The Handwriting on the Wall
A Reply to Bryan Chapell's "President's Goals and Report"
Jack B. Scott, Ph.D. in Hebrew and Semitic Languages
Teaching Elder of the Presbyterian Church in America, H.R.
I eagerly sat in the classroom at the
theological seminary, ready to learn the art of preaching from our new professor of
Homiletics. What I heard sent chills up my spine. His first words to the class were
"No Bible scholar any longer believes that the first eleven chapters of Genesis are
history." I knew such views were taught in some schools, but at Columbia Theological
Seminary, the most conservative seminary in our denomination?
And who am I? If you were to go to Alamance
Presbyterian Church, just south of Greensboro, North Carolina -- once a country church but
now surrounded by bustling neighborhoods -- you would find in the cemetery behind the
present building, row after row of tombstones, many with the name "Scott" on
them. They are my ancestors who moved down to North Carolina from Lancaster, Pennsylvania,
in the 1700's. Some of them fought in the War for Independence and others in the War
Between the States. Many served as Presbyterian elders in that very church. My father grew
up in that church and gained his early Christian education there, though not in the
Who am I? I was a young man in the Presbyterian
Church, in Greensboro, brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord by believing
parents. They taught me my first respect for and love of God's written Word, the Bible. By
the time I was a teenager, I was rising early, in order to have a time in the day to
study, seriously, God's Word. It was a practice I have never abandoned.
One day, I found myself in a classroom, in my
freshman year at N.C. State College, as it was called in those days, in Raleigh, North
Carolina. The class was in English and the professor had assigned us a paper to be titled,
"The Best Book I Ever Read." I did not hesitate to write about the Bible.
In class, the day after we had submitted our
papers, I had to sit and listen to the professor take the entire class hour to ridicule my
paper. He ridiculed my qualifications to write the paper, suggesting that I had probably
never even read through the Bible. He ridiculed the fact that there were so many versions
of the Bible that one could hardly say he had read "the Bible." And, he
ridiculed the Bible, itself.
He had not identified me to the class, only my
paper and its subject. When he was through, I had a strong desire to remain anonymous. But
I could not. I stood and rebutted his remarks, affirming that I had indeed read through
the entire Bible more than three times, studying it as I went. I affirmed that I had been
speaking of the King James Bible, the one I cut my spiritual teeth on, and would not
apologize for that. I was not ashamed of my topic or of what I had said. When I was
through and the class over, many classmates came to me to say they were glad I spoke up.
It was the first time I had ever publicly defended the Word of God before an unbeliever.
So when I sat in that seminary classroom, it
was, as they say, deja vu, all over again. Only this time it was not in a state college
but in my denomination's theological seminary. Again, I was not able to remain silent.
With others, I protested such teaching in a school founded to prepare us to be teachers
and preachers of God's Word.
Near the end of my senior year at seminary,
when things had not gotten better and when meetings with the president and various
professors had accomplished little, I wrote to the then extant Presbyterian Journal. I
expressed my concerns that in three years of study as a ministerial student at Davidson
College, a Presbyterian college, and three years at Columbia Theological Seminary, a
Presbyterian seminary, I had been taught very little content of the Bible and much that
was negative toward Scripture. How could they expect us to be prepared to preach and
teach with such training?
When that letter fell into the hands of the
faculty of the seminary, I was nearly stopped from going to Korea as an evangelistic
missionary, in 1952. But the Lord was with me and by the help of Dr. L. Nelson Bell, at
that time on the Board of World Missions, I was finally approved to go.
When I returned to America, some years
later, with my family, my first pastorate was in Kentucky, no hotbed of conservatism in
the church at that time. While there, the issue of Divorce and Remarriage came up, in the
latter 1950's. When the matter was discussed, to be voted on in our Presbytery,
Transylvania, I was the only person there who spoke against the changes the church wished
to make on this matter, in our standards. I spoke on the subject five times, based on what
the Bible taught, while numerous others took the floor to oppose what I had said.
Yet, when the matter came to a vote, in that
liberal presbytery, the vote was split down the middle. Only the moderator's vote put our
presbytery on record for the changes. If only one other had stood and spoken against the
changes, at least our presbytery if not the whole church, may have gone on record opposed
to the changes. I learned that day, again, the importance of standing up and speaking out,
when it comes to the integrity of God's Word.
