From the beginning of the creation
Does Genesis have a ‘gap’?
What does the Bible actually say? What did Moses intend to convey?
The most obvious and straightforward reading of Genesis 1 provides a prima facie case that Moses, under the direction of God, intended to write a literal historic account of what God had revealed to him (or to his antecedents), and not a cryptic message with clues for the super-intelligent. In other words, if God had meant us to understand that there was a gap of billions of years between verses 1 and 2, involving so many details about Satan, sin, judgment, punishment, re-creation, etc., we might reasonably expect that He would have provided the author with at least some of these alleged details. He did not. Nor are they to be found anywhere else in the Bible.3
In fact, orthodox Jews and conservative Christians have always read Genesis 1 as literal history. Prof. Davis Young, a theistic evolutionist geologist, admits:
‘It cannot be denied, in spite of frequent interpretations of Genesis 1 that departed from the rigidly literal, that the almost universal view of the Christian world until the 18th century was that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Not until the development of modern scientific investigation of the Earth itself would this view be called into question within the church.’4
Other parts of the Bible are the death-knell for the gap theory
Genesis 1:31 says, ‘And God saw every thing that He had made, and behold it was very good.’ [The Hebrew is tov meod, which indicates perfection, a complete absence of evil of any kind, as Calvin and many other commentators have pointed out.] This is hardly an accurate description, if the being who became Satan had already rebelled! And if there were billions of ‘Lucifer-flood’ fossils with the marks of disease, violence, death, and decay, corresponding to the perishing of an entire pre-Adamic race and the extinction of a complete world of animals, with Adam and Eve walking around on top of buried fossils, how could God have called all this ‘very good’?5 (In their monumental Old Testament commentary, Keil and Delitzsch say about ‘very good’ in Gen. 1:31: ‘everything was perfect in its kind … the existence of anything evil in the creation of God is absolutely denied, and the hypothesis entirely refuted, that the six days’ work merely subdued and fettered an ungodly, evil principle, which had already forced its way into it.’)
Genesis 6–9 describes a worldwide flood in which all the air-breathing land animals which were not on Noah’s Ark died. As gappists assign the fossils to ‘Lucifer’s flood’, they are forced to conclude that Noah’s Flood left virtually no trace or was merely local. Surely a flood which is explicitly described in the Bible is a better source of the fossils than a hypothetical flood which the Bible does not mention at all!
Exodus 20:11 says, ‘For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is …’ This is the definitive verse outside Genesis concerning the time frame of creation. It states categorically that God created everything in six days. There is just no allowance for a gap.6
Romans 5:12 states, ‘… by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world, and death by sin …’ Adam was created on Day Six, but the classical gap theory says there was death during the gap before Day One. Not so, according to the Apostle Paul! This verse plainly says that death entered the world because of (and so after) Adam’s sin. There is nothing to restrict this verse to human death; on the contrary, Romans 8:20 says that the whole creation was made ‘subject to vanity’. Death could not therefore have been in the world (with fossils killed in the alleged ‘Lucifer’s flood’) before Adam sinned. Gappists must therefore say that Romans 5:12 and Genesis 3:3 refer only to spiritual death. This is not so. Adam began to die physically (Hebrew: ‘dying you will die’, that is, the process of dying would begin—Genesis 3:19, completed in Genesis 5:5), and he also died spiritually.7 Jesus experienced both physical death and spiritual death (Matthew 27:46) for us on the cross. See also 1 Corinthians 15:21–22.
What is the gap theory?
The gap theory is an attempt by some Christian theologians to make Genesis fit the popular belief that the universe is exceedingly old. Gappists believe in a literal Genesis, but accept an extremely long age (undefined) for the earth. To reconcile these views, they fit the geological ages between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1. However, they are opposed to evolution.
According to Weston W. Fields, author of the definitive anti-gap book Unformed and Unfilled, the traditional or classical gap theory can be summarized as follows: ‘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 (Isaiah 14). 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 ...’ (Ref. 6, p. 7). Today’s creatures are a result of a 6-day recreation.
Note, however, that recently a new type of gap theory has surfaced in which there is no ruin or reconstruction; proponents just postulate a lengthy time gap only, with either ancient stars, an ancient earth, or both.
The alleged biblical evidence for a gap
Gappists’ arguments depend heavily on revisionist translations of a few Hebrew words.
The Hebrew words bara (‘create out of nothing’) and asah (‘make’).
Genesis 1:1 uses bara and Exodus 20:11 uses asah. Gappists claim that Exodus 20:11 refers to a re-creating and re-forming of a ruined world because, they claim, bara and asah cannot be used interchangeably.
Answer: The Hebrew word bara is used three times in Genesis 1, each representing the creation of a completely new entity—something which did not exist before.
In Genesis 1:1, bara is used of the creation of heavens and earth.
In Genesis 1:21, bara is used of the creation of the first conscious animal (or nephesh) life.
In Genesis 1:27, bara is used of the creation of the first man, i.e. human life—made in God’s image.
