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Is the “Gap Theory” an acceptable way to harmonize the Bible and the geologic record?

RELATED QUESTION: What is the “Gap Theory?” Review its source, history and details. Answer

The ruin-and-reconstruction theory (also called the “gap theory”) places a gap of indeterminate time between the first two verses of Genesis chapter 1. This supposed “gap” has been used to try to harmonize the Bible with the supposed millions of years of the geologic record. (Learn about the source and history of this theory - Go…)

Problems with the Gap Theory

Creation days illustration (Copyright, Films for Christ).

It is inconsistent with God creating everything in six days, as Scripture states.

Exodus 20:11 says, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy”. Thus, the creation of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) and the sea and all that is in them (the rest of creation) was completed in six days.[1] Where is there time for a gap?

It puts death, disease, and suffering before the Fall, contrary to Scripture.

From Romans 5:12, “Therefore, even as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death by sin, and so death passed on all men inasmuch as have sinned,” we understand that there could not have been human sin or death before Adam. The Bible teaches (1 Corinthians 15) that Adam was the first man, and as a result of his rebellion (sin), death and corruption (disease, bloodshed, and suffering) entered the universe. Before Adam sinned there could not have been any (nephesh[2]) animal or human death. Note also that there could not have been a race of men before Adam that died in “Lucifer's flood” because 1 Corinthians 15:45 tells us that Adam was the “first” man.

Vegetation (photo copyrighted) (Courtesy of Films for Christ). Genesis 1:29-30 teaches us that the animals and man were originally created vegetarian. This is consistent with God's description of the creation as “very good.” How could a fossil record which gives evidence of disease, violence, death, and decay (fossils have been found of animals apparently fighting and certainly eating each other) be described as “very good”? Thus, the death of billions of animals (and many humans) as seen in the fossil record must have occurred after Adam's sin. The historical event of Noah's flood, recorded in Genesis, provides an explanation for the presence of huge numbers of dead animals buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth.

Romans 8:22 teaches us that “we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now.” Clearly the whole of creation was, and is, subject to decay and corruption because of sin. The fossil record shows disease, decay, and death. When gap theorists believe that disease, decay, and death existed before Adam sinned, they ignore that this contradicts the teaching of Scripture.[3]

The version of the gap theory that puts Satan's fall at the end of the geological ages, just before the supposed pre-Adamic Lucifer's flood, has a further problem—the death and suffering recorded in the fossils must have been God's fault. As it happened before Satan's fall, Satan and sin cannot be blamed for it.[4]

The gap theory is logically inconsistent because it explains away what it is supposed to accommodate—supposed evidence for an old earth.

Gap theorists accept that the earth is very old. They base this on geologic evidence interpreted with the assumption that the present is the key to the past. This assumption implies that in the past, sediments containing fossils formed at basically the same rate as they do today. This is also used by most geologists and biologists to justify belief in the “geologic column” as represented by billions of years of earth history. This geologic column has become the showcase of evolution because the fossils are claimed to show “ascent” from simple to complex forms.

This places gap theorists in a dilemma. Committed to literal creation because of their acceptance of a “literal” view of Genesis, they cannot accept the conclusions of evolution based on the geologic column. Nor can they accept that the days in the Genesis record correspond to geologic periods. So they propose that God reshaped the earth and re-created all life in six literal days after “Lucifer's flood” (which produced fossils); hence the name “ruin-reconstruction.” Satan's sin supposedly caused this flood and the resulting judgment upon that sin reduced the previous world to a state of being “without form and void.”

While the gap theorist may think Lucifer's flood solves the problem, this actually removes the reason for the theory in the first place. If all, or most, of the sediments and fossils were produced quickly in one massive worldwide Lucifer's flood, then the main “evidence” that the earth is extremely old (based on the assumed slow formation of the sediments) no longer exists.

Also, if the world was reduced to a shapeless chaotic mess, as gap theorists propose, how could a reasonably ordered assemblage of fossils and sediments remain as evidence? Surely with such chaos the fossil record would have been severely disrupted, if not entirely destroyed. (This argument also applies to those who say the fossil record formed over hundreds of millions of years before this so-called “Lucifer's flood,” which would have severely rearranged things.)

