (they’re rhetoric math by another name actually) are manmade and not composed by God. God doesn’t make bad jokes, and there’s a wonderful bad joke made by Abraham in Genesis 18:9. It’s a bit basic and to our ears it sounds a bit sexist but they probably fell about laughing back in the day. Here it is:

        ויאמרו אליו איה שרה אשתך ויאמר הנה באהל

        And they said to him:
        “Where is Sarah(265) your woman(111)?”
        And he said
        “Behold! In the tent!(111)”

        “Behold” is a flag-word meaning gematria follows, but in this case there is only one word referenced: ‘באהל’ ‘in the tent’. The joke is that both אשתך ‘your woman’ and ‘באהל’ have the value of 111 and are what I call ‘mnemonic words’; these are words with set values. They retain these values no matter the spelling, prefix or suffix.

        Most of these words take their set values from the pictographic origins of the letters; thus a ‘house’ is always 2, a ‘door’ is always 4, ‘eyes’ are always 70 and ‘mouth’ is 80. No doubt this device made the process of constructing gematria sums and decoding them a much easier and faster process, but they also add an extra element of secrecy. I have had to do extensive testing in order to validate them, and the same is true for ‘calculating words’ (words reserved to indicate types of calculation, for which we moderns would just write: +, -, /, *, etc).

        If we don’t include the math of the bible we are left with a very odd picture of ancient Israel. We have been asked by scholars to believe that these people, unlike all the rest of the civilized peoples of the ancient near east, had no mathematical tradition of their own. Even before I discovered the biblical ciphers that never sat well with me.

        • Peter Goeman

          Thanks for the clarification. I appreciate you giving examples of how you work that out too. Although I don’t agree, I appreciate you taking the time to demonstrate how it works.

        • Nate Beck

          Peter Goeman,

          You claim “When the prophets wrote Scripture, the message was intended to be understood from day 1”

          You obviously need to read the Bible because that is NOT what the Lord Jesus Christ said at all. Matthew 11:25 makes it clear that there are MANY things in the Bible that are hidden to certain people and meant for the humble children of God. If everything the prophets wrote were meant to be understood from day one, then pray tell, why did the Jewish scribes and Pharisees not understand who Christ was? Why did they not understand His ministry and all the prophecies about Him?

          God HAS placed miraculous number patterns all over Scripture. Only the blind could miss it!

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