By Jean E. Jones
This question came up in my summer Bible study on The Story: Did Joshua cause leap years by praying for the sun to stop?
Christians naturally want to pass along any information that might influence agnostic friends to trust the Bible. That’s great when the details are solid, but sometimes inaccurate claims bounce around, and when we latch onto one of those, skeptics mock and we get results opposite of what we want. Not fun.
One such claim currently traversing the Internet is that Joshua’s prayer for the sun to stand still during a battle (Joshua 10:12) combined with Isaiah’s prayer for a shadow to retreat ten steps (2 Kings 20:11) resulted in a lost day that has to be made up for with leap years.
So did Joshua cause leap years?
We don’t periodically add a day to February because of an astronomical anomaly three millennia ago—that would be like saying a train was late once in 1842 and Amtrak has to adjust all its train schedules every few years to compensate.
Why We have Leap Years
We have leap years so our seasons will start on about the same calendar date each calendar year. If we never observed leap years, we’d eventually celebrate the Fourth of July in the middle of winter.
Here’s the technical explanation. Our seasons begin when the earth is at specific points in its orbit around the sun. The earth takes 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes 46 seconds to orbit the sun—a period of time called a tropical year. A calendar year tracks only full days, so after four calendar years, that nearly six-hour lag behind the tropical year accumulates to almost twenty-four hours. We add a day to the calendar year to synchronize it with the tropical year…