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The Gap Theory


Les Sherlock, July 2018

All scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

* John 8:32

It was the evangelical preacher and founder of the Free Church of Scotland, Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) who pioneered the idea of a gap of millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, in order to accommodate the old age of the earth that some scientists were starting to claim to be proven fact.

This is not a peripheral matter, but is central to the gospel: when Paul preached to those who did not accept the authority of the Old Testament, he began by proclaiming God as our Creator (Acts 17:18, 24). God has a claim on us because He made us for Himself, and has given us His word to tell us how He did it and to show us the way we fulfil our purpose and become what He always intended. It is only the truth that will make us free.* So what is the truth on this topic?

One version of this theory * claims that God created a perfect heaven and earth in the long distant past, which was ruled over by Satan before he sinned and was peopled by a race with no souls. Satan lived in Eden (Ezekiel 28) but rebelled in his desire to be like God (Isaiah 14), which brought down God’s destructive judgement and resulted in the earth being ‘without form and void’ and the ice age, and created all the fossils in the process.

* Summarised in Weston W. Fields’ anti-gap book, Unformed and Unfilled, page 7.

There are other theories that have emerged to try to squeeze millions and billions of years into the first chapter of Genesis: the day-age theory that claims the days of Genesis 1 are long periods of time, each being millions or billions of years; the Framework Hypothesis that claims Genesis 1 is not literal history,* but a framework God used to teach us spiritual truths; and the ‘soft gap’ that has no ruin and re-creation, but simply has long ages for the universe and earth, often with the gap coming between the second and third verses of Genesis. However, I shall simply concentrate on the theory that is probably the most common, as described in the previous paragraph.

* Some quote St Augustine as an early Church father who said it was only to be understood allegorically. This is untrue. In his famous work, City of God, Chapter 21.-Of Paradise (i.e. Garden of Eden), that It Can Be Understood in a Spiritual Sense Without Sacrificing the Historical Truth of the Narrative Regarding The Real Place, he says, “…some allegorise all that concerns Paradise itself …These and similar allegorical interpretations may be suitably put upon Paradise without giving offence to any one, while yet we believe the strict truth of the history, confirmed by its circumstantial narrative of facts.”

*I can’t recommend this 786-page book highly enough. It very comprehensively covers the first eleven chapters of Genesis with a particular emphasis on the Hebrew language and science, written as it is by a Ph.D. scientist.

* Those subscribing to the Gap Theory!

I shall leave aside the science here, as it is covered in other pages of this site, and concentrate on the Bible. In particular, is the first chapter of Genesis capable of the kind of interpretation required by the gap theory?

Genesis 1:2 does not say, "and the earth BECAME without form and void," but "and the earth WAS without form and void." The Hebrew construction of this verse makes it abundantly clear and is described in Jonathan Sarfati's book, 'The Genesis Account',* pages 110-111, as follows:

‘Waw’ is the name of the Hebrew letter which is used as a conjunction. It can mean ‘and, ‘but’, ‘now’, ‘then’, and several other things depending upon the context and type of waw involved. It occurs at the beginning of Genesis 1:2 and is translated in the KJV, “And [waw] the earth was without form, and void.” Gappists* use this translation to support the gap theory. However, the most straightforward reading of the text sees verse 1 of Genesis 1 as the principal subject-and-verb clause, with verse 2 containing three ‘circumstantial clauses’. Hebrew grammarian Gesenius called this a “waw explicativum,” and compares it to the English ‘to wit’. Other terms are called waw copulative or waw disjunctive or explanatory waw. The Septuagint translators, c. 250 BC, saw it this way, because they rendered this passage, “hē de gē ēn aoratos kai akataskeuastos,” and de is often used as a transitional particle.

A waw-consecutive, as in the next verse,* describes the next sequence of a historical narrative; it is just not there in v. 2

* i.e. verse 3

Such a waw-disjunctive is easy to tell from the Hebrew, because it is formed by waw followed by a non-verb. It introduces a parenthetic statement; that is, it’s alerting the reader to put the passage following in brackets, as it were – a descriptive phrase about the previous noun.

It does not indicate something following in a time sequence – this would have been indicated by a different Hebrew construction called the waw-consecutive, where waw is followed by an imperfect verb. (The waw-consecutive is in fact used at the beginning of every day of creation. This is strong evidence that it is historical narrative – see ‘Hebrew grammar affirms that Genesis is historical narrative’ in Ch. 2).* While it is true that waw + x + qatal, where x = the subject, normally denotes a pause or a turning point in a text, in the beginning of a text it would just show that the next wayyiqtol will begin the forward movement of the narrative. It is simply grammatically impossible to translate the verb hāytāh as ‘became’ when it is combined with a waw-disjunctive – in the rest of the Old Testament, waw + a noun + hāyāh (qal perfect, 3rd person) is always translated, ‘was’ or ‘came’, but never ‘became’. Moreover the qal form of hāyāh does not normally mean ‘became’, especially in the beginning of a text, where it usually gives the setting.

* This section of chapter 2 could be summarised by the paragraph at the bottom of page 48:

"Therefore, despite what is so often claimed, any doubts about the genre of Genesis don't stem from the grammar and style of the text itself. Rather, they come from considerations outside the text, such as long-age uniformitarian geology and evolutionary biology."

