Gap Theory

The belief of many Bible students that there is a great period of time between the first and second verses of Genesis. Some use this alleged gap to make room for the vast ages claimed for the earth and the fossils in it by modern geologists.

The arguments most popularly employed to support the gap theory are as follows:

1. The verb "was" in the statement, "The earth was without form," properly means "became"; that is, the earth was not created "without form and void."

2. Isaiah 45:18 says that the Lord did not create the earth "in vain," which in the Hebrew is the same as "without form" in Gen. 1:2.

3. The only other places where the Hebrew words translated "without form and void"—tohu wabbohu—occur together are Isa. 33:11 and Jer. 4:23. Gap theorists hold both texts to be descriptions of a worldwide judgment, from which they conclude that Gen. 1:1, 2, describes a great judgment that caused the earth to be "without form and void."

4. It is surmised that that judgment followed Lucifer's rebellion. The language of Isa. 14:9–17, Jer. 4:23–27, and Ezek. 28:12–18—taken as references to Satan's sin and judgment—is believed to belong to the gap period.

While the gap theory is popular in dispensational* circles, and even among some Reformed believers, it has never commanded general acceptance. The arguments adduced against it are as follows:

1. The verb "was" in Gen. 1:2 is properly translated; it cannot mean "became." If became were the meaning, the Hebrew verb hayah would have a prefixed lamed, which is not the case here.

2. The clause in v. 2a is a noun clause and therefore represents a state of being, not of becoming. It is also a circumstantial clause, which in Hebrew syntax must describe what precedes it. Thus, "the earth was without form" is a descriptive expansion of the prior statement, "God created the heaven and the earth."

3. The and at the beginning of v. 2 is the Hebrew waw and is connected with the noun "earth." According to some of the best grammarians, it must therefore introduce an explanation of the preceding statement. This force of the waw makes it linguistically impossible to hold that Gen. 1:2 teaches a temporal gap between it and the previous verse. It makes it certain that v. 2 must be understood as describing a state of being that is contemporaneous with the main verb "created" (v. 1).

4. The theories of evolutionary scientists must not be permitted to dictate our interpretation of Scripture.* The "facts" such scientists present are all based on the presupposition of the truth of the theory of evolution. The book of Genesis presents the framework of events that amply refutes the evolutionary use of geological data without having recourse to an imagined gap of billions of years. The parts of that framework for the interpretation of the phenomena and history of the earth are creation,* the fall,* the consequent curse, and the worldwide flood. Gap theorists agree with evolutionists in dating many fossils before the time of Adam. According to Scripture, death entered the world as a result of his fall, so in the biblical framework, no fossils can predate Adam. Any theory that has death in the world before Adam is plainly unscriptural.

5. Exodus 20:11 refers the creation of the entire universe to the six-day period of Genesis 1. Gap theorists object that the verb "make" in Exod. 20:11 is not synonymous with the verb "create" in Gen. 1:1. But Neh. 9:6 uses the same word as Exod. 20:11 in a context in which it is certainly describing the original creation.

6. The appeal to Isa. 45:18 is fruitless because the context shows that Isaiah's meaning is simply that God's purpose in creating the world was not that it should be "without form," but that it should be inhabited. In other words, Isaiah does not tell us the state of the earth when God created it, but the purpose for which He created it.

7. The fact that the phrase tohu wabbohu is used by the prophets as a poetic description of a great judgment furnishes no logical proof that the phrase in Gen. 1 must describe God's judgment on Satan's sin. That the prophet's use of tohu wabbohu is poetic is clear from the fact that even gap theorists must admit that in Isa. 33:11 and Jer. 4:23, the phrase does not describe an absolutely total desolation such as we have in Gen. 1:1, 2.

In the light of the Biblical evidence, we conclude that the first two verses of the Bible are not separated by a period of millions of years.

Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms (pp. 191–192). Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

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