Is There a Secret Code in the King James Version of the Bible?
When I came to faith in late 1971 at the age of 16, I knew almost nothing about the Bible. It’s true that I’m Jewish and was bar mitzvahed at 13. But I was not raised in a religious Jewish home, and I had barely ever opened the pages of a Bible.
I do remember once when I was perhaps 14 or 15 taking out the Bible I had been given at my bar mitzvah, thinking to myself, “This is a very special book.” But I didn’t make it past the first few lines. I lost interest immediately.
Funnily enough, as a new believer, some of the other Christians in our little congregation would say to me, “Mike, you must really have insights into the Scriptures, since you’re Jewish.”
Not in my case! The only passages I could really relate to were the visions in books like Revelation that described beastly figures with 7 heads and 10 horns rising up out of a bottomless pit. I had seen things like that while high on LSD! Maybe I had insights into those passages? (Yes, I write this with a big smile.)
So it was, then, that when I first started reading the Bible in earnest, I discovered something very unusual.
Strange Italics in My Bible
“The” Bible for us in those days was the King James Version, the most widely used version in the world of Protestantism. It remains an English classic, despite it being more than 400 years old.
As I read the first page of Genesis in the KJV, every so often, I came across an italicized word. You might not see this with your digital version of the King James, but it is preserved on some websites, like this one. What was the significance of these italicized words?
Normally, when you see an italicized word in a sentence it is used for emphasis, as in the sentence, “I was really happy to see you.”
Otherwise, italics can signify an official title, such as the title of a book, as in, “I was reading Moby Dick last night.”
Here, in Genesis 1 in the KJV, the italicized words were obviously not titles. But did they signify emphasis? It wasn’t making sense.
For example, Genesis 1:2 reads, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Why was the word “was” emphasized. That seemed odd.
It was the same with other verses in Genesis 1, such as v. 4: “And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.” And v. 7: “And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.”
Clearly, this was not a matter of emphasis (the more I read, the clearer this became).
Then it dawned on me.
I Thought I Was the First to Discover a Secret Code
The Bible is a very special book, uniquely inspired by God. …
And these translators were brilliant men …
They must have hidden a secret code in their translation — and I’m the first person to discover it!
Now, before you fall off your chair laughing at my ridiculous line of thinking (especially the notion that I was the first person to discover this!), remember that just days before, I was dropping large quantities of LSD and shooting heroin and smoking pot day and night. The fact that I was totally drug free and reading the Bible was a miracle itself. Obviously, I still had a bit to learn!
But back to my groundbreaking “discovery.” The key to this mystery was that we should only read the italicized words. That was it!
With great interest, I began to scour the page for these special words, reading them out loud as in a sentence, ready to decode the mystery. In order, the words were: “was … it was … were … were … land … it was … and is … .” Oops!
Obviously, there was no hidden message, no secret code. I realized that in a matter of seconds.
What I later learned was that when there was not a direct equivalent between the English language and the Old Testament Hebrew or the New Testament Greek, the translators put the words in italics. It was just the nature of translation. The grammar and syntax will never be exactly the same between languages, even if the overall message can be translated with total accuracy.
There are No Secret Codes in the Bible
But the reason I share this story here is not just for amusement’s sake, especially since biblical scholarship became a major part of my life calling. It is to say that there are no secret codes in the Bible — not in Hebrew, not in Greek, not in ancient manuscripts, not in contemporary translations. (And yes, I just used those italics here to make a point, which I will repeat here: there are no secret codes in the Bible!)
The Word of God is rich enough as it is, filled with mystery and wonder, overflowing with wisdom and profundity, living and active, and able to bring radical transformation to the human heart and mind.
By all means, let the Word of God speak for itself, just as the words of this article speak for themselves. It is a waste of time and an abuse of the Scriptures to search endlessly for secret codes and meanings. The plain truth of the Scripture is enough to keep us growing and searching and learning and discovering for the rest of our lives — and beyond.
Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Why So Many Christians Have Left the Faith. Connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.