What Does Genesis 1 Teach Us? with Dr. Michael LeFebvre

A space to discuss What Does Genesis 1 Teach Us? with Dr. Michael LeFebvre

Some questions discussed:
What does it mean to read the Bible anachronistically?

Why would we WANT to read the Bible anachronistically?

What is the difference between how ancient people understood time and calendars and how we understand and experience those today?

What is the difference between how the Hebrews understood time and calendars vs the nations that surrounded them?

What’s the difference between observance dates and historical dates?

Is your perspective heresy?

How does 2 Timothy 3:16 constrain how we interpret the Bible?

What does it mean to read Genesis 1 as a sacred calendar narrative?


I remember my Systematic Theology teacher bringing a Bible that dated from the early 1900s. He liked to show that on the inside front cover was a swastika and would talk about how it had a completely different meaning then. He also used it to drive home the the point that we should not study the Bible anachronistically. A point that was also reiterated in my Hermeneutics class.

So I’m clear on that point but when Dr LeFebvre was talking about the Pentateuch not being a journalistic recoding of history I’m left wondering, Why does the Bible record details like the life span of Adam and his descendants? Given the long lives of those early people, I wonder if it’s anachronistic of us to view those early people much the same way that we might view a caveman. In Genesis 5:3-5 we read that Adam lived 930 years and in case you missed it, the passage even does the math to reiterate how long he lived. So I don’t disagree with the concept of a liturgical rhythm being conveyed which may even be the point of first 5 books of the Bible. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t “journalistic detail” enough to draw some scientific hypotheses from the text like a young earth creationist view. Which can then be tested and upheld enough to have weight in the scientific community.

I think Dr. LeFebvre made some good points about creation week being a sacred calendar narrative. I hadn’t viewed it like that before and worthy of more study. It’s not a concept lost on me though because I see in the feasts of God the same pattern that seems to move in a God ordained cycle that is still yet to be completed. Then again I don’t think to view creation week as sacred calendar of sorts does not mean a literal week did not occur. One can look within the Pentateuch to confirm it when God himself said,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
Exodus 20:8-11

Why would God say that he created the heavens and the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th day of they were not literally 7 days? God also paralleled the weekly work/rest cycle to the same week. I wonder if it can be anachronistic to learn of scientific perspectives that conflict with a literal 7 day creation week and then try to read into the text a mechanism that attempts to reconcile the conflict. Even when reading a literal 7 day creation week in Genesis1 does that necessitate exactness in identifying the 7 oceans? That may also be another anachronism to view the need for 7 oceans from our post flood perspective.

Additionally, it is clear that Paul was referring to what we call the Old Testament when he said “All Scripture.” That is what he and Timothy had available to them, but do we not think of the New Testament as scripture now. Is it really anachronistic to apply Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:16 to the whole canon of biblical text? I don’t think it is, because the Holy Spirit inspired (in breathed) the NT authors to write.

That being said, I don’t think it constrains the scriptures to only be read for training in righteousness. There are clearly historical details that can serve as bread crumbs for scientists and historians to follow to discover more about the past and our world.

I really enjoyed the interview though. He clearly has a love and reverence for the scriptures and is doing us all a service to bring his expertise and study to bear in service of the church. I like the idea of there being a liturgy in the creation narrative. I’ve felt that there’s a wedding narrative hidden in the Jewish feasts for a long time. So I’m intrigued by God layering more truth on top of truth. I’ve always loved Proverbs 25:2.

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter
and the glory of kings to investigate a matter.


I’ve also wondered about this! It’s a great question worthy of our curious exploration.

I find Carol Hill’s explanation helpful. Unlike many explanations that I’ve looked at, I think she avoids being anachronistic. She helps us to understand the cultural understanding of numbers at the time these documents were written.

At least from the late third millennium BC onward, “sacred numbers” were used in religious affairs for gods, kings, or persons of high standing. Just as a name held a special significance to the ancients (e.g., Noah, Gen. 5:29)—beyond its merely being a name—a number could also have meaning in and of itself. That is, the purpose of numbers in ancient religious texts could be numerological rather than numerical.25 Numerologically, a number’s symbolic value was the basis and purpose for its use, not its secular value in a system of counting. One of the religious considerations of the ancients involved in numbers was to make certain that any numbering scheme worked out numerologically; i.e., that it used, and added up to, the right numbers symbolically. This is distinctively different from a secular use of numbers in which the over- riding concern is that numbers add up to the correct total arithmetically. Another way of looking at it is that the sacred numbers used by the Mesopotamians gave a type of religious dignity or respect to important persons or to a literary text.

