Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe (RTB) frequently states that to understand properly how and when God created, one must consider all the creation passages in the Bible, not just the first few chapters of Genesis. For instance, Ross writes,
Much of the conflict concerning the creation account comes from the presumption that the biblical teaching on creation resides primarily in Genesis 1 and 2. Christians and non-Christians tend to develop their interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2 without testing them for consistency with the other 19 major creation passages in the Bible.1
On that page, Dr. Ross lists in Table 6.1 what he believes are the 21 major creation passages (the 19 mentioned above, plus Genesis 1 and 2), along with the major theme addressed in each one as it concerns the creation events of Genesis 1. We would agree with Ross on some of these passages and his characterization of the creation topic addressed by some of them. For instance, we would have little quarrel with the first five major creation passages (spanning Genesis 1–11) and Ross’s assigned topics. However, Ross uses these passages, among others, to argue for the big bang model, progressive creation, the day-age theory and for a creation that is billions of years old. It is not our intention here to discuss how Ross handles these 21 major creation passages, for others previously have discussed many of these.2
Ross goes on to state,
The Bible’s teaching on creation is not limited to the Scripture portions listed in table 6.1. Shorter creation-related texts can be found in virtually every book of the Bible. Texts containing at least one sentence of creation information are listed in Appendix B.3
Obviously, Ross must think that the additional passages listed in Appendix B are relevant to his case, for why else would he mention them here? Notice that Ross here stated that in order to be on this list, a text must contain “at least one sentence of creation information.” Therefore, if one can demonstrate that one of the passages he chose does not contain creation information, then it ought not to be on this list.
In addressing the controversy between Christians over the age of the created universe (thousands of years versus billions of years), Ross states,
A tumultuous controversy exists, for example, over what Genesis teaches about the origin and structure of the universe. Few people realize that David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Job, and Paul said more about cosmic creation than did Moses in Genesis. The ferocity of the clash dissipates when one integrates all these passages (see chapter 13 for details).4
Jeremiah did not write any of the passages listed in Table 6.1 (the major 21 creation passages), and the only passages on that list attributed to David are Psalm 65 and Psalm 139. Since Psalm 65 and Psalm 139 collectively are shorter than Genesis 1 and 2, the inclusion of Jeremiah and David indicates that Ross must have had in mind not just the passages in Table 6.1 but also the passages in Appendix B when he made the above statement. In his chapter 13, Dr. Ross attempts to claim that the Bible taught the big bang long before that model of cosmic origin was proposed.5 The implication is that if one considers all of these passages, one will see that they collectively point to the universe being formed billions of years ago via the big bang rather than by miraculous means in six normal days just a few thousand years ago. He has made similar claims elsewhere, such as in the How Old is the Universe? DVD set recorded with several Christian astronomers and hosted by John Ankerburg, as well as the earlier DVD set, The Debate Over The Age Of The Earth between myself and Dr. Ross.6
The implication is that if one considers all of these passages, one will see that they collectively point to the universe being formed billions of years ago.
An Overview of Problems with Dr. Ross’s List
Notice in the above quote that Ross states that, when all creation passages are integrated, the debate about the origin of the universe (billions of years as opposed to thousands of years) dissolves. Presumably, Ross intends that the debate is resolved in favor of his position. Subtly, his argument that one must look at all alleged creation passages and not just Genesis 1–2 to see that the Bible supposedly teaches an old universe formed by means of the big bang amounts to a possible tacit admission that the first few chapters of Genesis do indicate a six-day recent creation. This is clear enough from the historical narrative style in which Genesis is written. When one considers that the principal subject matter of Genesis indeed is the origin of the world—unlike many other biblical passages that allude to creation—that case is further strengthened. Nevertheless, since Ross often uses this tactic, a discussion of the other creation passages is warranted. As previously mentioned, others have examined many of the passages in Table 6.1, but no one yet has examined the other passages from Appendix B, so I do so here.
