The So-Called Gap Theory

The So-Called Gap Theory by Dr. Robert Saucy

I. The Theory: The Gap-Theory or the Restoration theory as it is sometimes called is the belief that the creation record of six days of Gen. 1 is not the original creation, but rather a re-creation.  God had originally created the earth and then presumably due to judgment, the earth became chaos as seen in Gen. 1:2.  The six days of the creation account then record God’s recreation.  This theory has taken the first two verses of Gen. in two different ways.  Both however agree on the basic outline of Original creation, Chaos, Recreation.

a. A gap between v. 1 and v. 2.  In this interpretation, verse one is seen as a statement of the original creation.  Between verse one and verse two a time elapses during which something happens which changes the earth from a perfect orderly creation (cosmos) to chaos which is described in verse two.  It is from this gap that the popular name “Gap theory” takes its name.

b. A gap before v. 1.  Genesis 1:1 begins the record of the recreation.  Prior to this time there had been a creation which was reduced to chaos.  The gap of time is therefore prior to Gen. 1:1.  Records of the original creation would have to be found in other places in the Bible.  At least partly because of the popular use of the gap-theory in the attempt to harmonize the geological age of the earth with the Biblical record and the apparent failure in this purpose, the theory has fallen into disrepute.  The opposition to the gap-theory has come from both those who accept a certain harmony of the Bible with evolutionary views (e.g.  Ramm) and those who hold a strict literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and a recent creation (Whitcomb).  It is sometimes argued that the gap-theory arose only in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to combat the rise of modern geology.  But history reveals that there were advocates of this interpretation much earlier.  It is our opinion that the Gap-Theory is not a reconciliation of the Bible and science, but that it is indicated by the exegesis of the Scripture and theological consideration as well as extra-biblical creation traditions.  Whether the gap-theory does or does not have a bearing on the scientific age of the earth elements, the evidence for such an interpretation is strong.

II. Evidence from the creation account

a. Creation of the earth itself as seen in v. 2 is not included in any of the six days.  According to the pattern of Gen. 1 the creative day begins with the command of God “And God said…” concluding with “the evening and the morning was….”  According to the creation account the first day involved the bringing of light into the darkness upon the earth and the separation of the light and darkness into Day and Night.  The creation of the elements of the earth therefore must have occurred at some other point.

b. Verse 2 reveals a situation of chaos—something other than a perfect creation.

i. The verb “was.”  The gap-theory cannot either be conclusively proved or disproved by the grammatical considerations of this word.  Suffice it to say that each side argues for their interpretation of this word on the basis of the context and other grammatical issues.  However, the question cannot be settled on the consideration of the meaning of this verb.  Driver simply states that the gap theory is “exegetically admissible” (S. R. Driver, The Book of Genesis, p. 22).

ii. “without form and void” – Hebrew tohu waw bohu.  Tohu – While tohu used alone can signify simply emptiness, or nothingness, as in Job 26:7 where God “stretcheth out the north over empty space (tohu)”, nevertheless it almost always has an unfavorable meaning.  Tohu repeatedly means ‘desert’ (Deut 23:10; Job 6:18; Ps 107:40; and others), ‘wasteness’ (Is. 24:10); it occurs also in the sense of ‘vanity,’ ‘emptiness,’ but even then it almost always has an unfavorable meaning.  Bohu – this word is used only three times in the Bible and always in connection with tohu.  It is there in connection with this word that bohu must be considered.  The other two occurrences of bohu are Is. 34:11 and Jer. 4:23.  In both of these uses it is clear that tohu wabohu describes a situation resulting from God’s judgment.  The meaning of these words especially as used together in the Scriptures is unanimously for a situation of chaos.  For this reason many versions of the Bible simply translate the two words as a hendiadys i.e. – “the earth was chaotic” (cf. Speiser, Anchor Bible).  This is hardly the way God who is described in the Bible as the God of order and not confusion would begin His creation.

iii. “darkness” – the Bible relates that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).  Christ is also described as the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 9:5; 12:46).  The knowledge of God is described as humankind’s light.  Darkness is the antithesis of all this.  Two special instances of darkness in the Bible are the 9th plague upon Egypt just before the angel of death and the darkness at the crucifixion.  Both were used in the sense of judgment.  In relation to this issue it is interesting to note that the apostle Paul likens a person’s rebirth to the command of God which brought light into the darkness of creation (2 Cor 4:6).  A further indication that the darkness is not equally good with the light is that God only sees the light as “good” (Gen 1:4).  To have the earth which has just been created by God surrounded by darkness seems incongruous with the nature of God as light.

 iv. “the deep” – Hebrew Tehom.  While water can be used in a good sense in Scripture, in many instances there is something sinister and anti-god related to the deep.  The sea is often represented in Scripture as that which God must control or the place where the sea monsters, Leviathan and Rahab, and the serpents, which represent anti-god forces, dwell.  It is also perhaps relevant that it is from the “deep” that the waters of the flood come to destroy the world (Gen. 8:2).  As in the case of the darkness, there is likewise no sea in the eternal state (Rev. 21:1).  It might be noted further that many interpreters connect the Hebrew word tehom with Timiat, the name of the Babylonian primordial chaos.