But Genesis 1:26 quotes God as saying, ‘Let us make (asah) man in our image’, whereas the very next verse says, ‘So God created [bara] man in His own image.’ The same event is here described by both bara and asah, so the verbs are obviously used interchangeably—the passage is Hebrew parallelism. Furthermore Genesis 2:4 says, ‘These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created (bara), in the day that the Lord God made (asah) the earth and the heavens’. Here bara and asah are again used together in synonymous parallelism, again showing that they are used interchangeably by Moses.
Sometimes asah is clearly used to mean create ex nihilo (out of nothing), despite gappists’ claims to the contrary, e.g. Nehemiah 9:6:
You alone are the LORD. You made (asah) the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
- ‘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.’8 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’. ‘This is what [Hebrew grammarian] Gesenius terms a ‘waw explicativum’ [also called waw copulative or waw disjunctive] or explanatory waw, and compares it to the English ‘to wit’.’9
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 following passage 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 a verb [the waw consecutive is in fact used before the different days of creation (see Creation at the academy (Dr Doug Kelly interview)]. Thus the Hebrew grammar shows that a better translation of Genesis 1:2 would be, ‘Now the earth …’, and it could be paraphrased, ‘Now as far as the earth was concerned …’.10
It is as if the author of Genesis (under God’s direction), by the use of such a joining word, is going out of his way to stress that there is no break between the two verses.
‘Was’ [Hebrew hayetah] in Genesis 1:2 is translated ‘became’ by gappists, giving the reading, ‘And the earth became [or had become] without form and void.’ Gap theorist A.C. Custance devotes nearly 80% of his book Without Form and Void, including 13 Appendices, to advocating this translation, especially with the pluperfect, ‘had become’.
However, recognized grammarians, lexicographers, and linguists have almost uniformly rejected the translations ‘became’ and ‘had become’.11 It is a basic exegetical fallacy to claim that because Strong’s Concordance lists ‘became’ as one of the meanings of haya, it is legitimate to translate it this way in the particular context of Genesis 1:2. It is simply grammatically impossible when the verb haya is combined with a waw disjunctive—in the rest of the Old Testament, Waw + a noun + haya (qal perfect, 3rd person) is always translated, ‘was’ or ‘came’, but never ‘became’.The plain and simple meaning of what Moses says is that on the first day there was a mass covered by water.
The Hebrew words tohu and bohu, translated ‘without form’ and ‘void’ in Genesis 1:2, are claimed by gappists to indicate a judgmental destruction rather than something in the process of being built.12 But tohu occurs several times in the Bible in which it ‘is used in a morally neutral state, describing something unfinished, and confused, but not necessarily evil!’.13 Hebrew scholars and the Church have for centuries taken the view that Genesis 1:2 is not a scene of judgment or an evil state created by the fall of angels, but a description of the original undeveloped state of the universe. The plain and simple meaning of what Moses says is that on the first day there was a mass covered by water, with no dry land involving features (tohu = ‘unformed’), and no inhabitants yet (bohu = ‘unfilled’).
Some have misused Jeremiah 4:23 to teach the gap theory, because it uses the phrase tohu va bohu to describe the results of a judgment. Leading gap theorists like Arthur Custance used this fact to assert that ‘without form and void’ must mean ‘laid waste by a judgment’. But this is fallacious—there is nothing in the Hebrew words tohu VA bohu themselves to suggest that. The only reason they refer to being ‘laid waste’ is due to the context in which the words are found. They simply mean ‘unformed and unfilled’. This state can be due either to nothing else having been created, or some created things being removed. The context of Jeremiah 4 is a prophecy of the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem, not creation. In fact, Jeremiah 4:23 is known as a literary allusion to Genesis 1:2—the judgment would be so severe that it would be leave the final state as empty as the world before God created anything. Jeremiah 4:23 cannot be used to interpret Gen. 1:2 as a judgment—that would be completely back-to-front, because an allusion works only one-way.
An analogy: when I open my word processor, my document screen is blank. But if I delete an entire document the screen would likewise be blank. So ‘blank’ means ‘free from any text’. In some contexts, the lack of text is because I haven’t written anything, in others it is due to a deletion of text. You would need to know the context to tell which—you couldn’t tell from the word ‘blank’ itself. However, a Custance-type analysis of the word might conclude, ‘blank’ can refer to a screen with all the text deleted, so the word ‘blank’ itself signifies a text deletion event, even when none is stated.
The English word ‘replenish’ in the KJV translation of Genesis 1:28 (“… and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth”), does not support the gap theory as gappists claim. Linguist DR Charles Taylor writes, “As translated in 1611, it (‘replenish’) was merely a parallel to ‘fill’, and the prefix ‘re-’ didn’t mean ‘again’, but ‘completely’.”14 The same Hebrew word male is used in Genesis 1:22, and is there translated ‘fill (the seas)’, so there was no need to translate it differently in verse 28. (See also What does replenish the earth mean?)