Grand Canyon (photo copyrighted) (Courtesy of Films for Christ)
If “Lucifer’s flood” created this, then what did Noah’s flood do?

The gap theory does away with the evidence for Noah's flood.

If the fossil record was formed by “Lucifer's flood,” then what did the global flood of Noah do? On this point the gap theorist is forced to conclude that Noah's flood left virtually no trace. To be consistent, the gap theorist would have to defend Noah's flood as a local event. Custance, one of the major proponents of the gap theory, did this. He even published a paper defending a local flood.[5]

Genesis, however, depicts Noah's flood as a judgment for man's sin (Genesis 6). Water flooded the earth for over a year (Genesis 6:17 and 7:19-24). Only eight people, and air-breathing, land-dwelling animals with them on the ark, survived. (Genesis 7:23).

Sadly, in relegating the fossil record to the supposed gap, “gappists” have removed the evidence for God's judgment on the violent pre-flood world in the graveyard of the flood. The fossils buried by the flood should warn us of God's judgment to come on sinful humans (2 Peter 3:2-14).

The gap theorist ignores the evidence for a young earth.

The true gap theorist also ignores evidence consistent with an age for the earth of less than 10,000 years. There is much evidence for this—the decay and rapid reversals of the earth's magnetic field; the quantity of helium in the earth's atmosphere; the amount of salt in the oceans; the wind-up of spiral galaxies; and much more.[6]

The gap theory fails to accommodate standard uniformitarian geology with its long ages anyway.

Today's uniformitarian geologists allow for no worldwide flood of any kind—the imaginary Lucifer's flood, or Noah's real flood. They also recognize no break between the supposed former created world and the current re-created world.

Most importantly, the gap theory undermines the gospel at its foundations.

By accepting an ancient age for the earth (based on the standard uniformitarian interpretation of the geologic column), gap theorists leave the evolutionary system intact (which by their own assumptions they oppose).

Even worse, they must also theorize that Romans 5:12 and Genesis 3:3 refer only to spiritual death. But this contradicts other Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15; Genesis 3:22-23). These passages tell us that Adam's sin led to physical death as well as spiritual death. In 1 Corinthians 15 the death of the last Adam (the Lord Jesus Christ) is compared with the death of the first Adam. Jesus suffered physical death for man's sin, because Adam, the first man, died physically because of sin. Genesis 3:22-23 tells us that if Adam and Eve could have partaken of the fruit of the Tree of Life, they would have lived forever, but God decreed that they should die physically because of their sin.

In placing on man the curse of physical death, God provided a way to redeem man through the person of His Son Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ on the cross. who suffered the curse of death on the cross for us. “He tasted death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). By becoming the perfect sacrifice for our sin and rebellion, He conquered death. He took the penalty that should rightly have been ours at the hands of a righteous judge, and bore it in His own body on the cross. All who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are received back to God to spend eternity with Him. That is the message of Christianity. To believe there was death before Adam's sin destroys the basis of the Christian message, because the Bible states that man's rebellious actions led to death and the corruption of the universe (Romans 8:19-22). Thus, the gap theory undermines the foundations of Christianity.

Genesis records a catastrophe that destroyed all organisms that had the “breath of life in them” except for those preserved in Noah's ark. Christ refers to Noah's flood in Matthew 24:37-39, and the apostle Peter writes that, just as there was once a global judgment of mankind by water, so there will be another worldwide judgment by fire (2 Peter 3).

It is more consistent with the whole framework of Scripture to attribute most fossils to Noah's flood than to resort to a strained interpretation of the fall of Satan[7] and a totally speculative catastrophe that contributes nothing to biblical understanding, or to science.

Moreover, advocating death before Adam sinned contradicts the clear teaching of Scripture that death came only after Adam sinned and made man's redemption necessary.

The gap theory undermines the foundations of the gospel.

A Closer Look at Genesis 1:1-2

The earliest available manuscript of Genesis 1:1-2 is found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), prepared about 250-200 B.C. The LXX does not permit the reading of any “ruin-reconstruction” scenario into these verses, as even Custance admitted. A closer look at these verses reveals that the gap theory imposes an interpretation upon Genesis 1:1-2 which is unnatural, and grammatically unsound. Like many attempts to harmonize the Bible with uniformitarian geology's supposed long ages of earth history, the gap theory involves a well-meant but misguided twisting of Scripture.

