Wednesday, February 22, 2017

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Are Bible Codes for Real?

One thing I never liked about most literature classes I took in high school was that nobody was ever wrong when interpreting the meaning of a story. In a class of 30 students, each opinion was in some way equally valid (no matter how absurd); now you know why I chose a career in physics over one in literature. I remember reading the cult classic book “The Catcher in the Rye.” We spent countless hours trying to discern the hidden meaning and symbolism of each character, event and item. And while I remember some of these intriguing details, I can’t for the life of me remember the point of the book.

Why do some believers read the Bible that way?

One item that comes up sometimes in Bible study is the “Torah Codes” or “Bible Codes.” These codes are quite varied, ranging from the conversion of letters to numbers (i.e., numerology or Gematria) to macroscopic codes (i.e., where texts are presented as a matrix of letters and patterns are studied).

Perhaps a few examples will demonstrate. In Gematria, one assigns numerical value to each letter. In English it might look like this: A =1, B=2, C=3 and so on. So my name “Albert” has the value 328 if I apply what is done with Hebrew to English.

There are many problems with interpreting the Bible in this way. We could think of the statistical fallacies involved. Or perhaps we could cite the confusion of phonetics versus letters (i.e., trying to read English words into Hebrew). Perhaps we can look at the fishy origins of these techniques (which isn’t pretty). Or maybe we complain about the abhorrent lack of any standards in the method. But sometimes simplest reason to avoid Bible codes is best.

I can’t find evidence that any of the Biblical writers interpreted Scripture this way. Not Yeshua, Moses, Paul, or Solomon. None. So it seems to me rather presumptuous, and in fact dangerous, to read the Scripture in a format never endorsed, taught, or suggested by any Biblical author. To be sure, numbers in Scripture can have symbolic meanings (i.e., 7, 40), but to start converting names into numbers to search for hidden meanings has no precedence in Scripture.

Some claim that Revelation 13:18 is an example of Gematria (the famous ‘666’). This is by no means certain, though it may be possible, and even if it is Gematria John’s use is vastly different from how people justify Bill Gates being the antichrist. In fact, the exhaustive list of ancient and modern names that somehow magically “make 666” should be proof enough of the invalidity of this approach. For example, in Hebrew the web prefix ‘www’ is really the antichrist. Well not really; there is no ‘w’ in Hebrew, so the closest we can come is the letter vav, which has the Gematria value of 6. So www = ‘vav’ ‘vav’ ‘vav’ = 666. Then again, if we instead add the numbers together we get 18, which is the Gematria equivalent of the word chi, which means ‘life’ (to those that protest: there are no standards so I can do whatever I want here). So the same method “proves” that the Internet is the tool of the antirchrist or it is life (you decide). This lack of truth is enough to frustrate even the most hard-core postmodernists I know.

I’m not comfortable trying to read hidden meanings in a text because the codes can basically say whatever you want the codes to say. If the words on the page are not good enough, then why did God give us the Scriptures as literature and not a computer program? Reading these “codes” into the Bible develops all sorts of fanciful interpretations and dives into places that the Biblical authors themselves did not go.

Besides, the Bible codes “predict” the end of the world in 2012. So I guess in a few years we will know for sure …

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