Ross offered no discussion of the passages in his Appendix B list. While he may have discussed a few of the passages in his list elsewhere, he has not discussed most of them. Therefore, Ross apparently expects the reader to accept his implied assertion that the passages listed somehow support his views. However, this is not proper argumentation; in fact, it is no argument at all. Despite the fact that Ross has offered no reasons why the passages in his list are relevant, I am not content to let this pass. After all, he was the one who brought up these passages, and frequently employs this tactic of asserting all these passages in support of his position during live presentations. Therefore, I examined each passage and inferred, within the context of Ross’s teachings, what possible relevance to the six-day Creation account in Genesis 1:1–2:3 each passage might have.
Types of Errors in Ross’s List
In examining Ross’s list, I noted several types of errors. One error was to include passages that address astronomical phenomena or some other aspects of the world around us but do not actually address creation. One might conclude that these are creation passages if one assumes that creation is the subject. However, Ross’s standard for inclusion on his list is that a passage contains “at least one sentence of creation information,” but many of the passages in his list do not. Examples of this include Genesis 15:5 and Genesis 22:17, where God promised Abraham that he would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. We know from Genesis 1:16 that God made the stars on Day Four, but neither Genesis 15:5 nor Genesis 22:17 tell us that. In fact, neither passage even remotely tells us anything about how the stars or anything else in the world came to be, so they contain no creation information. These two verses tell us nothing about creation because the focus is not creation but rather God’s covenant with Abraham. It is incorrect to assume that a passage’s mere mention of something created by God amounts to it being a creation passage. This even violates Ross’s own standard, as it confuses the universe (as a created entity) with the event (God’s creative action). At any rate, such passages do not modify or illuminate the more specific information found in Genesis 1.
A second error that I noted was that of construing as creation passages those biblical passages which demonstrate God’s control over the created world. An example of this is the account of Hezekiah’s sundial (2 Kings 20:8–11). While such a miracle depends upon God’s sovereignty over the world (which right he possesses—in part—because he created it), the creation event in which this doctrine is grounded is assumed, not declared. Since the subject of each passage in question is the event being discussed, it is presumptuous to read or imply some additional information about the creation account from these. Again, with no explicit mention of creation, passages such as this fail to meet Ross’s standard of containing “at least one sentence of creation information.”
A third error relates to verses where God (or the prophet speaking for God) appeals to the created universe as a validation to establish God’s authority. An example of this is Jeremiah 27:5. Of course, as Creator, God can do with the world as he pleases; and the creation as described in Genesis is assumed as the basis of this conclusion. In each passage of this type, the creation is mentioned, though it is not the subject being discussed. Since there is creation information stated (God created the world), passages such as this qualify for inclusion on the list of creation passages according to Ross’s standard. The point of Ross’s list ostensibly is to illuminate the understanding of the Genesis creation account. However, the information given in such passages is extremely broad in their scope and hence does not give new specifics about creation week, for they contain no new information that might amplify or clarify the meaning of what Genesis already has clearly taught.
To understand these passages properly, one must interpret them in terms of Genesis 1, not the other way around.
A fourth error is claiming creation passages that present certain aspects of the created world as demonstrating one or more of God’s attributes. An example of this is Psalm 50:6, where we learn that the heavens declare God’s righteousness. There is no mention of the creation events in this passage. If one were to read this and similar verses and nothing else from the Bible, one might erroneously conclude that the universe created God rather than the other way around. These sorts of passages do not contain any information about God’s acts of creation in Genesis 1 and, hence, according to the Ross standard, ought not to be included in a list of creation passages. More to the point, to understand these passages properly, one must interpret them in terms of Genesis 1, not the other way around. It seems that the mere mention of heaven and earth often triggered the inclusion of a passage on Ross’s list of creation passages.
