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23, ELS, Q

I. 23

In the movie The Number 23, Jim Carrey plays the role of Walter Paul Sparrow, a man who becomes obsessed with the number 23. He is introduced to the 23 Enigma through a novel his wife gave him for his birthday titled The Number 23: A Novel of Obsession. As Walter progresses through the book, he begins to see the number 23 everywhere. He tells his wife:

...It's all 23. My birthday - 2/3, driver's license, social security number - everything. I was born at 11:12 PM. 11 plus 12. It's like it's imitating my life.

While Walter makes his way through the book, he also begins to notice that the main character's life mirrors his own, prompting him to investigate the matter. His wife is concerned for him, as she believes that he has "concerned [himself] with minutia, and drawn wild conclusions from them." Similarly, Walter's friend Isaac believes that he is exhibiting signs of paranoia (i.e. his behavior indicates that he is a paranoid schizophrenic).

Yet what Walter finds in the book is a code, dependent on the number 23, that leads him to the body of a woman he had killed decades prior. Through the code - every 23rd word on every 23rd page - Walter Sparrow discovers that he is the main character of the novel, which is a fictional retelling of his own criminal activity. In the end, he confesses to the crime, accepting his fate, and finding some closure.


Years ago, when I was a false convert, I came across, and was fascinated by, something called ELS - Equidistant Letter Sequencing. ELS was the method used by Michael Drosnin to "decode" hidden "prophetic" messages in the Bible. One writer helpfully explains the phenomenon as follows:

The code is composed of words spelled out by skipping equal numbers of letters through the original Hebrew text. This phenomenon is called ELS-Equidistant Letter Sequences--words with equal jumps of spaces between each letter. Drosnin took the Hebrew text to Eliyahu Rips who then took the entire Hebrew Bible, eliminated all spaces and punctuation between the words so that there is only one continuous strand of letters throughout the Torah. Drosnin claims he was restoring the Bible to its original form (which was without punctuation). You take this long line of 304,805 letters that make up the Torah and arrange them in an infinite number of computer configurations. For example, we could take the entire Torah and configure it into a long "scroll" of 10 lines only--which would make each line 30,480.5 letters long. On a computer, we can make our scroll with as many lines as we want--100 lines would mean there would be 3048 letters on each line (except, perhaps, the last). 285 lines would make each line 1069 letters long, etc.

Now one searches for a predetermined set of words These words were found in proximity by activating the computer to hunt for such ELS words--starting with sequences of skips of 1, 2, 3, 4, up to 10, then 20-50 letters etc. Code words can be found with number skips into the thousands. Its all in ratio to the set formulae one determines. (Source)

At the time of the book's publication, I was taken in by the way it seemingly "proved" the Bible to be of divine origin. I actually believed that the Bible contained a secret code that could only be deciphered by means of the ELS method.

What I didn't realize, however, was that this means of "discovering hidden truths" was as old as the hills. Having come across E.W. Bullinger's Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance, I saw that others had been practicing methods like Drosnin's for hundreds of years. Moreover, prior to that similar methods of finding hidden truths about the future, and about the divine, were employed by practitioners of the occult. Egyptian numerology, Pythagorean "Sacred Science" (i.e. numerology), Gnosticism, and Kabbalism all employed some manner of "decoding" that revealed hidden truths unknown to the uninitiated.

What they all had in common with the Bible Code was that they are all a form of divination, a practice that God explicitly condemns as an abomination. He tells his people -

When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you.
-Deut 18:9-12.

Not only is this method a form of divination, its results are also not unique to the Bible. The Bible code was soon shown to be a statistical phenomenon one could apply to a myriad of other books (e.g. War and Peace, Moby-Dick, etc) and achieve the same kind of results (see here), thereby further undermining the claims of many that it demonstrated the supernatural origin of the Bible.


Early on in president Trump's term, I began to hear about Q, a supposedly anonymous high-level government official with Q level clearance. I was curious, so I looked into the matter for myself. In particular, I looked at the manner in which Q was supposedly revealing truths about internal government dealings, good and bad. And while I found it interesting overall, I was bothered by the manner in which Q leaked information. 

Q posted "drops" or "breadcrumbs" comprised of single words, questions, numbers, and acontextual propositions. The problem here is that single words, questions, and numbers are not, in and of themselves, assertions. They neither explicitly nor implicitly assert anything. As for propositions, they are only capable of being properly understood within a particular context.

What is more, a simple code, as The Number 23 and ELS have shown us, would have to be distinct and finite. In other words, it would have to have a distinct structure and a finite set of keys. This appeared to be lacking from Q's drops. Without there being a distinct structure, how would one differentiate between a meaningless string of alphanumerical symbols and an actual code? Assuming that there is a distinct structure, however, without a finite set of keys, how would one be able to interpret the encoded message?

This leaves the interpretation wide open, eliminating any possibility that it will ever be closed by a final interpretation. Would a top government with an urgent message communicate this way? Would anyone?