In the following we deal with the five major issues of interpretation bearing on the gap theory. For a much fuller analysis, we recommend the book Unformed and Unfilled.[8]

Creating and making (Hebrew: bara and asah)

It is generally acknowledged that the Hebrew word bara, used with “God” as its subject, means “to create”—in the sense of the production of something which did not exist before.

However, in the Fourth Commandment God “made” (asah) the heavens and the earth and everything in them in six days (Exodus 20:11). If God made everything in six days then there is clearly no room for a gap. To avoid this clear scriptural testimony against any gap, gap theorists have alleged that asah cannot mean “to create,” but to “form” or even “re-form.” They claim that Exodus 20:11 refers not to six days of creation, but six days of re-forming a ruined world.

Is there such a difference between bara and asah in biblical usage? A number of verses show that while asah may mean “to do,” or “to make,” it can also mean “to create,” the same as bara. For example, Nehemiah 9:6 states that God made (asah) “heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things in it, the seas, and all in them.” The reference is obviously to the original ex nihilo creation, but the word asah is used. (We may safely assume that no “gappist” will want to say that Nehemiah 9:6 refers to the supposed “reconstruction,” because if it did, the “gappist” would have to include the geological strata as well, thereby depriving the whole theory of any purpose.)

The fact is that the words bara and asah are often used interchangeably in the Old Testament; indeed, in some places they are used in synonymous parallelism (e.g., Genesis 1:26-27; 2:4 Exodus 34:10; Isaiah 41:20; 43:7).

Applying this conclusion to Exodus 20:11 (cf. 31:17) as well as Nehemiah 9:6, we see that Scripture teaches that God created the universe (everything) in six days, as outlined in Genesis 1.

The Grammar of Genesis 1:1-2

Many adherents of the gap theory claim that the grammar of Genesis 1:1-2 allows, even requires, a time-gap between what happened in verse 1, and what happened in verse 2. Into this gap—believed to be billions of years—they want to place all the major geological phenomena that have shaped the world.

This is a most unnatural interpretation, which is not suggested by the plain meaning of the text. The most straightforward reading of the verses sees verse 1 as a subject-and-verb-clause, with verse 2 containing three “circumstantial clauses”—that is, three statements further describing the circumstances introduced by the principal clause in verse 1.

This conclusion is reinforced by the grammarian Gesenius. He says that the conjunction waw (“and”) at the beginning of verse 2 is a “waw copulative,” which compares with the old English expression “to wit.”

This grammatical connection between verses 1 and 2 thus rules out the gap theory. Verse 2 is in fact a description of the state of the originally created earth: “And the earth was without form, and empty” (Genesis 1:2).

“Was” or “Became”?

“Gappists” translate “the earth was without form and empty” as “the earth became [or, ‘had become’] without form and empty.” At stake is the translation of the Hebrew word hayetah (a form of the Hebrew verb, hayah, “to be”).

Custance claims that out of 1,320 occurrences of the verb hayah in the Old Testament, only 24 can certainly be said to bear the meaning “to be.” He concludes that in Genesis 1:2 hayetah must mean “became” and not simply “was.”

Note again that the meaning of a word is controlled by its context, and that in the previous section we showed that verse 2 is circumstantial to verse 1. Thus, “was” is the most natural and appropriate translation for hayetah. It is rendered this way in most English versions (as well as the LXX). Furthermore, in Genesis 1:2 hayetah is not followed by the preposition le, which would have removed any ambiguity in the Hebrew and required the translation “became.”

Tohu and Bohu

These delightful words are usually translated “formless and empty” (Genesis 1:2). They imply that the original universe was created unformed and unfilled and was, during six days, formed and filled by God's creative actions.

“Gappists” claim that these words imply a process of judgmental destruction, and indicate “a sinful, and therefore, not an original state of the earth.” However, this imports into Genesis 1 interpretations found in other parts of the Old Testament with very different contexts (namely, Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23).

