The Gap Theory – What is it? Did anything happen in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2?
The Gap Theory is an attempt to reconcile what secular scientists believe about geology, paleontology, and cosmology with the six-day creation story in Genesis 1. Basically, it says that God created the universe and the world as secular scientists state, then destroyed all the life and started over at Genesis 1:2. In this way, the geological record, the radiometric dating of dinosaur bones, and the travel of starlight are all accounted for without contradicting the six-day creation.
The Gap Theory (also called "ruin-restoration creationism") gained popularity in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth centuries, although its origins may be as early as the 17th century. It paralleled the emergence of modern geology and allowed Christian scientists a way to affirm their faith in the face of their scientific work. Acceptance spread even more when it was referred to in the notes of the 1917 Scofield Reference Bible. Its popularity was also associated with the natural theology movement which considered scientific exploration of nature to be a revelation almost on par with Scripture — a belief which continues today in some academic circles.
Many relied on the Gap Theory because of modern science's interpretation of the data provided in nature. They believed that geology proves the earth is millions of years old. They believed dinosaur bones and the Cambrian explosion occurred long before the appearance of humans. But they refused the belief that humans evolved from apes, and strongly adhered to the six-day creation in Genesis 1.
Their solution was to combine the two and manipulate the language in Genesis 1:1-2 to fit the theory. Scripture reads: "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters." Gap theorists claim that verse 1 ("In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth") refers to the original creation, when plants and animals evolved and the foundation of geology was laid. Then Satan rebelled, and God threw him and his followers out of heaven onto earth. The earth was contaminated with evil, and God judged it by destroying all life. In addition, a darkness (spiritualized to be reinterpreted as the evil of Satan) spread over the deep. Then God started over, spending six days to set things right again.
Gap theorists also pull other Scriptures that they claim speak back to Genesis 1:1-2:
- Jeremiah 4:23-26
I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and behold, there was no man,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the LORD, before his fierce anger.
If this passage refers to the early part of creation, it would indeed indicate that men, birds, and cities were ruined while the "fruitful land" was destroyed due to God's judgment. But this passage describes judgment over the kingdom of Judah; the occurrence of the phrase "formless and void" doesn't mean it's talking about creation.
- Isaiah 24:1
Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate,
and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
Again, Isaiah is prophesying judgment on Judah, not giving a recap of judgment on the whole earth. But the Scofield Reference notes claim this is proof that God destroyed the earth between Satan's fall and Adam's creation.
- Isaiah 45:18
For thus says the LORD,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it empty,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the LORD, and there is no other…"
A literal translation would say this verse, in a passage exalting God's great character, gives praise that God designed the earth for us to live on. Gap Theory teaches that it directly contradicts Genesis 1:2, which says that God created the earth formless and void. Apparently three days was too long for plants to appear, so the first time God created the world, it must have been filled with life immediately. The Scofield Reference notes claim it refers to "a cataclysmic change as the result of divine judgment…which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angels." So, God initially created the world filled with life (which contradicts evolution) and only after judgment did it become formless and void (see below).
In order for the Gap Theory to work, Genesis 1:2 ("The earth was without form and void…") must also be reinterpreted. Gap Theorists believe that the word "was" is better translated "became." As in, "the earth existed before in another state and then became formless and void." The literal Hebrew translation is "and-the-Land she-had-Exist Confusion and-Unfilled…" The word "was" comes from "she-had-exist" — a combination of the pronoun for the world (Hebrew uses gendered nouns like German) and a state of existence — not a movement toward a state. Even Jewish Bibles use the word "was" to mean "was," not "became."
Modern proponents of the Gap Theory include J. Vernon McGee, Benny Hinn, and Jimmy Swaggart. (The Bob Jones University used to teach Gap Theory, but no longer accepts it as a valid explanation of the text, preferring young-earth creation instead.) As late as 1997, the Nelson Study Bible included the Gap Theory as explanation of Genesis 1:1-2. Those who push the Gap Theory today do it for the same reasons the original proponents did — to reconcile secular scientific beliefs with Genesis 1. But there appear to be no geologists or astronomers today who believe in the Gap Theory.
Theologically, the strongest argument against the Gap Theory is the same argument against any old-earth creation compromise: death and Adam. By its nature, the Gap Theory has to include millions of years of death before the sixth-day creation of Adam. And the world was judged because of the sin of Satan, not man. The Bible is clear that Adam sinned, and with his sin came death (Romans 5:12). Despite numerous attempts, there's no way to reword this assertion to accommodate death before Adam.
The story of the Gap Theory is a cautionary tale for believers. Science is great. It is a wonderful way God gave us to study His work, power, and creativity. But we can't be too quick to accept man's interpretation of God's work, especially when it means rejecting or reinterpreting Scripture. Another thought is that often we are too quick to compromise if we think sticking to the Bible will keep others from accepting the Gospel. This tendency is as old as the "Christian Gnostics" in Greece and as horrifying as the northern evangelists who accepted slavery when they came to preach to the South. We are afraid the world will dismiss us as fools when the Bible tells us we are to expect it (1 Corinthians 2:14-15; 3:18-20). But people are saved by the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, not someone who is willing to bend the Bible to society's standards.
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