What About Gap Theory?
WHAT ABOUT THE GAP THEORY?
Dr. Robert V. McCabe
Professor of Old Testament
Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary
Before the development of geology in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Christians had explained that the earth’s sedimentary rocks containing fossils of once-living creatures were results of the Noahic Flood (Whitcomb and Morris, p. 90). However, with the rise of scientific geology, the sedimentary strata and fossil remains received a new uniformitarian explanation. Uniformitarianism is a concept that maintains that the present is the key to the past. It maintains that the earth’s present surface features are a result of slow-moving processes of nature that were the same in the past as what is currently observable. Recognizing the challenge that uniformitarianism presented to orthodox Christianity, Thomas Chalmers of Scotland sought to harmonize Scripture and science. In a lecture of 1814, Chalmers set forth that “the detailed history of Creation in the first chapter of Genesis begins at the middle of the second verse” (cited by Taylor, p. 363). Chalmers further explained that Genesis 1:1–2a (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was formless and void and darkness was on the face of the deep”) was a reference to a pre-Adamic age that was brought to an end by a great catastrophe that left the earth “formless and void.” The fossil remains provided evidence for this pre-Adamic age (ibid.). Chalmers’s hypothesis provided an accommodation to George Cuvier’s theory that the earth’s strata of fossils were the result of a series of catastrophes, allowing for a tremendous amount of time to be placed between the first two verses of the Bible. Chalmers placed these catastrophes between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. This theory became known as ruin-restoration theory, or more simply the gap theory. George Pember popularized this with the publication of his Earth’s Earliest Ages in 1907. The gap theory had a great appeal for earlier fundamentalists. This position had at least two strengths. First, the gap theory allowed Bible-believing Christians to affirm what was patently obvious in Genesis 1; viz., the creation account of Genesis 1 took place on six literal days. Second, one could harmonize a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and the rest of the Bible with the apparently indisputable facts of geological research. Sauer recognizes these strengths with the following:
Many conservative readers of the Bible, acquainted with the results of geological research, saw in it a way in which the Bible and science could be brought into harmony. They accepted the long periods of development demanded by geology, but inserted them between verses 1 and 2 of the Biblical account. In addition, most of them considered the six “days” to be literal days of twenty-four hours (p. 195).
In spite of these supposed strengths, this position is no longer fully embraced by biblical scholars. However, the gap theory is still advocated by many Christians on a popular level. Its popularity is understandable given the fact that it has been widely circulated within fundamentalist circles through the Scofield Reference Bible. In the old edition of the Scofield Reference Bible, the gap theory is set forth in notes connected with Genesis 1 (p. 3, notes 2, 3) and in the New Scofield Reference Bible in a note with Isaiah 45 (p. 752, note 2). What, then, is the gap theory? What are its supporting arguments? How does its supporting arguments correlate with the rest of Scripture? The purpose of this paper is to examine the gap theory by summarizing its basic position and evaluating its supporting evidence.
I. A Summation of the Gap Theory
On a popular level, some have confused statements made by a few older commentators who supported an interval of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 (so Sauer, p. 195). In part, some of the more recent confusion about this time interval may be a result of Arthur Custance’s erratic historical survey of commentators (pp. 10–40). Custance’s concern with his survey was to prove that the gap theory antedated the eighteenth century, and, consequently, to support his claim that the gap theory did not arise as an attempt to harmonize Scripture with historical geology (p. 10). However, after a thorough critique of Custance’s interpretation of commentators, Weston Fields has convincingly proven that only a few of these sources were used with a limited degree of accuracy. Of the few pertinently used sources, Fields has cogently demonstrated that they can only be used as an argument for an interval of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2; and none of these sources provide any hint of support for the traditional gap theory, that is, a ruin-restoration gap theory (pp. 11–37, 44–47). Therefore, the traditional gap theory did not appear until almost 200 years ago as an attempt to harmonize science and Scripture.
Though gap theorists disagree on some details of this hypothesis, all advocates of the traditional gap theory agree that Genesis 1:1 describes a perfect and complete creation of the heavens and the earth, that 1:2 records the ruin of the originally perfect earth, and that an elapsed period of time (perhaps billions of years) between the originally perfect earth and its restoration set forth in 1:3–31. While allowing for some variations, Fields has summarized the gap theory in the following manner (p. 7):
In the far distant dateless, [sic] past God created a perfect heaven and perfect earth. Satan was ruler of the earth that was peopled by a race of “men” without any souls. Eventually, Satan, who dwelled in a garden of Eden composed of minerals (Ezek. 28), rebelled by desiring to become like God (Isa. 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.”