I think she also offers a helpful way to approach the difference:

To take a number symbolically or figuratively does not mean that the Bible is not to be taken literally. It just means that the biblical writer was trying to impart a spiritual or historical truth to the text—one that surpassed the meaning of purely rational numbers.

Once we have this understanding in place, we can assess the numbers from another direction. If they are the literal, exact amount of years these people lived, the details are strangely patterned. Carol calculates:

For the entire 60-number list (antediluvial and postdiluvial), none of the ages end in 1 or 6—a chance probability of one in about one-half million. Surely, if the ages of the patriarchs in Genesis are random numbers, as would be expected for real ages, this could not be the case. It is inconceivable that all of this should be accidental!

We know from, say, the design argument, that when we find such mathematical improbabilities it is wiser to look for design and intention in the ordering of this complex situation.

She also points out another problem:

Further evidence that the patriarchal ages in Genesis are not real numbers is the “overlap” of the patriarchs’ life spans. If the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 are both literal and complete, then the death of Adam has to be dated to the generation of Noah’s father Lamech.41 Shem, Arphaxad, Shelah, and Eber would have outlived all of the generations following as far and including Terah. Noah would have been the contemporary of Abraham for 58 years and Shem (Noah’s son) would have survived Abraham by 35 years. But where does the Bible indicate that any of these men were coeval?

Her entire article, linked above, carefully examines the question from many different angles.

I would also commend Dr. LeFebvre’s book, The Liturgy of Creation, where he draws out more details for his argument for reading Genesis 1 as a sacred calendar narrative.


It seems as though these arguments for design and intention argue for the AUTHOR’s intention. Whereas I see structure in the text that conveys a divine sovereign will over the narrative, almost as if it is God breathed.

In that case even if there is numerological significance in the numbers it doesn’t require that the numerical value be questioned. If God can fine tune the stars to be his calendar to mark the times and the seasons, then surely it is no small thing to ordain the lives of significant persons so that their lifespans convey both a symbolic and literal value. There is no shadow of turning in God so what evidence is there that God would present numbers if those numbers don’t mean the value they represent?

I think Deut 12:31-32 can apply here because if the biblical authors were to fudge the numbers in order to convey an intended message then it amounts to cooking the books as it were. Then we’re also delving into how the book of Genesis was conveyed to the author (which can be another topic of discussion). Is it really necessary, when scientific discoveries or facts conflict with the Bible, to then reinterpret the Bible to see how it is still true in light of the new fact? While understanding the Mesopotamian view of numbers is helpful in one sense, I’m bothered by the idea that God called Abram out from that land and called him to leave it all behind, yet when Moses is writing the Pentateuch centuries later he is going to use their numerology instead of the numerical values. I think instead God dictated the Pentateuch and conveyed the real numbers. Moses met with God repeatedly so there is plenty of opportunity. There is encryption in the text that is evidence of a complex structure that can be God’s signature.

My point is that ultimately the symbolism and liturgical value can easily be read within the Pentateuch and the creation week story, but so is the numerical value and intrinsic meaning of a day. Both viewpoints are supported by the scriptures and born out by evidence, especially in light of recent discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope. (JWST). The fact that they’ve been able to see fully formed, mature galaxies from what was theorized as the “dark period” after the Big B_a_n_g has huge implications for how science has been dating the universe. Barry Setterfield has an article related to JWST discoveries and some enlightening data about the speed of light slowing down over time. I’ve been particularly interested in the discussion of plasma astronomy and how discoveries in that field make it possible for a much faster creation of the universe.

It’s on my reading list and I’m looking forward to starting it. The feasts of Israel have been an area of interest for a long time. In a study years ago I read Genesis 1:14 HCSB where they used the term “festivals” where other translations used “seasons” and began to see the lights in the firmament as more than just stars and planets. I even heard one commentator refer to them as God’s day planner.

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