The darkness. Since ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5), and in the Bible ‘darkness’ is sometimes used as a metaphor for judgment of the wicked (Exodus 10:21, Isaiah 13:10, Joel 2:31, Matthew 27:45, etc.), some (but not all) gappists have argued that Genesis 1:2 refers to an evil state. This is an error of logic. ‘The symbol has been confused with the thing symbolized, until the very symbol itself is now considered evil!’15
The earth could not have been anything but dark, because light had not yet been created. Indeed, Genesis 1:3, ‘And God said, Let there be light’, should alone be sufficient to undermine the gap theory. If the sun, moon and stars were all created (as even the newer gap theories insist) ‘in the beginning’ (Genesis 1:1), why was it necessary for God to create light (verse 3) after the alleged gap between verses 1 and 2?
- Very many animal fossils are virtually identical in features to animals living today. Traditional gappists are faced with the problem of how and why this should be so, without there being any direct line of descent.
- Gappists overlook the words of Jesus in Mark 10:6, ‘But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.’ The Lord Himself obviously did not envisage any significant gap between Genesis 1:1 and the creation of Adam and Eve.
- In any case there is much excellent scientific evidence consistent with a young earth.16 (See Q&A: Young world evidence)
- The whole concept of the need for a gap shows ‘wrong–way–round’ thinking. It is the outcome of using humanistic evolutionary scientific opinions to interpret the Bible, rather than vice versa
Although the gap theory is well–meant by its propagators, it is not confirmed by any data, whether linguistic, Biblical, theological, or practical. To advocate death before Adam sinned is contrary to the Biblical statements that death came as a result of Adam’s sin, which occasioned the necessity for man’s redemption through Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection.
Job 38:4 & 7 suggests that the angels (‘sons of God’) were present when God laid the foundations of the earth, i.e. created it on Day One (Genesis 1:1), before He created light. Angels, being spirit beings, don’t have eyes with human retinas, and so presumably can see in the dark even as God can.
This raises the question as to when these beings rebelled to give rise to Satan and his demonic followers (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6). This was surely not possible before God pronounced everything as being ‘very good’ near the end of Day Six (Genesis 1:31). Some gappists say that there was not enough time after Day Six and before the events of Genesis 3 to allow for this rebellion. So how long was it?
We do not know how long it was after Day Six (or Seven?) that the temptation of Eve occurred (Genesis 3). We can suppose that it must have been before Eve became able to conceive (Genesis 4:1), as Cain had a sinful nature, so must have been conceived after the Fall of his parents.
Let us therefore suppose that there was only a week between Day Six and the (human) Fall. Is this enough time? Consider:
We conclude therefore that the time needed for the rebellion of the angels does not require there to be a ‘gap’ in Genesis 1 between verse 1 and 2, and such a notion conflicts with everything being described by God as ‘very good’ at the end of Day Six.
References and notes
- Proposed by Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847), founder of the Free Church of Scotland, the idea of a gap was ‘canonized’ for some Christians when C.I. Scofield included it in the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909. Return to text.
- The most academic presentation of the gap theory is to be found in Without Form and Void by Arthur C. Custance, Doorway Publications, Brookfield, Canada, 1970. Return to text.
- The two Bible passages that are usually invoked about the ‘fall’ of Satan are Isaiah 14:12–15 and Ezekiel 28:13–17. Both of these passages are in the context of prophecies about earthly kings (of Babylon and Tyre), and no explicit reference is made to Satan. However, even if these verses are so taken, there is no indication that any of the events described took place before Genesis 1:2. Return to text.
- Young, D. A., Christianity and the Age of the Earth, Zondervan, Michigan, p. 25, 1982. Return to text.
- In other words, if Isaiah 14:12–15 and Ezekiel 28:13–17 do refer to the ‘fall’ of Satan (which certainly is not proven), this more consistently fits after Day Six of Creation Week, and not between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1. For further discussion, see my article, Who was the serpent?, Creation 13(4):36–38. Return to text.
- For further discussion see Weston W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, Burgener Enterprises, Collinsville, Illinois, p. 58, 1976. Return to text.
- In the Bible, spiritual death has the meaning of separation from God rather than of annihilation. Return to text.
- Brown, F., Driver, S.R. and Briggs, C.A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, Oxford, pp. 251–255, 1968, cited from Ref. 6, p. 81. Return to text.
- Kautzsch and Cowley, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 484, section 154a, footnote 1, cited from Ref. 6, p. 82. Return to text.
- For a more detailed explanation, see Ref. 6, pp. 81–86. Return to text.
- For a more detailed explanation see Ref. 6, pp. 87–112. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 168. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 129, which summarizes Fields’ arguments on pp. 113–130. Gappists sometimes claim that the two words are only used together (tohu wa bohu) in other parts of the Bible where judgment is in view; however, there is nothing in the context of Genesis, (which there is in these other references) which would independently suggest judgment. Return to text.
- Taylor, C., The First 100 Words, The Good Book Co., Gosford, New South Wales, Australia, p. 74, 1996. Return to text.
- Ref. 6, p. 132. Return to text.
- See Morris, J.D., The Young Earth, Master Books, Colorado Springs, 1994; as well as Dr Russell Humphreys’ summary, Evidence for a young world, Creation 13(3):28–31, also available as a reprint from the UK, USA, NZ and Australian bookstores. Return to text.