Access your downloads at our archive site. Visit Archive
Magazine Article

Creating a Controversy

The issue of six-day creation is creating much discussion throughout the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

  • Byron Snapp,
Share this

The issue of six-day creation is creating much discussion throughout the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The denomination was largely formed of churches that exited the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the Southern Presbyterian Church) in the early 1970s. At its first General Assembly (1973 — only 25 years ago) commissioners provided their reasoning for a new denomination: "Deviations in doctrine and practice from historic Presbyterian positions as evident in the Presbyterian Church in the United States, result from accepting other sources of authority, and from making them coordinate or superior to the divine Word. A diluted theology, a gospel tending towards humanism, an unbiblical view of marriage and divorce, the ordination of women, financing of abortion on socio-economic grounds, and numerous other non-biblical positions are all traceable to a different view of Scripture from that we hold and that which was held by the Southern Presbyterian forefathers."1 The PCA rightly stated that the Bible is "the only infallible and all-sufficient rule of faith and practice."2

Many, therefore, find it surprising that the length of creation days is so controversial. At its foundation, the new denomination adopted the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and the accompanying Larger and Shorter Catechisms as being the best written interpretation by man of Scriptural teaching. These documents clearly teach that God's creative activity in Genesis 1 spanned six natural days. In the WCF IV:1 we read that the Triune God created "the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; . . ."These six days are more specifically defined in Catechism questions and answers regarding the Sabbath day. In each instance the day is defined as having existed "from the beginning of the world."3

This interpretation parallels Scriptural teaching. In Genesis 1, "day" is defined in terms we would expect — evening and morning. Although the sun was not created until the fourth day, beginning with the first day light and darkness are definitive measures of each day. Throughout Scripture, whenever an ordinal or cardinal number accompanies "day" the meaning is always a twenty-four hour day. There is no reason to expect a different interpretation in Genesis 1 when "first day," "second day," etc. are used.

In Genesis 5: 5, Scripture states, "so all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years and he died."Scripture measures Adam's lifespan in terms of years. We should expect the first two days of Adam's life to be included in these years. Seth's days are measured accordingly in Genesis 5:8. Throughout the genealogical account in Genesis 5 the lifespan is referred to as "all the days,"being measured in the number of years that made up the lifespan of the individual. All the days of Seth's life are understood to mean all his days, not all but the first two which were of indeterminate length. The same must be said of Adam's lifespan. Exodus 20:8-11 clearly establishes the fact that man's work week and day of rest grew out of God's week of creation. Jesus treated Genesis 1 and 2 as historical (Mt. 19:4-8; Mk. 10:5-9). Quoting from these first two chapters of Genesis he does not view the first as non-literal and the second as literal. There are no Scriptural reasons for us to do otherwise.4

How the Controversy Began
The creation account began to be an issue in the early 1990s within the PCA. In 1991 the General Assembly (the annual meeting of representatives of churches from throughout the PCA) ruled that a man whose "views on creation and theistic evolution were outside our system of doctrine . . . should not be granted the authority to teach in the Church."5 In 1997 the General Assembly voted to allow the individual to teach as long as he agreed not to teach on creation.6 In 1994 an individual was licensed (permitted to preach in the presbytery's churches) in a presbytery (PCA churches in a geographical region). The individual believed Genesis 1-11 to be, not only historical, but also a Hebrew epic. He denied that the Flood of Genesis 9 was worldwide. However, the man was not allowed to teach his views on creation and the Flood.7

More recently another presbytery licensed an individual who believes Genesis 1 is poetic.8 I will give only one more example as to the openness of many presbyteries to variant views. In 1995 the General Assembly voted that a presbytery did not have to re-examine a man whom it had accepted and ordained even though his views were stated as follows: "It is not scientifically impossible for God to create the universe in six days since He is omnipotent. The point is that the Word of God does not set out such a scientific plan, but rather emphasizes the unique power of God to create out of nothing and in accordance with His perfect will."9

I believe the reader must not overlook the words "scientific plan" in the above quote. I do not know the motive of the individual who used these words. However, the words point to a central issue in this debate. Is Scripture sufficient to interpret itself or must it be filtered through scientific theories? Earlier in this article, I have attempted to summarize the textual and contextual evidence as well as other Scriptural references that define "days"in Genesis 1 in terms of a natural day. This method is also the best for interpreting Scripture. Our Confession of Faith states: "The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly."10

