The gap theory of creation has gained popularity over the last century. It arose in response to geologists’ claim that the earth is billions of years old. Bible believers apply the theory to a supposed “gap” of time between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1.
But does the biblical evidence support this belief?
Before we analyze the gap theory, there are a few other theories we should review. (All quotations are from blueletterbible.org, an online Bible search and study tool.)
The first is often called the 24-Hour Interpretation. “The most traditional of interpretations, the 24-Hour Interpretation, holds that Elohim created all the universe in the space of six regular solar days.”
This is what YRM affirms, and the most traditional view. Many years ago I believed in the gap theory. My belief began in high school when I was taught that evolution was a fact and not a theory. Like so many impressionable young people, I wanted to fit evolution somewhere into the Bible, and the gap theory made the most sense. Since then, I’ve come back to the traditional view of creation.
Another popular theory is called Theistic Evolution. “Surrendering the historicity and honesty of Scripture beyond all other popular viewpoints, theories of theistic evolution force interpreters to mythologize the Genesis narrative. While maintaining that God did truly maintain control of all creative processes, the view strips Scripture of its accuracy by positing that Adam was not arrived at by fiat creation but through thousands of years of natural evolutionary process aided and directed by a divine touch.”
This theory is nothing more than a compromise for evolution. Those who espouse it maintain that Yahweh created everything through the process of evolution. In other words, evolution was the mechanism that our Creator used to form this universe, including mankind. As a result, those who hold this view believe that the Genesis account is nothing more than mythology. In other words it’s a great story, but it never happened.
A third theory that has gained some acceptance is called the Day-Age Theory. “Easily one of the most popular of current theories to reconcile scientific evidence with God’s Word, the Day-Age Theory takes aim on the Hebrew word for “day”: yom. Stating that the word, while often meaning a 24-hour period, can also refer to an indeterminate duration, these theorists proclaim that a valid (and moreover, proper) literal understanding of the Creation account will interpret each day as an era, or age, lasting a great length of time.”
As with Theistic Evolution, this belief arose to reconcile evolution with the Bible. It does so by reinterpreting the meaning of the word “yom,” which is the Hebrew word for day. Instead of representing a literal 24-hour day, this belief says that yom represents a long duration of time, even billions of years, making room for evolution.
This belief not only contradicts Hebrew grammar, but also defies the laws of nature. For example, the Bible says that plants were created on the third day and the sun and moon on the fourth day. How it is possible that plants existed a billion years without sunlight? Plants require sun for life and photosynthesis, which is how they produce energy. Based on this single example, there’s nothing logical about this belief.
Breaching the Gap Theory
The last theory to review is the gap theory. Once more we refer to the blueletterbible.org for an explanation.
“When the scientific community began discovering evidence to support long geological eras in the 18th century, a segment of Christendom felt compelled to syncretize their interpretation of Scripture with this newfound empirical data. Motive askew, they postulated that the universe was already in existence for an indeterminate duration before the Creation Week began (and hence allow for a very old earth, but are able still to maintain God’s recent fiat creation of mankind). A once-popular revision of this theme is the Restoration Theory. Proponents of this version of Gap Theory believed that the universe was created full-form and populated only to be decimated by a cataclysmic war led between God and Satan. This war left the earth a wasteland, ‘formless and void’ (and explains why we find fossilized dinosaur bones that seem to be millions of years old). So then, by theory, the recent Creation Week would be a re-Creation or restoration of a world that was once destroyed.”
There are actually two theories connected with the gap theory: the traditional view and the Restoration Theory (no relation to Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry). The traditional gap theory provides a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. In this gap proponents believe that billions of years existed.
Generally, it’s also believed that there was a first earth and second earth and the second earth is what we live on now. Now the Restoration theory goes on to say that Yahweh created humans without souls along with animals, including dinosaurs, on this first earth.
Weston W. Fields further explains this in his book, Unformed and Unfilled. “In the far distant dateless past God created a perfect heaven and perfect earth. Satan was ruler of the earth which was peopled by a race of ‘men’ without any souls.
Eventually, Satan, who dwelled in a garden of Eden composed of minerals (Ezekiel 28), rebelled by desiring to become like God (Isaiah 14). Because of Satan’s fall, sin entered the universe and brought on the earth God’s judgment in the form of a flood (indicated by the water of 1:2), and then a global Ice Age when the light and heat from the sun were somehow removed. All the plant, animal, and human fossils upon the earth today date from this ‘Lucifer’s flood’ and do not bear any genetic relationship with the plants, animals and fossils living upon the earth today….”
The restoration theory maintains that Satan’s rebellion destroyed the first earth, including dinosaurs, with a global flood. It goes on to say that the plants and animals of today do not resemble those from this first earth. Now the obvious problem with this belief, which again is part of the Gap Theory, is that there’s no biblical support for two separate creations, including two worldwide floods and a creation prior to Adam and Eve.
