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How Genesis 13 undermines the ‘gap theory’

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Published: 3 September 2013 (GMT+10)

PD-old-70

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Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, whose Reference Bible (Oxford University Press, 1909) helped to popularized the erroneous ‘gap theory’ compromise.

The gap theory has come in different forms since its conception in the early 1800s. It was a response to the long geological ages that were coming to the forefront, from a naturalistic worldview of the earth’s geological history, in the late 1700s. However the gap theory is like a theological monkey swinging along on ever shortening ropes with every biblical objection put to it, until there is no rope short enough to swing from and the monkey falls down. The truth is that Genesis is the book of beginnings, with God the originator of all things. So we should not pander to a wholly materialistic explanation of things by trying to fit it into the Bible and coming up with ideas like the gap theory. For more detailed accounts of what the gap theory entails, and the many good biblical objections to it, see the related articles (listed at the end of this one) and recommended resources.

However, although biblical objections to the Gap theory have long been known, surprisingly, the view is still widely held. After creation talks with open question times, I and other CMI speakers still encounter people asking if there is a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, or between 1:2 and 1:3. In my experience, most people don’t really understand why there would be a gap there, and all the particular nuances of it. Rather, it is something that they have heard about, which they then use it as an excuse not to take the Genesis timescale at face value. They believe instead that the purported billions of years can be fit into this alleged gap.

I would like to look at Genesis 1:1–3 from a different angle, from a non-technical angle, by comparing Scripture with Scripture. That is by examining the structure of the narrative (how the story unfolds), as it is often easier to see things clearly when the pattern is repeated elsewhere.

Genesis 1:1–3 is a historical narrative and comparisons can be made to other biblical passages written in the same style which can help us understand what is going on, in this instance with Genesis 13:1-3. Specifically, there are grammatical terms, called the waw consecutive and waw disjunctive, used in both of these passages.1 Since most readers can’t read Hebrew and distinguish them, I will explain using English translations of the verses in the table below, showing the structure of the narrative.

Genesis 1 Genesis 13 Narrative structure
1 - In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 1 - So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.2 Narrative begins
2 - Now the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 2 - Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver and in gold. Side step and description of object/person from the previous verse

(Waw disjunctive/ parenthetical clause)
3 - And God said, “let there be light”, and there was light. 3 - And he journeyed on from the Negeb2 as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai. Continuation of narrative

(Waw consecutive)

Narrative begins

In Genesis 1:1 we have the beginning of the story in which God creates all time (beginning), space (heavens) and matter (earth)—in other words the universe. The Hebrew language has no single word to describe the universe; thus a merism is used. Genesis 1:1 is a merism with “the heavens and the earth” used together; it is also sometimes referred to as the idiom of totality. The “heavens and the earth” combine together to inform us that all the material in the universe is created at this point; “the words cannot be understood separately but must be taken as a unity.”3 A further example of a merism can be seen in Psalm 139:2 when King David declares to the Lord, “You know when I sit down and when I rise up,” indicating that God knows not only those exclusive actions but also all the others in between.

In Genesis 13:1 we also have the beginning of a new historical narrative, a journey for Abram and his family. This begins after an encounter with Pharaoh in Egypt, after which they leave Egypt and journey into the Negeb (i.e. what modern Israelis called the Negev Desert).

Side-step and description

In Genesis 1:2 we then have a side-step in which a description or elaboration on the previous verse, rather than a continuation of the story, takes place.4 Henry Morris comments, “The condition described in verse 2 follows immediately upon the creative act of verse 1.”5 The earth, God’s special area of concern, is then described to us in its initial state of creation with the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, waiting for God’s creative instructions to prepare it for people to dwell upon it. These are then carried out over the six days in Genesis 1, ultimately leading to the declaration in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

In Genesis 13:2, the story of Abram also takes a side-step in which it describes Abram’s status to us at that time, informing us that he was rich in livestock, silver and gold. This is again indicated by the waw disjunctive, as in 1:2.6,7 Abram’s prosperous state in Genesis 13:2 was tied to his stay in Egypt, referring back to Genesis 12:16 and Pharaoh as the originator of these goods,8 not his journey.

