In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)
For almost 200 years, well-meaning theologians have attempted to defend the veracity of the Bible against the current scientific discoveries that cast doubt on the truth of God’s word. Rather than taking a firm stand for what the Bible plainly teaches, they try to find ways to reconcile what the Bible says with what scientists say by way of compromises. One such popular compromise is known as the Gap Theory.
Because many theologians have been duped into believing that scientists have proven that the earth is billions of years old (4.5 billion to be precise), they need to find a place in Scripture to account for that vast amount of time. They recognize that biblical chronology only accounts for approximately 6000 years of earth history. They face a dilemma. How do they remain faithful to a literal interpretation of biblical creation and still maintain good rapport with the scientific community? They solve the problem by placing a gap of unknown time between verses one and two of Genesis 1.
However, with what does one fill a gap of billions of years while maintaining some credible ties to Scripture? According to Hugh Ross (who has his own issues with a young earth), “A few Bible scholars of the seventeenth century, wishing to establish the timing of Satan’s fall and the angels’ rebellion, had proposed a narrative gap (hence, a time gap of unspecified duration) between the creation of the universe (“the heavens and the earth” of Genesis 1:1) and the events of the creation week (Genesis 1:3-27) … Eighteenth century advocates of this view placed the gap precisely between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, suggesting that Earth began, perhaps eons ago, as the abode of angels who ravaged and ruined it when they fell.”
“Genesis 1:1 refers to God’s initial perfect creation. Everything that God made was beautiful, there was no sin anywhere. Verse two, on the other hand, assumes that a great catastrophe occurred that caused the earth to become in a chaotic state through the judgment of God. According to the Gap Theory, the formless and void state, as recorded in Genesis 1:2, is in direct contrast to the perfect initial creation. Something happened between the first two verses of Genesis to cause the earth to become desolate and uninhabitable after having been made perfect. Those holding the Gap Theory contend that this state of ruin could have possibly lasted millions of years … The judgment is usually spoken of as a flood because of the statement of Genesis 1:2 – the earth was covered by water. This judgment is also known as the Luciferic flood named after the angel who became the devil. The cause for the judgment is usually given as the rebellion of Satan or some pre-Adamic race that sinned. All of the inhabitants of the earth were judged by God, leaving behind fossil remains.”
When one reads the text of Genesis 1:1-2 and following verses giving the words their normal meaning in their normal context, it becomes obvious that much imaginative speculation must take place to insert millions or billions of years between verses one and two. From where did these ideas originate?
According to Dr. John D. Morris, “This particular compromise didn’t just appear; it’s been around at least since the early 1800s when old-Earth ideas were floated by James Hutton and Charles Lyell. Many theologians, under the mistaken impression that scientists had proved it, rushed to incorporate an old Earth into Scripture, hoping to maintain credibility with secular scientists”
Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1876) “was a Scottish geologist who demonstrated the power of existing natural causes in explaining Earth history. He is best known as the author of Principles of Geology (1830-33 and later editions), which presented for a wide public audience the idea that the Earth was shaped by the same natural processes still in operation today, operating at similar intensities … The combination of evidence and eloquence in Principles convinced a wide range of readers of the significance of ‘deep time’ for understanding the Earth and environment … Building on the innovative work of James Hutton and his follower John Playfair, Lyell favoured an indefinitely long age for the Earth, despite evidence suggesting an old but finite age.”
Confronted with such “evidence,” theologians quickly came to the Bible’s rescue. “Gap creationism became increasingly attractive near the end of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, because the newly established science of geology had determined that the Earth was far older than common interpretations of Genesis and the Bible-based flood geology would allow. Gap creation allowed religious geologists (who composed the majority of the geological community at the time) to reconcile their faith in the Bible with the new authority of science … From 1814, gap creationism was popularized by Thomas Chalmers, who attributed the concept to the 17th-century Dutch Arminian theologian Simon Episcopius.” Chalmers’ “view was popularized by the Plymouth Brethren writer G. H. Pember in his book Earth’s Earliest Ages in 1876.” “It gained widespread attention when a ‘second creative act’ was discussed prominently in the reference notes for Genesis in the influential 1917 Scofield Reference Bible.”
