Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

27 Jul 2012

R. C. Sproul on Creationism

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We here at DBTS are absolutely committed to six-day creationism and a young earth. I had gotten the impression that a few years ago R. C. Sproul had converted to that viewpoint. Well, not exactly. In an interview with Tim Challies, Sproul clarifies his view:

Have you ever had second thoughts about the stand that you took in favor of a six-day creation and a young earth, especially in view of all the new material on the subject that has come out since 2006?

Well, that’s kind of a complex question because when I took the stand, I took the stand on a six-day creation. I didn’t take a stand on a young earth. I don’t know how old the earth is. I didn’t know then. I still don’t.

And what do we mean by “young earth”? If you’re thinking six thousand years, I doubt that. If you’re thinking 12 billion years, I doubt that, too. All I was speaking about was the understanding of what the Scriptures teach regarding the six days of creation. And I’m not even sure it’s correct to say that I took a stand. I said that’s what my view was.

When you say you have a view, it’s one thing to say, “I think that this is the way it is.” It’s another thing to take a stand where you say: “Here I stand. I’m going to die on this mountain.” I could be wrong in my understanding of Genesis. It’s a very difficult to deal with the literary genre in the opening verses of the beginning chapters of Genesis. I think there has to be some room for some flexibility on it.

The young earth viewpoint does not require one to believe the earth is only 6,000 years old. I personally think it is closer to 10,000. But I don’t understand why one would hold to a six-day creation and not hold to a fairly young earth (even 100,000 years is young to an evolutionist). And why the literary genre of the “opening verses of the beginning chapters of Genesis” is more difficult than the literary genre of the opening verses of the beginning chapters of Exodus (for instance) is beyond me. Why is Moses’ description of creation “more difficult to deal with” than his account of the Exodus?

22 Responses

  1. I’ll take a stab at the six-day-creation-but-not-young-earth issue. My sense is that the fundamental reason is that Scripture doesn’t directly address the age of the earth, it’s not the point of any particular text, it’s contingent on multiple exegetical decisions that have more than one plausible (if not equally likely) option, and no other doctrine hinges on it—unlike so many of the other aspects of origins that are under assault from alleged evangelicals. IOW, I think one can make an exegetical case for a young earth, but it’s not airtight, and I’m not sure what’s to be gained by fighting that battle.

  2. Bill Combs

    I guess my point, Ben, is if Genesis 1 is accepted as teaching a straightforward six-day creation, as Sproul says he believes, why would one want to make this chapter allow for an old earth? Is there something in the Genesis 1 that suggests an old earth? No, I don’t think so. One must import an old earth into Genesis 1. And the reason for importing it is the belief that the scientific evidence for an old earth is so compelling that Genesis 1 must make room for it. If I were convinced that the earth is billions of years old, I would not take the seemingly illogical view that the days in Gen 1 are 24-hour days.

  3. Well, I can’t speak for RCS’ personal reasoning. No inside info there. But I’ve bumped into a fair number of people who see strong exegetical evidence for 24-hour days, but also strong exegetical evidence in the words of the text for some sort of gap after Gen 1:1, or a restricted geographical view of Gen 1:2ff, or large gaps in the genealogies. All of those views present their own problems, but I’m not sure the problems are so great that it’s wise for anyone to make the YE part of YEC a hill to die on. Or to shoot non-YEs (who believe in ex nihilo creation after their kinds) from.

    1. BE

      You’d have to have some pretty major gaps in the genealogies to argue for an old earth. YEC does not have to refer to 6,000 years–really anything in the thousands is still pretty young. So you’d have to be putting millions of years between the people in the genealogies to get to an old earth.

      Those who restrict Gen 1:2ff to a geographical view don’t believe in 6-day creation, since they don’t think Gen 1:2ff is talking about creation.

      Even evolutionists believe man is “only” a couple of million years old. So again, if you believe that Gen 1 presents 6 24-hour days you’d be forced to conclude that the earth is no more than a couple of million years old. The only way to put more time in is to argue against a 6 24-hour day interpretation of Genesis 1.