In Genesis 1:2, a description is given of the earth which allows us to understand that it was included in the universe that God had created in verse 1. It is an elaboration and description of what was included in the universe, which then allows the narrative to continue with God then forming and filling the earth in the rest of the first chapter. This is also the case in Genesis 13:2, with its description of Abram being rich at the start of his journey into the Negeb. This provides the background for the separation between Lot and himself, because the land could not support all the livestock that they both owned. In this way, the side-step and description allows the unfolding of the narrative to continue and make sense in both cases.

Continuation of narrative

In Genesis 1:3 we then have the continuation of the story from Genesis 1:1 with God creating light where there was no light before, in a dark universe. Likewise in Genesis 13:3 we can also see the continuation of Abram’s journey from Genesis 13:1 which is directly picked up again.9 John Calvin notes, concerning verse 3, “In these words Moses teaches us that Abram did not rest until he had returned to Bethel, for although he pitched his tents in many places he did not stay there permanently.”10 He returned to the last altar that he had built in the land of Canaan and called on the name of the LORD after his disastrous time in Egypt. Of course, by understanding the geographical context of Genesis 13:1 and 13:3 it must have taken Abram a certain amount of time to travel from Egypt up through the Negeb to between Bethel and Ai, but this is one journey and the time is contained within the verses, not between them.11 Both texts flow in a continuous narrative from the first verse to the third verse with no gap between them.

Structure of the Narrative

By simply looking at the structure of the narratives of Genesis 1:1–3 and 13:1–3, even in English, we can see a common pattern. The narratives’ beginnings in verse one, the side-steps taken in verse two, and the continuation of the narratives in verse three.

By simply looking at the structure of the narratives of Genesis 1:1–3 and 13:1–3, even in English, we can see a common pattern. The narratives’ beginnings in verse one, the side-steps taken in verse two, and the continuation of the narratives in verse three. In neither case is there room for allowing any gaps between the verses. Verse two, in each case, merely serves as a description of the object or person which were contained within the previous verses, with the story naturally flowing and continuing in the following verse. Note also that the verse numbering was not in the original Hebrew; Old Testament verse divisions have only been present for close to 600 years.12

Verse divisions greatly aid memorization and help Bible students to find parts of the Bible very quickly, but they are not part of the original inspired text and should not be treated as such. Unfortunately, the artificial system of verse numbering might give the impression that there is a break between v. 1 and v. 2. But the original Hebrew readers would not have had such a division before them, so they would have fully understood the natural flow of the text in Genesis 1:1–3, as they would in Genesis 13:1–3. The verses are not separate entities and should not be treated as such.

So, comparing the structure of the narrative in Genesis 1:1–3 to Genesis 13:1–3 should demonstrate that there is no room for a long time gap. A gap between any of the verses would destroy the structure of the narrative. Thus the gap theory was forced into Genesis from outside ideas—long-age geological uniformitarianism—things foreign to the structure of the narrative.

Painting by Jozef Molnar, 1850.

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Abraham’s Journey from Ur to Canaan.

The main problem with the gap theory

A major problem for the gap theory—and all long-age compromises—is that all such views place the fossil record before Adam. But this fossil record shows death and suffering. However, death is the result of Adam’s Fall, but the long-age views would entail that death precedes the Fall. The Bible, its authors and Jesus himself were very clear on how they viewed Creation and the Fall, and the importance of these doctrines in the showing the need for the historical, vicarious death of Jesus Christ on the cross to pay the price for sin. This is a Gospel issue, because Jesus came to conquer the death that came to the human race through the sin of Adam; the death which came as a direct result of his fall, which was passed onto us all, the death which was not in God’s very good universe (Romans 5:12, Genesis 1:31).13

All long-age ideas, including the gap theory, are theologically inconsistent with the Bible, the Lord Jesus and the Gospel. Thus gap theorists should renounce this idea, not leaning on their own understanding but in all their ways submit to Him (Proverbs 3:5–6). We should give our glorious God the praise and glory for creating in his own described manner and defend the straightforward biblical creation teaching against attempts—however well-meaning some may be—to water down the Bible’s plain meaning. To do otherwise is a failure to see the dangers of naturalistic attempts to explain the Creation, such as those found in the fanciful fairytale of evolution and all that it entails.