Others came along later like Harry Rimmer (1890-1952). Rimmer “was an American evangelist and creationist. He is most prominent as a defender of creationism in the United States, a fundamentalist leader and writer of anti-evolution publications. He was the founder and President of the Science Research Bureau, Incorporated, a corporation set in Los Angeles, California, whose purpose he established as to prove the veracity of the Bible through studies of biology, paleontology and anthropology.”
Surprisingly, many who profess to defend the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible still hold to the Gap Theory and an old earth. One that I closely follow for his teachings on end-times prophecy is Gary Stearman of “Prophecy Watchers” based in Norman, Oklahoma. In all other respects, Stearman is an excellent Bible teacher, but in this one area, he stumbles. He is not the only one. Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum founder of Ariel Ministrires and excellent O.T. scholar says,
I do believe there is a gap of time between verses 1 and 2, but we must be very careful not to ascribe a gap there for the wrong reasons as people have done so often. They have also used it as a convenient place to fit in such things as the geological ages, the fossil record, dinosaur space, and the like. I do not believe the gap allows for dinosaur space because the Bible teaches that there was not any kind of physical death until Adam’s Fall. Rather, the gap is there for only one reason, the fall of Satan that will, in turn, account for the chaos described in verse 2. Hence, the gap need not be very long at all.
Since so many respected theologians defend the Gap Theory, is there any biblical support for their position? As stated before, those who hold to the Gap Theory have been convinced by secular geologists that the earth is billions of years old based on their interpretation of the geologic column, the fossil record, and radiometric dating. Another factor that often comes into play is the distant starlight problem. Faced with these challenges, their inability to respond intellectually, and their strong conviction of the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word, they try to accommodate God’s Word to fit what the secular scientists are saying. In a word, they compromise.
Genesis 1 records creation in six 24-hour days and Gap theorists defend this position. However, biblical chronology, beginning with Genesis 5, limits the age of the earth to only about 6000 years. So how does one account for the 4.5 billion year age of the earth that secular scientists claim? Gap theorists found a way to squeeze billions of years between verse one and verse two of Genesis 1.
Genesis 1:2 says, “And the earth was without form, and void…” The Hebrew word translated “was” is hâyâh. Strong’s defines hâyâh as to exist, that is, be or become, come to pass (always emphatic, and not a mere copula or auxiliary). Gap theorists interpret hâyâh as “became;” therefore, “And the earth became formless and void.” Furthermore, the Hebrew words translated “without form and void” are tôhû (to lie waste; a desolation, formlessness, confusion, unreality) and bôhû (emptiness, void, waste, or ruin). According to the Gap Theory, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), for an unspecified length of time and then the earth became tôhû and bôhû. God created a perfect world, and then the earth became tôhû and bôhû. What happened?
Rather than to simply admit they do not know what happened, they look to Scripture to fill the Gap. Ken Ham quotes, Weston W. Fields in his book, Unformed and Unfilled (page 7), “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 wafer 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.”
They had to fill the gap with something, but all their attempts to reconcile Scripture to science amount to nothing more than conjecture and speculation. For example, the idea of “soulless men” is inconsistent with God’s character and the notion of “Lucifer’s Flood” finds no biblical support. Their appeal to Scripture with regard to Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:12-19 does have some merit as they do speak of Satan’s fall. However, neither of these passages gives any hint of time, other than to imply that Satan’s fall occurred early on after Creation. “Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God…” (Ezekiel 28:13) According to Genesis 2:8, God planted the Garden of Eden on Day Six for Adam’s habitation; therefore this cannot refer to some unknown past.
