RPM, Volume 16, Number 13, March 22 to March 29, 2014

The Genesis Question

By Ken Mansfield

The late 19th century and early 20th century witnessed a myriad of scientific discoveries concerning the universe that created real problems for evangelicals and their Christian beliefs. The debate over the relationship between science and religion erupted in rural Tennessee in 1925. The Scopes Trial was a high profile disputation that pitted the theory of evolution against fundamentalists literal interpretation of Genesis 1-2.

We, too, live in a scientifically-charged culture that regards religion as an enemy of science. For many both inside and outside the Church, the Bible remains only a document of antiquated morality and personal religious experience, "while science explores what is observable, rational and physical." 1

In today's evangelical community, Hugh Ross and others regard scientific advancements as an ally to their Christian faith. In other words, they attempt to harmonize the expanding knowledge about the universe with Scripture. Because of Dr. Ross's credentials and expertise in the field of astrophysics, the evangelical community readily turns to him for answers when challenged by skeptics and liberal theologians. 2

In one of more well known books, The Genesis Question, Ross attempts to verify the accuracy of the opening chapters of Genesis for "the perceived improbability of Genesis 1-11 is what keeps 90 percent of people from believing in the accuracy of the Bible." 3 His purpose in writing The Genesis Question is to counter anti-Christian attacks on these opening chapters of Genesis by offering indisputable scientific evidences "for the supernatural authorship and authority of the Bible" 4.

The purpose of this paper is to reveal that Dr. Ross strays far from one of the principle tenets of the Reformation, Sola Scripture: the Bible is the only infallible rule for faith and practice. The Reformers claimed that Scripture is to be its own interpreter (Sacra Scriptura sui inerpres). 5 However well-intentioned, Dr. Ross's pedagogy places science as the interpreter of Scripture. For him, Sola Scientia, seems to become the final arbitrator for faith and practice.

In order to assay Dr. Ross's primacy of science, this paper will first outline the content of The Genesis Question. Next, examples will be cited concerning his hermeneutical approach to the Genesis 1-11. Succeeding these illustrations, I will specify "three fatal flaws" in his method of interpreting Genesis 1-11. Lastly, a proper exegesis of Genesis 2:17 will reveal a major fallacious interpretation on his part.

His book opens by stating four principal obstacles in understanding the "scientific and spiritual content of Genesis 1-11" 6: biblical illiteracy, the pressure to make "progress", too much Bible science, and the isolation of specialization. 7 These obstacles, though real, should not be a barrier to one's understanding of the Bible. In fact, he wants his readers to lay aside their personal bias, even the Christian's, and with an open-mind examine the evidences he purports in his book.

In Chapters three to eight Ross advances the reader through the seven days of Creation. He interjects Chapter seven, "The Source Controversy", to briefly (only four pages) compare and contrast the Genesis creation account with a wide variety of other creation stories. In order to develop and enhance his creationist argument, Ross relies primarily on two components throughout these chapters.

First, he regularly defines and transliterates a number of Hebrew words and also refers to their syntactical use in Scripture. 8 Furthermore, confirmation of the "miracle" 9 found in Genesis 1 is reached by including evidences of recent scientific advancements in astrophysics.

In addition, Chapter three appears to hold a key to understanding Ross' hermeneutic. When the creation account shifts from its emphasis on the universe in Genesis 1:1 to the earth in Gen 1:2, he processes this shift scientifically and concludes that Genesis is "structured like a modern research paper." 10

An explanation for the repetition of the creation story located in the opening verses of Genesis 2 is clarified in Chapter 9. Before proceeding to Genesis 3, Ross first interjects a summary of scholarly attacks on Genesis and the varying responses of evangelicals to these attacks. Next Ross introduces science-trained Christians, creation scientists, who sought to find an acceptable solution between the established scientific record and a literal reading of Genesis.

Ross addresses perceived discrepancies in Genesis 3 through 6 in the following five sections. Did the Fall change the second law of thermodynamics? Who did Cain marry? Are fossil and archaeological dates for the origin of man consistent with ancient religious artifacts? How do you explain the long life spans encountered in the list of Adam's descendants? Who are Sons of God and the Nephilim mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4?