Advocates of this position provide five supporting arguments. First, a necessary tenet for the gap theory involves maintaining absolute semantic differences between “create” (bara’) and “make” (‘asah). Second, the nature of the initial conjunction at the beginning of v. 2 allows for a time interval. Third, the Hebrew verb translated as “was” (hayetah) in 1:2 is better translated as “became,” or “had become.” Fourth, “formless and void” (tohu wabohu) denotes a condition produced by divine judgment. Fifth, the word “darkness” (hoshek) symbolizes judgment. After examining these five supporting arguments, we will look at some of the inherent theological deficiencies with the gap theory. In keeping with my purpose, the remainder of this paper will examine the supporting arguments for the gap theory and will offer proof that the gap theory cannot be consistently harmonized with either the evidence of Genesis 1 or the rest of Scripture.
II. An Evaluation of the Gap Theory
A. The Use of “Create” and “Make” to Support the Gap Theory
Advocates of the gap theory maintain that “create” (bara’) and “make” (‘asah) have absolutely distinct meanings. If Exodus 20:11 (“For in six days the Lord made [‘asah] the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them”) establishes that the chronological limitation for God’s original creation was six days, then any significant interval of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 would extend beyond the required “six days.” Therefore, either Exodus 20:11 is erroneous or some type of harmonization between Genesis 1:1 and Exodus 20:11 must be set forth. Since gap theorists have generally held to the inerrancy of Scripture, they harmonize the two texts by postulating that “create” and “make” have distinct semantic nuances. This is a necessary distinction if Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created [bara’] the heavens and the earth”) is to be harmonized with Exodus 20:11. In light of this, the gap theory rises or falls on the distinctive meanings for “create” and “make.” If these two verbs are semantically distinct, then the gap theory may be biblically defensible. However, if these verbs are used interchangeably, then the gap theory cannot biblically stand. In reality, any concession to an interchangeable use of “create” and “make” irreparably undermines this theory. What, then, do gap theorists claim is the distinction between these two verbs?
According to gap theorists the verb “create,” (bara’) in Genesis 1:1, means to create “without the aid of pre-existing material” (Pember, p. 22), and “made,” (‘asah) in Exodus 20:11, means to restore (ibid., p. 23). Advocates of the gap theory point out that, outside of Genesis 1:1, “create” (bara’) is used in Genesis 1 as a reference to two other creative activities: the creation of animal (v. 21) and human life (3 times in v. 27). These three uses of “create” are the only places in this chapter where God did not use any preexisting material (see the old edition of the Scofield Reference Bible, p. 3, note 2). In contrast to this, the term predominately used in Genesis 1 is the verb to “make” (‘asah), and this suggests that God’s emphasis in this chapter is on reshaping the heavens and the earth from previously existing material that had previously been destroyed (Sauer, p. 232). Consequently, God originally created a perfect and complete heavens and earth out of nothing as Genesis 1:1 affirms. Because of Satan’s fall, God judged the earth as reflected in 1:2. Beginning with 1:3, God began to restore the ruined earth in six, successive literal days. The use of ‘asah in Exodus 20:11 reflects the same six-day period of restoration as is recorded in Genesis 1:3–31.
While we agree that “create” and “make” have distinct nuances, the gap theorist’s absolute dichotomy superimposed on these verbs cannot be consistently defended in the various creation accounts in the Bible. Of the two verbs, “create,” bara’, is used 48 times in the Old Testament (David J. A. Clines, ed. The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. 5 vols. to date [Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993–], 2:38 [hereafter cited as DCH]), and “make,” ‘asah, 2,627 times (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, s.v. “hc[ (I),” by Eugene Carpenter, 3:547 [hereafter cited as NIDOTTE]). “Create” has a more restrictive semantic range than “make.” When the verb “create” is used in the basic Hebrew verbal form known as the Qal stem, the God of Israel is always its subject and the direct object never refers to the material used with the verb “create.” The verb ‘asah means “do” or “make,” and, judging by its general semantic nature, its range of uses is very broad. As we will contend, the verbs “create” and “make” are both used in creation contexts as references to God’s supernatural creative work. Though it is beyond the scope of this paper to present the consistent recognition by lexicographers of the synonymous nature of these two verbs (see the conclusive discussion in Fields, pp. 60–74), all of the Hebrew lexicons that I have examined unequivocally affirm that these verbs are used as virtual synonyms in creation contexts (DCH, 2:258; Koehler and Baumgartner, 2:890; NIDOTTE, s.v. “hc[ (I),” by Eugene Carpenter, 3:547; Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v. “ar;B; bara’,” by Jan Bergman, Helmer Ringgren, Karl-Heinz Bernhardt, G. Johannes Botterweck, 2:246–48; Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, s.v. “hc[,” by J. Vollmer, 2:949–50; and Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, s.v. “hc[,” by Thomas E. McComiskey, 2:701). In demonstrating the synonymous nature of these two verbs, we will look at two items. First, the verbs “create” and “make” are each used to describe the same creative activities. Second, there are a number of passages where these verbs are used together.