      And I would say that there are more doctrinal issues at stake than we might think. A literal Adam is pretty closely tied to a “young” earth (thousands and not billions of years) (NOTE: a hominoid that God breathes life shouldn’t count as a literal Adam). Further, the church’s accommodation to evolution began with the age of the earth–so it’s not surprising that many think the age of the earth is important.

      1. It seems like a bit of exegetical gymnastics to get to 100,000 years old based upon the genealogies as well. While young Earth doesn’t require a 6,000 year view it remains true that most YE scholars argue for a substantially older YE than has been historically understood to be taught in the narratives.

        I agree with Ben that this might be an area where some grace should be extended. Clearly Sproul believes in a literal and personal creation of Adam in all the specifically revealed aspects of the text.

      2. BE,

        I don’t think your comment is actually interacting with what RCS is saying, at least in the portion quoted in the post. He actually didn’t deny YE—perhaps I should have been more clear about what he did and didn’t say myself. Though the argument has been made here that 100,000 years is still YE, there’s nothing in the RCS quote that’s antagonistic to that age. He’s actually arguing that what’s defined as a “young earth” is unclear.

        You deny that old-earth-6-days people believe in “6-day-creation,” and I think I understand what you’re saying, but 1) that’s not entirely true because at least some would note that the same word for create used in 1:1 is used several times in the rest of chapters 1-2, strongly implying a parallel meaning in such close proximity; and 2) I don’t see how it’s inconceivable that Sproul meant something to that effect, even if he was speaking a bit imprecisely during what appears to have been a live, face-to-face interview.

        There are substantial exegetical problems with the genealogical gaps, I agree, as I noted above. But I’d have to say that a literal Adam is actually tied much more closely to what the inspired text says than to a young earth. That’s where I want to fight the battle. A rationale that’s contingent on an indirect argument about the age of the earth strikes me as a battle chosen on unfavorable turf.

        1. BE


          I wasn’t trying to interact with what RCS was saying–I was interacting with your comment. I was commenting on the people you’ve “bumped into” who hold to 24 hour days but not a young earth. I was pointing out that none of the reasons you gave (except potentially the gap theory, which is mostly out of vogue today–thankfully) actually leads to belief in six 24-hour day creation and an old earth.

          But, your interpretation of RCS’s statement here is a little off. He wasn’t arguing that what’s defined as YE is unclear. Though he asks the question “What do we mean by young earth” his main point is that he doesn’t know how old the earth is–as evidenced by the fact that after mentioning 6,000 yrs for YE he mentions 12 billion yrs. I don’t think he’s saying that people would say 12 billion yrs is YE, but that he doesn’t know how old the earth is but would fall somewhere between those 2 lengths.

          Thus, RCS’s point is not that he believes in a YE but that he thinks we are unclear in what that means (i.e., he would agree with 100,000 but doesn’t want to call that YE) but that he doesn’t really hold to YE because he doesn’t hold to any age of the earth. Combs point (and mine) was that it seems inconsistent.

          I’m not sure what you mean by your second paragraph. I don’t think I denied that old earth people believe in six day creation. The one thing I denied was that those who believe Gen 1:2ff is only referring to a limited geographical area believe in six-day creation (since it’s only talking about the creation of a particular area–not all of creation). My point was in essence the reverse–those who believe in six day creation can’t consistently believe in an old earth. (Of course, all of us are inconsistent in some areas)

          I was probably unclear in my third paragraph. I’m not saying that belief in a literal Adam stems from a young earth, but that a young earth stems in part from a belief in a literal Adam. I agree that a literal Adam is tied to the inspired text (as are many of the arguments for a young earth). But denying a young earth has ramifications back up the line on the belief in a literal Adam.

          Finally, you (and KG) both seem to imply that arguing for a certain position or arguing for the legitimacy of a certain position is “shooting at” those who disagree, being ungracious towards them, or at least staking your claim on a hill and being willing to die for it. If we apply that logic elsewhere, we would have to say the same thing for who argue for Calvinism, church membership, paedo- and credo-baptism, plurality of elders, congregational and elder-led government, etc. Surely it’s possible to state your belief in a position and your denial of a differing position without claiming it’s either a life-or-death issue or that all who disagree are unsaved.