A fifth error was to view passages as being about the creation event when they merely describe the world as it now exists. An example of this is the inclusion of the first chapter of Ecclesiastes on Ross’s list. Genesis 1 describes how God brought the world into existence, which is very different from how the creation currently operates under His providence, so it is a mystery as to what light the Bible’s description of God’s sustaining work might shed on the Genesis creation account of God’s work of creation.
A sixth error was the confusion of prophecies concerning future events with the past creation events. For instance, Isaiah 11:4–9 is on Ross’s list, though nearly everyone agrees that what is described there is yet in the future. It is unclear how passages about the future can apply to the past event of creation. A variation of this error is to claim as creation passages those that refer to the yet future creation of a new heaven and new earth as being about the original creation event. Ross himself makes a great distinction between the original creation and this future re-creation, so this appeal makes no sense.
I consulted the list of alleged creation passages at the RTB website and I found it to be almost identical to the list published by Ross in 2004.7 In what follows, I examine each passage and rate its relevance to creation, noting when a passage actually qualifies as a creation passage and what new information, if any, it presents about the creation event and hence may be used to modify our understanding of the Genesis creation account. Given the length of Ross’s list, my response will be quite lengthy. Therefore, this task will be split into a series of articles. Here I examine the beginning of the list, those passages from the book of Genesis.
An Examination of the Alleged List of Creation Passages
Hugh Ross’s list of creation passages begins with Genesis 1–11, but since his critics frequently have compared what recent creationists have said and what Ross has said about these eleven chapters at great length, there is no further need to discuss those chapters here.8
The first passage listed after Genesis 1–11 on the RTB list is Genesis 14:19–22. The context is Abram’s encounter with Melchizedek after Abram had rescued his nephew Lot. Four times in this passage God is called “the most high God” (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן, Ēl ʿElyōn) Twice that title is followed by “possessor of heaven and earth,” an implicit acknowledgement that God is the Creator and is sovereign over the creation.
Interestingly, this modifier is used the two times that God is mentioned in conjunction with Abram, first when Melchizedek blessed Abram, and the second time when Abram addressed the king of Sodom. As such, this suggests that God was fully justified to give to Abram the land that he had promised him (Genesis 12:7). The only connection to creation that one might make here is the explicit description of God being the possessor of heaven and earth, which points to God as the Creator. But, there is no information about creation contained in this passage, and it ought not to be on the list
The account of Melchizedek’s visit is immediately followed by the first explicit promise to Abram that he will have a son. In Genesis 15:5, God asks Abram to count the stars, if he can, and then concludes by telling Abram that so shall his seed be. There is no clear creation implication here. If one were to study this passage and no other, one might not even understand that God created the stars. Rather, one could just as easily conclude that in this passage God was merely using the stars as an object lesson, irrespective of how stars came to be. Only with knowledge of Genesis 1:16 can one see that God created the stars. This passage says nothing about how or when God created and hence ought not to be on the list.
In Genesis 22:17 God repeats his earlier promise concerning a son and heir to Abram, now renamed Abraham (Genesis 17:5). Here Abraham is not challenged to count the stars, but God simply tells him that he will multiply Abraham’s seed as the stars of heaven and the sand of the sea shore, and that his seed will possess the gates of his enemies. As with Genesis 15:5, this passage offers no information about the creation acts in Genesis 1, so it should not be labeled as a creation account.
For a third time, in Genesis 32:12, God repeats the promise he had previously made to Abraham this time to Abraham’s grandson Jacob. This verse compares the number of Jacob’s seed to the sand of the sea shore, which cannot be numbered. This repetition reinforces the perpetual nature of the covenant. However, as with the previous two passages discussed, no information about Creation Week is in this passage.
Here I have begun an examination of Hugh Ross’s list of supposed creation passages. I have identified six types of errors in compiling his list. I started a detailed discussion of the passages on the list by considering those passages only from the book of Genesis. In future articles, I will continue my examination of the remainder of the biblical passages on Ross’s list.