The first item that we should notice is that the same creative activities are governed by both verbs. In Genesis 1:1 the verb “create” governs two objects, “the heavens and the earth.” In Exodus 20:11, God gave the Sabbath command. In this text Israel was commanded to work “six days,” and to worship and rest on the Sabbath. According to v. 11, the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them.” As in Genesis 1:1, God’s creative work includes “the heavens and the earth.” It is again affirmed that the LORD made the same two objects in Exodus 31:17: “for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth.” Though more details are given in Nehemiah 9:6, the same two objects of God’s creative work are included: “Thou alone art the LORD. Thou hast made the heavens, the heavens of heavens with all their hosts, and the earth and all that is in them” (see also Job 9:9, Pss 95:5; 100:3; Prov 8:22–23, 26). Though some of these texts include more details, my point is that “make,” ‘asah, quite readily fits into contexts dealing with God’s original creative activities in Genesis 1:1–31, rather than necessarily fitting into accounts of creation separated by millions or billions of years. These references suggest that “create” and “make” are used interchangeably.
To reinforce our point about “create” and “make” being used interchangeably in creation contexts, we need to consider a second item; viz., the use of “create” and “make” together in the same verse or unit of verses. Both verbs are used in Genesis 1:26–27: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make [‘asah] man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ 27And God created [bara’] man in His own image, in the image of God He created [bara’] him; male and female He created [bara’] them.” The interchangeable nature of “make” and “create” is obvious. Rather than accepting the prima facie evidence of this text, supporters of the gap theory circumvent the problem by insisting that man’s body was made (cf. with “formed” in Gen 2:7, and “made” in Pss 100:3; 119:73) from the dust of the ground, and his soul and spirit were created without the use of any preexisting material. In essence, God makes the material part of man from existing dust, and he creates out nothing man’s immaterial part (Pember, p. 23). Though what Pember and other gap theorists have taught is undoubtedly true, the problem is that vv. 26–27 are not setting forth what the gap theorists affirm. Due in part to their strong dichotomy, this type of reasoning results in an oversimplification of this passage in two ways. First, when God makes man in his image in v. 26, does this mean that God’s image in man is confined to his physical composition? Second, when God creates them male and female in v. 27, does this mean that the gender differences between man and woman are primarily metaphysical rather than physical? Genesis 1:26–27 will not tolerate an absolute dichotomy between these two verbs (see Custance’s convoluted explanation, p. 180). Genesis 2:2–3 is another text where only strained circumlocution could be used to deny the synonymous nature of “create” and “make”: “And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done [‘asah]; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done [‘asah]. 3Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created [bara’] and made [‘asah].” The work done over the first six days of creation are summed up with “created,” bara’, and “made,” ‘asah. These two verses univocally communicate that “create” and “make” are virtual synonyms used for God’s supernatural creative activity on the first six days of creation (for other examples, see Gen 2:4; Isa 41:20; 43:7; 45:7; see also Fields, pp. 65–74). Consequently, the biblical evidence overwhelmingly establishes that “create,” bara’, and “make,” ‘asah, are used as synonyms in creation contexts, and, therefore, the gap theory is indefensible in contending for an absolute semantic dichotomy between these two verbs.
B. A Grammatical Allowance for a Temporal Gap
Supporters of the gap theory assume that the grammatical conjunction, “and,” waw, connecting Genesis 1:1 with 1:2, allows for a temporal interval between these two verses (see Custance, p. 41; and the citations by Fields, pp. 75–77). Gap theorists generally assume that this conjunction somehow supports or allows for a time interval, or they make broad generalizations about the significance of this conjunction (so Custance, p. 41). Though this argument often receives minimal attention by gap theorists, the assumption that it allows for a time interval between v. 1 and v. 2 is, at best, tenuous.
