The gap theory attempts to resolve the apparent conflict between Scripture and modern geology by inserting a gap of unknown time between the first two verses of Genesis 1. The gap theory doesn’t just insert a gap of time in order to give room for geological eras; it also theorizes that because of Satan’s fall, the original creation became ruined and devastated, which supposedly explains the evidence of mass animal death before the fall as seen in the fossil record. Genesis 1:2 is describing not merely that the earth was formless and void but also that it was in a state of ruin and destruction, an accursed state under God’s judgment. The gap theory suggests that verse 1 describes God’s original work of creation, verse 2 describes the result of the original creation’s destruction, and verse 3 and following describe its restoration or re-creation. For this reason, the theory has also been called the ruin-restoration theory.
Although advocates of the theory claim to have precedent in earlier writers, the view makes its modern appearance in the work of Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers, who proposed it in 1814. His view was popularized by the Plymouth Brethren writer G. H. Pember in his bookEarth’s Earliest Ages in 1876. Pember wrote, “It is thus clear that the second verse of Genesis describes the earth as a ruin; but there is no hint of the time which elapsed between creation and this ruin. Age after age may have rolled away, and it was probably during their course that the strata of the earth’s crust were gradually developed” (Kregel edition; p. 32).
Desolation. All of this is read into the Hebrew phrase tōhû vābōhû (Gen. 1:2), which many English Bibles render “without form and void” (ESV, RSV, KJV, NKJV). But Pember thinks the first word, tōhû, means “ruin” or “desolation,” and he translates the verse as a whole: “And the earth became desolate and void.” He goes on to argue that this happened as a result of Satan’s fall from heaven as outlined in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. Then, starting in verse 3, God begins to remake the ruined earth into a habitable place for man. Pember calls the six days of Genesis 1 not the six days of “creation” but the six days of “restoration.” Pember argues that this distinction between “creation” and “restoration” is even implied in the different verbs used: in Genesis 1:1, God “created” (bārā) the heavens and the earth, but in Genesis 1:3ff, God “made” (ʿāśâ) or refashioned the already existing earth. Having granted geology all the time it needs in verse 2, the six days of “restoration” can now be interpreted as six literal days.
After Pember, the gap theory made its way into the Scofield Reference Bible (first published in 1909) and became entrenched as orthodoxy in fundamentalist circles. It was not until the rise of the flood-based, six-day creationism of Henry Morris in the 1960s that the gap theory was dislodged. However, in 1970 the gap theory was revived by Arthur C. Custance and given its best exegetical articulation in his book Without Form and Void, although it is not clear how much of an impact his self-published book made.
There are many arguments against the gap or ruin-restoration theory, but I will give three. First, the details of the Hebrew words and grammar in Genesis 1:2 do not support the gap theory. (A) The noun tōhû here does not mean “ruin” or “desolation” in the sense of necessarily implying the ruin of an original pristine state. (B) There is little basis for rendering the verb hāyâ in Genesis 1:2 “became” (Pember) or “had become” (Custance). (C) Pember’s absolute distinction between bārā and ʿāśâ is not sustainable on lexical grounds. Both verbs are used in the Old Testament to denote creation in the absolute sense.
Second, because the gap theory wants to take the six days of creation literally, it necessarily places Genesis 1:1–2 outside of the creation week. But the immediate context and subsequent scriptural allusions to Genesis 1 make clear that the initial creation of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1) marks the starting point of the creation week. This is clear from the context, when we come to the concluding statement: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (Gen. 2:1). Subsequent scriptural allusions to Genesis 1 are just as emphatic, for example, the statement in the Decalogue that “in six days
the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Exod. 20:11; cf. 31:17). Because the gap theory wants to take the six days of “re-creation” as literal days, while making room for long geological eras prior to verse 3, the theory requires that the creation week begin at verse 3 rather than at verse 1. Yet Scripture itself views the first verse of Genesis 1 as narrating the beginning of the creation week.