Related Articles

Further Reading

References and notes

  1. Waw (pronounced 'vav') is simply the Hebrew word for ‘and’. When it is part of a verb (waw consecutive) it advances the story and moves on the action. When it is put in front of a noun (waw disjunctive) it gives extra information to help us understand the events which follow. Return to text.
  2. In other bible versions, this is translated “the south”. Return to text.
  3. Waltke, B.K., Genesis: a Commentary, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 59, 2001. See our review. Return to text.
  4. Both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 13:2 start with a waw disjunctive introducing the parenthetic statement—the side-step and description of the object or person in verse 1. Return to text.
  5. Morris, H., The Genesis Record, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 35th printing, p. 48, 2001. Return to text.
  6. Classic.net.bible.org states, “This parenthetical clause, introduced by the vav (ו) disjunctive (translated “now”), provides information necessary to the point of the story,” accessed 29 June 2013. Return to text.
  7. Dr Gordon Wenham comments that Genesis 13:2 is a “Verbless circumstantial clause, a parenthesis supplying background information.” Wenham, G.J., Word Biblical Commentary Genesis 1–15, Nelson Reference and Electronic, Nelson Publishers, p.293, 1987. Return to text.
  8. Currid, J.D., Genesis Volume 1, Genesis 1:1–25:18, Evangelical Press, Darlington, England, p. 265, 2003. Return to text.
  9. Both Genesis 1:3 and Genesis 13:3 start with a waw consecutive, showing the continuous time sequence of the story from verse 1 in either chapter. Return to text.
  10. Calvin, J.; Eds: McGrath, A. & Packer, J.I., Genesis—The Crossway Classic Commentaries, Crossway Books, Nottingham, England, p. 119, 2001. Return to text.
  11. The Bible does not state where in Egypt Abram stayed. However as a rough estimate, from the centre of Egypt to Bethel (modern day Beit El) and Ai (the ruins are thought to be at Et-tell), the journey which is mentioned in verses one and three may have been around 300 miles. Return to text.
  12. Old Testament verse divisions come from a verse numbering system created by Rabbi Mordecai Nathan in 1448. The 1560 Geneva Bible was the first English Bible to use a verse numbering system. Return to text.
  13. See for example Sarfati, J., ‘Just preach the Gospel!’ Creation, 35(3):15–17, 2013. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
P. T., Australia, 3 September 2013

Thank you so much for taking the trouble to explain this in detail. Yes, it’s technical and hard work for some brains but it’s worth it.

Why are we not taught to think this way from the beginning?

Why does our society/culture leave ‘understanding’ to the privileged few who have/take the time to learn how to think like this?

Please: Press on in teaching us, dear CMI friends, so we mere mortals (ooops—we blessed immortals!) can explain God’s truth to any and all who ask/listen.

Daniel J., United States, 3 September 2013

I don't believe in the gap theory, I don't even believe that their is any legitimate scientific evidence for the earth being millions or billions of years old that isn’t based on ridiculous assumptions, but what version were you reading from? The KJV reads “And the earth was without form …” but the version in the article says “Now the earth was formless …” Would the switch between “now” and “and” change anything?

Jonathan Sarfati responds

We tend to use the ESV. The KJV unfortunately obscures the distinction between the waw disjunctive and waw consecutive by translating both as “And …”. The disjunctive really should be “Now…”, and the consecutive really should be “Then …” as per the NASB.