The Hebrew conjunction waw, “and,” is placed at the beginning of Genesis 1:2. This conjunction is very common in Hebrew. It may be translated as “and,” “now,” “but,” “then,” and in a number of other ways, depending on the part of speech to which it is directly attached as well as its immediate syntactical context. Waw may be divided into two broad categories: waw consecutive or waw disjunctive. The waw consecutive is clearly identifiable, for it is directly attached to a verb, and it generally expresses sequential action. A waw consecutive begins 1:3. For illustrative purposes, I could represent the first few words of v. 3 like this: “Waw-said God, ‘Let there be light.’” We should notice that waw is directly attached to the verb (the hyphenated words in my translation reflect the word units in the Hebrew text), and the verb stands at the head of the clause with the subject following it. In addition, the creation of a localized source of light in v. 3 is a sequence that follows God’s creation of “the heavens and the earth” in v. 1. In English the waw in v. 3 is readily translated as “then” (“Then God said, Let there be light’”). As this reflects, the waw consecutive is easily recognized in Hebrew. What is interesting is that the waw consecutive is repeatedly used in virtually every verse of Genesis 1, and often more than once in many verses. For example, a waw consecutive is used twice in v. 3, twice in v. 4, three times in v. 5, twice in v. 6, etc. This reflects that Moses used the waw consecutive to show temporal sequence. If Moses had wanted to show a movement in time, he could have clearly communicated a temporal interval by using the waw consecutive at the head of v. 2. However, the waw consecutive does not appear in Genesis 1 until v. 3.
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. For example, we could illustrate the waw disjunctive found at the beginning of v. 2 in this manner: “Waw-the-earth was….” 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. When the waw disjunctive introduces an explanatory clause, it explains an item that had been introduced in the preceding verse. For example, “earth” is used in 1:1 and 1:2: “In the beginning God created the heavens and-the-earth. 2Now-the-earth was formless and empty.”
Another example of this use is found in Genesis 2:12. In 2:11 Moses has recorded that the land of Havilah was known for its gold, “The name of the first [river] is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.” He then explains the significance of the gold in v 12: “Now-the-gold of that land is good.” The “now” that introduces v. 12 is the waw disjunctive. This same syntactical construction is also found in Jonah 3:3, “So Jonah arose, and went unto Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now-Nineveh was an exceeding great city of three days’ journey.” Each of the three passages that we have examined contains the waw disjunctive when it introduces an explanatory clause. If Moses had wanted to communicate a movement in sequence, a gap of time, between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, he would have used a waw consecutive as he does many other times in Genesis 1; however, the fact that he uses a waw disjunctive to introduce an explanatory clause indicates that the point of v. 2 is to set forth what the earth was like when God initially created it—it was unformed and unfilled. In the final analysis, the waw disjunctive poses an insurmountable grammatical problem for the gap theory.
C. Retranslating “Was” as “Became” to Support the Gap Theory
Defenders of the gap theory argue that the verb “was,” in Genesis 1:2, is more accurately translated as “became” or “had become.” If these translation options are more accurate, then the gap theory is linguistically strengthened, at least on this point. By translating “was” as “became,” this indicates a transition in earth’s state has taken place, from its original state of perfection in v. 1 to a subsequent state of judgment in v. 2. The interpretation of hayetah as “became” has received wide support in fundamentalist circles through a note to this effect in the New Scofield Reference Bible (p. 752, note 2). Arthur Custance made a more recent refinement of this translation in a 1970 study. He has argued that the gap theory is better supported if “became” was translated as “had become.” Based upon the statistical analysis in his study, Custance attempted to demonstrate that the active meaning of the verb hayetah (“had become,” “became”) occurred more often than its stative meaning (“is”). In fact, Custance insists that his translation of Genesis 1:2 as “but the earth had become a desolation” (emphasis mine) is the crucial issue with the gap theory (p. 41). The bulk of his book and 13 appendices are devoted to making an attempt to prove this crucial issue.
