Argument from scriptural codes

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The Bible with annotations by the reader.

Holy books are claimed to have numerical patterns that indicate its divine origin. These include Bible code, the Qur'an and the Torah code which supposedly contain hidden messages and special numbers hidden in the text. Skeptics question if these patterns are just chance occurrences, rather than meaningful messages. Mainstream mathematicians and statisticians reject the concept of Biblical codes.



Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Torah and Qur'an

A popular method in this field is to look for hidden words by considering the text as a long string of characters and taking characters at equal spacing. This is called an equidistant letter sequence (ELS). By searching for known names and dates, biographic details of several rabbis was supposedly found in the Hebrew Torah and published in the journal Statistical Science as a "challenging puzzle" in 1994. [1] The specific patterns were found using computers to sift the text for specific words and variants that were previously defined by the experimenters. The researchers compared their technique to a Hebrew translation of War and Peace and allegedly did not find similar patterns. Many words and sentences can be found using this technique and it is not a reliable method of foretelling the future. The original 1994 paper was heavily criticised by later researchers who consider the paper to be a hoax [2] but this has been denied by the original authors.

The ELS method has also been applied to the Qur'an with questionable results. [3]

Numerical patterns in the Qur'an

There are many claims for patterns in the Qur'an based on the frequency of specific word occurrences, lengths of phrases and patterns of characters. [4] One of the most popular miracle claims originated in 1968 and referred to as the "miracle of 19". It claimed the Qur'an was structured around 19 or its multiples. [5] This discovery was announced by Rashad Khalifa, an Egyptian biochemist and gave rise to the Submitter religious sect. He was proclaimed a heretic and murdered in 1990. Many patterns were claimed but were generally similar to the following:

  • The first verse of the Qur'an has 19 letters,
  • Quran consists of 114 suras, a multiple of 19, etc

Proponents of the argument claim: [6]

"Every element of the Quran is mathematically composed, from the frequency of letters and words, unique spellings, number of words from the same root etc.; consistently conforming to a common dominator—the number 19. This superhuman mathematical coding of the Quran, far beyond human ability to create or duplicate, incontrovertibly establishes its Divine authorship."

Khalifa's method was criticised for modifying the source text to fit his hypothesis. [7] Mainstream Islam rejects many of these numerical miracle claims. [8]

Numerical patterns in the Bible

"A sevenfold mathematical pattern pervades Scripture showing clearly that it is indeed the product of "supernatural engineering" rather than mere human thought. It is something so complicated, no human composer could have achieved it and is a clear sign of God's Hand. [9]"

Gematria and Theomatics

Gematria is scriptural code based on assigning a number to each word or phrase in the text. It is used to find mystical patterns and occurs in ancient and Kabbalah numerology.

Theomatics is a variant of gematria that uses biblical text based on assigning a number to each letter of the alphabet. The theory was proposed by Del Washburn in 1976. The "gematria value" of a word is the sum of each character's numerical value. [10] Theomatics claims that words that have similar theological meaning have numerical connections, such as word's gematria being a multiple of a different but related word's gematria. The other pattern of interest is "clustering", which recognises a connection if a world's gematria is "approximately" a multiple of another gematria. For instance, John 3:19, and variants are allegedly a cluster around the number 150 (they are all multiples of 150 plus or minus up to 2). [11]

Gematria and theomatics has been criticised for being an unfalsifiable [10] pseudo-science and based on nothing more than coincidental occurrences. [12]

Chinese Characters

Main Article: Chinese characters and the Bible

Chinese writing is based on a series of characters with a distant pictographic origin. Some characters comprise of multiple distinct words while are considered as a word group. While not strictly a Bible code, the word groups have been alleged connected to Biblical concepts and justifies their Biblical in origin. [13]

"The discovery of the Biblical roots of the Chinese pictorial characters points to a common bond between Chinese and Jewish people. This could well be explained by the accounts of the creation, the flood and the tower of Babel outlined in the first 11 chapters of Genesis."

Counter arguments

Coincidences and meaningful patterns

Patterns in scripture are usually found by trial and error. Using a computer, many different patterns are compared to a pattern specified by the researcher. Because a vast number of combinations are searched, we would expect some apparently interesting patterns to be found by coincidence. Because the the text can be quickly searched and millions of different patterns are compared, the multiple comparison problem must be considered. This enables meaningful patterns to be distinguished from random patterns requires. These statistical techniques are required to come to any reliable conclusion but are usually missing in apologist analyses. If this analysis is omitted or incorrect, it is all to easy to commit the Texas sharpshooter fallacy by claiming random patterns are meaningful.

