“Esoteric” knowledge is that which is accessible only to a select group of people. This may be due to their particular interest, special permission, or unique aptitude. For all of human history, people have claimed to know secrets of spirituality and religion to which other people have no access. This includes the ancient mystery religions, the Gnosticism of the New Testament era, and spiritualist religions in the modern world. Some associate their esoteric knowledge with concepts such as numerology, astrology, sacred geometry, and so forth.
Some people claim that the Bible contains esoteric keys that “unlock” hidden knowledge and allow a person to understand what the Bible “really” means. Naturally, this belief assumes that every other scholar, theologian, believer, and skeptic has been totally ignorant of these possibilities. In most cases, such claims are paired with the assumption that all religions have a common source and have been modified over time for political reasons.
Biblically, there is no reason to believe in Esotericism or search for esoteric keys. In fact, a major aspect of the gospel is its accessibility to all people, regardless of knowledge or experience (Matthew 11:25). Those things that are hidden belong to God (Deuteronomy 29:29); that which can be known is accessible to all people, not a select few (Matthew 10:26). “The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people” (Titus 2:11), not just to those with special insight into mysterious meanings. “[God] commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30), not to look for arcane knowledge or obscure interpretations.
One commonly referenced pop culture presentation of Esotericism was the June 22, 1995, radio broadcast of William Cooper on his show The Hour of the Time. Cooper was a conspiracy theorist who broadcast his ideas on this shortwave radio program for eight years prior to his death, when he was killed by police after shooting a sheriff’s deputy. In the 1995 broadcast, Cooper claimed that all religions taught people to do “good things,” that Paul had no concept of an incarnate, crucified Jesus, that the Gospel of John had been changed and modified many times, and that most Christians were unaware of the esoteric nature of the Bible, which, according to Cooper, is essentially a vessel for hidden meanings.
Of course, archaeology and history, as well as Christian theology, flatly contradict all of these points. Religions such as that of the Aztecs taught human sacrifice, for example, so not all religions have taught love and goodness. We have copies of the Gospel of John from little more than a century after the original writing, not to mention thousands of early copies of other biblical texts. Paul’s summary of the faith in 1 Corinthians 15 can be traced to within three years of the crucifixion. This statement includes a reference to Jesus’ death and resurrection as something Paul learned at his own conversion.
Like any other ancient work, the Bible needs to be carefully considered in historical and language contexts. There are aspects of Scripture that require some advanced knowledge in order to fully understand. This, however, is not information hidden or obscured for all but a select, cabalistic few. The Bible is extremely clear about the core of the gospel, and knowledge of other points is not necessary for a faithful, spiritual life. There is no legitimately “secret” knowledge in Scripture. We do not need any esoteric keys to the Bible in order to truly understand it.