Though Custance’s translation of “had become” as opposed to “became” may be somewhat of a refinement for the gap theory, his refinement is in reality a difference without a distinction, for both “had become” and “became” indicate that the earth’s condition had changed from a state of perfection in v. 1 to one of judgment in v. 2. Whether hayetah is translated as “became” or “had become,” neither translation is justifiable in Genesis 1:2. 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. In this type of clause, the verb hayetah is invariably translated as “was” (Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, pp. 453–54, sec. 141g, i; for an insightful discussion and support of this translation, see Barr, pp. 58–72). The following examples will demonstrate how the verb hayah (third, masculine singular form of hayetah) is translated when it is used in an explanatory clause begun with a waw disjunctive: “Jonah arose and went to Nineveh…. Now Nineveh was [hayetah] an exceedingly great city” (Jon 3:3); “He showed me Joshua…. Now Joshua was [hayah] clothed with filthy garments (Zech 3:1–3). Second, the translation of hayetah as “was” finds early support from the Septuagint. In their rendering of Genesis 1:2, the Septuagint translators of the Pentateuch rendered this Hebrew verb as “was,” the imperfect form of eimi (to “be”). In contrast with this use of eimi, these same translators rendered various forms of hayah with ginomai (to “become”), where it was appropriate with the context (for a more elaborate the discussion on how the Septuagint supports this understanding, see Fields, pp. 97–100). 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” (see the documentation by Fields, pp. 87–112; to his list, we could also add the current edition of Koehler and Baumgartner, 1:244; and Waltke and O’Connor, 483–84). 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.
D. “Formless and Void” as a Reflection of Judgment
Further support for the gap theory is derived from the phrase “formless and void.” The two Hebrew terms translated as “formless and void,” tohu wabohu, are used together in two other contexts of judgment, Jeremiah 4:23 and Isaiah 34:11. The connection between these passages is reflected in the following quote from Sauer (pp. 231–32):
The Restitution theory emphasizes that this combination [tohu wabohu] of words occurs only in two other passages, and in both of them it means a description which is the result of a divine judgment. Thus Isaiah, after a description of the terrible consequence of the fall of Edom in the day of vengeance, says, “And He (God) shall stretch over it the line of tohu (confusion) and the plummet of bohu (chaos, R.S.V.)” (Isa. 34:11). We are to understand this as meaning that God will use the same care in making the destruction of Edom complete as the architect does in using measuring-line and plumb-line to build a house. The second passage is still more decisive. In this context Jeremiah describes the desolation of Judah and Jerusalem after their fall, and compares it, according to the explanation of the Restitution theory, with the pre-Adamic destruction. He says, “I beheld the earth, and lo, it was tohu-wa-bohu (waste and void): and the heavens, and they had no light…. I beheld, and lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful field was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and before His fierce anger” (Jer. 4:23–26). These are the only two passages in Scripture in which—apart from Genesis 1:2—the combination tohu-wa-bohu is found, and in both cases it has the passive meaning of being made desolate and empty. In this Restitution theory sees strong grounds for justifying the acceptance of the same passive meaning as playing at least a role in the third passage.
In light of this quote, Sauer argues that, because Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23 reflect clear contexts of judgment, while using the language from Genesis 1:2 (“he compares it…with the pre-Adamic destruction”), the use of “formless and void” in Genesis 1:2 must also reflect a state of judgment and destruction (so also Custance, pp. 166–68).
According to the gap theory, this interpretation of Genesis 1:2 is conclusively proven from Isaiah 45:18 (“For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens [He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place (tohu), But formed it to be inhabited], ‘I am the LORD, and there is none else.’”). This passage also use tohu, and is supposedly a judgment context. The editors of the New Scofield Reference Bible have supported this connection between Genesis 1:2 and Isaiah 45:18 with this note (p. 752, note 2): “‘He created it not in vain [tohu].’ This is one of the Scripture passages that suggest the Divine Judgment interpretation of Gen. 1:1–2…. This interpretation views the earth as having been created perfect. After an indefinite period of time…, judgment fell upon the earth and ‘it was [became] without form and void.’” The logic of the gap theory goes something like this: Since Isaiah 45:18 sets forth that God did not create the earth a waste place (tohu) and since Genesis 1:2 states that it was “formless” (according to gap theory, “waste,” tohu), then the earth had to become a formless waste after its original, perfect creation (Fields, p. 122). Consequently, a gap theorist would contend that Genesis 1:2 had to reflect a state of judgment and destruction brought upon the earth as an act of God’s judgment, and not as an activity of His creative power.