Another approach is to show that patterns occur in scripture but not in secular texts. This is acceptable as long as the analysis is performed rigorously.

Cognitive biases

Humans have a tendency to perceive patterns in random data. It is easy to find patterns in a large corpus of text [10] and given a prior belief that there is a hidden code, people adopt superstitious beliefs like numerology, gematria and theomatics.

Uncorrupted scripture?

The analysis is only meaningful if original documents are used and in their original languages. Many religious texts have murky origins. The Bible has a complex history with many alternative versions of books, including the dead sea scrolls. An analysis of patterns is meaningless without a generally uncorrupted edition.

Text modified to fit hypothesis

Allegedly false verses were excluded from the Qur'an in order to fit the hypothesis of the miracle of 19 [14]. Excluding evidence that does not fit the expected conclusion is confirmation bias.

Secular texts also have the same patterns

Despite the claims of the arguments proponents, similar patterns of words and letters also occur in secular books. In a parody of the ELS technique, Brendan McKay used the novel Moby Dick as a text source and found many interesting patterns. [15]

Word and letter coding seems arbitrary

The system to convert characters and words seems to be arbitrarily selected. Without some basis for the choice of numbering system, we would not even expect any significant patterns to be found.

Secretive God

There is no clear reason why God would bother encoding patterns in scripture when he supposedly has much more effective and straightforward means of communication at his disposal.

Many possible conclusions

Perhaps the codes were written by humans.

No specific God or Gods are implied by scriptural codes.

Refutation and rejection by experts

Patterns in scripture have been shown to be coincidental by statisticians. [16] [15] [17] There is a petition of mathematicans and statisticians that reject Biblical codes. At the time of writing, the petition has 55 names. They stated: [18]

"There is a common belief in the general community to the effect that many mathematicians, statisticians, and other scientists consider the claims to be credible. This belief is incorrect. On the contrary, the almost unanimous opinion of those in the scientific world who have studied the question is that the theory is without foundation. The signatories to this letter have themselves examined the evidence and found it entirely unconvincing."


  1. Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips, Yoav Rosenberg (1994) . "Equidistant letter sequences in the Book of Genesis". Statistical Science 9 (3): 429–438. DOI:10.1214/ss/1177010393.
  2. Kass, R. E. (1999). Introduction to "Solving the Bible Code Puzzle" by Brendan McKay, Dror Bar-Natan, Maya Bar-Hillel and Gil Kalai Statistical Science, 14. p. 149.
  3. [1]
  4. [2]
  5. Miracle of 19 wiki [3]
  6. [4]
  7. [5]
  8. [6]
  9. [7]
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 [8]
  11. The Theomatic Structure Defined (Long Version Description) [9]
  12. [10]
  13. [11]
  14. [12]
  15. 15.0 15.1 Brendan McKay and Friends, Scientific Refutation of the Bible Codes, retrieved 21 Apr 2014 [13]
  16. Barry Simon, The Case Against the Codes, 1998 [14]
  17. Jay Michaelson, Bible Codes a Lie That Won’t Die, May 31, 2012
  18. [15]

See also

v · d Arguments for the existence of god
Anthropic arguments   Anthropic principle · Natural-law argument
Arguments for belief   Pascal's Wager · Argument from faith · Just hit your knees
Christological arguments   Argument from scriptural miracles · Would someone die for a lie? · Liar, Lunatic or Lord
Cosmological arguments   Argument from aesthetic experience · Argument from contingency · Cosmological argument · Fine-tuning argument · Kalam · Leibniz cosmological argument · Principle of sufficient reason · Unmoved mover · Why is there something rather than nothing?
Majority arguments   Argument from admired religious scientists
Moral arguments   Argument from justice · Divine command theory
Ontological argument   Argument from degree · Argument from desire · Origin of the idea of God
Dogmatic arguments   Argument from divine sense · Argument from uniqueness
Teleological arguments   Argument from design · Banana argument · 747 Junkyard argument · Laminin argument · Argument from natural disasters
Testimonial arguments   Argument from observed miracles · Personal experience · Argument from consciousness · Emotional pleas · Efficacy of prayer
Transcendental arguments   God created numbers · Argument from the meaning of life
Scriptural arguments   Scriptural inerrancy · Scriptural scientific foreknowledge · Scriptural codes
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