DALLAS (AP) -- When the Bible's authors wrote that God created the world in six days, what did they actually mean?
Were those six 24-hour days? Or were they six ''figurative'' days, which some see as a concession to evolution and modern science?
Presbyterian Church in America leaders are debating the issue in Dallas this week during their 29th General Assembly. The meeting also may include discussion of whether women in the military should serve in combat positions.
The more conservative PCA, with 300,000 members, is the smaller of the country's two main Presbyterian denominations but has doubled in size in the past decade. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has 2.5 million members and is seen as a more liberal faction. That group met last week and voted to drop a ban on ordaining homosexuals and women.
The PCA, which believes the Bible is the strict and infallible rule of faith, is grappling with the meaning of words found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, the chief doctrinal standard of its church.
Chapter 4 of the confession reads: ''It pleased God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost ... in the beginning to create ... the world ... in the space of six days; and all was very good.''
Some PCA members say they want any interpretations that differ with the literal viewpoint labeled ''exceptions'' because they're at odds with the confession's intent.
''Historically, the position of the Presbyterian Church has been of six 24-hour days (to) creation,'' said the Rev. Dale Smith, pastor of Colleyville Presbyterian Church. ''I know of nothing scientifically which categorically disproves the historical understanding of Genesis 1 and 2.''
But the Rev. Skip Ryan of Park Cities Presbyterian Church said the issue needs to remain open for interpretation. He said the 17th century writers of the confession may have been echoing allegorical language in the Bible.
''Some believe the days are ages of indeterminate length ... that it is treated as a poetical framework which accurately and truthfully describes creation but does not necessary mean a day is 24 hours,'' Ryan said.
About 2,000 people are attending the gathering, which ends Friday. About 1,500 ministers and elders -- all men -- will be allowed to vote during a general assembly set for Thursday.
In addition to the creation question, members are expected to debate the roles of women in the church and in military combat positions.
''Traditionally and biblically the whole issue of defense should be a male responsibility,'' said Rev. David Clelland, a Vietnam veteran who is pastor of Town North Presbyterian Church in Richardson.
Jessie Clark, an 80-year-old church member from Laguna Niguel, Calif., said she agrees in theory but doesn't know if it is the denomination's place to address the issue.
''Men and women are not equal in some areas,'' she said. ''But to make this a church matter? I don't know.''
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