The argument stating that “formless and void” denotes a state of judgment is also questionable. Of the two Hebrew words translated “formless and void,” the second word, “void,” bohu is only used three times in the Old Testament, Genesis 1:2, Isaiah 34:11, and Jeremiah 4:23. In each case it is used in connection with the first term, tohu, “formless.” To determine the significance of this, tohu (“formless”) must be examined. If the argument of the gap theorist is cogent, then tohu should always be used in reference to something inherently reflecting a state of judgment. However, this is not the case. For example, in Job 26:7 Job stated that God “stretcheth out the north over empty space [tohu] and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” The point of this verse is that God stretched out the earth over empty space. There is nothing judgmental or sinister about this. There are other passages where tohu is used to describe the desert or wilderness, places characterized by emptiness (Deut 32:10; Job 6:18; 12:24; Ps 107:40). Consequently, the expression “formless and void” does not demand a state of judgment; this is a neutral expression whose significance must be determined by its context. Unless one reads into the context of Genesis 1 a state of judgment, it appears to be a neutral context. As such, it would be best to interpret this Hebrew expression as meaning “unformed and empty.”
On the surface, it may appear that Isaiah 45:18 negates our taking Genesis 1:2 as an initial, first step of the Creator in Isaiah 45:18. Does Isaiah 45:18 substantiate that Genesis 1:2 is a state of divine judgment, and not a state reflecting God’s creative power? We are convinced that Isaiah 45:18 in its context provides no support for the gap theory. The solution to this superficial problem is found in the last part of v. 18. The remainder of this verse reads, “he [the LORD] formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.” The latter part of v. 18 tells us that God created the earth in order to be inhabited (see Sofield, par. 23). This is to say, when God says he did “not” create the earth “in vain” (KJV), Isaiah means God did not create the earth in order to leave it in a state that man could not inhabit. Rather than supporting the gap theory, Isaiah 45:18 establishes that the earth, as described in Genesis 1:2, was not designed in its initial stage to be inhabited by man. In commenting on Isaiah 45:18 with its significance for interpreting Genesis 1:2, Tsumura has captured the force of this verse very well (pp. 33–34):
There is nothing in this passage [Isa 45:18] that would suggest a chaotic state of the earth ‘which is opposed to and precedes creation.’ Thus, the term tohu here too signifies ‘a desert-like place’ and refers to ‘an uninhabited place’…. It should be further noted that lo’-tohu here [Isa 45:18] is a resultative object, referring to the purpose of God’s creative action. In other words, this verse explains that God did not create the earth so that it may stay desert-like, but to be inhabited. So this verse does not contradict Gen 1:2, where God created the earth to be productive and inhabited though it ‘was’ still tohu wabohu, in the initial state.
Our understanding of Genesis 1:2 is reflected in the Jewish Aramaic source Neophyti I with its interpretation of tohu wabohu, “desolate without human beings or beast and void of all cultivation of plants and trees” (cited by Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in vol. 2 of the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 27).
Therefore, Genesis 1:2 is not referring to a state of judgment, but is affirming that, in the first phase of God’s creative activities, the earth was unformed and empty. It was not yet a suitable place for God’s image bearers to live. Though the earth was incomplete, it was exactly what God wanted on the first day of creation. Tsumura correctly summarizes the teaching of Genesis 1:2 with this conclusion (p. 156): “In conclusion, both the biblical context and extra-biblical parallels suggest that the phrase tohu wabohu in Gen 1:2 has nothing to do with ‘chaos’ and simply means ‘emptiness’ and refers to the earth which is an empty place, i.e., ‘an unproductive and uninhabited place.’”
E. “Darkness” as a Reflection of Judgment
An argument used by some gap theorists is that the term “darkness” (hoshek) cannot be used to describe a state created by the God of light. The “darkness” of v. 2 is therefore a result of judgment (see citations by Fields, pp. 131–33; this argument is also used by advocates of the precreation chaos theory, see Unger, pp. 30–35; and Waltke, p. 58).
When God concludes His creation on the sixth day by summarily saying that everything was “very good” (1:31), I would understand that this includes the “darkness” of v. 2. Those who hold to the gap theory, as well as some its modifications, interpret “darkness” as denoting something negative; i.e., a state of confusion and lifelessness—that which is the antithesis of God. This poses more biblical problems than it solves. We will consider three of these problems. First, if God did not create darkness, who initially created it? Furthermore, we should notice that God gave a name to darkness, just like He gave names to everything else He creates in Genesis 1, without even a hint of anything undesirable about it. In addition, if God did not create “darkness” (hoshek), how do we harmonize this with Isaiah 45:7 and Psalm 104:20, both of which state that God created “darkness” (hoshek)?
