Sevens in the Bible: a reason to doubt God created in a literal week?
Bethany W. from New Zealand writes:
I have a real solid Christian friend who is old earth. We’ve been debating it for months (in a really friendly manner). he told me to look at Leviticus 25, and I think he’s getting at vs 2–9. What is the best way to respond to this? He doesn’t seem to be satisfied with the really good arguments, I think it’s all complicated for him and he’s missing the point.
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Thanks for writing in.
So, the question is about the mention of Sabbath years in Leviticus 25:2–9:
“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.
“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land.
So, what needs responding to? Seven is an important number in the Bible and Israel’s calendar life. We agree. So what? Exodus 20:8–11 suggests God’s work week in creation may actually be the foundational reason why ‘seven’ is so important in the Bible.
Second, Exodus 20:8–11 grounds Israel’s work week in God’s work week in Creation. The timespans are identical. However, Leviticus 25:2–9 speaks about years, not days; and it doesn’t even mention God’s creation week. Is there a parallel? Sure. But it’s nowhere near as strong or explicit as the Sabbath in Exodus 20.
Or is the seven pattern more important than the absolute timeframe it’s attached to, given that different timeframes are used in different places (Exodus 20:8–11 for seven days, Leviticus 23:15 for seven weeks, and Leviticus 25:2–9 for seven years and seven sevens of years)? Clearly not in Exodus 20 with regard to the Sabbath. But regardless of the variance in these other passages, we still have to deal with what Genesis 1 actually says. And it says seven days. With no gaps. And those ‘days’ consisted of a daytime/night-time cycle—i.e. a typical 24-hour day.
And there’s no clear line here from ‘seven was a prevalent pattern’ to ‘the seven day schema in Genesis 1 is figurative’ (Ancient cosmology and the timescale of Genesis 1). For a start, that assumes the seven-day schema of Genesis 1 is derivative, when Exodus 20 indicates the opposite. Plus, the idea in Exodus 20 is that in their work week Israel was imitating God’s work week. That indicates God’s work week was just as grounded in history as Israel’s work week. Otherwise, they weren’t imitating God, were they? As further proof, The Genesis Account, which obviously defends Genesis as straightforward history, has a section, The Number Seven (pp. 15–16), pointing out the many sevens in Genesis 1 alone.
Given what you’ve said, it seems like your friend has simply indicated to you that sevens are prevalent in Scripture, and this is supposedly an argument against the literal/historical 24-hour day interpretation of Genesis 1. But it’s no such thing. It’s just an indicator that we need to read the passage carefully to see if it’s meant to be taken as history. And it is: Genesis as ancient historical narrative. See also Why is CMI so dogmatic on 24-hour creation days? Revisited.
Creation Ministries International