The Gap Theory in Creationism

This lesson will begin a review of various alternative interpretations of the creation portion of the book of Genesis.
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In the previous chapter we talked about the "age" of the earth (universe) and said that there were only two models to choose from:

1. Old earth – Millions to Billions of years – The idea here is that matter is eternal or created itself billions of years ago and through a process of evolution has become what it is today. One "proof" for this model is the fossil record which has simple life forms in deep rock layers and more complex (evolved) life forms found in more recent layers of rocks. The problems with the old earth model:

  1. Theoretical basis is flawed (Eternity of matter, spontaneous creation)
  2. Geological findings contradict theory (Complex fossils found at every layer).

2. New earth – 5,000 to 10,000 years – The earth (universe) is just five days older than man. An all-powerful being created the universe and earth at the beginning of time, 5 to 10 thousand years ago. There are several proofs for this model:

  1. Philosophical arguments (First Cause argument; Moral argument; Intelligent Design argument now based on complexity).
  2. Matches all archaeological and geological findings.
  3. Revelation
By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.
- Hebrews 11:3

We accept the young earth model because this is the one given to us in Genesis, the book we are presently studying. There are some, however, who try to combine the Biblical account with the evolutionary model and the theories they come up with are the subject for this lesson.

The "Gap Theory"

One such theory is the "gap theory". This theory asserts that there is a tremendous time gap allowed for between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. The gap theory runs like this:

  1. God created the world (all of it) in Genesis 1:1.
  2. Satan rebelled against God and for this reason there was a tremendous cataclysm that destroyed the world and left it void and blank. This would explain the billions of years of fossils piling up in the rock and the aging of the earth to accommodate such "ancient" fossils. Verse 2 would be the verse that describes the earth in the aftermath of the great destruction of the earth.
  3. God re-creates the earth in six literal days as described in verses 3 to 31. This theory also known as the ruin and reconstruction theory or "pre-Adamic cataclysm" theory was first proposed by Thomas Chalmers in the nineteenth century and popularized by the notes in the Scofield Bible.

The main purpose of the theory was to harmonize the six days of creation with the new science of geology which was developing the geological timetable in Chalmers' day. By introducing the "gap" you could have it both ways: 6 days of creation and billions of years for the fossil record to develop.

There are several problems with this theory:

1. Scientific

If there was a cataclysm (world-wide destruction) that blew everything up so as to leave the earth dark and void, it would destroy any evidence of life there as well. Fossil records are based on the assumption that there has been no change in the earth's past. Just a steady cycle of life and death enabling us to "read" the story of the past in the earth. If something cataclysmic happened there would be a "record" of it and (aside from the flood) there is no record of any cataclysm. No geologist, for example, believes in the "gap" theory.

2. Biblical

If you accept the gap theory then you accept the fossil record as well. If you accept the fossil record then you say that there is a cycle of life and death that is present billions of years before Adam came on the scene and this is not theologically possible.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
- Romans 5:12
For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
- I Corinthians 15:21

The Bible says that death came into the world (for both man and beast) only when Adam brought sin into the world.

Another point is that if death existed before Satan's sin or Adam's sin then the one responsible for it is God and that is impossible, sin brings death, not God:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Romans 6:23

As Christians we need to carefully read what the Bible says and formulate our models on what it says without trying to somehow match what it teaches to what the world says. The world has been wrong many of times before.

Exegesis - Genesis 1:2

And the earth was...

The conjunction "and" simply denotes a sequence of events that flow one from the other. They could have used another construction if they wanted a "gap" there. On the first day (In the beginning) God creates space (heavens) and matter (earth). Now Moses focuses on the matter and describes its condition when it was originally formed. Any other conclusion is "read" into it in order to harmonize it with a man-made theory.

...formless and void...

Gap theory people translate this as the earth was ruined (like after a nuclear holocaust). But in harmony with the first verse, this verse simply builds on the ideas already presented: the basic space and matter were created. Verse 2 comments on the condition of the matter at this time: it had no shape or form, and it was empty, without inhabitants. The raw materials were there, the potential was there but had not yet been shaped into what we recognize as the earth and the universe yet.

...darkness was on the face (surface) of the deep...

No form, no motion, no light. This phrase is also a descriptive one where the author is not describing what God is doing but rather giving a description of the universe as the initial elements of time, space and matter that have been created. The earth was without form, the oceans had no boundaries, there was no light since the matter had not yet been energized.

Henry Morris suggests that "…elements of matter and molecules of water were present, but not yet energized." (p. 51) It was a kind of formless, dark soup with no sound, shape or form.

...the Spirit of God moved over the surface of the waters...

The name for God here (Elohim) suggests that God is both unity and plurality, and the triune nature of the universe (time, space, matter) reflects the triune nature of God. Here we see a particular person of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, make a particular action.

Someone asked how many Spirits were at creation and I would say three (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) which make up the single Godhead or God. It is not one spirit with three personalities, but three individual spirits within one Godhead.

The last few words are comments on the state of what had been created, with this phrase we have a description of what God in the person of the Holy Spirit now does to the materials He has created.

The term "move" is only used three times in the Old Testament (Rachaph) and it means to shake or flutter. The image is one of a mother hen fluttering over her chicks. The idea is that of a rapid back and forth action. The best modern description would be "to vibrate."

If the earth is to be energized, there needs to be an energizer. If it is to be set into motion there needs to be a prime mover.
- Henry Morris
The Genesis Record, Baker Books, 2009 - page 52

It is interesting to note that the transmission of energy in the universe is in the form of waves (light waves, heat waves, sound waves, etc.) and that Genesis 1:2 says that once the raw material was formed it was energized and brought into its present form by a Divine vibration initiated by the Holy Spirit. Energy cannot create itself (formless and void) so the first impartation of energy to the universe was provided by the vibrating movement of the eternal and all-powerful Spirit of God.


In Genesis 1:1-2 we have God creating the elements of the universe (time, space, matter) and then energizing these through the vibrating of the Holy Spirit in order to bring them into shape and movement.

A person can "not believe" this but cannot say that if there is a God this is not a logical and scientifically correct way to bring the universe into being. There must be matter before movement.

Discussion Questions

  1. Summarize the main elements of the Gap theory.
  2. Summarize the main problems with the Gap Theory.
  3. Explain how Genesis 1:2 shows that God's creative activities were not disrupted by a rebellion by Satan as described by the Gap Theory.
  4. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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