Paul’s Jesus Code: An Exciting Discovery

TetragrammatoneStainedGlassWCThis post is for my academic friends. The first on this blog. Don’t bother reading if (a) you are tired and don’t want to think right now, or (b) you have a deep, instinctive aversion to maths.

Read on if:

– you love God, Jesus and His word,
– you love maths, and
– you like a little bit of mystery.

So, I’m writing a book about Christology: a carefully worked out analysis of current research on NT Christology and a sketch of a new paradigm for putting it altogether (historical origins, theological shape, Jesus in relation to Paul etc …). I’ve been here before; time and again since my doctoral work. Since wrestling with the classic questions of Christological origins I have travelled to other parts of the landscape of biblical theology. In particular, I have enjoyed reading the work of Casper Labuschagne on numerical structures in the Hebrew Bible. His Numerical Secrets of the Bible: Rediscovering the Bible Codes (2000) (available at his website here as a free download) is as fun and as readable a romp through classic OT texts as you could wish for: deep insights into the workings of Hebrew prose and poetry, from a seasoned OT scholar who knows the dangers of creative new ideas running amock. He does not talk about Christology, but his work has opened my eyes to hitherto hidden mysteries of classic NT texts.

I don’t agree with everything he says, but one argument is thoroughly convincing. He shows that Hebrew prose and poetry is often structured by number patterns that point to the presence of God because certain numbers are associated with the divine identity. One of those numbers is 26.

[Hebrew Numbers and Letters & Gemmatria: The Israelites did not have a separate system of signs for numbers as we do (1, 2, 3, 4, ….). Like us, they could write numbers with their letters (one – echad; two – shenayim; three – shalosh …) or they could assign numbers to letters following the order of the alphabet:

‎א = aleph = 1
‎ב = beth = 2
‎ג = gimmel = 3

and so on.

This means that letters on a page (or scroll or codex) could either be numbers or letters, or in some cases an author might want the reader to see deliberate ambiguity and deeper meanings].

The four consonants that make up the name of God are written (from right to left): ‎יהוה

In the standard system of Hebrew letters-as-numbers this is:

10 (yod) + 5  (he) + 6  (waw) + 5 (he)= 26.

In one of those revelation-in-the-bath moments, I realised a few months ago that the earliest Christians used this (and other numbers) to help them express the mystery of Jesus’ divine identity.

There is a now much discussed and argued over problem in NT scholarship. There is a wealth of evidence that, after his death and resurrection Jesus’ followers concluded that Jesus Christ himself belonged within the divine identity of the one true God. As good bible-believing Jews they were therefore faced with a problem. How can we still be monotheists now that we believe God is two? How can we speak about (pray to, confess, worship) one God who is two without selling out to paganism and becoming ditheists? Most scholars in the last 100 years have actually said that this feat was impossible for Jesus’ first Jewish followers: they could not, so in fact they did not, include Jesus within the divine identity and neither did they worship Jesus alongside the one God because that would be to deny their belief in one God. I.e. his earliest followers did not in fact believe he was divine.

Nowadays, many specialists reckon that the apostle Paul, and other Christians before him, expressed belief in one God by inserting Jesus into the fighting creed of Jewish monotheism, the Shema (Deut 6:4 “Hear O Israel, Yhwh-Lord your god, Yhwh-Lord is one”). In 1 Cor 8:3–6, in the midst of a discussion about the existence of other gods, Paul says:

8:4 Concerning, therefore, the food of idols, we know that no idol in the world really exists and that there is no god except one.
5 For, even if there are many so-called gods, … 6 but,
for us, there is one God, the Father,
from whom are all things and to/for whom we live,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom are all things and through whom we live.

As N. T. Wright pointed out in his classic essay on this text (The Climax of the Covenant: Christ And The Law In Pauline Theology, 120-136) 6 splits open the Shema by taking the two words God and Lord in Deut 6:4 and identifying each with the a distinct person: God the father ... from whom … and the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom … This is a clever move and it identifies Jesus Christ, unequivocally with Yhwh-Lord of the Shema: there is not one God and, in addition, Jesus Christ. Instead, Jesus Christ is firmly included in the identity of the word God just as he shares in the creative work of the one God: he is the one “through whom are all things …”. 

But it is a little puzzling that Paul emphasises one Lord and one God. Why does he not say “for us, there is one God, the Lord (who is constituted by two persons): the father, from whom … and  Jesus Chist through whom …”?

What no one seems to have considered is that fact that the Greek of the confession in 1 Cor 8:6 has a carefully crafted numerical structure:

v. 6a: 13 words

v. 6b : 13 words

Total: 26 words

So, it looks as though 1 Cor 8:6 has been carefully crafted by somebody who knew the numerical value of the name of God (26) who then that number to make a profound theological claim that can be expressed in this syllogism:

A.  26 is the numerical value of the one God (Yhwh),

B. 1 Corinthians 8:6 says there is “one God, the father  … (13 words)” and “one Lord Jesus Christ … (13 words)” that together, within the structure of the Shema, = 26.

C. So, by this numerical structure one (… the Father) + one (… Jesus Christ) =  one!

Hey presto! We are monotheists who now believe in two divine persons. By using 26 words for the whole of this confession of the newly revealed identity of God in two persons, this reworked Shema claims that all of this, both persons, constitute the divine identity.

What is more, a retroversion of the Greek of the confession of 1 Cor 8:6 into an original Hebrew version shows that a similar numerical expression of the mystery of the divine identity was probably the work of the first Hebrew (and Aramaic) speaking Christians of the Jerusalem church. This is not the creative work of the Apostle Paul. For the Hebrew version the confession is structured by the number 17. But that’s another post … (see Labuschagne).

Perhaps if the Church Fathers had been competent Hebrew speakers there wouldn’t have been so much blood, sweat and tears over the formulation of the creeds in the fourth and fifth centuries.



  • Elizabeth Sullivan says:

    When You say we are monotheistists who believe in TWO DIVINE persons… That is very confusing for me if you are a Christian? Christians believe in THREE DIVINE persons in ONE BEING. Some feedback please… THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS THE DIVINE PERSON THAT JESUS LEFT FOR US (the Church) The problem with our church today is exactly what you stated… we have forgotten 1/3 of the Godhead!

    • Crispin says:

      Hi Elizabeth, yes, of course. I didn’t mean to say that we believe in ONLY two divine persons. This post is engaged is concerned with the remarkable fact that first century Jews who were followers of Jesus came to believe that the one God included Jesus. Historically and theologically that has been rather had to explain. Many scholars have even doubted that the NT actually proclaims that view of God.

      I did not mean to exclude the Holy Spirit from God’s triune identity, it’s just that the post is focused on another issue. My apologies for giving the wrong impression.


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