* The Genesis Account, pages 111-112

* Surely if there had been a previous creation there would be clear reference to it somewhere in the Bible? While Is 14:12–17 may describe the fall of Satan through this prophecy against the King of Babylon, it is far more reasonable to understand his activity on Earth in this passage as being after Adam and Eve, not during a previous creation. Likewise, Ezekiel 28:12–19 may certainly be applying a prophecy against the King of Tyre to Satan, but while the garden of Eden is mentioned, there is no mention of him having any activity on Earth before he sinned. Just as the city of God descends to the Earth in Rev 21:2, so the garden of God (Eze 28:13) may have descended to the Earth as a habitation for Adam and Eve, ascending back up at some later point (the flood, perhaps?). All of this is speculation though, and these two passages are very flimsy evidence, in the absence of any specific statement, for a previous creation.

Jonathan Sarfati gives examples * from the Old Testament where the same grammatical construction is used.

Judges 8:11 Then Gideon went up by the road of those who dwell in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah; and he attacked the army while the camp felt secure.

The words ‘felt secure’ are hāyāh betah (was unsuspecting), but interpreting this as the gap theory requires for Genesis 1:2 would mean the camp only became unsuspecting when or after they were attacked!

Jonah 3:3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent.

Ninevah was (hāytāh) an exceedingly great city, but the gap theory requires it to have become great when Jonah arrived!

So from the point of view of Hebrew grammar, it is quite clearly invalid to try to insert gaps of long periods of time between verses, or to try to squeeze a previous creation into it. Hebrew grammar quite clearly shows that verse two describes what the earth was like at the first stage of creation in verse one; not what it had been changed into sometime after its creation. However, if the reader has any doubt at all, simply look at what the rest of the Bible says about it, * bearing in mind that throughout the Bible, whenever the topic of origins is mentioned, Genesis is taught as literal truth and nowhere is there any hint of a gap or long periods of time.

Exodus 20:9–11 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Exodus 31:16–17 Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.' "

God made everything in six days, not six days plus a gap of billions of years; and even apart from Hebrew grammar, the sequence of events described in Genesis 1 is totally at odds with all the theories that try to turn six days into millions or billions of years! See here for an excellent article describing the problem.*

* For example, earth and vegetation created before the sun, but there are many more.

* See Sedimentary rock layers and ‘The RATE project’ for more about the flood’s effects.

** There have been very many localised floods, so if Noah’s flood was merely ‘local’ and not world-wide, then God has not kept His promise that He would never repeat this form of judgement on the world (Gen 9:11).

Both Jesus and Peter taught that there was a literal world-wide flood, from which only Noah and his family escaped (Matthew 24:38–39; 1 Peter 3:20; 2 Peter 2:5; 3:6–7). The flood and its aftermath were responsible for the fossil record,* the geology we see around us and the ice age (which lasted hundreds, not millions of years). If the fossils, etc., were all the result of a previous creation, then there is zero geological evidence for Noah’s flood, God lied when He said He would never flood the world again,** and Jesus and Peter were wrong in their claims.

Well, I could go on but as it is all covered elsewhere on this site, it would be duplication. For more scriptures and argument, look at The Teaching of the Bible; 6,000 year old Creation: a theory 100 years old?; and The Intelligent Design Movement on my web site. There are links to many papers on every aspect of the early chapters of Genesis at Genesis questions and answers; and links to every aspect of every verse of Genesis 1 in Genesis verse by verse on external web sites.

Finally, it has been said that a perfect God would not have created the earth without form and void - He would have made it perfect right from the start. Well, when a potter begins his work, he slaps a wet lump of clay on his wheel, which could be described as without form and void; but this is just the starting point, because he then goes on to form it into something beautiful. Isaiah 64:8 says God is the potter. The first day of creation was the equivalent of Him slapping His lump of clay on the wheel: on that day He created the physical dimension, time and space, none of which existed previously. On that day He created the matter He would then form into the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars and all living things over the following five days. Just as you would not look at the formless lump of clay on a potter’s wheel and say he’d done it badly but recognise he had to produce the material first before he could mould it into shape, so you cannot look at the start of God’s creative work, when He created the matter He would mould into the earth, and judge it as imperfect. In both cases you have to wait until it is finished before you can pass judgement.

Why did God do it that way? Why did He take six days and not do it instantly? I do not know. Perhaps the blind man might have asked why Jesus did not heal Him instantly (Mark 8:23–25), the Israelites might have wondered why they couldn’t go straight up to Jericho and see the walls fall at their shout instead of having to walk around it 13 times (Joshua 6:3–5), and Naaman might have asked why he couldn’t be healed after dipping just once in the Jordan instead of seven times (2 Kings 5:14). Presumably it was to teach them something; and maybe God took six days over His creation in order to teach us how to live (Exodus 20:9–11)?

The Bible is God’s Word, and we can depend on it for the truth, as millions have over many centuries. Satan’s first lie was, “Has God said,” and he continues to try to put doubts into our minds. Well, God had said, and Adam and Eve suffered, along with the rest of the human race, because they doubted it. He spoke to them in order to protect them from deception, just as He has given His word to us for exactly the same reason. It is only by accepting it, and resisting the urge to compromise what it plainly says in order to accommodate theories originally dreamed up by people who want a universe that can create itself, that it can fulfil its purpose and guide us safely on our journey through life.

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.



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