According to wikipedia.org, “From 1814, gap creationism was popularized by Thomas Chalmers, who attributed the concept to the 17th century Dutch Arminian theologian Simon Episcopius. Chalmers became a divinity professor at the University of Edinburgh, founder of the Free Church of Scotland, and author of one of the Bridgewater Treatises. Other early proponents included Oxford University geology professor and fellow Bridgewater author William Buckland, Sharon Turner and Edward Hitchcock. It gained widespread attention when a ‘second creative act’ was discussed prominently in the reference notes for Genesis in the influential 1917 Scofield Reference Bible.”
The gap theory attempts to reconcile with the Bible the claim that the geological record proves that the earth is billions of years old. This is like many other creation theories attempting to merge the Bible with pseudo-science.
The problem is, not all scientific theories are based on good science and evolution is an example. Just because science may say that something is a certain way doesn’t make it true. For example, if nothing was known about Mount Saint Helens, geologists might date the layers created by the explosion by millions of years, when we know it took only a short period of time.
- The “proof” for billions of years of development can be explained by the account of Noah’s flood. Two things happened at that time:
- the earth was ripped open, Genesis 7:11 flood waters covered the entire earth. This catastrophic event explains many of the geological sediment and rock layers today. We can see how something like the gouging of the Grand Canyon could have occurred very quickly and not over billions of years.
So we find at least three problematic issues with the Gap Theory:
- It presupposes life and death existed before Adam and Eve;
- It was formulated in response to the unproven belief that the earth is billions of years old and It contradicts the Bible as well as its Hebrew grammar.
Let’s now consider the evidence from Scripture. Our investigation begins in Genesis 1:1-2: “In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of Elohim moved upon the face of the waters.”
The traditional view says that Yahweh created both the heavens, i.e., universe, and earth and that in the very beginning the earth was formless and empty.
The gap theory interprets this passage this way: “In the beginning Elohim created the heaven and the earth [insert in billions of years]. And the earth was [had become] without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of Elohim moved upon the face of the waters.”
By inserting billions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 they reconcile the theory that the earth is billions of years old. The gap theory also assumes that the earth was not without form and void, but had become that way. According to Hebrew grammarians, this assumption is not supported by the Hebrew grammar.
First, we must understand the word “created,” which comes from the Hebrew bara’. We must also understand the use of the “And” at the beginning of verse 1, which comes from the Hebrew letter waw. Another word to consider is “was,” which is from the Hebrew hayah. Finally, we will review the phrase “without form and void,” which is from the Hebrew tohu wa bohu.
We begin with the Hebrew bara’. Strong’s defines this term as, “…a primitive root; (absolutely) to create…” The Brown- Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon states “…to create, to shape, to form.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words provides a more exhaustive definition: “…This verb is of profound theological significance, since it has only God as its subject. Only God can ‘create’ in the sense implied by bara’. The verb expresses creation out of nothing…All other verbs for ‘creating’ allow a much broader range of meaning; they have both divine and human subjects, and are used in contexts where bringing something or someone into existence is not the issue.”
According to Hebrew linguistics, bara’ refers to original creation. Why is this important? It means that the creation in Genesis 1:1 is part of an original creation and not a re-creation as believed by the gap theorists. This is why it’s important that we understand the Hebrew in Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
Now the most critical word is the word “And,” as we find in Genesis 1:2. This word comes from the Hebrew letter “waw,” which corresponds to our “w.” In the Hebrew language you have what’s called the waw consecutive and the waw disjunctive, also called the waw copulative.
What is the differences between the two? The waw consecutive expresses a sequence of time or continuation of a new thought, while the waw disjunctive is an explanatory thought for the previous phrase.
Do we know which waw is used in Genesis 1:2? Based on the Hebrew grammar, it’s the waw disjunctive or copulative because it is not fixed to a verb, but to a noun. As support, here’s what W. Fields states, “Genesis 1:2 begins with ‘and’ (Hebrew waw, a copulative) which argues against a long time span between these verses. The Hebrew grammars and lexicons consider 1:2 to be an explanatory noun clause which describes a state contemporaneous with that of the main verb in verse 1” (Unformed and Unfilled, Weston Fields, pp. 75-86).
We find a similar statement from Dr. Robert McCabe, Professor of Old Testament from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, “The waw disjunctive appears at the beginning of v. 2. This type of waw is also easily identifiable. It is always attached to a non-verbal form, such as a substantive, pronoun, or participle; and it stands at the beginning of a clause…As a waw disjunctive relates to its preceding clause, it can be used in a number of different ways, such as introducing a clause of contrast, reason, etc. In this context, the waw disjunctive is best seen as introducing an explanatory clause, and could be translated as “now” (meaning, “at the time” of its creation in v. 1), or in some similar way” (oldtestamentstudies.org).