Peter C., United Kingdom, 3 September 2013

An excellent and useful article. Thank you so much for the easy-to-understand explanation of the waw disjunctive/consecutive. The parallel with Genesis 13:1–3 makes this really clear. I hope and pray that many people who have been lost in ‘the gap’ will be released to accept the straightforward reading of Genesis 1:1–3.

Dan M., United States, 3 September 2013

A major turning point in my spiritual life was coming to understand Genesis 1 in light of Romans 5. From the time of my conversion, I accepted the idea of a literal 6 day creation and a young universe. But I was willing to allow for the ‘old earth’ view for those who disagree.

But coming to the understanding that nothing died before Adam’s sin changed everything. I constantly challenge believers, if you want to believe in gaps or long days, be sure you get there from Scripture alone. Don’t surrender your confidence in scripture for the smoke and mirrors of modern science which pretends it has proof for billions of years!

Richard L., United Arab Emirates, 4 September 2013

Gap Theory (along with Day-Age Theory, etc.) are—very awkwardly— counsel-of-desperation ‘solutions’ to a supposed problem that has NOT been demonstrated to exist. An additional Biblical no-no to Gap Theory (or equivalent) advocacy is that such advocacy assumes and implicitly teaches the existence of that NON-problem.

In the late 1700s, coal-mines went deeper than ever before, newly discovered fossil-bearing strata kept coming to light, and contemporary geologists kept saying that Noah’s Flood could not explain those deeper rock layers. It is hard to find a theistic geologist of that era. All those geologists had instead walked away from (the God of) the Bible. They had a huge bias towards wanting natural history to turn out to be different from what the Bible describes.

Those biased geologists could not prove, scientifically, that Noah’s Flood could not account for those deeper fossilerous strata. To do so, scientifically, one would (1) first have to find the maximum deposition possible in a world-wide flood, and (2) then find in the field fossilerous strata below that cut-off point. But to do (1) required huge advances in fluid mechanics a century (or more) in their future.

Thus, in the late 1700s, with geology being only descriptive, those geologists could not disprove Noah’s Flood as a viable candidate explanation for the deeper fossil-bearing strata. But they faked everyone out when they wrongly insisted that Noah’s Flood was not an allowable scientific explanation. The claim that they labeled “scientific” was instead only their worldview bias. Advocacy of the Gap Theory (or Day-Age, etc.) is an unwitting endorsement of that “hollow deception".

Dr. Michael M., United States, 6 September 2013

Great article!! It provides me with another sound, linguistically-based argument to support the ‘no gap’ position. I love it when we use the Bible to interpret the Bible! God Bless all of you at CMI.

Steve H., United States, 6 September 2013

The problem with placing ‘the angelic conflict’ in the alleged ‘gap’ between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 is simply that all things in heaven and on earth, including the host of heaven were pronounced very good at the end of the 6th day, (see Genesis 1:30–2:4). Therefore, the angelic conflict that resulted in the being we call Satan had to be after the sixth day and before Genesis 3:1 (where the Serpent appears, interpreted to be Satan in Revelation 21:2).

In addition, the problem with any gap theory or day-age theory or any other theory that has physical death on earth before Adam sins is the gospel itself: Christ died for our sins. I Corinthians 15 all chapter shows that Jesus's death, burial and resurrection were physical, historical events and Jesus is the 2nd Adam and the last Adam. Physical death entered the world as a result of Adam's sin (Romans 5:10–14).

So, very simply, no death prior to Adam’s sin. If you want ‘creative days’ to be long or short matters very little, because there can be no death before the end of the 6th day.

Dave H., United States, 7 September 2013

Good article. I had lingering questions about this issue until I read Revelation 21:1. Like most of the questions I've ever had about a passage of Scripture, I’ve found that if I keep reading—and believe what I read—the Holy Spirit will supply the answer in time, and usually when I least expect it.

Rev 21:1 says “the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…” That settles the whole question for me.

Keep looking UP,

Dave H.

John 14:6

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