Barry is the founder and Professor of the M.Div. program for Mindanao Grace Seminary, Philippines.
When we speak, we have the intention of being understood. We use words and those words have meaning. We assume our listeners share our words and understand what those words mean. The Bible is no different. God speaks and His hearers understand what He is saying. We saw examples of this in previous articles. God commands Abram to go to another place and Abram goes. Neither Abram nor anyone else in the Bible asks, "I wonder what God really meant?"
There has been a movement in the 20th century to view the Bible as a code-book that must be deciphered. The words of the Bible are not to be taken literally but we need to know how to break the code so that we can understand what the Bible is really saying. Of course, this denies that God spoke and God intended His hearers to understand Him. It further denies that those people in the Bible were the audience. They did not receive the "real" message. They simply exist to hide the coded message for future generations. Third, this means all the words of the Bible, including the promises and commands, are not real. They are just there to conceal the hidden message.
Number Letter Sequence
Various approaches have been made to decode the Bible. The most common approach is to count every 6th, 7th, 12th, etc. letter. We see this method often used in the Old Testament Hebrew text.
One of the interesting things about those who claim this form of Bible de-coding is that the Hebrew always predicts something that has already happened in our time. One famous example of this is the person that claims that the Hebrew text predicted the destruction of the World Trade Center in the US by terrorists. It is very easy to see that once an event has occurred that a person might read that event back into an ancient text. However, these Bible decoders cannot tell us what will happen in the future. Even if such codes exist, they are of no value. They can only show what has already happened but not what will happen.
These de-codings are nothing more than confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the logical fallacy that people tend to pay attention or give extra value to information that confirms what they already believe. People also have the tendency to ignore information that seems to contradict what they believe. A very similar bias is that we have a tendency to find what we are looking for. Simply put, some people are not able to rationally view all the information and instead they focus on what they want to believe. They ignore the information that contradicts or does not support what they do not want to believe.
Those with confirmation bias tend to find the evidence that they are looking for. We see this with people who believe in UFOs and Bigfoot. No rational person would believe in these things because there is no evidence to suggest that they exist. However, there are some people who truly want to believe and even some who have convinced themselves to believe. They spend a lot of time looking for evidence to convince others of what they already hold to be true. The "bible de-coders" fall into this category.
While most of us today may be familiar with the books and movies about "bible codes," there is a sad and long history of people who did not accept the words of the Bible at face value. Origen is often called the "father of the allegorical method." It should be noted that he was far from being the first to use this method and he certainly did not invent it. He is, however, credited with making it popular.
Just as the "bible coders" have come to the text looking for mysteries, others came to the text looking for hidden meanings beneath the surface. To be fair, they do not deny the literal sense of the text but they believe that in addition to the literal meaning there is a deeper, spiritual meaning. This is known as the allegorical method of interpretation.
Allegory finds justification in arguing for double meaning on the basis that there are two authors. There is the human author and there is God. They say that because there is a human & divine author so there must also be a human as well as a divine meaning. While the words in black and white on the page are true and they do convey the surface meaning, there is also a meaning under the words that is not read with the eyes but discerned by the spirit. This view ignores that the human author is working with and even for the Divine author and they are not in opposition to each other.
There is a far greater problem than this. There is no way to determine the spiritual meaning. This "deeper" interpretation is completely subjective and in the mind of the interpreter. There is no way to validate the allegorical meaning. Each person can find their own meaning as their imaginations run wild. And they can claim that the Holy Spirit is giving them the interpretation.
While the allegorical method of interpretation dates back to the first century A.D., the twentieth century saw a similar invention. The idea is that there is a literal meaning in the text which has had its fulfillment in the past and there is also another meaning that will be fulfilled in the future. This double-meaning approach finds a comfortable home among those who believe in the dispensational view of eschatology. They say that the stories of the Bible are true, they do represent historical events, but some of those events also have a future fulfillment. C. I. Schofield puts it this way:
“These [historical Scriptures] are literally true. The events recorded occurred. And yet they have (perhaps more often than we suspect) an allegorical or spiritual significance.” (See here for more on Dispensationalism).
We see the same problem here that we saw with those who accepted an allegorical interpretation of the Scripture. Who has the authority to determine what the “second” meaning is? What methods can be employed to infallible determine the second meaning? What if different people see different meanings? There is no standard or objective way to determine the secondary meaning.
There is no way to be consistent with this approach. “Thou shalt not steal” can have no second meaning that would not contradict the primary meaning. I must also note, that in the case of the Dispensationalists, only those verses which support their view of future fulfillment have “second” meanings.