Based on these sources, the waw in Genesis 1:2 is waw disjunctive because the waw is connected to a noun and not a verb. What this means is that Genesis 1:2 is an explanatory verse of Genesis 1:1. It also confirms that there’s no possibility of a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. For a gap to exist this would require a waw consecutive, of which we don’t find evidence here.
According to author W. Fields, we also find evidence for the waw disjunctive from the Greek Septuagint. “The Septuagint translation – As previously stated, the translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek by Jews in Alexandria (traditionally by 70 scholars, hence the name) about 250 B.C. is known as the Septuagint, and generally abbreviated LXX. While it is a translation, and therefore subject to all the problems of such, it nevertheless gives a very ancient opinion about how the Hebrew should be rendered. The work of the Septuagint in the Pentateuch has generally been recognized as some of its best, and it appears that in Genesis 1 and 2 the translators were especially careful, for they were remarkably precise in distinguishing the waw disjunctive from other uses of the waw. The only waw disjunctive in Genesis 1 is the one in verse 2.
“This is also the only occurrence of the Greek word de. The second waw disjunctive is found in 2:6 along with the second de; the third waw disjunctive is in 2:10 together with the third de. The fourth waw disjunctive is in 2:12 and so is the fourth de. Now this is not really surprising. On the contrary, it is exactly what one might predict from Gesenius’ statement that a waw copulative (disjunctive) which connects a noun clause to the main thought of the sentence, and which describes a state or circumstance, corresponds to the Greek de, used to interpose an explanation” (Unformed and Unfilled, pp. 83).
As W. Fields explains, the Greek word “de” corresponds to the waw disjunctive and is found only once in Genesis 1 and that is in verse 2. Both the Hebrew and Greek confirms the use of the waw conjunctive. This removes the possibility of a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
We transition to the English word “was” in verse 2. This word comes from the Hebrew hayah. For those who may not know, hayah is the primitive root of Yahweh’s Name. Every Hebrew word goes back to a primitive or trilateral root.
So what is the meaning of hayah within the context of Genesis 1:2? Here’s how it’s defined in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance Hebrew Dictionary and Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, respectively.
“…a primitive root; to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass….”
“…to be, to become, to come to pass, to exist, to happen, to fall out.”
As we see from these definitions, “become” or “came to pass” is a possibility based on the Hebrew. However, as we saw from the waw disjunctive, we must also understand the Hebrew grammar. And based on the Hebrew grammar of verse 2, hayah cannot be rendered “to become.”
Dr. McCabe explains, “The only translation that can be consistently justified is the translation ‘was.’ This translation can be supported in three ways. First, as I noted above, ‘was’ is in an explanatory clause introduced by a waw disjunctive, connecting this verse with v. 1…. Second, the translation of hayetah as ‘was’ finds early support from the Septuagint…the Septuagint translators of the Pentateuch rendered this Hebrew verb as ‘was,’ the imperfect form of eimi (to “be”)…Because of the semantic distinctives of the verbs eimi (to “be”) and ginomai (to “become”), the Septuagint provides early support for the rendering ‘was.’ Third, the vast majority of lexicons and grammars support the rendering as ‘was’ …. Whitcomb and Smith have appropriately summarized this evidence: ‘Hebrew grammars could be cited in abundance to the effect that a nominal clause (with no verb or else with a form hayah) as in Genesis 1:2…is the normal way to describe a state of being without any verbal activity or change of state’ (p. 134). Therefore, the traditional translation of hayetah as ‘was’ is the most accurate translation.”
As we saw from the waw disjunctive, both the Hebrew and Greek indicate that the best rendering of hayah in Genesis 1:2 is “was.” As Dr. McCabe confirms, this is overwhelmingly the opinion of many Hebrew grammarians.
We also see this in nearly every historical English translation of Genesis 1:2. Here are a few examples:
“The erth was voyde and emptie ad darcknesse was vpon the depe and the spirite of god moved vpon the water.” (William Tyndale Bible, 1530).
“And ye earth was voyde and emptie, and darcknes was vpon the depe, & ye sprete of God moued vpo the water” (Myles Coverdale Bible, 1535).
“And the earth was without fourme, and was voyde: & darknes [was] vpon the face of the deepe, and the spirite of God moued vpon the face of the waters” (Bishops Bible, 1568).
“And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the deep, and the Spirit of God moved upon the waters” (Geneva Bible, 1599).
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (RSV, 1952).
“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (NAS, 1963).