          1. BE, lots of things to respond to there. I’ll cut to the chase and argue that it’s hardly inconsistent to refuse to make an argument about the age of the earth that Scripture doesn’t make. And that’s not an anti-ST argument, lest the charge be laid. Revelation about the age of the earth is hardly comparable to revelation about the Trinity, for example.

            Just another item, which may or may not be worth pursuing . . . Why have committed YECs shifted away from 6K towards 10K, and does that 10K include gaps in the genealogies?

          2. BE

            I’m sure neither of us wants to simply go back and forth on this, so let me note that, while your point is valid in a vacuum, in the particular context it’s begging the question (you’re assuming your view is correct, contra mine, without any basis given). What I said above was showing why it was inconsistent to argue for 6-day creation but not hold to a relatively young earth. If someone holds to six-day creation, they obviously believe that’s what the Scripture teaches. And that teaching, in conjunction with other teachings of the Scripture, points to a relatively young earth. You’d have to show why my arguments are wrong to show that it’s not inconsistent–not just assume the Scriptures doesn’t teach it. (BTW, no one is comparing this to the Trinity, but ST covers more than the Trinity)

            To answer your second paragraph: I don’t know enough about the history of YEC to answer this fully, but I’m not sure it’s accurate to state they’ve moved from 6K to 10K. My understanding is that there has always been allowance for more than 6K, and that many still hold to 6K. I would think gaps in the genealogies is the main difference.

            However, there is an issue with the genealogies that comes into play even without gaps. The MT, if taken without gaps, points to 6K. The LXX, taken without gaps, points to 7K (with the Flood being about 1K yrs earlier than the MT). Luke 3:35-36 follows the LXX and mentions Cainan in between Arphaxad and Selah. The LXX timeline also fits better with the recorded history of civilizations in the ANE.

  4. Bill Combs

    Ben said: “I’m not sure what’s to be gained by fighting that battle.” KG said: “I agree with Ben that this might be an area where some grace should be extended.”

    The point of my original post was not to start a fight with Sproul, nor to not extend him some grace. My point was to try and point out of what I consider the illogic of what Sproul is saying, which is worth pointing out, I think, since it comes from one of the most ruthlessly logical evangelicals on the planet.

  5. Bill Combs

    On the question of the age of the earth, it is my observation that the insistence on 6,000 years is a newer take in young earth creationism. In The Genesis Flood (196), Whitcomb and Morris argue for gaps in the genealogies. They place the flood as early as 5000 years before Abraham (2167 B.C.). I know personally that Dr. Whitcomb is very upset at the insistence of YEC demanding a 6000 year old creation.

    1. That’s helpful. I think my next question would be, what’s the evidence that leads them to see those genealogical gaps that points more towards, say, 9-10K minimum for the age of the earth (if the flood was around 7000 B.C.)?

      1. Bill Combs

        They list 7000 B.C. as the earliest date for the Flood, not that it was definitely around 7000 B.C. They have a whole list of arguments about the genealogies–too long to list here. They don’t want to give a definitive date, just to say the 6000 B.C. is wrong. There are gaps in the genealogies, but those gaps can only be stretched so far.
        I studied under Whitcomb at Grace Seminary and I don’t recall there being much interest in specifying a definitive date for creation, except that 6000 B.C. was wrong. But, I think, 10,000 B.C. was a common viewpoint.

        1. Fair enough. The specific argument I was curious whether Whitcomb and Morris made is that there’s sufficient evidence from extra-biblical history of ANE civilization to point beyond 6K years. Whether or not that’s a factor to them, it is to some YECs. I’m wondering if they or you think that data can justifiably be taken into account in our interpretation of the biblical data.