Discussion of the story of Noah and the Flood comprises three chapters: 17, 18 and 19. In Chapter 17 Ross alters his approach in substantiating this biblical story. Instead of providing scientific evidences for the accuracy of Genesis 6-9, as he's done in each preceding chapter, he states that this material teaches us about God's character, and specifically God's judgment. Ross returns to scientific evidences in chapter eighteen to answer the question: Was the Flood global or local? He concludes that, "the Flood event described in Genesis 6-9 did, indeed, accomplish the ends God clearly intended - and explicitly stated - without covering the entire planet. It may be described, accurately, as universal (with respect to humans and the animals associated with them) but not global." 11

Ross ends his discussion on Genesis 6-9 with answers to such questions as: Why an Ark? Did Noah have the ability and resources to build an Ark? What animals entered the Ark and which did not? How did Noah's family care for the Ark's passengers?; What about the purported recent discovery of the Ark?

He closes his work with a study of primeval history, from the time of Noah until the introduction of Abram. He testifies to the scientific accuracy of the creation of post-Flood nations and the origin of the races in Genesis 9-11.

The Question of Genesis is a scientific reply to skeptics who discount the truth of Genesis 1-11 as myth. In so doing, Ross defends these opening chapters of Genesis by engaging in "negative apologetics" 12, which occurs when the "major objective is producing answers to challenges to religious faith." 13 My judgment in this regard is that Ross performs the task of negative apologetics quite well.

Ross utilizes a convincing technique to authenticate the truth of biblical primeval history. In all chapters, except Chapters sixteen and seventeen, he establishes the truth of his thesis by relying heavily upon a mixture of science, especially his specialty, astrophysics, Hebrew syntax14, extra biblical literature15 and basic Christian doctrines such as creation ex nihilo16 and the Fall of Man. 17 (The topics in Chapters sixteen and seventeen fall outside the bounds of scientific interpretation, so Ross replaces his scientific model with the contemporary conservative exegesis to understand Genesis 6.)

From beginning to end Ross boldly addresses those portions of Genesis 1-11 that are contested by skeptics who disclaim the authenticity of Scripture. When one reads this book it becomes evident that Dr. Ross is a scholar par excellence for he portrays himself as eminently knowledgeable in a wide variety of subjects outside the scope of astrophysics.

Here are four such examples:

  1. What does it mean that the earth was "formless and void?" Genesis 1:2 states, "Now the earth was formless and empty, …", which refers to the earth's initial conditions after its creation. Ross affirms earth's formlessness and emptiness by citing "new theoretical studies" and observations by astronomers that affirm these same types of conditions recognized in other planets. 18 "The 'formless' and 'empty' conditions of Earth would be expected, given the initial opaque atmosphere and interplanetary debris. Without light, photosynthesis could not occur. The large pieces of interplanetary debris crashing onto

    Earth's surface at that time would generate catastrophes no life could survive. We can easily understand why no evidence of life on Earth dates earlier than four billion years ago." 19

  2. How do you account for the assertions that "Cain lay with his wife" and "Cain was building a city" in Genesis 4:17: "Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and give birth to Enoch. Cain was building a city, and he named it after his son." Where did his wife and all these other people come from? Ross applies elementary mathematics and diagrams the potential population growth during Adam's life span20 to prove that "if Cain waited to marry until he was about sixty or seventy years old, he probably had several women to choose from, providing some migrated eastward to Nod with other family members. If he waited another two hundred years to build a city, he could have had at least a few thousand people to help him, again assuming some migration occurred." 21

  3. Did the Noahic Flood destroy everyone and everything in its path? Critics assume that a Flood as immense as the one described in Genesis 7.22 would have left substantial alluvial flood deposits for geologists to discover. However, Ross challenges these assumptions by critics, "The Flood, though massive, lasted but one year and ten days. A flood of such brief duration typically does not leave a deposit substantial enough to be positively identified thousands of years later." 23

