Truth and Science Ministries

In Search of the Truth

What About The “Gap Theory?”

(Between versus 1 and 2 of Genesis Chapter 1)

I. What is the Gap Theory?

(Let me say right up front, so there is no misunderstanding, I totally reject the “gap theory,” as strongly as I reject the theory of evolution.)

Weston W. Fields in his book, Unformed and Unfilled (page 7) best summarizes the traditional gap theory view, where he states: “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 (Isaiah14).  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.” W.W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, Collinsville, IL: Burgeners Enterprises, 1976.

In addition, there were supposedly many other forms of life on earth during this “gap,” such as dinosaurs and other creatures and plants which have been found in the fossil record.  The basic idea is that the fossil record and many of the geological changes which have taken place on the earth are supposedly remnants from this “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.  This cataclysmic flood judgment left the earth “without form and void” and completely covered with water, and this water is “the deep” over which the Spirit of God hovered in Genesis 1:2.

The man most responsible for first promoting the gap theory was Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), a notable Scottish theologian and first moderator of the Free Church of Scotland.  The idea can be traced back to the rather obscure writings of the Dutchman Episcopius (1583-1643), and was first recorded from one of Chalmers’ lectures in 1814.  Chalmers’ writings however gave very little information about the gap theory, many of the details came from other writers such as the 19th century geologist Hugh Miller. It has also been popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, and The Newberry Reference Bible.

The most notably influential 19th century writer to popularize this view was G.H. Pember, in his book Earth’s Earliest Ages, first published in 1884.


II.  Why was the Gap Theory developed and promoted?

I believe without question that it was an attempt by Christian theologians to harmonize the Genesis account of creation with accepted geology and its teaching of billions of years for the age of the earth.

First, consider a statement by Chalmers himself.  He said this theory: “…would permit an indefinite scope to the conjectures of geology—and without any undue liberty with the first chapter of Genesis.”  Selected works of Thomas Chalmers, Vol. 5 of 12, Edinburgh: Thomas Constable, 1857.

Second, consider this statement by G.H. Pember: “There is room for any length of time between the first and second verses of the Bible. And again; since we have no inspired account of geological formations, we are at liberty to believe that they were developed just in the order which we find them. The whole process took place in pre-Adamite times, in connection, perhaps, with another race of beings, and, consequently, does not at present concern us (page 28).”  G.H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages, New York: H. Revell Company, 1900.

Third, consider a statement in the Scofield Reference Bible: “Relegate fossils to the primitive creation, and no conflict of science with the Genesis cosmogony remains.”  C.I. Scofield, editor, The Scofield Study Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, 1945. (Originally published as The Scofield Reference Bible, this edition is unaltered from the original of 1909.)

Fourth, a statement from the Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible: “When men finally agree on the age of the earth, then place the many years (over the historical 6,000) between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, there will be no conflict between the Book of Genesis and science.” F.H. Dake, Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible, Lawrenceville, GA: Dake Bible Sales, Inc., 1961, p. 51.

There have been many attempts over the years to harmonize the Genesis account of creation with accepted geology (and its teaching of billions of years for the age of the earth), such as the “day-age theory,” “theistic evolution” and “progressive creation.”  While these efforts at reconciling the Bible with geological claims are very enthusiastic and sincere, they are quite unnecessary. The Text, as given, is quite capable of standing alone in the face of all the criticism that can be engendered by so-called “scientific” claims and theological interpretations.

It is interesting to note that evolutionists reject a world-wide catastrophic flood as the cause for the formation of the rock layers.  The so-called “geologic column” is composed of animal and plant fossil remains found in layers of sedimentary and igneous rock.  These remains are arranged in layers and interpreted by geologists and paleontologists to present a record of gradual developmental sequences that propose to demonstrate the gradual evolutionary change of simple forms of animal or plant life into different, more complex forms.  The record of ascendancy is thought to be from simpler forms in very ancient times to the more complex forms in modern times.

A standard creation interpretation, or a Gap Theory interpretation either one, would give a catastrophic flood as the cause for the formation of the rock layers. Evolutionists reject either idea.


III.  Where did they go wrong?

I believe the Gap Theory was developed because of three false assumptions: 1. The geologists had proven scientifically that the earth was very old.  2. They had to have a distant time period in which to place dinosaur extinction.  3. If there was a great flood it didn’t leave any evidence behind. It was kind of like the waters came down, and the floods came up, and then they went away.

According to the gap theory, dinosaurs were part of the original creation of earth in Genesis 1:1, but this was perhaps billions of years before Genesis 1:2.  They were destroyed in the pre-Adamic Flood and became part of the geologic fossil record.