Later, in the next decade, came another issue:
the matter of women being ordained as officers in the church. Here, again, at General
Assembly, I was compelled to speak to the issue that was so clearly taught in Scripture
against women elders in the church. As I brought before the assembly Scripture to back up
what I was saying, I could hear the ripples of laughter throughout that vast auditorium at
Montreat. My heart was grieved when God's Word was trampled under foot by my own church.
Who am I? I was one of many who met in
Birmingham in December of 1973, and signed, on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day, the
declaration that brought into existence the Presbyterian Church in America (then called
the National Presbyterian Church). We had become convinced that we could no longer serve
the Lord in the old church, the church of our fathers. So its history of standing on God's
Word would have to be continued in a new church, which was not new in doctrine but rather,
as we supposed, a return to the foundations of our Presbyterian heritage in the Word of
I have been blessed to serve this church in
various capacities over the past years and have recently retired from the active ministry
in the church. So why am I writing this now?
I see things, once again, which are disturbing,
in particular, the issue over the "days" of Genesis 1. There are those in our
denomination who will tell you that to insist on understanding those days as meaning 24
hour days, such as we experience, today, is to "go beyond Scripture." Don't you
believe it! That is precisely what Scripture does say. Clearly, God intended that we
understand it that way by repeating, at the end of each day of creation, "there was
evening and there was morning" day one and on, through the six days of creation. To
understand it any other way would be to add to or to take from God's Word.
Certainly, the Hebrew word for "day"
has more usage than simply the 24 hour day. In Genesis 1:5, it is applied to the daylight
period of the 24 hour day, as is our own custom, today. Probably, in Genesis 2:4,
"day" refers to the whole period of creation, not just one twenty four hour
period. That is not the question. The question is what kind of day was the Lord referring
to, in the creation account of the days of creation? What were those six days?
To conclude even the possibility of any other
kind of day than that which the Lord makes very clear in the context, days made up of
evening and morning, as we know them today, is to err. The truth that is sufficient is
this. This is no new "standard of holiness" as some suggest, but standing for
what God's Word says.
When I was a student at Columbia Theological
Seminary, in the late forties and early fifties, the argument, then, was that we must
allow for differences in Bible interpretation. That sounds reasonable until you realize
that we are not talking about "interpretation" but about what the Bible actually
says. As Paul said on another subject, this is not a matter of another way of presenting
the same gospel but a very different gospel. The gospel rests on the integrity of God's
Word and when we question that integrity by suggesting that what is plainly taught can
have another meaning, then we are endangering the foundation of all authority in the
The question is not about the meaning of
"day," as found in Genesis one, but about whether we are going to accept or
reject what God has said about the creation days. As at Columbia, then, we hear, today, in
the church, the proposition that since we grant you the privilege of holding to six solar
days, as we know them, you should also grant to us another legitimate opinion. That is the
very nature of compromise. One who compromises is ready to grant others their opinions.
But how can we compromise Scripture? God gave
it, as he gave it, and we cannot yield on that. If the Lord did not intend that we
understand it as six normal days, as we experience them in everyday life, then why would
he give to each day an evening and a morning? And why would he repeat this teaching,
later, in the giving of the Law to Moses?
Twice, in Exodus, in reference to our keeping
the Sabbath Day, He bases that commandment on the fact that God created the heavens and
the earth in six days and rested on the seventh (Exodus 20:11; 31:17). He could have
created all with one word, but He chose not to. He could have created all over a period of
a year or a prolonged period of time, but He chose not to. God, here, reiterates that he
created heaven and earth and all in them in six days, clearly, with the intention that we
learn from that how we also ought to live out our time on earth. Affirm or even suggest
that he created heaven and earth in any other period of time and you have undermined the
whole basis for the work week which God ordained and the day of rest, which he also
ordained. He taught that we should work six days and rest one, because he did. lf he
didn't, then what does that say about the authority of any part of God's Word?
Some argue that the writers of our Confession
of Faith were "cautious" when they repeated what the Bible had to say: "in
the space of six days." To imply anything other than that would have been faithless.
