[Introductory note] In the combox under my 2012 book review post, I had a gap theorist leave a string of comments attempting to defend his take on the reading of Genesis 1:1,2. I, along with a few others, responded to his rebuttals and it made for some good discussion.
A long time ago, when I had a basic level hermeneutics class at seminary, I was required to write up a series of papers interacting with difficult passages. One of the papers I wrote addressed the gap theory. I have it posted at my website, Fred’s Bible Talk, but I thought I would reproduce it here as well. I’ve only slightly modified it here for readability.
I. Statement of the Problem
There is a view among theologians suggesting a “gap” of time exists between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This gap was caused by some cataclysm and could be as old as a few thousand years or it could be a massive expanse of time. After this time, God recreated the earth in six days as recorded in Genesis one. The question then is raised: Does Genesis teach that an historical gap exists between the two verses?
II. Proposed Solutions
A. The Gap Theory
The theory teaches that the Hebrew text indicates a gap can be inserted between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. It is also called the Restitution or Recreation Theory (James Boice, Genesis, Vol. 1 pg. 50) and it is also known as the pre-Adamic Cataclysm Theory (Henry Morris, The Genesis Record pg.46).
The theory is stated as follows:
1. Genesis 1:1 tells us God created the original world in which all things were good. It was a perfect world for God could not create anything bad.
2. Satan, or Lucifer before he fell, was ruler of the earth, which was at that time inhabited by a pre-Adamic race of people, (Robert Alexander, How to Study the Bible pg. 35).
3. Lucifer desired to be like God and thus rebelled. God’s judgment resulted in a ruined earth, existing in chaos. Genesis 1:2 states the earth was without form and void, indicating destruction (Alexander, pg. 35).
The theory gained popularity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries because it allows for an insertion of Satan’s origin and fall. Most importantly, however, it helps harmonize Biblical chronology with the accepted system of evolutionary ages. The theory provides a solution to the geological difficulties between modern science and the historical record of the Bible (George Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages, pg. 20). The gap, in other words, “allows the evolutionary geologists to have all the eons they want” (Morris, pg.46); yet allowing for Bible-believing Christians to maintain a belief in the veracity of Holy Scripture.
B. The No-Gap Theory
The Biblical position is to understand there is no gap between verse one and verse two. Both verses are one independent clause describing the creation of the universe, “In the Beginning…” as well as the condition of the earth before God completed His work (J.J. Davis, Paradise to Prison, pg. 46).
III. Preferred View
It is my opinion that the “No-Gap” theory is the preferred view. When we apply the following hermeneutical principles to this problem it will be demonstrated that no gap exists in the white spaces between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
A. Principle of Near Context
Within the immediate context of the Genesis one narrative, there is no indication of a gap. Each verse in the first chapter begins with the conjunction “And.” This is significant because the structure clearly means that each statement is sequentially and chronologically connected to the verses before and after (Morris, pg.48).
The pattern would then have to apply to the first two verses, as well as any other pair of verses in the chapter. Thus, the supposed chronological gap is grammatically nonexistent. The condition in verse two follows immediately upon the creative act of verse one. The pattern, then, is set through the remainder of the chapter: God divided light from darkness, AND the light was day, the darkness night. God gathered the water from the land, AND God called the dry land earth, the waters He called the sea, and the record continues in like fashion until the creation is finished.
B. Principle of Original Language
Those who hold to the gap theory will claim their support from linguistic considerations. The Hebrew word hayetha, that is translated “was,” can also be translated “became,” “to be,” or “to come to pass,” and according to gap theorists, hayetha should be translated as one of those alternatives. When the verb is translated “became” or “to be,” it would suggest a change of state from the original creation to the chaotic condition inferred from verse two (Morris, pp. 44-45).
The verb, however, is the regular verb of being, and to re-translate it as the gap theorists claim, would produce a grammatical inaccuracy. If the author of Genesis had meant to describe a changed state took place between the two verses, he would have used haya, the word normally used to denote a changed state.