Third, there is no biblical evidence that God created plants and animals in an original creation, which was then destroyed under God’s judgment prior to Adam’s fall. The gap theory’s appeal to Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 is tenuous at best. To begin with, biblical scholars are not sure that these passages are in fact referring to Satan’s fall. At a surface level, they seem to be about the fall of human kings (the kings of Babylon and Tyre). But even if these passages have a second-order reference to Satan’s fall, does his being cast down from heaven look back to an event in the primeval past or forward to Satan’s defeat by Christ and his ultimate punishment (Rev. 12:9; 20:10)? And is the image of Satan being cast to earth to be taken literally and physically, like the massive meteor that scientists think caused the extinction of the dinosaurs?
Furthermore, there is nothing in those passages about an original creation of plants and animals, or about Satan being cast down to the earth and causing geological catastrophe, mass extinctions, death, chaos, and ruin as indicated in the fossil record. These additional details of the theory have to be manufactured by imagination and speculation. And once manufactured they must then be inserted into the Genesis 1 account. There are too many uncertainties surrounding Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 to warrant linking them with the description of the earth given in Genesis 1:2.
Flawed Exegesis. The gap theory’s fundamental error is that it rests on a flawed hermeneutic. The Scripture itself nowhere teaches the gap theory. The gap theory does not rest on internal exegesis of the text of Genesis 1 interpreted in the light of the subsequent Scriptures that allude to and comment on it. Rather, it rests on postulating, presumably somewhere in Genesis 1:1, the creation of plants and animals in a primeval creation before the re-creation of the plants and animals of days 3, 5, and 6. Then it requires one to take two uncertain passages from Isaiah and Ezekiel and fit them into the white space between the first two verses of Genesis 1 without any clear biblical-theological warrant internal to the logic of
Scripture. The ruin-restoration motif is totally foreign to the Genesis creation account and is forced into that account in a manner that completely disrespects and disrupts the narrative integrity of the creation account. One gets the distinct impression that the motivation for this interpretation is not anything internal to the Genesis creation account itself, but the desire to maintain a literal reading of the six days of creation while satisfying geology’s demand for long ages of time.
Geology versus Gap Theory. Ironically, the gap theory fails to accomplish its own intended goal. To satisfy modern geology, one needs not only long ages but gradual processes of change in the Earth’s crust over those long ages. Geologists look at the Earth’s crust and see evidence of physical processes that took millions, even billions, of years. Take the Grand Canyon as an example. The various layers that one sees in the walls of the Grand Canyon (e.g., the Kaibab Limestone layer, the Redwall Limestone layer, etc.) were laid down by sedimentary processes that took hundreds of millions of years. Add to this the fact that in each distinct layer we find correspondingly distinct fossils that, whether viewed as the product of biological evolution or of progressive creation, clearly represent a great passage of time. Then, more recently, the Colorado River had to cut through those sedimentary layers by another geological process called erosion. Erosion is frequently a much “faster” process than sedimentation, and yet Grand Canyon geologists think it still took at least five million years! Geologists would laugh at the suggestion that these sorts of geological formations were produced by a single catastrophic event such as a meteor impact, much less by Satan’s being cast down to Earth.1
In fact, not only does the gap theory fail to satisfy the requirements of geology, it is internally incoherent. On the one hand, it theorizes a catastrophe of such magnitude that the Earth became “desolate and void,” requiring God to “re-create” the Earth’s atmosphere (day 2), crust, and oceans (day 3). On the other hand, the gap theory claims it is trying to explain the existence of the fossils that we now see. It suggests that the fossils are the result of a mass extinction of all life caused by Satan’s being cast down to Earth. But if the Earth’s atmosphere and crust were completely “re-created” and made new so that God could call it “good,” surely the fossils and any trace of the catastrophe would have been completely wiped away by God’s re-creative activity. But the fossils were not wiped away. The “ruin” part of the ruin-restoration theory may explain where the fossils came from, but the “restoration” part of the theory calls into question their present existence. The theory is self-refuting.
