I’ve grown up in the fringes of Christian fundamentalism. That hasn’t always been a bad thing, they were many good people and some very good lessons learned from teachers and pastors. But something that always seemed to come up were fringe ideas and people spending hours and days and weeks “researching” strange topics from Bible codes, and Gematria (numerology) or somethings about the lost tribes of Israel and if Jesus was black or white or whatever. the proponents of these things always have some neat little tidbit that they have discovered that gives everyone goosebumps and everyone goes “ooooh.”

However, there is a big problem with most of this. It’s hogwash.While exciting and mysterious, Bible codes cannot be proven. In fact, the problem is that there are many different manuscript traditions of the Bible and no two match completely. For instance, the Masoretic version of Isaiah 52-53 and the Dead Sea Scrolls have very different spelling of words and so we could not just say Isaiah 53 has a Bible code in it! We can’t. It’s malarkey. If there is one, what is the key? How do we know it works? And most importantly, why are we looking for secret codes while ignoring what the Bible tells us concerning our conduct?

Gematria is much the same. What is the key to interpret your numerology? There isn’t one in Scripture and it is also something that cannot be applied universally. Much the same for word pictures. I’ve never seen anything convincing or even consistent when it comes to these. In my experience, it is always touted by those who have barely a modicum of understanding of Hebrew and pawn it off as “research” to their listeners who are fascinated by a language they don’t understand. For instance, there is an entire Bible out there dedicated to putting in the article “et” when convenient. In Hebrew, there is an article that is placed before a direct definite object. It is spelled aleph tav. The reasoning behind this newfangled Bible and the teachings I’ve seen on this is that Jesus calls himself the Alpha and Omega in Revelation. Those are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, so these people extrapolate from there that the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet are aleph tav. So every instance of this word in the Old Testament must be a reference to Jesus! Well…. The fancy pants translation only puts it in where it is convenient and not every instance. Just use a Bible app like e-Sword and search for the word. You’ll see so many (over 7000) instances of the word and in many verses no real reference to the messiah. For instance, take Genesis 34, the rape of Dinah. You mean to tell me that when Shechem tells his father to get him Dinah as his wife that the “et” in that verse is really about Jesus? I can think of no responsible exegesis that would consider this verse about the messiah in any way.

I’ve been told that I am a member of the lost tribes of Israel because of my English heritage (and ability to grow a beard, or having been “called” into Hebrew Roots [wonder what they would say about that now]). I’ve also been told that West Africans are really the lost tribes, or the Germanic peoples, or Native Americans. Every one of these claims has been supported by conjecture and very circumstantial evidence. I have never seen anything that would convince me (a trained historian) that these claims have any merit. Even if any of them were true, we have no way to prove it (or argue persuasively). There is no written record, no archeological evidence, nothing. Most of the claims come from word similarities or claiming the Israelites were some other group that we know something about. But the more important question is this: who cares? Go read the book of Acts, I’ll wait here… OK, back already? Did you see where The apostles preached to the nations? Did you see how Paul systematically went to the nations that surrounded Israel and claimed souls for God from them all as the prophet Isaiah said would happen?  Did you notice that Acts two with the tongues of fire was a reversal of the curse at Babel? God is making a people from all nations (just like Israel was a mixed multitude Ex. 12:38). No one is any more special than the other because of an accident of their birth and heritage. I’ve also heard the claim that because the Europeans were the bulwark of Christianity they had to be the lost tribes. Yeah, too bad there have been Christians in the Middle East, Africa, India and Asia as long or longer than in Europe. And the ironic thing is that many who believe this also reject that Catholics are Christians which were the only Christians in western Europe until 1517! So they appeal to them and reject them at the same time. Crazy. I see no reason to even entertain these claims and I cannot for the life of me see why they would even matter. One needs only to read the biblical narrative for itself and stop putting one’s own silly ideas onto the text and see what the text is trying to tell us. It is most definitely not telling us to worry about if we’re from a lost tribe or not. By the way, there is plenty of evidence that there really aren’t any lost tribes and there is debate on how extensive the northern exile really was, but this would require its own post to address.

Oh yeah, And Jesus was not an Anglo-Saxon. Sorry, he probably looked a lot like Middle Eastern people today look. Even if Jesus were white or black, again what could it possibly matter?! Why waste your time studying something so random and inconsequential? Why not study the Holy Trinity? Or gee I don’t know, maybe some of the teachings of Jesus?

Even if some of this had any merit to it, it is more gee golly wiz information than anything that is substantive and important to the faith. Instead of trying to use internet videos and vague statements from encyclopedias, you could be studying the actual Bible. You could learn Greek and Hebrew and know the interesting reasons why certain words are chosen over others in translation and why they matter. You could read scholarly books and articles on how early Christians understood the faith and practiced it ( I recommend Craig A. Evans for starters). You could do the hard work of studying theology (I mean real theology, not internet garbage that isn’t much more than confirmation bias).

The reason people gravitate towards the silly things like Bible codes, is because they are exciting and it takes next to nothing to understand them. You get a few wows and then you forget about it. Or you watch the evening news and then go to a “prophecy” conference, not remembering that you did the same thing last year and everyone was convinced this was the end. We are too lazy to do the hard work up front. We want the pay off right now, and so these cheap tricks provide that, but there is so much out there that we miss because we settle for parlor tricks. Most people are not willing to do the hard work of actual Bible study or theology. It is hard work, but it is worth it. Having studied for years and put in the hard work of reading primary sources, of learning the languages and studying theology, I can finally reap the rewards of actual and substantive knowledge (though I still need more study). And if our faith is true, it is worth studying. Many pages have been stained with the ink of scholars and their long studies into the mysteries of our faith and we ignore it for exciting fluff.

I encourage you not to be disheartened, but to be disciplined and study. Start with reading your Bible, perhaps a good study Bible. Look for the scholars names who compiled the notes and read there work. And of course, read N.T. Wright, the early church fathers, St. Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas. The things worth doing are almost always hard. But they are always worth it.

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