Is God bad at math?

I seem to drive orthodox Christians up a wall every time I offer evidence that the biblical narratives contain higher meanings. This seems to threaten a faith system built on the rigid belief that the inerrancy of Scripture lies in the historical accuracy of its literal sense.

So I am quite empathetic and patient when the evidence I present on this blog that God’s Holy Word can be metaphorically interpreted, is usually denied by many readers with vehemence.

So I will continue to offer new evidence. For instance, there is a passage in the Old Testament that suggests God’s own words cannot represent literal truth unless He is bad at math – really bad.

Theologian Emanuel Swedenborg pointed out in his great work Arcana Coelestia (Secrets of Heaven) that Jehovah made a big mathematical error in Genesis 15:13. It reads:

Jehovah said unto Abram, Knowing thou shalt know that thy seed shall be a sojourner in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years.

Of course, this biblical passage concerns Abram’s progeny and their unfortunate bondage in Egypt. However, when Swedenborg does the math he concludes God’s estimation of the duration of the stay of the sons of Israel (from Jacob to Moses) in Egypt is way off – almost by a factor of two.

Swedenborg, working directly with the historical account given by Scripture, follows the generations from Jacob to Moses – from Jacob came Levi; from Levi, Kohath; from Kohath, Amram; and from Amram, Aaron and Moses (Exodus 6:16-20). He points out that Scripture further states that Levi and his son Kohath came with Jacob into Egypt (Genesis 46:11) and that Moses represented the second generation after this. Since Moses was eighty years old at the time of his confrontation with Pharaoh (Exodus 7:7) it becomes evident that the from Jacob’s arrival to Egypt and the final departure of his sons took about two hundred and fifteen years – not four hundred!

The only way the number “four hundred” could represent Scriptural inerrancy is if it were used symbolically to represent a deeper, spiritual meaning. This deeper meaning has personal relevance to our daily lives in today’s world. In the symbolic language of Scripture “four hundred” is used to represent the spiritual price we must spend to free ourselves from the bondage of our inner compulsions and inclinations towards hurtful manifestations. Concealed deep within the literal story of Exodus is our own story!

Any biblical term using the number “four” symbolizes the duration of a state of personal challenge to our spiritual integrity. The Lord suffered such a state of conflict on the cross (which represents four directions – all in opposition – signifying the battle between the opposing forces of good and evil).

Only an Infinitely Wise Creator could fashion such profound depth within the ordinary words of human language. So God is very good at math – sacred math.


About thegodguy

EDWARD F. SYLVIA, M.T.S. Philosopher/Theologian Edward F. Sylvia attended the School of Visual Arts in New York and received his Master of Theological Studies at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and a Certificate of Swedenborgian Studies from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. He is a member of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (C.T.N.S.) and the Swedenborg Scientific Association (S.S.A.). Award-winning author of "Sermon From the Compost Pile: Seven Steps Toward Creating An Inner Garden" and "Proving God," which fulfills a continuing vision that God’s fingerprints of love can be found everywhere in the manifest universe. His most recent book, "Swedenborg & Gurdjieff: The Missing Links" is an edgy collection of anti-intuitive essays for personal transformation that challenges and inspires. He has been a student of the ideas of both Emanuel Swedenborg and George I. Gurdjieff for over thirty years. Read more about TheGodGuy, his books and his ideas at
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4 Responses to Is God bad at math?

  1. Seth says:

    Do you have anything meaningful or scriptural to back up your alternative interpretation other than what I’m guessing is your personally imagined meaning behind the four points of the cross? On what basis do you understand the number “four” to always have a deeper meaning related to a season of challenge to an individual’s personal integrity? What about the number three? I guess Jesus didn’t really die or lay dead in the tomb for three days. It makes more sense that he was just being tested and that he was never really resurrected right? I don’t mean that condescendingly but I don’t want to mince words. Just curious how you came to your conclusions. It seems like in this view, God left ANY scripture open to pretty much ANY deeper spiritual meaning one pleases.

    By the way, its odd to me that you wouldn’t even consider the idea that biblical geneologies don’t necessarily represent an unbroken line of names, a typical point raised against literal interpretation (especially when it comes to creationists use of geneologies to ‘guestimate’ dates for the age of the earth).

    Its not that I don’t think the Bible can be taken metaphorically. I think it can when appropriate. I just think it should be taken at face value when it isn’t clear that the writing is poetic or prophetic.

    Peace, and thanks for the thoughts,


  2. Seth says:

    Sorry, but I had another thought.

    I realize the geneology is pretty tight, so it would be difficult to say that there are missing names, and afterall Josephus made the claim that Israel was only in Egypt 215 years, but one thing you may want to consider is how the text is read. We sort of read Egypt into it, but the text itself doesn’t specify Egypt as the location of the 400 years of oppression. I think it would be reasonable to consider the fact that Abraham moved to Caanan where Jacob (his seed – Gen 21:12) was born and so was a sojourner in a land that is not his (Gen. 20:4) straight from birth. If you do the rough math from Jacob’s birth to the Exodus, it comes out a lot closer to 400 years.

    Anwyay, I don’t want you to think I’m getting caught up in some compulsive need to justify every single seemingly incoherent word in the Bible just to help me sleep at night without doubting my “air-tight” literalist faith. I just think that sometimes if we dig deeper we might find good answers.

    All good things,


  3. thegodguy says:

    Dear Seth,

    Thank you for your comments.

    I am glad that you feel that Scripture can be taken metaphorically in some instances. However, Swedenborg said that even the historical aspects of Scripture could be taken as representing higher doctrinal concepts. The symbolic language in Scripture is based on the “science of correspondences.” This systematic approach to biblical interpretation puts forth the concept that all physical events correspond to deeper phenomena in the human spirit. Therefore, the symbolism which I refer to is not arbitrary. And there is more than one higher level of meaning within Scripture – which Swedenborg’s approach has to satisfy (something a mortal intellect cannot succeed in).

    Above the symbolic level just described, Scripture has an even higher order of meaning which is purely Christocentric. That is, even the story of Abraham or Moses represents some stage and challenge that the Lord had to live out while on earth (the Lord shared these secrets with his disciples on the road to Emmaus). Swedenborg does not rule out historical events like the the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection – just that they communicate much more than the literal words suggest.

    I provided one small sample of the symbolic meaning behind numbers. If I had given you the symbolism of the number three you would have asked for the number seven, then number twelve, then number 666, then number 144,000, and so on. The symbolism which I am sharing with my readers requires a lifetime of study. I can only present a few ideas at a time (which many of the posts on this blog attempt to do).

    I have no reason to question the genealogies depicted by Scripture – only that traditional theology has no response for God’s terrible math!

    Thanks again for your contribution to this important discussion.

    Spiritually yours,

  4. thegodguy says:

    Dear Seth,

    You slipped in an extra comment while I was responding to your first.

    We are in agreement that we should continually seek out greater revelation from God’s Holy Word. However, while the text I quoted in my post does not specify Egypt another biblical text does:

    “The dwelling of the sons of Israel which they dwelt in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years . . .” (Exodus 12:40).

    This rules out including Abraham’s time in Canaan.

    One does not have to lose sleep over any incoherent meaning in the Bible. One should, however, scratch one’s head from time to time when he or she comes upon irreconcilable statements.

    I appreciate your knowledge of Scripture.

    Spiritually yours,

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