  4. How did humanity move from the Mesopotamian basin to the far reaches of Asia, Africa and Europe? 24 Science holds the key to understanding this movement of the Earth's peoples. Land bridges quickly formed and then just as quickly disappeared to provide highways and separation for Earth's populace. 25

    As stated earlier, Ross' hermeneutic tool to interpret Scripture is the same that scientists use to analyze natural phenomena (i.e. the earth orbiting around the sun). 26 "In fact, I was struck with amazement that this ancient document actually is structured like a modern research report. The same steps scientists use to analyze and interpret natural phenomena appeared on that first page of the Bible." 27

Ross furnishes the reader with the seven basic components of the scientific method:

  1. Identify the frame(s) of reference or point(s) of view.

  2. Determine the initial conditions.

  3. Perform an experiment or observe the phenomenon, noting what takes place when, where, and in what order.

  4. Note the final conditions.

  5. Form a hypothesis about the how and the why of the phenomenon.

  6. Test the hypothesis with further experiments or observations.

  7. Revise the hypothesis accordingly. 28

By using the scientific method to interpret the Bible "the effects of oversight, personal bias, and presuppositions are minimized." 29 And the benefit of applying this same model for biblical interpretation would have the same effect as it does with science: "It would move us closer and closer to 'rightly dividing the word of truth.'" In fact, Ross declares that the scientific method "offers our only hope (emphasis mine) for consistent interpretation, that is, interpretation free of both internal and external contradiction."

However, can we accept Ross' system of hermeneutics, which states that the scientific method is the only consistent means of interpretation?

Ross adopts three fatal flaws. First, he attempts to use science to remove all ambiguities and inconsistencies in these eleven chapters in order to affirm biblical faith.

Secondly, he and others in the scientific community become the mediator of biblical interpretation. Thirdly, Ross's hermeneutics undermines the traditional orthodox understanding of the doctrine of Scripture.

Walter Kaiser arranges the difficult sayings in Scripture into two categories: "1) sayings for which no explanation appears to be given, and 2) sayings which seem to contradict other portions of Scripture." 30 Dr. Kaiser points out that there is divine purpose behind these "hard sayings". The Doctrine of Inspiration tells us that Scripture, even these difficult sayings, comes from God and also reveals God to man. The reward for believers who wrestle with these kinds of texts is not a fruitless exercise, but brings three primary benefits. First, it "sharpens our attention to the details in all of our Lord's Word" 31 which furthers our spiritual maturity (2 Timothy 3:16-17). A second benefit is that "disagreements within Scripture also supply strong incidental proof that there was no collusion among the sacred writers. The variations, instead, go a long way toward establishing the credibility both of the writers and the texts." 32 And lastly, these "hard sayings" are a test of our commitment to Christ. Jesus preached by means of parables for just this reason. His preaching at times appears harsh and unclear, but his intended purpose was to expose a person's heart motivation. Some of His followers thought they "saw, perceived, heard, and understood" (Mark 4:11-12), when in their heart they were far from the kingdom of God."

Bishop Whately observes the divine intention behind discrepancies in Scripture,

"The seeming contradictions in Scripture are too numerous not to be the result of design; and doubtless were designed, not as mere difficulties to try our faith and patience, but as furnishing the most suitable mode of introduction that could have been devised by mutually explaining and modifying and limiting or extending one another's meaning… Instructions thus conveyed are evidently more striking and more likely to arouse attention; and thus, from the very circumstance that they call for careful reflection, more likely to make a lasting impression." 33

There are numerous unexplained statements of information and discrepancies in Genesis 1-11. The following list is the more frequently appealed to by both believers and skeptics:

  • What is the meaning of "yom" (day) in Genesis 1? Does it mean twenty-four hours or a longer interval of time?

  • What does the phrase "for when you eat of its fruit you will surely die" in Genesis 2:17 anticipate for Adam and Eve?

