When I was a teenager, I was confronted by a skeptic (a Unitarian, actually) concerning an apparent discrepancy in 1 Kings 7:23. This passage deals with Solomon's Temple and the products of Hiram the Bronzeworker:
And he made a molten sea, ten cubits from the one brim to the other: it was round all about, and his height was five cubits: and a line of thirty cubits did compass it round about.
1 Kings 7:23
The huge cast bronze basin in 1 Kings 7:23 was 10 cubits1 in diameter and its circumference was 30 cubits, which is mathematically inaccurate. Almost any schoolboy knows that the circumference of a circle is not the diameter times 3, but rather, the diameter times a well-known constant called "pi".
The real value of pi is 3.14159265358979, but is commonly approximated by 22/7.
This is assumed, by many, to be an "error" in the Old Testament record, and is often presented as a skeptical rebuttal to the "inerrancy" of the Scripture. How can we say that the Bible is inerrant when it contains such an obvious geometrically incorrect statement? How do we deal with this?
24-Hour Hot Line
It is interesting that whenever we find such a thing, we should simply take it to the Throne and claim the commitment Jesus made His disciples:
But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. - John 14:26
Is this really true? Then why don't we resort to it more often?
A Spelling Lesson
The common word for circumference is qav. Here, however, the spelling of the word for circumference, qaveh, adds a heh (h).
In the Hebrew Bible, the scribes did not alter any text which they felt had been copied incorrectly. Rather, they noted in the margin what they thought the written text should be. The written variation is called a kethiv; and the marginal annotation is called the qere.
To the ancient scribes, this was also regarded as a remez, a hint of something deeper. This appears to be the clue to treat the word as a mathematical formula.
The Hebrew alphabet is alphanumeric: each Hebrew letter also has a numerical value and can be used as a number.
The q has a value of 100; the v has a value of 6; thus, the normal spelling would yield a numerical value of 106. The addition of the h, with a value of 5, increases the numerical value to 111. This indicates an adjustment of the ratio 111/106, or 31.41509433962 cubits. Assuming that a cubit was 1.5 ft.,3 this 15-foot-wide bowl would have had a circumference of 47.12388980385 feet.
This Hebrew "code" results in 47.12264150943 feet, or an error of less than 15 thousandths of an inch! (This error is 15 times better than the 22/7 estimate that we were accustomed to using in school!) How did they accomplish this? This accuracy would seem to vastly exceed the precision of their instrumentation. How would they know this? How was it encoded into the text?
Beyond simply these engineering insights of Solomon's day, there are more far-reaching implications of this passage.
1) The Bible is reliable. The "errors" pointed out by skeptics usually derive from misunderstandings or trivial quibbles.
2) The numerical values of the letters are legitimate and apparently can carry significance.
This, in itself, is a major controversy among some. There are some who maintain that the numerical assignments in the Hebrew alphabet were borrowed from the Greek alphabet in a later period, and the influence of Pythagoras, et al. (580-500 B.C.) However, the Babylonians also employed "gematria" (the numerical values of letters and words) during the time of Sargon II. The wall at Khorsabad was supposed to have been built according to the numerical value of Sargon's name.4 The Hebrew use of an alphanumeric alphabet also predates these assumptions.
These numerical values of letters and words can, however, easily lead to mysticism, such as the subjective speculations of the Kabbalah of Judaism - or the mystical conjectures deriving from the Pythagorean Brotherhood - and this is spiritually hazardous and contrary to Scripture.5
When Pythagoras returned from travel and study in Babylon, India and Egypt, he founded a secret cult in southern Italy based on the numerical explanations for the phenomena of the universe. The Pythagoreans considered numbers to be the elements and origin of everything. While he is credited with the theory of the functional significance of numbers in the objective world and music, the bulk of his intellectual tradition belongs to mystical wisdom rather than scientific scholarship. (The famed Pythagorean theorem regarding the length of the hypotenuse of a right triangle probably developed later in the Pythagorean school he founded.)
Pythagorean doctrine applied number relationships to music theory, acoustics, geometry, and astronomy, and deeply influenced the development of classical Greek philosophy and medieval European thought, including the astrological belief that the number harmony of the universe decidedly affects all human endeavor. This numerical mysticism also was embraced with the rise of Gnostic heresies, which plagued the early church and which also flowered in the medieval church. Numerical mysticism is also deeply involved in Freemasonry and other occultic practices.
The Bible warns against the occult. Spiritual warfare is a reality,6 and there is great power in the occult.7 We have serious enemies, that are extremely resourceful and malevolent. The Bible warns of a personal devil and myriads of demons, who should be regarded as cunning enemies,8 and who are active in the affairs of Planet Earth.9 In fact, the whole world lies in the power of the Evil One. 10
The devil's tactics include masquerading as an "angel of light" and a servant of righteousness.11 False teachers and false prophets are linked to evil spirits, and there are "doctrines of demons."12 Demons work through people by giving them psychic abilities.13 Supernatural manifestations are to be tested by the Word of God.14
Another craze has been recently stimulated by the publication of "Bible Codes" involving equidistant letter sequences. The dangers in these provocative "codes" will be the subject of subsequent articles in this series.
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Excerpted from Cosmic Codes: Hidden Messages From the Edge of Eternity, scheduled for release this summer. (This may also be the subject of a prime-time TV special.)