Falling into the Gap (Theory)

"The Creation of Light" by Gustave Doré
“The Creation of Light” by Gustave Doré

As part of an assignment this past week for a class on the Old Testament, we had to decide and defend which view of creation we support (as they are outlined by Mark Driscoll here). Most of the students chose historic creationism or young-earth creationism, which is probably to be expected since it is a relatively conservative Christian school. What did surprise me, however, is the number of people who chose gap theory as their personal view of creation.

Gap theory (also known as restitution theory or the Divine Judgment interpretation) was popularized by C. I. Scofield‘s notes on the Bible and holds that Genesis 1:1 describes an original creation by God, performed at an indeterminate time in the past (perhaps billions of years ago). Some event (most likely the fall of Lucifer) caused God to judge the earth, rendering it “formless and void.” Genesis 1:2, then, describes a second event, that took place at some point between Genesis 1:1 & 1:3, where God’s spirit prepared the corrupted earth for the creation described in 1:3-27. Thus, an earth and fossils that science tells us date back billions of years are said to be from the first creation and not from the six days of creation described in the latter 25 verses of Genesis 1. Support for this theory is drawn from the fact that:

  1. it is the earth, and not the universe as a whole, that is said to be “formless and void;”
  2. “The earth was formless and void” could be translated as “The earth became formless and void” (see chart below);
  3. the Hebrew words for “formless and void” are used to describe God’s judgment in Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23, and “darkness” is a sign of God’s judgment throughout Scripture;
  4. such a view would explain Satan’s background and connection to the earth;
  5. the earth shows signs of a catastrophe;
  6. this view allows for a reconciliation between a literal six-day creation as described in Genesis 1:3-27 and the old-earth view of modern science.
A breakdown of how the New American Standard Bible translates the Hebrew word for 'was' in "The earth was formless and void." Proponents of Gap Theory assert it should be translated as "The earth became formless and void."
A breakdown of how the New American Standard Bible translates the Hebrew word for ‘was’ in “The earth was formless and void.” Proponents of Gap Theory assert that it should be translated as “The earth became formless and void.”

I can somewhat understand what makes this view attractive, especially since it attempts to bridge the gap between a literal view of creation and modern science. In the end, however, it doesn’t actually fit with a literal view of creation as described in the Bible.

Firstly, Genesis 1:2, used by proponents of gap theory as a support for their view, is more plainly read as a contradiction of it. Rather than interpreting “darkness” as a sign of God’s judgement, it is better to remember that God had yet to create light, so “darkness was over the surface of the deep” is a statement of fact rather than a literary reference to judgment. Additional evidence against gap theory includes:

  1. Genesis 1:3-27 should be seen as a continuation of 1:1-2, rather than as a separate event. The original Hebrew text did not have the verse demarcations that make it easy for readers today to insert “gaps” in between them. Verse 1 states that God created, and verses 3-27 explain how. This is a much more obvious, literal reading of the text than to say that verse 1 describes an original creation and verses 3-27 describe a restoration. Also, verse 2 must be grammatically connected to either verse 1 or verse 3 rather than standing alone as gap theory says it must;
  2. The Bible nowhere makes mention of more than one creation;
  3. The idea that God created something that became corrupted and was judged prior to the Fall is tough to reconcile with the fact that “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, emphasis mine).
  4. Exodus 20:11 attributes the creation of heaven and earth and everything in them to the six days of creation in Genesis 1:3-27.
  5. None of the verses that talk about the fall of Lucifer or any of the angels makes reference to God judging them before Genesis 1:3.
  6. The Gap Theory requires one to believe that God created a world that fell into corruption and needed to be judged, and then he decided to create a similar or identical one in its place, with the cause of the first corruption (Lucifer) still present on the new earth, and allowed the same thing to happen all over again. The Bible then would begin with a view of God as a repeated failure.
  7. Similarly, rather than seeing man as the apex of God’s creation, gap theory requires one to view humanity simply as part of God’s second attempt at creation.

These reasons have caused this view to fall out of favor in recent decades. Millard J. Erickson wrote, “There are too many exegetical difficulties attached to the gap theory” (Christian Theology, p. 407), and Bruce Waltke concluded that it “is impossible on both philological and theological grounds” (The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3, p. 143). Wayne Grudem went so far as to categorize it along with theistic evolution as a view “clearly inconsistent with the teachings of Scripture” and “based on highly unlikely interpretations of the biblical text” (Systematic Theology, p. 287). Rather than being a view that is compatible with a literal view of Scripture, gap theory seems to be a warning not to accept an interpretation just because it seems to fit our preconceived notions of how things must have been or are supposed to be or because it helps reconcile us with the world’s view of things.


The New Scofield Study Bible

Driscoll, Mark and Gerry Breshears. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1985.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic Theology (In One Volume). Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994.

Rooker, Mark F. “Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?.” Bibliotheca Sacra 149, no. 595 (July-September 1992): 316-323.

Rooker, Mark F. “Genesis 1:1-3: Creation or Re-Creation?.” Bibliotheca Sacra 149, no. 596 (October-December 1992): 411-427.

Waltke, Bruce K. “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1-3–Part II: The Restitution Theory.” Bibliotheca Sacra 132, no. 526 (April-July 1975): 136-144.

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