Second, to disconnect the physical darkness of 1:2 from God “because darkness came to symbolize evil and sin is to confuse the symbol with the thing symbolized. It is like saying yeast is evil because it came to represent spiritual evil. The fact that a physical reality is used to represent something spiritual does not mean that every time this physical reality is mentioned, it must be representing that spiritual entity. Those who claim that darkness in Genesis 1:2 is evil have confused the spiritual symbol as used elsewhere with the physical reality in this passage” (Rooker, “Genesis 1:1–3 [part 2],” p. 422).
Third, the grammatical arrangement of v. 2 does not support taking “darkness” as something negative. Verse 2 is made up of three coordinate clauses in the Hebrew text. The breakdown of this verse looks like this:
1And the earth was formless, and void;
2and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
3And the Spirit of God was moving upon the face of the waters.
Most supporters of the gap theory explain that the third clause is clearly a positive statement, yet they interpret the first two clauses as negative statements. If the third clause is clearly positive and if these are coordinate, parallel clauses, why does this not influence how the first two clauses are interpreted? Keil and Delitzsch have reflected the force of this: “The three statements in our verse are parallel; the substantive and participial construction of the second and third clauses rests upon the htyhw [“was”] of the first. All three describe the condition of the earth immediately after the creation of the universe” (Pentateuch, 1:49). The existence of “darkness” as well as “formless and void” in the preceding clause reflects that the earth was not yet a suitable place for man to live. Therefore, rather than taking the “darkness” of Genesis 1:2 as a negative description of the earth’s condition, it is a positive description of the first stage in God’s making the earth a fit habitation for man. As Young has stated the case (p. 34):
As the first word in this clause Jv,j [“darkness”] is emphasized, it stands as a parallel to ?r
F. Theological Deficiencies with the Gap Theory
My focus in this paper has been upon the biblical evidence used to support the gap theory. However, there are some theological deficiencies inherent in the gap theory that we would be remiss if we did not mention. There are three deficiencies that we will consider. The first deficiency relates to an unwarranted geological concession that was an underlying motivation for the formation of the gap theory. This geological concession also creates two other deficiencies related to our understanding of the flood of Noah and the fall of Adam.
From its original inception the gap theory has been an attempt to harmonize Scripture with geology. Though harmonization of man’s observable world through scientific processes is not necessarily detrimental to the faith, it is detrimental when the “assured” results of science are maximized over and/or in conflict with the absolute truth of Scripture. Such was the case of Thomas Chalmers who was willing to surrender vast amounts of time as an accommodation to the “assured” results of naturalistic geology. His concession is clearly reflected by this: “Should, in particular, the explanation that we now offer be sustained, this would permit an indefinite scope to the conjectures of geology—and without any undue liberty with the first chapter of Genesis” (cited in Fields, p. 41). In permitting “an indefinite scope to the conjectures of geology,” the gap theory sets its underpinnings in an old earth model along with its demands for world-wide catastrophes before the creation of Adam. According to the gap theory, animals and the predecessors of mankind were living and dying for millions of years before the creation and fall of Adam (Whitcomb and Smith, p. 131). While gap theorists have held to biblical inerrancy and have vocally been in opposition to evolution, they, nevertheless, have a fundamental defect that is also shared by uniformitarian geologists, viz., the sedimentary strata and fossil remains are to be explained by an old earth, with millions of years of death and destruction. If modern geology had not developed as a supposed scientific discipline, the raison d’être for the gap theory would have been removed. Unfortunately, while affirming an anti-evolutionary thought, the foundational position of a ruin and restored old earth affirms the contrary (see Ham, p. 158). Thus, the first deficiency reflects that the motivation for the gap theory was generated as a compromise of Scripture with geology.
This compromise suggests a few questions. Should the sedimentary rocks and fossils be correlated with a biblically ambiguous world-wide catastrophe read into Genesis 1:2 or an event that is explicitly described as a universal flood in the days of Noah? In addition, are we to believe that death and destruction prevailed in a sinless world millions of years before the fall of Adam and the consequential Edenic Curse in Genesis 3? Furthermore, how do we harmonize God’s pronouncement of perfection over his creation in Genesis 1:31 (“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good”) with the earth being a virtual graveyard for thousands of fossils reflecting death and destruction? These types of questions are answered in our discussion of the two remaining theological deficiencies.