  • Who did Cain marry? (Genesis 4:17)

  • Who are the "sons of God" , the "daughters of men" and the Nephilim in Chapter Six?

  • Was the Noahic Flood local or global? 34

What I find extraordinary is that Dr. Ross has an answer for every discrepancy or ambiguous statement in these eleven chapters! But what's more striking and alarming is that he finds his answers predominately in the realm of science and not in theology. Of course, he weaves theology through his presentation to enhance his main purpose, the primacy of science in the interpretation of the Bible. Science, for Dr. Ross the astrophysicist, has become the arbitrator of truth. In the sixteenth-century Calvin and other Reformers declared their total confidence in the clarity of Scripture. 35 This doctrine does not state that all portions of Scripture are equally clear or that there are not difficult passages to be found within Scripture. But what they meant by clarity was that the Bible's message is clear enough that any person can understand it.

Ross invalidates and demolishes this doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Instead, large portions of Scripture are no longer lucid for the average person. These passages now can only be interpreted by those trained in the scientific method of research (not even the theologian). Christianity is now a religion concealed in vague references that require special interpretation by the scientist.

One last point in regards to Dr. Ross's hermeneutics. In his exegesis of the word "die" in Genesis 2:17 (and "death" in Romans 5:12). (It's interesting to note that Ross conveniently ignores any Hebrew or Greek morphology to corroborate his understanding of these terms.)

"And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Gen 2:16-17)

He exegetes verse 17 by stating that Adam and Eve did not necessarily think of physical death when given the divine consequence of disobedience, "but they may have understood from one of their unrecorded conversations with God the deeper meaning of this 'death' 36. (Satan apparently knew.) We see that they expressed no surprise at finding themselves still living and breathing once they had eaten the forbidden fruit." 37

This interpretation deviates sharply from theologians in our community who interpret "die" in verse 17 to infer both "physical and spiritual" death for Adam and Eve. Gordon Wenham in his commentary affirms the physical consequence of Adam's disobedience, "The death sentence demonstrates God's seriousness in prohibiting access to the tree… The text is a straightforward warning that death (physical) will follow eating." 38

Similarly, Allen P. Ross concurs with Wenham, "The death predicted here certainly includes physical death, as Genesis 5 attests, but it involves more than just physical death, in view of the struggle in the surrounding context between God's blessing and cursing." 39

When speaking of verses 16-17, Robert Alter, a Jewish Hebrew and Literary scholar, concludes, "The form of the Hebrew in both instances is what grammarians call the infinitive absolute: the infinitive immediately followed by a conjugated from of the same verb. The general effect of this repetition is to add emphasis to the verb, but because in the case of the verb 'to die' it is the pattern regularly used in the Bible for the issuing of death sentences." 40

In his Systematic Theology, Berkhoff agrees with what has been previously stated by academicians, "Death was threatened as a punishment for sin, and that this included bodily or physical death is evident from Genesis 3:19" 41 And again, "In strict justice God might have imposed death on man in the fullest sense of the word immediately after his transgression. But by His common grace He restrained the operation of sin and death, and by His special grace in Christ Jesus He conquered these hostile forces." 42

At the end of Chapter Twelve, "How Far the Fall", Ross again diverts from the traditional interpretation of this verse and reverts to his idea that death here means only "spiritual death",

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…"

"In Romans 5:12, which speaks of death as the result of sin, the context clearly specifies the spiritual death of humans, 'death through sin … came to all men because all sinned' (for which physical death follows as a God-bestowed blessing)…"

It is not necessary to reiterate through scholarly work the grievous error in Ross's understanding of "death" in this verse. But what I can recount is that an RTS student queried him concerning his exegesis of "death" in Rom. 5:12 when he lectured here in the Fall of 1998. Dr. Ross didn't answer his question and instead told my friend, "You need to read your Bible more carefully!" 43

It seems that Dr. Ross is untrained and unknowledgeable in two areas: the Doctrines of Common and Special Grace. I could not find one reference to either of these important doctrines, nor could I even find the word "grace" on any of the pages of his book.