The president of Covenant Seminary, in
defending, as possible, another interpretation of days than the literal 24 hour day,
insists that Covenant Seminary has not changed. But I do not find that assuring, at all.
Did they begin with that position? Then they began wrong.
To compare this issue with the different
millennial views in the church is not valid. The millennial views come from a Book of the
Bible that is intentionally symbolic in its use of terms. Jesus makes that clear in the
first chapter of Revelation. But to take that approach with any teaching in Scripture that
we might wish to interpret as symbolic is erroneous interpretation. To call the issue
merely a matter of timing, is ludicrous. At issue is the matter of integrity, the
integrity of the entire Word of God as the authority for what we are to believe and teach.
Simply because the General Assembly has not yet
seen fit to make the 24 hour day the official doctrine of our church does not mean that
any other interpretation is proper or acceptable. God's Word and not the actions of any
church court is the sole standard for what we are to believe.
Do not be deceived by those who say that
because they know Hebrew so well, they cannot be definitive on this issue. Either they do
not know Hebrew as well as they suppose or else they are deceived about what the Hebrew
says. The Hebrew Bible in no way justifies any other interpretation than the literal 24
hour day. Don't believe anyone who says that it does.
The president of Covenant Theological Seminary
says that his concern is to be as true to the Biblical text as is humanly possible. My
concern is that the church accept the Bible as God has given it, whether it seems humanly
reasonable or not! The issue is not whether our church be large and influential, by
broadening its teaching to include those who question what the Bible has clearly taught,
but whether we remain faithful to God's Word. Paul was viewed as having less than success,
by some of the Corinthian church members. His response was that his desire was not to
please the multitudes but to be a sweet savor of Christ unto God. "We are not as the
many, corrupting the word of God, but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God,
speak we in Christ" (2 Cor. 2 :14-17) . We should desire every teacher of the Word in
our denomination to have just that same commitment.
Scripture teaches us that in
order to be saved, we need simply to confess with our mouth that Jesus is the Lord (God)
and believe in our heart that God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9). Nothing should be
added to that requirement in order for one to be a member of the PCA. But to be a teacher
in the PCA, more must be required. Teachers of the Word of God, in our church, whether
Ruling or Teaching Elders, must be held to a higher standard, namely, to accept and teach
God's Word as God has given it, and in no other way. If we, the teachers, equivocate and
waffle on what is plainly taught in Scripture, such as the meaning of the six days of
creation, then we are not faithful undershepherds of God's flock. "Historic
Presbyterianism" is not the standard of the church. God's written Word is the court
of final appeal.
Who am I? I am a watchman expected by God to
give warning. I would be derelict in my duty as a teacher in the Presbyterian Church in
America if I did not give warning in these days of a great danger to our church. I do not
wish to see this church go down the path that other Presbyterian denominations have gone
down, earlier in this century. God did not bring this church into existence in order that
it should so soon take the path that leads away from the authority of God's Word, in its
"Has God said?" was the question
initially put to our first parents, Adam and Eve. Satan, in various guises and ways has
been putting that same question to every church established to do God's will. What will
our answer be?
This article also appears in Concerned Presbyterian Newsletter Vol. 3
No. 2. It is reprinted here by permission.
MY PILGRIMAGE REGARDING CREATION
Dr. Morton H. Smith
Professor at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Greenville,
As one who was born and
raised in the Southern Presbyterian Church of a family that counts Presbyterian heritage
for generations, I was raised with the general acceptance of the popular view of the day
in our circles regarding the creation days. One could believe in the literal six day
creation, or could hold to some modified understanding about the length of the days.
My father, who was a mathematician, and thus
had a scientific bent of mind held to a theistic evolution regarding the development of
the human body, but did also hold to something special when it came to the creation of
Adam and Eve. As one who was always interested in natural science, I tended to accept this
Because of my desire to work in the outdoors, I
believed that I should prepare for a career in forestry. I thus went north to what was
then recognized as one of the best forestry schools in the country, the University of
Michigan. There I was reinforced in the direction of evolution, though, as a Christian, I
never thought of it as not being under the control of God. I ended up with a major in
Botany. I can well remember taking a course in algae and fungi, in which we were studying
these plants in some detail. One day the professor told us to look for certain things in
the microscope, and he said, "We are not sure whether this plant is evolving up or
down." In some ways, I felt that for the first time they were being honest with us.