When Scripture is interpreted accurately there is only one correct interpretation of the creation account. Thus, studying a passage with some ambiguity (such as the meaning of the Hebrew word, yom — "day") in Genesis 1, the student of Scripture must look elsewhere in the Bible for passages that provide help regarding the correct interpretation of "day"in the creation account. God has provided such hermeneutical help in Exodus 20:8-11. Scripture is sufficient to provide interpretation for itself. Our understanding may be unclear regarding the meaning of Scripture. Scripture itself is clear. Science must be interpreted by Scripture, not vice versa.

Compromise on Creation
In a recent mailing from Covenant Seminary, the PCA seminary, an explanation of the Seminary's position on creation was given. I will quote in part: "All of our professors affirm that the first chapter of Genesis can be reasonably interpreted as teaching that God's creative activity occurred in six solar days. Not all of our professors, however, believe that this is the best interpretation. Please note that I have not said that any of our professors deny the facticity or historicity of the Genesis account. All of our professors have committed their lives to teaching the inerrancy of Scripture. Thus, what they are concerned to do is to make sure that they are translating the text as accurately as possible. . . . The consequence of seeking honestly and faithfully to deal with these concerns is that some of our professors hold to the six 24-hour day view of the creation activity. Others hold to longer day theories. One leans to a possible gaps-between-the-days view. This variety of perspectives has always been true of the faculty of Covenant Seminary, because this spectrum of views is not new."11

As Covenant Seminary graduates seek entrance to one of over fifty PCA presbyteries, their view of the creation will surface during many presbytery examinations. Their reception will be varied. No doubt, in some of these regional bodies no cause of concern will be raised. In others a view other than that of six natural days will be seen as an error, but an acceptable one. One presbytery, Westminster (spanning east Tennessee and southwest Virginia) recently passed a Declaration (note the following article) in which it declared that ministers who hold to a gap theory, day-age theory, or a poetic view of Genesis 1 would not be admitted to the Presbytery: "Furthermore, Westminster Presbytery considers that any view which departs from the confessional doctrine of creation in six 24-hour days strikes at the fundamentals of the system of doctrine set forth in the Holy Scriptures."12

Such diversity should be unexpected in a confessional church. We can expect such diversity to continue unless our General Assembly reaffirms the clear teaching of our confessional standards as being the best interpretation of the Biblical account of creation.

I recently discussed this issue with a PCA elder in another state. He remarked that these various views on creation were interesting but we needed to be concerned about evangelism. I replied that if we allow Genesis 1 to be interpreted as non-historical, the time will probably soon come when we will discuss whether or not Genesis 3, particularly Adam, is historical. What will that discussion do for evangelism?

Christianity is historical. God has given us an inspired historical account in Genesis 1. There is no reason to try to explain it away. Instead, we need to accept God's account on faith rather than be influenced by scientific theories that mislead misplaced faith in scientific theories regarding origins.


1. "A Message to all Churches of Jesus Christ Throughout the World From the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church,"PCA Digest Position Papers, ed. by Paul Gilchrist, 8.

2. Ibid., 7.

3. See Larger Catechism Q/A 116 and Shorter Catechism Q/A 59.

4. For further study I would recommend, among other books, Douglas F. Kelly's Creation and Change: Genesis 1:1-2:4 in the light of Changing Scientific Paradigms (Genies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain, n.d.).

5. PCA Digest, 1973-1993, 427-28.

6. Minutes of the Twenty-Fourth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Atlanta, GA, 1997), 211-212.

7. Minutes of the Twenty-Second General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Atlanta, GA, 1994), 88ff.

8. The Presbyterian Witness, Vol. XI No. 4, 22.

9. Minutes of the Twenty-Third General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (Atlanta, GA, 1995), 197.

10. WCF I:9.

11. "Covenant Theological Seminary '98 - '99 President's Goals and Report Prepared for December 5, 1997 Executive Board Meeting with Revisions From the January 30, 1998 Full Board Meeting by Bryan Chappell"(St. Louis, 1998).

12. A Declaration by Westminister Presbytery, Presbyterian Church in America, 3. This Declaration was passed by Westminster Presbytery, April 18, 1998.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

More by Byron Snapp