The second deficiency of the gap theory is that it undermines the Scriptural import of Noah’s Flood. By placing the fossil-laden sedimentary rocks in the so-called flood of Lucifer between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, gap theorists have read into the Scripture greater import to an event about which Scripture is completely silent. In contrast to divine silence on the supposed catastrophe of Genesis 1:2, the universal flood in Noah’s day is repeatedly mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible makes no “reference anywhere to any other world-wide catastrophe than that in Noah’s day” (Kelly, p. 96).
The gap theory’s third deficiency compromises the biblical import of Genesis 3 and how it impacts on the fall of Adam, and the Edenic Curse. In dealing with the fall of Adam, not only do we need to grasp the actual fall but its effect on creation, the Edenic Curse. To grasp the significance of the fall of Adam and Edenic Curse in Genesis 3, we must understand the dominion mandate, represented in the first two chapters of Genesis. Having been made in the image of God, Adam was created by God, in Genesis 1:26, 28, to represent him as vice-regent over creation. An aspect of Adam’s role is spelled out as his ruling over the animal kingdom in v. 26 (“let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth”), and again in v. 28 (“God said to them,… ‘rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’”). Adam’s kingship over the animals is further reflected by his assigning names to the animals that God brought before him in 2:19 (for a poetic recounting of the dominion mandate, see Ps 8:6–7). Another aspect of Adam’s dominion over creation is seen in 1:28, where Adam and Eve were to “subdue” the earth, and again in Genesis 2:5, 15, where man is to “cultivate” (or, “work”) and to “keep” (or, “take care of”) the ground. Based upon the dominion mandate, we can see that two aspects of Adam’s dominion specifically include the animals and the ground.
The account of the fall in Genesis 3 only specifically records God’s announcement of judgment on the serpent, the ground, Adam and Eve. However, we understand from the overall context of Genesis and other related biblical texts that those specifically mentioned in Genesis 3 are representative of other parts of Adam’s kingdom. This is to say, that when God judged his vice-regent, this judgment extended beyond Adam to the created realm over which God had given him authority. Not only does Moses set forth that divine judgment had an effect on Adam and the subjects of his dominion, but Paul also strongly suggests this in the New Testament. For example, the effects of the fall are seen on Adam’s family. In Romans 5:12–21, Paul maintains that Adam brought death and condemnation to all those procreated in his family line, and by implication, his wife. Paul precisely states that humanity’s death came by Adam: “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Rom 5:12; see also 1 Tim 2:11–15). In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul again teaches that “by a man came death” (vv. 21), and “in Adam all die” (v. 22).
But death and destruction are not simply confined to Adam’s family—it includes the whole created order over which he had dominion. This is also strongly suggested in Romans 8 where Paul maintains that “the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it” (v. 20). The effects of the Edenic Curse brings the creation under such a bondage that Paul describes it as “slavery to corruption” (v. 21), and further that this curse is so pervasive that “the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (v. 22). Therefore, the effects of Adam’s sin initiated death and destruction into the created realm. Because of this, we must date “all of the rock strata which contain fossils of once-living creatures as subsequent to Adam’s fall” (Whitcomb and Morris, p. 239).
In the final analysis, this third deficiency of the gap theory irreparably undermines the dominion mandate and Edenic Curse. Whitcomb and Smith have explained this deficiency with this (p. 131):
It was not Nature, or Satan, but man who was created to be the king of the earth (Psalm 8, Hebrews 2:5–8); and not until man deliberately rejected the known will of God did death make its first appearance on this planet (Romans 5:12) or did animals fall under the “bondage of corruption” (Romans 8:21). It is at this point that the Gap Theory has seriously compromised the Biblical doctrine of man’s original dominion and the doctrine of the Edenic Curse.
The purpose of this paper has been to examine and evaluate the gap theory and its supporting arguments. None of the supporting arguments for the gap theory can be consistently defended in Scripture. In fact, the supporting arguments are both exegetically and theologically myopic. Furthermore, its ruin and restored old earth premise is the result of an unwarranted geological concession. A problem for this flawed premise is that it requires an old earth with a history of death and destruction; and this history of death took place millions of years before the fall of Adam and the Edenic Curse. This is biblically inconsistent with God’s pronouncement of perfection in Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” In the final analysis, the gap theory, according to Douglas Kelly, “is not a fair and straightforward reading of Scripture, nor does it successfully reconcile the biblical picture of origins with ‘scientific’ naturalism. The ‘gap’ theory should serve as a model of what Christians should not do in their legitimate desire to speak Biblical truth into a world held in the tight grip of humanistic premises” (Kelly, p. 95).
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