What are Bible codes? Is there any validity to them?

Many have claimed to discover special patterns in the biblical text, referred to as Bible codes. The idea that there is hidden meaning in Scripture dates back to medieval Jewish rabbis and was mentioned in the writings of Isaac Newton. However, modern Bible code studies became popular in the 1990s when statistical computer analysis was used to produce research and books on the topic.

Typically, Bible code proponents suggest special messages exist in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament and can be found by skipping certain numbers of letters. This theory, called equidistant skip sequences, seeks to find patterns to support better understanding of the text, uncover hidden meanings, or even predict future events.

Is there any validity in Bible codes? On a small scale, there may be some literary purpose to patterns in the text. For example, in English we sometimes use acronyms to communicate an idea, such as Jesus, Others, Yourself represented by the word "joy." Some Bible code attempts have focused on intentional uses on a small scale in a similar way. However, most studies have sought larger patterns (such as combining every 50th letter or seeking visual patterns or backwards messages) that were never intended by the authors.

A variety of scientific and theological criticisms have been made of the Bible codes as well. For example, if the Hebrew text changes by one letter or character, the entire alleged "Bible code" changes. Making any kind of real-world connection from the results of using such skip codes often requires much liberty in interpretation. A third flaw is that many of the codes supposedly discovered happen no more frequently than similar tests done on non-biblical writings, revealing that the "codes" are random, not inspired.

Theologically, the Bible teaches that God wants us to understand His Word. Second Timothy 3:16-17 communicates, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." There is no secret message, but instead divine revelation from God to humanity.

In addition, the Bible not once encourages its readers to seek Bible codes. Since it consists of several books written over a long period of time, each book includes its own human emphasis and original audience in addition to divine inspiration.

Finally, a question should be presented regarding what possible value such codes would have. Those who claim to find such codes appear to do so for notoriety or to support outlandish claims. This does not benefit students of Scripture. Believers are called to, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15). Believers are called to study and know the Word and to handle it rightly, not seek out hidden messages.

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