Whereas the freshmen courses in the department of natural science were always touting the
fact that plants and animals were evolving up, for the first time as seniors, we were told
that they did not know this for sure.
About this same time the InterVarsity group had
Dr. Russell Mixter (sp.?) of the Wheaton College faculty to come and lecture to us on how
we should view the evolutionary theories with the Biblical account of creation. He
challenged us to take the same facts presented by the scientists, and place them in the
creation model, and see if they did not fit just as well, if not better, than in the
evolution model. As I did this I found myself moving back to the literal creation account.
At the same time, having been an orthodox Christian, who had held to longer periods of
time for the creation, I felt that we should not judge too harshly those who differ with
us on this matter. In other words, I felt that since there may be some question of just
what the word "day" means in Genesis one, we should be tolerant of different
viewpoints. I am still of this mind regarding the members of our churches.
I remember being somewhat disappointed with Dr.
E. J. Youngs position on this matter. I think that Dr. David Calhouns history
of Princeton Seminary helps to explain where Young was coming from. The Princeton men
"waffled" on this matter, with the result that Westminster Seminary, which
Machen says was the continuation of Princeton has also continued in that
"waffled" position. I have had one student at Greenville, who has posited the
theory that whenever a formerly sound seminary has failed to stand firmly on the creation
issue, it has brought about the demise of that seminary as an orthodox institution. I am
inclined to think that this student is right. Dr. Young had a very simple and childlike
faith to the effect that if a man knew enough, he would never say the Bible was in error.
He maintained that we could count on the dating in the Bible back to the time of Abraham,
but that before that the genealogies were not clear, and therefore, we could not
reconstruct a chronology before about 2,000 BC. I always had the feeling that he would
have liked to hold to a literal 24 hour day for creation, but was not sure that he could
do so. Being influenced by Young in this matter, I have hesitated to be dogmatic about six
literal 24 hour days, though this is my personal position. In my Systematic Theology I
have not taken a firm stand for the 24 hour day position, though I do indicate why I think
it is the preferable position.
The question that lies before the PCA regarding
this matter is not whether men, otherwise in agreement on theology, cannot differ on this
matter and still be accepted in the church as ministers and elders; rather, the question
is whether the Westminster Standards set forth a particular view. What did the Westminster
divines intend when they wrote the Westminster Confession and Catechisms? As various
studies on this subject have emerged, it appears that they were not dealing with a theory
of longer days, but rather with the position posited by Augustine of instantaneous
creation. This sounds so foreign to us, that it is difficult for us to grasp the fact that
Augustines view was held by a number of theologians in the history of the Church.
The Westminster divines used the phrase "in the space of six days" in the
Standards to answer the idea of instantaneous creation. They were saying that creation did
not take place instantaneously, but it took place over the space of six days. The
Westminster divines were not answering the idea of long periods of time, or of a framework
hypothesis, but were affirming what the Bible affirms, that creation took place over the
space of six days. From the studies of the writings of the divines, I believe it can be
demonstrated that those who spoke to the issue held to literal 24 hour days. Thus the
Westminster Standards must be understood as teaching a six literal day creation. Any other
view must be viewed as outside of the purview of the Standards.
It is my conviction that an honest subscription
to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms requires the acceptance of the position of
six literal days. If an ordinand holds to some other view, he must declare it to the
ordaining court, which is then to decide whether the exception strikes at the heart of the
system of doctrine, and whether a man holding such an exception should be ordained or not.
If we do not handle this matter in this way,
then subscription to the Standards becomes meaningless. Let me illustrate from the way
that our "mother" churches allowed this kind of looseness in handling the
Standards. The doctrine of the virgin birth of Christ has been an orthodox doctrine since
the apostolic age. It is affirmed in our creeds and confessions. The so called
"neo-orthodox" people have affirmed the virgin birth as a
supra-redemptive-historical event, but not as a literal historic event. The same has been
done with the atonement, and the resurrection. To be allowed to handle the Standards in
some way other than that which was intended by the authors is not ethically or morally