Examining the Gap Theory
By Reed Benson
Some readers will probably not be familiar with the view of creation commonly known as the Gap Theory. Nonetheless, among some circles in Christianity, it is a popular view and is worthy of evaluation. Also called the Restitution Theory, the basic idea is simple enough. It suggests that in Genesis 1:1-2, an entire world and civilization was created by God, developed, and then was destroyed by God. They purport that Genesis 1:3 begins afresh with a brand new world, the world of Adam and Eve. A German theologian, Delitzsch, builds on this premise and stated that this world before Adam and Eve was originally inhabited by the angels, and that the fall of Lucifer and the rebellion of the angelic world was the cause of the destruction.
It is called the Gap Theory by many because of the gap in time between the two worlds. It is aptly named for you will see that there is also a serious gap in evidence!
The theory rests heavily on the first was in Genesis 1:2 where the Bible states, "And the earth was without form, and void…" They suggest that the word was is a mistranslation and should read became, as in, "And the earth became without form, and void…" Are they correct in their Hebrew? In short, no, but more on that later. Let us first consider why anyone would choose to favor such a view.
This theory first came to prominence in 1804 when Dr. Thomas Chalmers propounded it from his pulpit in Scotland. The intellectual mood of Europe was undergoing a major sea change about that time. The ideological predecessors of evolutionary thought were beginning to make their mark regarding the origins of man and the world. Departing from the traditional biblical view that the earth was young, probably about 6,000 years of age, and that the geological phenomena seen were best explained by Noah’s flood, some natural philosophers were suggesting that the world was infinitely older. They insisted that the various rocks, sedimentary strata, and other features of the earth’s surface were the result of the extremely slow processes that are still in action today. James Hutton made this thought famous by stating that the present is the key to the past. Charles Lyell later coined the term uniformitarianism to describe this process.
It was during this period of philosophical tinkering that the Gap Theory was born. Many theologians were looking for a way to accommodate both the Bible account of creation and this trendy new philosophy that insisted the earth was much more ancient than traditional biblical interpretations would allow. So to meet the need for the vast amounts of time in earth’s history that this new breed of evolutionary geologists claimed was needed, a great gap in time was fixed between verses two and three of Genesis chapter one.
To be fair, we should look at the biblical evidence the proponents of this theory utilize. The first of the three strongest passages they cite is as follows: "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered? Which removeth the mountains, and they knew not: which overturneth them in his anger. Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble. Which commandeth the sun, and it riseth not; and sealeth up the stars (Job 9:4-7). Could this be speaking of the Gap Theory? Well, it could, but it could also be referring to the judgment of God during Noah’s flood or perhaps foreshadowing God’s judgment at the end of the age. Or, it could simply be a poetic commentary on God’s great power. If one is objective, it is self-evident that this passage proves nothing by itself. A second passage they cite is Isaiah 24:1: "Behold, the LORD maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof." At first glance, this passage seems to support their thesis. However, if one takes time to read the verses before and after to get a flavor for what the prophet Isaiah is trying to say, a different context is quite obvious. Isaiah is in the midst of declaring God’s judgment upon Tyre, Tarshish, and other wicked nations. What is plainly being articulated is the idea that the lands of these wicked nations will be brought to waste and destruction. To allege that this is referring to a global destruction of a world that has yet to be proven to have existed is a most flaccid and incorrect interpretation. The third oft quoted passage that Gap Theorists turn to is 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 the LORD, and by his fierce anger." For proponents of the Gap Theory, this passage has the advantage of similar language in Genesis 1:2. However, beyond that, there are no connecting points whatsoever. Quite the contrary, in fact, when we again consider the verses before and after. This chapter is clearly not talking about a long past historic event, but is a prophetic vision of what Jeremiah saw in the future of Jerusalem and Judea. To apply these verses in any other way is not accurate biblical hermeneutics. All three of these primary supporting passages can and indeed should be interpreted divergent from what adherents to the Gap Theory would have us believe.
The also use Ezekiel 28:14-17 and Luke 10:18, both of which are passages that refer to the fall of Lucifer. But, Lucifer’s rebellion and his subsequent fall did not occur on the earth. Revelation 12:7-8 clearly tells us that this event occurred in heaven, and then afterward they were cast down to earth: "And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven."
Now that we have considered the primary verses that proponents of the Gap Theory utilize and have shown their weakness, let us consider the other primary arguments against this view.
In addition to the fact that the biblical evidence in favor of the Gap Theory is limp and lacking, we have biblical evidence that actually controverts its basic premise. Consider these two passages: "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made…" (Genesis 2:1). Here we see that all of God’s creative work, in heaven and earth, that is, from beginning to end, from a to z, was all completed in six days. Exodus 20:11 is perhaps clearer yet: "For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day…" Is that not plain? Is it not obvious to an honest Bible student that all of God’s creation activity occurred within the first six days of time? There is no gap of millions of years on day one for an entire world and society to be created, developed, and then destroyed. It is really quite simple! For those who are determined to accommodate evolutionary timelines and suggest that the word day could be an age or very large period of time of millions of years, let it be stated that there are many reasons why that cannot be so. But that is not the focus of this short article, and even if we conceded that point to them, which we do not, that does not rescue the Gap Theory. It insists there was a previous world and civilization that God utterly destroyed—and even if we had time for such a world to exist, there is no evidence, biblical or otherwise, that it ever existed.
It will also be discovered that the notion that the first was in Genesis 1:2 should have been translated became is not correct. The first was is the Hebrew word hayah, which can in some cases mean become, but not in Genesis 1:2, and in fact, not in most cases. Hebrew scholarship most decisively favors the view that the translators chose. Louis Berkhof, one of the best Reformed theologians of the twentieth century and author of a well respected systematic theology had this to say: "The Bible does not say the earth became, but that it was without form and void. And even if the Hebrew verb hayeth can be rendered "became" the words "without form and void" denote an unformed condition, and not a condition resulting from destruction." Others echo this viewpoint. Consider Dr. Charles Ryrie, and these comments which he offers in his study Bible: "The earth was without form and void. Some understand a "gap" of an indeterminate period of time between verses 1 and 2, and translate "became" rather than "was." Although the Hebrew word may mean "became" (as in 19:26), the construction of the clause does not support a consecutive statement describing something that happened subsequent to verse 1 ("and") but rather describing something included in verse 1 ("but"). In other words, the initial creation was formless and empty, a condition soon remedied."
All that believe in the Gap Theory invariably want the destruction of the earth that they allege to have occurred to be by water. Why? They believe such is necessary to account for the vast sedimentary deposits that are found in the various rock strata around the world. They simply cannot believe that just one global flood, the flood of Noah, is adequate to account for these depositions. Thus, they seek to develop multiple catastrophes over many geological ages in their worldview. The Gap Theory would be one of these great disasters. Now, the problem with their assumption is really twofold. First, if the alleged destruction in Genesis 1:2 were by water, why does it not say so? Although waters are mentioned at the end of the verse, it does not indicate that they were the agent of this alleged destruction. Gap Theory proponents must make an assumption. Second, does it not seem incongruous that the Bible would spend four long chapters describing the global flood of Noah in considerable detail, but not even mention the alleged global flood of Genesis 1:2? Why offer so much information regarding one global flood and not even mention another? The evidence seems plainly obvious to an objective student of the Bible. There was no vast flood catastrophe that destroyed a civilization in Genesis 1:2!
We thus close by stating that the case for the Gap Theory is extraordinarily weak. Insuperable obstacles in scripture prevent this thesis from being a biblically sound view concerning the creation of the world and earth’s natural history. Wise Christians will steer clear of this erroneous doctrine.