Now, it should be pointed out, however, that in the context of some Hebrew passages hayetha can be interpreted to indicate a changed state, like the gap theory suggests. However, the context of the passage determines such usage. In 98 percent of its occurrences, the verb means “was” (Morris, pg. 48). This is why it is translated as “was” in verse two, because there is nothing in the context of Genesis one to indicate it to be translated “became.”
Secondly, in verse two is the phrase, “without form and void,” tohu waw bohu in the Hebrew. Gap theorists teach that these words should be translated “ruined and desolate.” This would then speak of a Divine judgment that was visited upon the earth that left it in chaos (Morris, pg. 49).
Proponents of the gap theory argue that God, who is perfect, would never create the universe in a chaotic state. This state of being, they claim, must have come long after the creation itself, and the fall of Satan is attributed to this judgment.
The two other times tohu and bohu appear together is in Isaiah 24:1 and Jeremiah 4:23. Those two passages do describe judgment, but it must be pointed out that tohu does not always refer to something evil. For example, Job 26:7 reads, he stretches out the north over the empty place, (tohu). The empty place is not evil. In other passages tohu refers to the wilderness, or desert, where life is absent, (Davis, pg. 45).
Likewise, bohu does not connote desolation, but rather, emptiness (Morris, pg. 50). The idea that these two words must be speaking of destruction or judgment is forced. “Form and void”, simply mean that the earth was not yet complete (without form) and it was empty (void) and it had no inhabitants (Westen Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, pg. 130).
C. Principle of Cross-Reference
As was noted in point B, gap theorists appeal to two particular passages implying judgment that use the Hebrew words tohu and bohu. The first is found in Isaiah 24:1, which states, The LORD maketh the earth empty and maketh it waste. The second is found in Jeremiah 4:23, where scripture says, I beheld the earth, and lo, it was without form, and void.
It is argued that those two verses are referring back to the time during the gap when God exercised His vengeance. By observing both passages, however, it can be seen that the judgment described is speaking of a future (at the time of writing) judgment and is not a record of past, historical events (Fields, pg. 121).
In Isaiah 24 the entire passage speaks of the Lord scattering abroad the inhabitants of the land of Tyre, because, as verse 5 reveals, They have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. The passage continues to tell how their music will cease (vs. 8), merriment will be stopped (vs. 9), and the houses will be shut-up and their cities left desolate (vs. 10,12). This judgment cannot be speaking of a past event, but a future one that will be against the Kingdom of Tyre, its people, and their society.
As for the Jeremiah passage, with a quick examination of verses 23-27, it could be argued that this speaks of the divine judgment gap theorists claim happened to the pre-Adamic world. Verse 23 opens with almost the same wording as Genesis 1:2, and verses 23-26 all begin with the phrase, “I beheld,” speaking of something that happened in the past.
But, when the passage is put in context of the whole of chapter 4, the nation of Judah is being addressed. Verse 3 reveals the Lord is speaking to them because they are unrepentant and the Lord states He will bring judgment because of their sin. In verse 29, the instrument of judgment is executed by, “horsemen and bowmen,” later to be revealed in chapter 39 as the armies of Babylon. The idea of judgment is present within these scriptures, but it is a judgment on an established people group in the 6th century B.C. due to their sin and is not a cross reference back to Genesis 1:2 to lend support to the gap theory.
D. Principle of the Singleness of the Meaning of Scripture
Gap theory advocates also maintain that the “darkness” spoken about in Genesis 1:2 cannot represent the state of the earth in its original creation, for God could not create an earth characterized by darkness (Fields, pg. 132). Darkness is viewed as a symbol for evil. John 3:19 states, Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. Satan’s minions are called, the rulers of the darkness (Eph. 6:12), and those who are still in sin are described as, having their understanding darkened (Eph. 4:18).
Darkness, however, does not always refer to evil. Even in Genesis 1, darkness is recognized as a positive for man. The evening of each day certainly included darkness, and it was for man’s good. At times darkness may typify evil and death; at other times it is to be looked upon as a positive blessing (E.J. Young, Studies in Genesis One pg. 35). Psalm 104:20 says, God maketh the darkness, and it is night and night is set apart as a time for men to rest from the labour of the day (Ps 104:23). It is evident that darkness existed in Genesis 1:2 because no light had been created, for it was yet to be separated from the dark, that takes place in verse four.
