Where did the idea of a “gap” between the first twoverses of Genesis 1 originate?
Thomas Chalmers of Edinburgh University first proposed the Gap Theory in 1814. By inserting a chronological gap between the first two verses of the Bible, Chalmers felt that he could make room for the vast ages demanded by the geologists of his day, yet still maintain a literal interpretation of the Scripture. This view, now called the Gap Theory, asserts that the account beginning at Genesis 1:2 describes a re-creation, not the original creation. George Pember widely disseminated Chalmer’s Gap Theory, with some embellishments, in his book “Earth’s Earliest Ages” (first edition, 1876). Pember believed that Genesis 1:1 described an original creation, which included a race of pre-Adamic men and a world of prehistoric animals. He taught that God destroyed this primeval creation when Lucifer fell. A footnote in the Scofield Reference Bible (first edition, 1917) enormously popularized the Gap Theory in the English speaking world. It is only fair to add that many able and godly teachers among us men deserving of deepest respect – hold this view.
How well does the Gap Theory square with the Bible as a whole?
If we compare Scripture with Scripture (1 Corinthians 2:13), we find several passages that make the Gap Theory untenable. First, Exodus 20:11 puts the creation of everything that God made inside of six literal days: “In six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the seas and everything that moveth therein and rested the seventh day.” This allows no gap, and requires a recent creation. Exodus 31:17 says the same thing and Nehemiah 9:6 links the creation of the heavens and earth (Genesis 1:1) with the days that follow in Genesis 1. Further, Romans 5:12
states that “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin,” and 1 Corinthians 15:21 also affirms that “By man came death.” And Romans 8:20-22 reveals that the groaning of creation results from Adam’s sin. If suffering and death came by Adam, then suffering and death did not predate Adam. Yet death is a necessary prerequisite for becoming a fossil. If fossils are assigned to the gap period, then death must have prevailed on the earth before sin entered into the world. How then could God pronounce everything that He had made “very good” (Genesis 1:31)? In what sense are vast graveyards full of dead things “very good”? God’s assessment of the creation at the end of the sixth day must mean that Satan had not yet fallen, that no death had occurred, and that the earth was just as He intended it to be.
Can’t Genesis 1:2 be translated, “And the earth became without form and void?”
The Hebrew word is properly rendered “was,” not “became.” The grammar of the passage proves this most persuasively. The phrase, “And the earth was without form and void,” in verse 2 is a kind of subordinate clause called a circumstantial clause. It modifies verse 1, the main clause. Thus verse 1 states what God did, and verse 2 adds some further information about it – some circumstances occurring at the same time as the principal statement. We understand from this that God made the heavens and the earth in the beginning, and when He did, it happened that (1) the earth was formless and empty; (2) darkness was on the face of the deep; and (3) the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Grammatically, there can be no discontinuity between these verses. Verse 2 must be describing the earth as it was originally created, not how it became at a time following creation.
Doesn’t Isaiah 45:18 prove that God did not create theearth “without form”?
In the New Scofield Reference Bible, the editors moved the note on the Gap Theory from its place in the old edition (Genesis 1:2) to Isaiah 45:18, since this verse seems to offer stronger proof for the theory than any other. Isaiah 45:18 states that God did not create the earth “without form” (tohu), but Genesis 1:2 states that the earth was “tohu.” Thus it would seem that the earth became formless some time after the initial creation. But to understand Isaiah’s meaning, we must look at 45:18 in its context. The last phrase of the verse explains the point. Isaiah is speaking of God’s design in creation. God did not create the world to be an empty place, but formed it to be inhabited. It was never God’s purpose to have an empty world, so He filled it with inhabitants. In Genesis 1:2, therefore, the formless and empty state of the earth on the first day was simply the beginning, not the goal of creation. During the five days of creation that followed, God progressively finished the earth’s shape and filled it with creatures. By the end of the sixth day, the earth was no longer “tohu.” God had achieved all that He intended, and rested on the seventh day. Further, the context of Isaiah 45:18 shows why the prophet discusses this truth here. What God starts, He finishes (see 55:11; 66:9). Israel’s salvation is guaranteed, because (according to 45:17) it is eternal. It was planned “from the foundation of the earth,” and therefore must come about-despite present appearances. Just as God accomplished His creative purpose for the earth in six days, so He will perform His saving purpose for Israel in due time.