One major hermeneutical problem with the Gap Theory is with the translation of the Hebrew verb hâyâh. “When this word [be] is printed in italics in the common English version, there is no corresponding word in the original text; when it occurs in common type [i.e., not italicized], it is generally the representative of hayah, havah, hava, “to be” in Hebrew.” Sometimes hâyâh is translated “become or became” for ease of reading more than anything else. For example, Genesis 2:7 “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). In this case, “became” could just as easily be translated “was” and it would still make perfect sense. As soon as God breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, the man was a living soul. So the Gap theorists do not have a Hebraic leg to stand on in translating hâyâh as “became.”
Another problem with the theory is that the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence (Hebrew vav or waw) is an indication of the continuation of what came before. Had the Author (God) desired to show a break in events, He could have used the conjunction ‘âz (“then”) as in Genesis 4:26, “And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD.” The grammar in Genesis 1:2 gives no indication of a break in thought. There is no grammatical “gap.”
Then comes the matter of the earth being “without form and void” – tôhû and bôhû. We have seen that the earth did not “become” tôhû and bôhû, but rather that it “was” tôhû and bôhû. In Verse 1, God created the universe with all its elements: time (the beginning), space (the heavens), and matter/energy (the earth). At this point, the “earth” (matter/energy) was formless and empty. God had not shaped it into anything yet. The second half of Verse 2 informs us that God at this point started shaping the raw materials. We find no hint of destruction and reconstruction in these verses.
In spite of their well-intentioned effort to reconcile the Genesis creation account with modern science, Gap theorists unwittingly create some serious theological problems. First of all, the Gap Theory calls God’s integrity into question. God’s assessment of His finished work would have to be found faulty. “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31). Sin, death, and destruction in some unknown past do not qualify as a good creation, much less a “very good” creation.
Secondly, sin did not enter the world through Adam as the Bible claims (Romans 5:12) because it was present at Satan’s fall. Furthermore, death could not be the result of sin if death was already in the world.
Thirdly, the death penalty for (Romans 6:23) sin makes no sense when death preceded Adam’s sin.
Fourthly, if sin and death preceded Adam, then Jesus dying to pay the wages of sin for man seems pointless.
I grew up as a poor preacher’s kid. The greatest lesson my dad ever taught me was that the Bible was true and faithful even when it is difficult to understand. Whether we understand it completely or not, we can trust it to be true. God’s Word does not need to be reconciled to man’s way of thinking. Man’s thinking needs to be reconciled to God’s Word. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Later on, the Apostle Paul says something very similar. “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25). Gap theorists forget this principle; they sway to the “strength” of fallen men rather than hold fast to the “foolishness” of the pure Word of God.
 Hugh Ross, “Closing the Gap: A Scientist’s Response to the Gap Theory” – https://www.reasons.org/explore/publications/facts-for-faith/read/facts-for-faith/2001/01/01/closing-the-gap-a-scientist-s-response-to-the-gap-theory
 Don Stewart, “What Is the Gap Theory? (The Ruin and Reconstruction Theory?)” – https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_654.cfm
 John D. Morris, Ph.D., “How Does Old Earth Thinking Affect One’s View of Scripture’s Reliability?” – https://www.icr.org/article/how-does-old-earth-thinking-affect-ones-view-scrip
 “Charles Lyell” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Lyell
 “Gap Creationism” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gap_creationism
 Hank Hanegraaff, “The Gap Theory of Genesis 1:2 by Lee Irons” – https://www.oneplace.com/ministries/bible-answer-man/read/articles/the-gap-theory-of-genesis-12-by-lee-irons-16836.html
 “Gap Creationism” – Wikipedia
 “Harry Rimmer” – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harry_Rimmer
 Gary Stearman, Prophecy Wathers – https://prophecywatchers.com/gary-stearman/
 Arnold Fructenbaum, “THE SEVEN DAYS OF CREATION: GENESIS 1:1 – 2:3”, p.10, article available in PDF format from the Ariel Ministries website.
 Kenneth Ham, “Closing the Gap” – https://www.icr.org/article/closing-gap
 Robert Young, Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible, (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 73.
 Ernesto E. Carrasco, “No Gap” – https://erniecarrasco.com/2015/10/18/no-gap/