E. Principle of Wider Context
One of the main purposes of the gap theory has been to try harmonizing biblical chronology with the accepted evolutionary system of geological ages. The fossils now found by paleontologists are the remains of prehistoric animals and men that lived and died during the time of the supposed gap.
The problem that arises is that if this world existed prior to the supposed pre-Adamic cataclysm, then it is suggested that sin and death existed for millions of years before the sin and fall of Adam (Morris, pg 47). However, according to Romans 5:12 that states, For by one man, sin entered the world and death by sin… Adam is the one who brought man’s original sin and death.
First Corinthians 15:21 also confirms this truth. It was not until man deliberately rejected the known will of God did death make its first appearance on this planet. Thus, the gap theory seriously compromises the biblical doctrine of the Edenic curse Holy God inflicted upon the earth because of man’s rebellion (John Whitcomb, The Early Earth, pg. 142).
Also, the theory leaves no clear word from God concerning the original perfect world. Those who advocate this theory assume that this world existed millions of years, yet there is no biblical record of the events or history in the creation of that world. Only Genesis 1:2 gives that possibility. That is only one verse. Is it to be assumed by the Bible-believer that evolutionary geologists are to fill that missing gap? That then contradicts Exodus 20:11, which states that within the six days (not before the first day) God made the heavens, the sea, and all that is in them (Whitcomb, pg. 143).
After an examination of the biblical evidence, I believe the gap theory is an inadequate position to hold.
– First of all, the theory is not true to the literal grammar of the Genesis text in chapter 1. If we are to insert a gap of time between verse 1 and verse 2, we force the Hebrew language to say something that it is not saying at all.
– Moreover, the gap theory produces some serious theological problems with the origin of man’s sin. Romans 5:12 clearly tells us that it was Adam, and he alone, that brought about sin into our world, not Satan and his rebellion. If we remove the source of man’s sin to an unrevealed act of rebellion by Satan, away from a disobedient act by Adam fully revealed in the Genesis narrative, we adversely affect the theology of Adam’s sin imputed to all men; and that in turn affects Christ’s righteousness imputed to all those for whom he died.
– Lastly, and I think most importantly, I believe the gap theory is a compromise position that needlessly accommodates the supposed theories of evolutionary geologists. The original proponents of the gap theory wrongly assume that the geologists were correct with their interpretation of the information. Their “authority” on the age of the earth was believed to be superior to that of the plain words of Scripture and thus a mediating position was needed to allow the evolutionist to retain their geological theories and the Bible-believing Christians to retain their belief in the inspiration and inerrancy of God’s word.
Scientific theories, however, change with time. As scientists discover new things about the earth that had not been considered, previous scientific models are either modified, or abandoned all together.
For instance, it was believed that millions of years and a river formed the Grand Canyon in Arizona. But, when Mount St. Helen’s erupted, a canyon about 100th the size of the Grand Canyon was formed in one day, along with geological “time” columns, when millions of tons of heated water and mud came pouring down the side of the mountain. If one volcanic eruption could produce a sizable canyon in one day, imagine what a world-wide global flood could do in a year! That is what the Bible teaches happened in Genesis 6-8. There is no need to put a mythical gap in between verses 1:1 and 1:2 of Genesis. Unlike scientific theory, the Bible never changes. It is God’s word, and to say we can fully understand it now, in the light of so-called scientific theory, compromises and undermines the only true authority a believer has.
Robert Alexander, How to Study the Bible
James Boice, Commentary of Genesis, Vol. 1
John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: A Commentary on Genesis
Weston Fields, Unformed and Unfilled (This is the most thorough and complete refutation of the gap theory available)
Henry Morris, The Genesis Record
George Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages
John Whitcomb, The Early Earth
E.J. Young, Studies in Genesis One
Also, listen to the my sermon series on Genesis 1, The Creation Week of Genesis and read my online articles interacting with old earth creationists and their arguments,