IV. A Recurring Problem

Ironically, what The Number 23, ELS, and Q have in common is precisely what Biden and many of his supporters have in common with them - a belief that they are aware of a code granting them access to hidden truths. In one of his speeches, Joe Biden, for instance, stated:

“In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation..." (Source, emphasis added).

Similarly, Janet McIntosh writes -

...Donald Trump and his base often act as if they have their own signals, interpreting the same presidential utterances in very different ways from his critics.

One such form of code appears when Trump drops what seem like non sequiturs into his debates and media appearances. (Source, emphasis added)

Michael Cohen, one of Trump's previous lawyers, alleged that Trump spoke in code as well,  stating that

...President Donald Trump never directly ordered him to lie, but instead made his wishes clear by speaking in “code” understood by anyone who works with him.

“He doesn’t give you questions, he doesn’t give you orders, he speaks in a code. And I understand the code, because I’ve been around him for a decade,” testified Cohen, Trump’s former longtime personal attorney. (Source, emphasis added)

As with Q, the same problem arises: If Trump spoke in code to his supporters, why hasn't anyone identified its distinctive features? If he spoke in code to his supporters, then what is the finite set of keys to decipher his messages? Finally, if Cohen understands Trump's code because he had been around Trump for a decade, then how Trump's supporters pick up on that code almost instantaneously?

It is possible, of course, that Trump did have a secret way of communicating with his "base," but that would have to be proven. Similarly, it is possible that Q drops were (are?) actually encoded messages from higher ups in the government, white hats who were working with Trump to fight against corrupt career politicians - but that would have to be proven.

As it stands, neither position has demonstrated distinctive features that clearly identify the codes in question, or demonstrated that either code has a finite set of keys to decipher them.

V. Conclusion: What Does This Have
to Do With Christianity?

If there is a code, it has distinctive features and a finite set of keys to decipher messages. In the case of The Number 23 and ELS, the authors of the code give us those details. In contrast to this, the proponents of Q and theory that Trump speaks in code have not. This means that anything relayed by "Q" can be understood to be coded language - even plainly stated, contextualized propositions. It also means that anything Trump has said can be understood to be coded language - even plainly stated, contextualized propositions.

What is more, this means that the only interpretive restrictions, respectively, are (a.) Trump is good and going to save the world, and (b.) Trump is bad and is going to destroy the world. Interpretations that fail to support, respectively, either (a.) or (b.) are incorrect. This is a recipe for all kinds of mischief and mayhem. It not only demonstrates one's lack of a desire for the truth, it also breeds paranoia, treating one's neighbor, without any supporting evidence, as an enemy.

This is the same kind of thinking that is present in the concept of "microaggressions," moreover, a concept that is being promulgated by many professing Christians. Note the definition of the term -

a comment or action that subtly and often unconsciously or unintentionally expresses a prejudiced attitude toward a member of a marginalized group (such as a racial minority) (Source, emphasis added) 

This amounts to a code without structure, and without a finite set of keys. In other words, one can accuse any person of having committed a microaggression, and identify any behavior of that person as being an example of a microaggression. Seeing as microaggressions are considered to be immoral acts, one is, without evidence, and on a purely subjective and continually shape-shifting foundation, accusing his neighbor of sin.

Christians are not to engage in divination (as in the cases of ELS, Q, and the Trump-is-a-Code-Speaker theory). Christians are also not to engage in accusing others of sin without (a.) there being biblical evidence that justifies calling a certain action or actions sin, and (b.) there being objectively verifiable evidence that the accused has committed that sin.

Yet this appears to be a way of thinking that is prevalent among professing Christians. Ultimately, the reason for this kind of sinful thinking is, well, the corrupt heart of man. However, we can be more specific in our assessment. Postmodernism, for instance, has infected nearly all universities, colleges, and seminaries (yes, even professedly Christian ones), and brought with it a hatred for metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical absolutes and universals.

In addition to this, many churches have embraced a hermeneutic that does not recognize the interpretive restrictions put in place by God in his Word. Purported "Bible studies" wherein attendants talk about what a passage means to them abound in such contexts, and only further reinforce the reprehensible relativism the world adores.

And this, in turn, encourages ignorance among Christians with respect to important issues about which the Scriptures are not silent (e.g. metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and so on).

The answer to the problem is not merely instruction in philosophy, logic, etc. It is the preaching and teaching of the entire counsel of God. It is the Scriptures that teach us what language, knowledge, morals, existence, and so on are. It is Scripture, therefore, which encourages us to neither divine the future nor accuse our neighbor of sin without evidence.

Let us pray that God gives his ministers the resolve they need to preach his entire counsel. Let us pray that God stirs his people to know him and love him with all of their minds. Let us pray that the Logic of God, Christ Jesus in whom are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom, illuminate the minds of his people.

Soli Deo Gloria.


John Bradshaw said…
Excellent Hiram! Reminded me of what Paul wrote about evil surmisings or suspicions... "He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
1 Timothy 6:4 KJV