Q: What is the "Gap Theory" and is it valid?
A: The so-called "Gap Theory" is a conjecture about a possible interval between the first two verses in Genesis 1. Among other things, it attempts to deal with the creation of the angels, the fall of Lucifer, and related topics. The angels apparently witnessed the creation of the earth; 1 but when were they created? Satan's rebellion is also portrayed in Scripture;2 but when did he fall?
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. - Genesis 1:1
Beresheet Bara Elohim et ha-Shamayim et ha-Eretz.
Seven Hebrew words; 4 x 7 letters. Volumes have been written on this verse alone. This opening declaration in verse 1 stands alone; it says it all.
If you understand this verse you will have no trouble with any other verse in the Bible.
The first word is Beresheeth, "In Beginning," which yields the name of the book of Genesis in Hebrew.
The second word is bara, to create out of nothing. This is in contrast to similar words in the Hebrew: Asa, to make, fashion, or fabricate; and Yatsa , to form or shape. (Isaiah 43:7 uses all three.) Most of what we see in the remainder of Genesis 1 are forms of "made."
The third word, Elohim , the name of God, seems to be a grammatical "error": it is a plural noun, used as a singular. It is recognized by many scholars as the first hint of the Trinity.3
It is the second verse that raises some questions.
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
The words, "without form and void, tohu w'bohu , seem to be contradicted by a passage in Isaiah:
For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain [Whto tohu], he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.-Isaiah 45:18
And also in Jeremiah:
I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void [tohu w'bohu]; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger. -Jer 4:23-27
When were "all the cities thereof broken down"?
Furthermore, the verb hayah , "was" in Genesis 1:2, is a transitive verb; it is the same word used when "Lot's wife became a pillar of salt." 4 It implies an active transition.
Also, the waw , "and," in Genesis 1:2 usually implies a time delay. 5 Here it can be construed as an adversative conjunction, implying a reversal as well as a delay.
(In the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate it is rendered as "but.")
Putting all this together, some scholars suggest that it should be rendered:
"But the earth became without form and void ("ruined and uninhabitable"); and darkness was on the face of the deep (LXX: abousso). And the Spirit of God hovered (Talmud: like a dove?) over the face of the waters ."
The Cosmic Interval
The conjecture is that between the first two verses of the Bible, after the original creation which included the angels and Lucifer, there was a rebellion and a judgment of his principal domain, the Earth. We thus find Satan already fallen in Genesis 3.
According to this view, the record following is simply a reconstruction and the subsequent unfolding of God's plan of redemption.6
These ideas were published by Thomas Chalmers in 1814; George Pember, in 1907; Arthur C. Custance in 1970, and Donald Gray Barnhouse, among others, in more recent years.7 This is all, of course, highly speculative, and there are those who have published refutations against this view.8
In any case, attempting to employ the "Gap Theory" in an attempt to reconcile
the Genesis record with geologic or paleanthological theories is inappropriate
and futile. Fossils are dead: they occurred after Adam. Clearly, the
Biblical record attributes plants and animals to the post-Adamic world, and its
subsequent "bondage of decay" to the fall in Genesis 3.9
The ambiguities of language, and its subsequent translations, often leave room for creative speculations. Conjectures such as the Gap Theory are provocative and challenge us to search "the whole counsel of God" for consistency and integrity with known, established doctrines.
Speculations such as these can stimulate fruitful discussions but should, of course, be maintained with a light touch at best.
Yet, the possibility of such an interval would seem to reconcile many of the passages regarding Satan and his background. His aspirations to "ascend into heaven," and the suggestive portrayal in what appears to be a pre-Adamic Eden,10 with the earth as his principal domain, would seem to harmonize with this view.
By God's allowing the cosmic drama to play itself out, Satan will inadvertently glorify God by demonstrating that there can be only one will in the universe and all other paths lead to chaos and destruction.
God will use the weakness of man, and his redemption through faith in His Son, to redeem not only fallen man, but "a new heavens and a new earth."13
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For more on this subject, see our Expositional Commentary on the Book of Genesis .