Days of Creation: Occurrence or Observance?

Now we get to the central hypothesis of Michael LeFebvre in his book, The Liturgy of Creation. The creation week of Genesis 1-2:3 is a culturally situated historical calendar narrative designed to lead God’s people in God’s ways. LeFebvre writes:

Genesis 1:1-2:3 provides a narration of creation events, but the timing and details of its telling are transparently “re-mapped” to the cadence and themes of Israel’s weekly sabbath festival. The purpose of the narrative is not simply to teach the people what happened but to teach them how to remember God’s work and God’s rest through their own weekly labors and worship. (pp. 113-114)

LeFebvre aims to call us to “engagement with the creation narrative as a metronome for faithful stewardship in God’s image (the first six days) and communion in his presence (the seventh day).” (p. 114)

The creation week of Genesis 1 is portrayed as a week of 6 24 hour days followed by a seventh 24 hour day. In this the literalist is correct. However, the purpose of the text is not to relate details of the occurrence of creation. This follows from the general case that LeFebvre has been building concerning the purpose of dated narratives in the Pentateuch. Genesis 1, like the specific dates in the exodus account are intended to guide the people in life and worship through observance rather than recount details of occurrence.

Many people throughout Christian history have seen the contradictions inherent in an overly literal interpretation. In the early 200’s AD Origen commented on the issues raised by ‘days’ one to three preceding the creation of the sun and the moon. LeFebvre notes also the differences between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. In Genesis 1 the birds (day 5) and land animals (day 6) are formed before the man, while in Genesis 2 the man is formed first and then the birds and land animals. Modern translators will occasionally try to harmonize the accounts – but this is not, most will agree, the most likely translation of the text. Likewise, the Hebrew text uses language that implies the growth of plants in day three – a process that requires far more than a day. Watch your garden grow some time. The language does not, LeFebvre argues, conjure up an image of the miraculous appearance of full grown plants.

This doesn’t mean that the text is an error ridden ancient myth. The original authors knew what they were doing, and they were not sloppy in their work. The compiler didn’t see the discrepancies between ch. 1 and ch. 2 as problems. They were accurately using the conventions of their day to make the intended point.  LeFebvre suggests that this means  that…

… the creation week narrative is a calendar for the listener’s guidance. It is transparently prepared without any concern to make the timing of the events described comport to the dates assigned, since the dates are provided to guide observance timing, not to preserve and occurrence timeline. (p. 119)

Genesis 1 relates that God is creator of the world and everything in it. It does not convey a journalistic or scientific account of creation. It was never intended to do either of these. The current focus on a scientific reading of Genesis has drawn us away from its purpose. Young earth creation, day-age progressive creation, and even evolutionary creation in response to the concerns of the other approaches, are all drawn into a focus on days one to six, leaving day seven as something of an afterthought.

Day seven as an afterthought? If Genesis 1-2:3 is a calendar narrative as LeFebvre contends, then leaving day seven as a “detail” misses the point of the text.

Like all the calendar narratives in the Pentateuch, Genesis 1:1-2:3 has a festival in view. Each of the first six days of the creation week is mentioned once, but when the text reaches its climax with the seventh day, “the seventh day is mentioned emphatically, three times in three consecutive sentences.” The text’s emphasis on the seventh day as the major focus is demonstrated in a number of ways, most importantly by the Lord’s consecration of the day.  (p. 132)

The rhythm of the creation week sets the stage for the pace of life.  When we focus on apologetics and on science we miss the point. “… the church needs to do more with these texts than answer the challenges of science. We need to hear the text’s central message about laboring before God as his stewards and communing with him in sabbath worship.” (p. 135)

This central hypothesis sets the stage for the rest of LeFebvre’s book. There is much more to say about Genesis 1 and its place as a calendar narrative for sabbath worship, but that is for the next posts.

Is the purpose of Genesis 1 to lead Israel and the church to a rhythm of worship?

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2 Responses to Days of Creation: Occurrence or Observance?

  1. Robin Phillips says:

    Yes! The central hypothesis of this book for me rings so true and sweeps away the tortured way I’ve heard others try to press Genesis to make their point . I do agree that a purpose of Genesis 1 is to lead Israel and the church to the rhythm of work and worship! And when you say: “When we focus on apologetics and on science we miss the point.” That is so clear to me from this probing analysis. And when the Author says: “We need to hear the text’s central message about laboring before God as his stewards and communing with him in sabbath worship.” (p. 135)” Yes! and Amen! Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I like the analysis so far about the Creation week. I see the potential to add a lot to our understanding.

    However, this sentence: “Young earth creation, day-age progressive creation, and even evolutionary creation in response to the concerns of the other approaches, are all drawn into a focus on days one to six, leaving day seven as something of an afterthought.” seems like a mischaracterization to me. Everyone I have read (YEC, OEC, EC) sees the teaching unit as Gen 1:1-Gen 2:3 and does not want to ignore any of it. John Walton in particular has a detailed discussion of Day 7 as being the culmination of the previous days. So I am pretty baffled by the claim in that sentence.

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