Despite my differences with Dr. Ross I still need to ask the question, "What can I learn from those who differ from me?" I am not an astrophysicist; I claim only ignorance in his field of study. Much of what he says appears sound and accurate and might be used in defense of the Christian faith. I need to remain mindful to take full advantage of all opportunities that will help me learn and develop.

Nevertheless, his expertise in astrophysics does not make him an expert in theology. The manner in which the book is written affirms his authority in astrophysics but also includes his command on a plethora of subjects, such as mathematics, the Hebrew language, ANE history and most importantly, the sacred Scriptures.

Furthermore, science should not and cannot be used as an interpretative tool for the Bible. Theology once held the title of "the mother of all the sciences". Ross has substituted scientific investigation as the "queen of all knowledge." Scientists have become the new theologians for the 21st century.

The battle lines were drawn between modern science and historical, orthodox Christianity at the Scopes Trial in July 1925 and have never abated. Naturalism is here to stay and Progressive Creationists like Hugh Ross have been not just accepted but fully adopted by the Church as the new evangelical line of defense against Naturalistic assault on foundational Christian teaching. Notwithstanding, the Church should be warned that Hugh Ross might reasonably be "a wolf in sheep's clothing." Evangelical theologians and the lay Evangelical need to take a discerning look at all of Ross's works, especially his hermeneutics, and voice their concerns and arguments against him when appropriate. Today's Church has enough apostates running amuck in the flock, we surely don't need another.


  1. D.G.Hart, Defending the Faith (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1994) Pp. 86.
  2. Dr. Ross even spoke here at the RTS Orlando campus in the fall of 1998.
  3. Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1999) rear book jacket.
  4. Ibid, Pp. 9.
  5. R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1977), Pp. 46.
  6. Ross, Pp. 18.
  7. Ibid, Pp. 15.
  8. The use of Hebrew is not limited to Chapters Three to Eight but is practiced throughout his book.
  9. Ibid, Pp. 10.
  10. Ibid, Pp. 21.
  11. Ross, Pp. 155.
  12. Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988) Pp. 14-15.
  13. Ibid, Pp. 14-15.
  14. An example of Ross' use of Hebrew grammar is located on page 19. He informs the reader that the Hebrew verb "to create" in Genesis 1.1 is transliterated, bara, and used only with God as it's subject.
  15. The biblical account of creation is compared and contrasted with the "Enuma Elish", the Akkadian story of creation from the reign of Hammurabi and other creation myths.
  16. Ross, Pp. 19-20, 62.
  17. Ibid, Pp. 93-100.
  18. Ibid, Pp. 26-27.
  19. Ibid, Pp. 27.
  20. Ibid, Pp. 103.
  21. Ibid, Pp. 102-103.
  22. Ross estimates that "at least six billion acre-feet of water would be required" for the Genesis Flood.
  23. Ross, Pp. 155.
  24. Ibid, Pp. 173.
  25. Ibid, Pp. 173-175.
  26. Ibid, Pp. 22.
  27. Ross, Pp. 21.
  28. Ibid, Pp. 22.
  29. Ibid, Pp. 22.
  30. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Hard Sayings of the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), Pp. 12.
  31. Kaiser, Pp. 12.
  32. Kaiser, Pp.13.
  33. Ibid, Pp. 12.
  34. Dr. Ross is a formidable apologist for he answers these questions and many others that arise from the Genesis 1-11.
  35. R. C. Sproul, Faith Alone (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), Pp. 21.
  36. Ross here is referring to Adam and Eve's spiritual death; their separation from a living relationship with God.
  37. Ibid, Pp XXx
  38. Gordon Wenham, Word Biblical Commentary, Genesis 1-15 (Waco, TX: Word Publishers, 1987) Pp. 67-68.
  39. Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), Pp. 125.
  40. Robert Alter, Genesis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1996), Pp. 8.
  41. Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), Pp. 205.
  42. Ibid, Pp. 670.
  43. Please see Pp. 16 and his comments concerning theologians (Pressure to Make "Progress).
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