Hugh Ross, ICR, and the Bible
by James Stambaugh, M.DIV.
Many Christians have been raising questions about the teachings of Dr. Hugh Ross, especially his criticisms of the Institute for Creation Research and its advocacy of literal Biblical creationism. Dr. Ross is the founder and president of an organization called Reasons to Believe. Apparently, some are being told by him that the only difference between the Biblical interpretations held by the two organizations is the date for the creation of the universe and the Earth --the date only. But in reality, this point is not a trivial point, because this carries implications that affect other Biblical teaching, nor is it the only difference. We trust that our readers are aware of ICR's literal Biblical interpretation regarding creation, Noah's Flood, the origin of death through sin, etc. The need, then, is an understanding of how Dr. Ross interprets these same doctrines. As the reader sees what Dr. Ross believes, then he should be able to discern the wide differences between the two teachings. I make occasional comments on Dr. Ross's beliefs, but most of the following are direct quotations from Reasons to Believe.
Dr. Ross accepts the idea that the days of Genesis 1 were not literal days, but were indeterminately long periods of time. Dr. Ross notes:
The Earth's 24-hour day (verses 14-18) took on temporal significance only when the signs, the heavenly reference points (sun, moon, and stars), became visible. There is no a priori reason to assume that the Earth's day and each of God's creation days represent the same period of time....In the strictest sense, a day is the rotation period of a heavenly body. In the time of Moses people were familiar with only one such day. But, God had some 10^26 spinning bodies in the universe from which to choose. Based on scientific dating records, each of God's creation days is several hundred millions years long.
To compare this position to ICR's position, see my article, The Meaning of `Day' in Genesis ("Impact" No. 184).
Dr. Ross and his Reasons to Believe organization teach that the extent of the flood was only local, around the Mesopotamian plain. They state:
Despite this consideration, (that a worldwide flood would require more water than the earth and the atmosphere can hold) the description of the flood does read as if the water covered the entire globe. Perhaps, however, we are forgetting that the writer would have had no concept of planet or globe. "The whole earth" or "the face of the whole earth" to an ancient might mean something like "from horizon to horizon," or, "as far as anyone has ever ventured." The size and sphericity of the earth are relatively recent discoveries.
One of the reasons that Dr. Ross believes in a local flood is that he believes only the birds and mammals were killed. He says:
A close examination of the text reveals that only two Hebrew words are used in the Genesis flood account to refer to the animals destroyed by the flood, and to those taken aboard the ark. The words are nephesh and basar. The word nephesh translates as "soulish" animals and refers to those creatures endowed with characteristics of mind, will, and emotions, creatures with a unique capacity to relate to humans. We call them mammals and birds. It is their soulishness which makes them particularly susceptible to the effects of man's sin. The word basar refers more specifically to those birds and mammals that are part of man's economic system, that is, to livestock, poultry, game animals, any birds or mammals that have had contact with man.
Dr. Ross teaches that man's spiritual death originated when Adam fell. Commenting on Romans 5:12, Dr. Ross observes:
The key point is that Romans 5:12 is addressing neither physical nor soulish death. When Adam sinned, he instantly "died," just as God said he would ("In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die" [Genesis 2:17]). Yet, he remained alive physically and soulishly. He died spiritually. He lost fellowship with God and gained a natural inclination to defy God.
ICR agrees that Adam's sin inaugurated spiritual death. However, Adam's sin (Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-25, I Corinthians 15:21-22) inaugurated more than just spiritual death. Yet Dr. Ross teaches that Adam's sin had nothing at all to do with physical death. He also relates human and animal meat eating to the natural order of God's creation. Dr. Ross comments:
Since overwhelming scientific evidence shows that plants and animals died before Adam, the Bible seems to contradict the facts of nature. It is difficult for us to see physical death as something good since a spiritual being's death implies so much more than it does for plants and animals. All organisms are like engines in that they only can operate through the consumption of energy. Plants convert solar energies into sugars, starches and fats that they later draw upon for life functions. But it is physically impossible for any photosynthetic system to sustain the large energy expenditures common for advanced animals. For these animals to engage in their activities, they must consume the stored solar energy available in plant tissue. This requires the physical death of that plant tissue. For greater energy efficiency, animals will need to consume the tissue of other animals. Physical death, then, for creatures that possess neither the soul or spirit is simply the processing of energy into more concentrated forms and is essential for the existence of all highly active animals.
One might compare this statement with my article entitled Death Before Sin? ("Impact" No. 191), in which the relevant Biblical doctrines are shown to contradict Ross's position, and in which plants, while alive in the biological sense are not "living" in the Biblical sense, (which requires "breath," "spirit," and "blood") and the eating of plants does not constitute Biblical death.