Tohu and Bohu appear together only in the three above-mentioned places of the Old Testament. However, tohu appears alone in a number of other places and in all cases simply means “formless.” The word itself does not tell us about the cause of formlessness; this has to be gleaned from the context. Isaiah 45:18 (often quoted by “gappists”) is rendered in the KJV “he created it not in vain [tohu], he formed it to be inhabited.” In the context, Isaiah is speaking about Israel, God's people, and His grace in restoring them. He did not choose His people in order to destroy them, but to be their God and they His people. Isaiah draws an analogy with God's purpose in creation: He did not create the world for it to be empty! No, He created it to be formed and filled, a suitable abode for His people. “Gappists” miss the point altogether when they argue that because Isaiah says God did not create the world tohu, it must have become tohu at some later time. Isaiah 45:18 is about God's purpose in creating, not about the original state of creation.

Though the expression tohu and bohu in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23 speaks of a formlessness and emptiness resulting from divine judgment for sin, this meaning is not implicit in the expression itself, but it is gained from the particular contexts in which it occurs. It is not valid therefore to infer that same meaning into Genesis 1:2, where the context does not suggest it. As an analogy, we might think of a word like “blank,” in reference to a computer screen. It can be blank because nothing has been typed on the keyboard, or it can be blank because the screen was erased. The word “blank” does not suggest, in itself, the reason why the screen is blank. It is likewise “formless and empty”—this can be due to the earth not yet being formed and filled, or it could be due to something becoming that way through judgment, for example.

Theologians call the form of use of tohu and bohu in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23 a “verbal allusion.” These passages on judgment allude to the formless and empty earth at the beginning of creation to suggest the extent of God's judgment to come. God's judgment will be so complete that the result will be like the earth before it was formed and filled—formless and empty. This does not imply that the state of the creation in Genesis 1:2 was arrived at by some sort of judgment or destruction as imagined by gappists. As theologian Robert Chisholm Jr. wrote, “By the way, allusion only works one way. It is unwarranted to assume that Jeremiah's use of the phrase in a context of judgment implies some sort of judgment in the context of Genesis 1:2… Jeremiah is not interpreting the meaning of Genesis 1:2.”[9]

The gap theory imposes an interpretation upon Genesis 1:1-2 which is unnatural, and grammatically unsound.

“Replenish”

Many gappists have used the word “replenish” in the KJV translation of Genesis 1:28 to justify the gap theory on the basis that this word means “refill.” Thus, they claim that God told Adam and Eve to “refill” the earth, implying it was once before filled with people (the “pre-Adamites”).

However, this is wrong. In the Hebrew, the word translated “replenish,” male,[10] simply means “fill” (or “fulfil” or “be filled”).

The English word “replenish” meant fill from the 13th to the 17th centuries. Then it changed to mean “refill.” As the KJV was published in 1611, the translators used the English word “replenish,” which at the time meant only “fill,” not “refill.”[11]

The Straightforward Meaning of Genesis 1:1-2

The gap (or “ruin-reconstruction”) theory is based on a very tenuous interpretation of Scripture.

The simple, straightforward meaning of Genesis 1:1-2 is that when God at the beginning created the earth it was initially formless, empty, and dark, and God's Spirit was there above the waters. It was through His creative energy that the world was then progressively “formed and filled” during the remaining six days of creation.

Pottery vase (photo copyrighted) (Courtesy of Films for Christ)

Consider the analogy of a potter making a vase. The first thing he does is get a ball of clay. What he has is good, but it is unformed. Next, he shapes it into a vase, using his potter's wheel. Now it is no longer formless. He then might dry it, apply glaze, and fire it. Now it is ready to be filled—with flowers and water. At no time could one of the stages be considered evil or bad. It was just not finished—unformed and unfilled. When it was finally formed and filled, it could be described as “very good.”

God, of course, did not have to take six days to create everything, but he did this deliberately as a pattern for us—for our seven-day week.

Warning

Many sincere Christians have invented reinterpretations of Scripture to avoid conflicts with “scientific” ideas. The gap theory was one such reinterpretation designed to fit in with scientific concepts that arose in the early 1800s and are still popular today.