What lessons can be learned with regard to hermeneutics? Clever, seemingly simple solutions such as the gap theory are almost never correct. One must synthesize everything the Bible teaches, not just look at specific verses taken out of context. The solution to the apparent conflict between the Bible and geology is not to fit certain things in the white spaces between verses but to interpret the creation “week” figuratively, since it is characterized by a high degree of literary structuring.2 —Lee Irons
Lee Irons, Ph.D., contributed to a book titled The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (ed. David G. Hagopian; Crux Press, 2001). He maintains a website of biblical and theological studies at www.upper-register.com.
During the past forty years, radical animal rights activists have elevated the value of animals to the moral equivalency of humans. They uncompromisingly insist that medical research on live animals, factory farming, and other practices that cause animals intense suffering and death should be legally forbidden. Christians, on the other hand, generally agree that God created animals primarily for human consumption, commercial benefits, and entertainment. As such, they believe humans are free to use animals in practically any manner we choose with little or no concern for their welfare. While the ranks of radical animal rights activists escalate, the church remains largely indifferent (or ignorant of) the pain and suffering of both wild and domesticated animals. Is the general Christian position God- honoring, or is the modern animal rights movement more on track with biblical revelation? Is promoting animal rights a legitimate and just cause? The Bible answers these questions. It reveals that God enjoys and watches over the animals He created, and they have value to Him independent of their benefits to humanity. Furthermore, the Bible reveals that God has instructed the human race to be His caretakers over nonhuman life, and it provides ethical guidelines for how to achieve this.God Is Love, but Is Love God? By Elliot Miller
If “God is love,” then “Love is God.” So say virtually all of the founders of the “metaphysical” or “mind science” sects, along with many Eastern and New Age teachers. This esoteric interpretation of 1 John 4:8 and 16 allows them to argue that God is an impersonal principle rather than a personal being. God cannot love or be loved by anyone but rather is the love in everyone. God therefore does not judge or punish people for their sins. This, in turn, supports the metaphysical teaching that God alone is real, and sin, sickness, and death are mere illusions sustained only by our belief in them.
This interpretation does not hold. The grammatical structure in the Greek prohibits inferring “Love is God.” In context, the phrase is rather used in association with God sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sin. This means Christ’s death satisfied the demands of the law and appeased the wrath of God, both of which were against us because of our sins. God’s wrath does not contradict His love because His wrath expresses His righteousness, and righteousness and love are both essential to, and fully integrated in, His being.
How we respond to God’s merciful provision in Christ determines whether we experience His mercy or His wrath. Denial of God’s just punishment of sin will only ensure that one experiences it; acceptance of God’s loving provision for our guilt will remove all fear of judgment and ensure one’s place in a world where there truly will be no sin, sickness, and death.Reanimating Apologetics with the Undead By Jonah Haddad
Zombies are distasteful creatures. The odor of their rotting flesh precedes them as they stagger from the grave. In the dark they grope with cold bony hands, searching for victims to devour or to add to their decomposing numbers. We call them the living dead, because any semblance of human rationality or emotion has left them. They are nothing but a putrid horde of corpses marching relentlessly toward their prey or lurking in the shadows, waiting to unleash hell on anyone unfortunate enough to cross their path.
We are naturally repulsed by them, but in our repulsion there lies a strange attraction evidenced by the abounding zombie references in popular culture. Zombies have lurched and moaned their way into movie theaters, bookstores, and living rooms. They took over the world in last summer’s blockbuster World War Z. But they have also taken to comedy (Shaun of the Dead) and romance (Warm Bodies). They appear in video games (Resident Evil) and TV series (The Walking Dead), having even found their way into classic literature (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).1 From George Romero’s nightmarish film, Night of the Living Dead, to Max Brooks’s practical and comedic book, The Zombie Survival Guide, zombies have left their mark on the imaginations of many.2
On today’s Bible Answer Man broadcast, Hank answers the following questions:
Since God knows the future, why would He put Adam and Eve in jeopardy?
I listen to Joseph Prince all the time; what do you think of him? What about his teaching on confessing our sins; do we continually have to confess them?
In light of abortion, do babies go to heaven? Is there an age of accountability?
I disagree with your assessment of Joseph Prince and Joyce Meyer’s teaching. Where are you getting your information from?All Sermons by Hank Hanegraaff