According to traditional creationism, dinosaurs were created on the fifth (flying and marine) and sixth (land) days of creation.  If the gap theory were true, the evidence for dinosaurs should only be found in the fossil record.  If traditional creationism is true, then dinosaurs were on the ark, were on earth after the flood, and there possibly might be some still alive today.  There are over 200 places around the world still reporting dinosaur-like creatures still alive today.  An evolutionist would quickly reject this evidence because they have been saying that dinosaurs all became extinct about 65 million years ago.  This poses the same problem to someone who believes in the gap theory. They don’t have a problem with dinosaur extinction either, but if dinosaurs are still alive this would be a serious problem for their theory.  By the way, whether it is evolution, or a gap in the Bible, it is still just a man’s theory.

If I believe in a traditional view of creation, I would expect to hear of dinosaurs possibly still being alive.  In fact, if there were no reported sightings of dinosaurs it should seem strange.  If God created them about 6,000 years ago, and they went through a great flood, there should be a few still alive somewhere.


IV.  Arguments used to support the Gap Theory:

1:2 “And the earth was without form, and void…”  Some have reasoned that God would not create something that was not perfect. If the earth was perfect on day one, something must have happened to render it “without form, and void.”  The Hebrew word for “was” is “hayah,” which can be interpreted either “be” or “become.”  Some believe this should be translated: “was made to become without form and void.”  This word does not denote a change of state unless the context so requires.  God could have spoken everything into existence at the beginning of day number one, but He didn’t. Isaiah 45:18 says He “…formed [the earth] to be inhabited…”  It doesn’t say He created it to be inhabited.  He formed it to be inhabited over a six day period.

In Exodus 20:11 it says, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”  The first reason He didn’t speak it all into existence at the beginning of day one is, He was creating a pattern for our week (six days of labor, followed by a day of rest).

Some supporters of the gap theory say the phrase in Genesis 1:2, “…without form and void…” (Hebrew: ‘tohu wa-bohu”), appears elsewhere in Isaiah 34:11; 45:18 and speaks of judgment.  However, in other passages it simply means space.  See Job 26:7; Deuteronomy 32:10; Job 6:18; 12:24; Psalm 107:40.

“…was…”  Some supporters of the gap theory say the verb translated “was” in Genesis 1:2 (Hebrew: “hayetha”) should be translated “became.”  The Hebrew verb “hayetha” is found 264 times in the Pentateuch, and of these, in 258 instances the word is correctly translated “was.” See, for example, Jonah 3:3.  Some of these are strong supporters of the KJB, but the KJB says “was,” it does not say “was made to become.”

“…created…” and “…made…”  Some supporters of the gap theory say there is a difference between the verbs “bara” (“created,” Genesis 1:1) and “asah” (“made,” Genesis 1:7).  But to the contrary, these verbs are used synonymously.  In Genesis 1:26, the word “asah” is used for man’s creation, whereas in v. 27, the word “bara” is used.

1:28, “…Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…” (“…replenish…”)  Some supporters of the gap theory claim the word “replenish” means to “refill,” therefore God’s command to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28 to “replenish” the earth shows that the earth had formerly been inhabited and now had to be re-inhabited.  But the word “replenish” in Genesis 1:28 simply means “to fill.”  It is the same Hebrew word (male’), which is translated “fill” in v. 22.  This Hebrew word is translated “fill,” “fulfill,” and “be full” 246 times.

An examination of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) shows that the word was used to mean ‘fill’ from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries.  In no case quoted in these five centuries does it unambiguously mean “re-fill.”  The OED defines “replenish” as having 10 meanings throughout its history:

A. Replenished (adjective):

- fully stocked; provided, supplied; - filled, pervaded; - physically or materially filled; full, made full.

B. To replenish:

- make full, fill, stock with, as in: ‘This man made the Newe Forest, and replenyshed it with wylde bestes” (AD1494); - inhabit, settle, occupy the whole of; - fill with food, satiate; - fill (space) with; fill (heart) with (a feeling); - fill up again; fill up (a vacant office) (AD1632); - become full, attain to fullness.

Some supporters of the gap theory argue that the King James Translators must have recognized there was something different about verse 28, so they translated it “replenish,” not “fill.”  There was something different.  When referring to just part of the earth they translated it “fill.” When speaking about the whole earth it was translated “replenish,” or “fill completely.”

“…without form and void…” On day one God spoke into existence three things: 1. The universe 2. The earth  3. Light

Isaiah 45:18 says: “…God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited…”

Over the next 6 days God would be in the process of forming the earth to be inhabited.  In v. 2 it was not formed to be inhabited yet, so it is referred to as being without form and void.

Dr. Henry Morris in the Defenders Bible describes it this way: “The universe as first called into existence by Elohim was in elemental existence, still “unformed” and unenergized, and not yet ready for habitation, “void.” It would not be perfect (finished) until the end of creation week, when God would pronounce it “very good” and “finished.”

(Taken from the book "A Commentary On GENESIS Chapter One," by Dr. Arv Edgeworth)