In reality though, the gap theory was an effective “anesthetic” that put the church to sleep for over one hundred years. When the children who learned this compromise position went on to higher education, they were shocked to discover that this theory explained nothing. They thus accepted the only remaining “respectable” theory, evolution (which went hand in hand with millions of years). The results were usually disastrous for their faith.

Today, other compromise positions like “progressive creation” or “theistic evolution” have, by and large, replaced the gap theory.[12] The “gappists,” by attempting to maintain a literal Genesis but adhering to the long ages (millions of years), opened the door for greater compromise in the next generation—the reinterpretation of the days, God used evolution, etc.

But whether it be a “gap theory,” “progressive creation,” or “theistic evolution,” the results are the same. These positions may be acceptable in some churches, but the learned in the secular world will, with some justification, mock those who hold them—they see the inconsistencies.

The gap theory anesthetized the church for over one hundred years.

Christians will be derided whatever they believe about Genesis. We can choose to be scoffed at for believing the first book of the Bible as God intended it to be understood, or for believing in a compromise position that undermines the authority of God's Word.

What is the “Gap Theory?” Review its source, history and details. Go

More information

  • Is the age of the Earth a “trivial” doctrinal point? Answer

  • 10 Dangers of Theistic Evolution - Go

  • Answers about the age of the earth - Go

  • Is the Bible clear about the age of the earth and universe? Answer

  • What is Progressive creationism and is it a good way to interpret Genesis? Answer

  • Progressive creationist Hugh ross, who is he and what does he believe? Answer

  • Could all of the events recorded on the 6th day of creation really have taken place during a normal, 24-hour-type day? Answer

  • See the Christian motion pictures: The World That Perished, Grand Canyon: Monument to the Flood, ORIGINS: How the World Came to Be.

  • See the Christian books: The Young Earth, The Handy-Dandy Power Persuasion Pack, Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross (Authors: VanBebber & Taylor)

Footnotes

  1. See Six Days? Honestly! for more details.

  2. The Bible speaks of animals and humans having or being nephesh (Heb.), or soul-life, in various contexts suggesting conscious life. The death of a jellyfish, for example, may not be death of a nephesh animals. See The Origin of Bad.

  3. Ken Ham, The Lie: Evolution (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1987), pp.71-82.

  4. H. Morris, “Why the Gap Theory Won't Work,” Back to Genesis, No. 107, 1997, Institute for Creation Research, San Diego, California.

  5. A.C. Custance, The Doorway Papers, Vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), “The Flood, Local or Global?”

  6. D.R. Humphreys, “Evidence for a Young World,” Creation, 1991, 13(2):46-50, also available as a pamphlet. See also Carbon 14 Dating.

  7. This also impinges upon the perspicuity of Scripture—that is, that the Bible is clear and understandable to ordinary Christians in all that's important.

  8. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled.

  9. R.B. Chisholm Jr, From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), p. 41.

  10. Strong's Concordance, Hebrew word No. 4390.

  11. C. Taylor, “What Does 'Replenish the Earth' Mean?” Creation, 1996, 18(2):44-45, for more details on the history of the meaning of “replenish.”

  12. A strange modern “gap” theory is found in Genesis Unbound, by J. Sailhamer, (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books, 1996). The author fits the supposed millions of years of geologic history into Genesis 1:1, and then claims the six days of creation relate to the promised land! He states his motivation for this novel approach on p. 29: “If billions of years really are covered by the simple statement, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” then many of the processes described by modern scientists fall into the period covered by the Hebrew term ‘beginning.’ Within that ‘beginning’ would fit the countless geologic ages, ice ages, and the many global climatic changes on our planet. The many biological eras would also fit within ‘the beginning’ of Genesis 1:1, including the long ages during which the dinosaurs roamed the earth. By the time human beings were created on the sixth day of the week, the dinosaurs already could have flourished and become extinct—all during the ‘beginning’ recorded in Genesis 1:1.” Many of the problems with the classical gap theory also apply to this attempt to fit millions of years into the Bible.

Edited by Don Batten, Ph.D. / Authors: Ken Ham, Jonathan Sarfati, and Carl Wieland, adapted from The Revised & Expanded Answers Book (Master Books, 2000). / Supplied by Creation Ministries International

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