Author: Paul Bartz
Note: Creation Moments exists to provide Biblically sound materials to the Church in the area of Bible and science relationships. This Bible study may be reproduced for group use.
The “gap theory” is the idea that Genesis 1:1 records the special creation of the heavens and the earth, billions of years ago. It was on that earth that the prehistoric men and animals were said to have lived. It was also during this time, according to the gap theory, that satan’s rebellion took place and he was cast down to earth. He led the earth’s inhabitants into complete rebellion against God, which was followed by the judgment of God which destroyed the entire earth with a flood from which there were no survivors.
The gap theory is, historically, a new teaching. It was first pushed in scholarly circles in 1814 by Thomas Chalmers who wanted to make the Biblical history fit into the vast ages claimed by uniformitarian geologists. The idea was popularized in the 1917 appearance of the Scofield Reference Bible. Many Christians find the gap theory appealing because it appears to offer a way to deal with the great ages claimed by evolutionists for the earth, while still having a sort of Biblical history. The gap theory also gives the appearance of deep Bible study since it claims to show how millions of years were ingeniously hidden in the pages of Scripture. But the question before us is, is the gap theory really Biblical?
Those who accept the gap theory find many passages to support their ideas. But as those who study Scripture have learned by experience, anyone can find support for some idea in Scripture if they assume that the idea is there. The real test is to discover whether the gap theory is really visible in Scripture to those who have not first accepted the idea that the earth must be millions of years old.
One argument used to support the gap theory is built on Genesis 1:2 where we read “And the earth was formless and void ” (NASB). Gap theorists say that the Hebrew word for was should be translated became. This passage would then suggest that the earth had an earlier creation which was destroyed – it became waste and void. However, most Bible-believing Hebrew scholars don’t accept that the Hebrew word here translated was must be translated became. In the King James, still considered the most accurate translation, the 264 occurrences of this word are translated “was” 97.7% of the time (based on figures provided by Professor Richard Niessen, see the September, 1982 NEWSLETTER). In some cases, “was” is the only thing that will make sense. In Jonah 3:3 we read that “Nineveh was a great city.” It didn’t become a great city when Jonah set foot in it.
Those who support the gap theory also cite the words in Genesis 1:2 which say that the “earth was formless and void…”, saying that these words always refer to destruction after a judgment. While this phrase, “formless and void,” only occurs in two other places in the Old Testament (Isaiah 34:11, and Jeremiah 4:23), and while it does refer to the description of the results of judgment in both of these cases, the individual words of the phrase, like void, are found in other places in Scripture, referring to the features of creation rather than destruction (see Job 26:7; Deuteronomy 32:10; Job 6:18; 12:24; and Psalm 107:40; for example).
We conclude that the sampling upon which the gap theorist’s rule of interpretation is built is much too small to establish such a rule.
Another argument used by gap theorists is based on the King James translation of Genesis 1:28. Here the gap theorist cites the word “replenish” (which is simply translated “fill” in the NASB). The idea again is that the earth was once filled, and now must be re-filled. But again, this understanding is not supported by the text of Scripture. First, a theological position should not be based on a translation, but rather on the original text. The word in the original Hebrew is translated in 53 different ways in the KJV, including “replenish,” “fill” (for the first time), “to be satisfied,” “to accomplish,” and “to furnish.” The Hebrew word here has a broad meaning, and therefore cannot become the basis of a rule for the narrower meaning.
Genesis 1:3 presents another problem for the gap theorist. Here we read that God created light. Either the first world of the gap theorist had no light, or the flood which destroyed the world, also destroyed all the light in the universe. Scientifically, this is a much more incredible claim than the claim that the earth is young. Scofield tried to get around this by saying that the sun, moon and stars were created in the very beginning, but this must be rejected because, if true, God is lying in Genesis 1:14-19.
There are many more problems for the gap theory which have been pointed out. If you are interested in exploring this topic further, we suggest that you see Professor Richard Niessen’s article, “Is the Gap Theory a Biblical Option?” in the September, 1982 NEWSLETTER.
Acceptance of the gap theory is based on a perceived need to make Scripture harmonize with the millions of years of earth history claimed by evolutionists. Since, if you assume that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, it will be easy to find support for it elsewhere, even if that support is only circumstantial, the best way to convince a person who accepts the gap theory that he needs to re-evaluate his understanding of Scripture is to first show him that there is no scientific need to explain earth’s history in terms of millions of years. There is no scientific evidence which requires that millions of years be accounted for. At the same time, such an understanding of Scripture causes problems with other more clear Scriptural texts which have nothing “hidden” in them. Neither the rules of grammar, nor the context of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, allow a gap to be placed at that point in the text. Science certainly does not demand that the earth is millions of years old.
Photo: Rev Thomas Chalmers, circa 1845.
Copyright © 1983 Bible Science Newsletter, Pastor Paul Bartz. Creation Moments, Inc. PO Box 839 Foley, MN 56329 800-422-4253 www.creationmoments.com