From old to new translations hayah is translated as “was.” Abundant evidence shows that the rendering of “had become” in Genesis 1:2 is simply not supported.
Without Form and Void (Tohu WaBohu)
Let’s consider the phrase “without form and void.” The phrase comes from the Hebrew tohu wabohu and generally refers to a state that is formless and empty. According to the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, “‘And the earth was (not became) waste and void.’ The alliterative nouns tohu vabohu, the etymology of which is lost, signify waste and empty (barren), but not laying waste and desolating.”
This commentary confirms again that the Hebrew hayah should be rendered “was” and not “became.” It also states that tohu wabohu refers to a state that is waste and empty or barren.
Let’s now examine the evidence for these words separately. The first is tohu:
“…from an unused root meaning to lie waste; a desolation (of surface), i.e. desert; figuratively, a worthless thing,” Strong’s
“…formlessness, confusion, unreality, emptiness,” BDB.
The second is bohu:
“…from an unused root (meaning to be empty),” Strong’s.
“…emptiness, void, waste,” BDB.
Based on these definitions, tohu wabohu describes a state that is formless, empty, waste, chaotic, or void.
In a desire to be balanced in our study, this phrase can also refer to a void or emptiness from previous destruction. Examples of this usage are found in Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Let’s first consider Isaiah 43, “But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls,” verses 11-43.
This passage is a prophecy of Yahweh’s wrath that will befall the nations of this earth. We know from eschatology that the day of Yahweh, representing Yahshua’s Second Coming, is going to be one of destruction and judgment. According to Isaiah 24, few men will be left.
Now we see the words tohu and bohu both used here to convey destruction upon the earth. So in this instance, tohu wabohu is used to describe a state of ruin and devastation that was caused by a previous destruction.
We find a similar usage in Jeremiah 4:23-26: “I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of Yahweh, and by his fierce anger.”
This prophecy is again speaking about destruction. But here it is focused on the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. And as we saw in Isaiah, tohu wabohu is used here to covey this devastation.
Now why are these examples important? Those who advocate the gap theory will often use them to prove that tohu wabohu refers to an emptiness or void caused by previous destruction. The problem with using this to support the gap theory is that tohu wabohu doesn’t always describe a previous destruction. And as we’ve already seen, the grammar of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 doesn’t allow for a gap in time.
Meaning of Replenish
In addition to Isaiah and Jeremiah, Gap Theorists will also point to Genesis 1:28 as proof for their belief: “And Elohim blessed them, and Elohim said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Those who believe in the gap theory will focus on the word “replenish” as evidence for this doctrine. In this case, this is an easy passage to explain. The word “replenish” is from the Hebrew male, which is a primitive root, meaning “to fill or be full of, in a wide application,” Strong’s.
There is nothing within the definition of male denoting the concept of replenishing or refilling, as often defined in English. The word “replenish” in Genesis 1:28 simply means to fill.
For in Six Days
Another common argument in defense of the gap theory comes from Genesis 20:8-11: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of Yahweh thy Elohim: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Yahweh blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”
Notice that it says that Yahweh made the heavens and the earth in six days. Exodus also states that both the heavens, i.e., universe, and the earth were made in six days. According to Hebrew grammar, when the Hebrew yom (English, “day”) is connected with a numeral, as found here, it refers to a 24-hour day.
Now some will point that the word “made” found in Exodus 20:11 is not from bara’, but from the Hebrew asah. They will then claim that asah refers to a re-creation and not to an original creation. According to Strong’s asah literally means, “to do or make, in the broadest sense and widest application.”
So what’s the difference between bara’ and asah? Bara’ specifically means original creation from nothing, while asah is a general or broad word referring to any act of creation. What’s important is that bara’ and asah are not contradictory as it pertains to creation. While bara’ is limited to original creation, there is nothing within the definition of asah that would prohibit this interpretation. In other words, since asah is broad in meaning, it can be used synonymously with bara’. Matter of fact, both bara’ and asah are used interchangeably in the first chapter of Genesis.
One of the most significant challenges against the gap theory is that death was introduced through the sin of Adam. Paul in Romans 5:12-14 writes, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”
If death did not exist until Adam’s sin, what about those who died on the “first earth” as a result of Satan’s flood? Paul provides the final nail in the coffin of the gap theory.
Just why is it important that we understand the error behind this popular theory? Because the gap theory contradicts the Bible and it undermines the authority of Yahweh’s Word. It places more emphasis on pseudo-science than on Scripture.
As believers we must never allow our personal beliefs, pseudo-science, or man-made doctrines to contradict what our Heavenly Father says within His Word.
The Bible has never been proven wrong and never will be. Let us not be remiss to remember that Yahweh’s ways are greater than man’s ways. He thunders, “Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding,” Job 38:3.