          1. Bill Combs

            You will have to read it carefully for yourself–I don’t want to misrepresent them. They do talk about 3000 B.C. as having firmly fixed historical data. Thus the point would be that the flood must predate that, which means Usher’s date of about 2500 B.C. (?) can’t be right.

    2. Steve Drake

      Hi Bill,
      I’d actually like to see this thought more developed in the literature (the flood 5000 years before Abraham). Do Whitcomb and Morris develop this in their book ‘The Genesis Flood’? Where else might I find reference in the YEC literature that speaks to this?

      If one is using the AM (anno mundi) approach to the genealogies in Gen 5 and 11, and then doing the math, wouldn’t a strict rendering indicate the Flood was only 352 years before Abraham was born (Abraham born 2008 AM, Flood came 1656 AM)?

      In reading further I see you answered somewhat to Ben my question as well, so any further comment you might have on my above would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

  6. Steve Drake

    In reading your comment further you indicate the page number in ‘The Genesis Flood’ that speaks to this, however I cannot find yet any reference to this in my copy of the ’50th Anniversary Edition’. I’ll do some more checking.

    Ussher’s date of 4004 B.C. for the creation of the world was held up and believed for centuries before the advent of modern geology and it’s ‘deep time’ dating game. I’ve not run across any YEC literature that challenges one of the most preeminent Hebrew scholars of his day and his conclusions in his ‘Annals of the World’ on this. Perhaps you can direct me to some YEC literature outside of Whitcomb and Morris’ ‘The Genesis Flood’. Thanks.

  7. Bill Combs

    I am not sure where I got the page 196. I think I meant p. 396. This is chapter 7, “Problems in Biblical Geology,” under the section, “Origin of Postdiluvian Civilizations.” Here they say, at the end of this section, that “trustworthy, recorded, history…begins about 3000 B.C. This is too early for Usher’s chronology, which puts the flood at 2459 (p. 478), and the flood would have destroyed any recorded history before it. Thus the flood had to be before 3000 B.C., obviously hundreds of years, if not thousands of years before.

    The section where they deal with chronology is the last part of the book, appendix 2, “Genesis 11 and the Date of the Flood.” In the last paragraph they are willing to allow the gaps to be stretched so that the flood happens 5000 years before Abraham, or a maximum of 7167 B.C.

    Our resident expert on this is Dr. Bob McCabe. Dr. Mark Snoeberger is writing an article on this issue which we hope to publish one day. I understand that Dr. Whitcomb himself may come out with an article on this issue.

  8. Dr. R.C. Sproul, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, has not changed his hermeneutic. He denies the “big bang theory” and his view of creation continues to affirm six sequential 24-hour days as noted in this blog post (

    In a recent video from our 2012 National Conference and a blog series that followed ( Dr. Sproul expresses that he favors a young earth but is not dogmatic about it.


    Nathan W. Bingham
    Internet Outreach Manager
    Ligonier Ministries

  9. Steve Drake

    I don’t understand Dr. Sproul’s uncertainty. In the quote from the Challies’ interview, he stated he didn’t know how old the earth is and still doesn’t. You say above that he ‘favors’ a young earth, but is not ‘dogmatic’ about it, denies the Big Bang as God’s means of bringing the universe into existence, and continues to affirm six-sequential 24 hour days. Where is the uncertainty for him then? In other words, what is the evidence or idea that he would say prevents him from affirming conclusively that the earth is indeed young?

  10. Steve Drake

    I think Dr. Sproul’s own words in the Challies’ interview is a partial answer to my question:

    ‘It’s a very difficult to deal with the literary genre in the opening verses of the beginning chapters of Genesis. I think there has to be some room for some flexibility on it.’

    It seems he is saying that the early verses of the beginning chapters of Genesis are ‘difficult’ because of their literary genre. So it boils down perhaps to the hermeneutic used to understand these ‘difficult’ early verses of the beginning chapters of Genesis. He’s taken a hermeneutical position of a certain literary genre that he believes is ‘difficult’ to deal with, and says that we must be flexible on.

    Are there other reasons to your knowledge? Thanks.