Many have denied God's goodness and love by what they see in the world. In a recent radio interview, Dr. Ross gave his view on the origin of suffering and evil in the following dialogue:
Question: Let me ask you a really tough question, one that I don't know the answer to. But death and suffering, and sorrow and pain were introduced into this earth by Adam's and Eve's sin. So how could there have been billions of years of animals eating each other, and the stronger devouring the weaker and dominating the weaker, and so on? How could there have been all of that suffering and pain prior to Adam's sin?
Ross: Well, I think we're putting a human perspective on it. It looks bad, from our perspective - as does physical death. But the Bible says that the physical death we experience is a gift, it's not a punishment - it's a gift. That's one of the first things that God did was to remove from us the tree of life. Now God is using physical death as a tool for our redemption. Now when you talk about animals eating one another, we tend to think of that as bad. But what does it tell us in Romans 5:12 - what Adam introduced was not death generally, but death through sin. The only animals that can experience death through sin are sinners, human beings. We're the only ones that the Bible labels as sinners, the animals are not part of that. The other animals, as Ecclesiastes points out, when they die, they go to dust.... So, I think, if we stand back and try to gain God's perspective on the suffering, on the death, you know, just like eternal torment in hell. That doesn't seem to jive with God's love. Yet the Bible declares that that's an expression of God's love. That should challenge us, as we study the Bible, I want to dig deeper in this, and see how love is revealed through torment in hell, through animals and plants dying....
Dr. Ross is saying, then, that God created the world with death, pain, and suffering from the very beginning, and that such things did not come as a result of Adam's rebellion against God's created order.
Dr. Ross teaches that nature reveals God's plan of salvation to mankind. He sees Job as an example of one who is saved by his examination of nature alone. Dr. Ross says:
The Bible is the only religious text that teaches a cosmology in full agreement with the latest astrophysical discoveries. The plan of salvation as stated in the Bible can be seen through observation of the universe around us. Thus, all human beings have a chance to discover it. The Bible is the only one of all religious writings which declares a message in full agreement with (and, of course, amplification of) the gospel message seen in creation....
More than speaking merely of God's existence, the creation, according to Romans 1, also reveals essential truths about God's character, which would include His desire and means to form a relationship with man. As an illustration of the accessibility of that information, the Bible includes Job (Job 7-19), who without the aid of scriptures, and in opposition to the religion of his peers, discerned all the elements of "the gospel," the good news of how man can find eternal life in God.
The teaching that the natural man, with his unregenerate mind, can come to salvation, simply by observing nature, places Dr. Ross outside the mainstream of evangelical theology on this most important point.
We trust that our readers will observe the wide differences between Reasons to Believe and the Institute for Creation Research. These differences deal with the interpretation of Scripture, and the theological implications of that interpretation. This difference then directly affects our interpretation of the scientific data. Dr. Ross claims to believe in the fundamental truths of Christianity, but he is undermining the very integrity of the Bible itself, which teaches these truths, when he rejects the clear teachings of Scripture on the foundational doctrines of special creation in six solar days, the entrance of suffering and death into the world through Adam's sin, and the global cataclysmic flood - all in order to try to harmonize the Bible with the discredited uniformitarian theories of the evolutionary philosophers. This will all be discussed further in a future "Impact" article.
- Hugh Ross, Genesis 1: A Scientific Perspective, Revised Edition, Sierra Madre, California, Wiseman Productions, 1983, p. 11.
- Mal Scharer, "Readers Ask Q & A," Facts and Faith, Vol. 3, Spring 1989, p. 4.
- Hugh Ross, "Noah's Floating Zoo," Facts and Faith, Vol. 4, Fall 1990, pp. 4,5. During our debate (October 1990), Dr. Ross referred to Gleason Archer as the source of his information. This would be unusual, for Archer believes in a global flood. See Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 82-84.
- Hugh Ross, Fingerprint of God, Orange, California, Promise Publishing, 1989, pp. 154,155.
- Hugh Ross, "90 Second Radio News Spot", Reasons to Believe No. 48, 8th spot for February 1991.
- Focus on the Family, April 18, 1991.
- Hugh Ross, Fingerprint of God, pp. 179, 181. After our debate I called some of those who endorsed this book. One admitted that he simply skimmed the book. I read for him the above quotation. His response was: "This view is a danger to evangelicalism."
*James Stambaugh, Librarian, ICR Research Library Additonal Resources: