The "Gap" Theory

An Exegetical Controversy

Ever since it was originally suggested by Thomas Chalmers in 1814, there have been two reactions to the so-called “gap” theory: either to dismiss it completely or to misapply it. We will attempt to do neither. Let’s start at the beginning:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

This is certainly straightforward (and if you fully grasp that verse you will have no problem with any other verse in the Bible!). It is the next verse that raises some basic issues:

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 1:2

The words “without form and void,” Whbow” Whto tohu v’bohu, will become critical elements of our vocabulary. Whto tohu means without form, confused; Whb bohu means void, empty. (The w vav between them is the conjunction “and.”) When we examine a declaration of God in Isaiah we note an apparent contradiction:

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, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.

Isaiah 45:18

The same word for “vain,” WhTo tohu (without form, confused), appears in both verses, and would appear to contradict the declaration in Genesis 1:2. The phrase in Genesis 1:2 also appears in Jeremiah:

I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light.

Jeremiah 4:23

Whenever you find an apparent contradiction in the Biblical text, we should rejoice! It may be what the rabbis call a remez: a hint of something deeper. It’s like a signpost saying, “Dig here! A treasure is hidden here.” So this compels us to more carefully examine the passage in Genesis 1:2. The verb “was” is actually a transitive verb (indicating action) and the word order (normally, conjunction-verb-subject-object) is reordered to suggest the transitive pluperfect form: “had become.” (It is so ordered in the International Standard Version.) It is the identical transitive verb which appears in Genesis 19:26, where Lot’s wife “became a pillar of salt.”

Furthermore, we also find that the initial conjunction, “And,” is an adversative conjunction (“but”) and is so rendered in both the Septuagint and Vulgate translations.1 (It often suggests a significant time delay.2) Putting this all together suggests the following rendering:

But the earth had become without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

There appears to be an interval of some kind—perhaps eons—between verses 1 and 2. It would seem that the earth was not originally “without form and void,” but had been subjected to some kind of catastrophic judgment prior to the sequence that continues in Genesis 1.

This possibility may also explain when Satan fell. We know that the angels were created prior to the Earth.3 We find Satan had already fallen in Genesis 3. The mystery is, when did he fall? It appears that there are substantial Scriptural references to his rebellion, his agenda, and the subsequent catastrophic judgment that ensued.4

This also raises the whole issue of the origin of evil. And why hasn’t God simply wiped him—and sin—out completely? It is also disturbing to recognize that Satan tempted Jesus by offering him the “kingdom, power and the glory” in the temptations recorded in Luke.5 How could Satan lay a legitimate claim to these? These topics will be explored in future articles and are excerpted from our featured briefing pack, The Origin of Evil.


1.     Cf. Gen.2:17; 17:21; Zeph 1:13; Ps 44:17.

2.     An 8-year period, Ex 2:1-2; a 38-year period, Deut 10:5-6; a 7-year period, 1 Chr 10:14; 11:1, a 58-year period, Ezek 6:22, 7:1.

3.     Job 38:4-7, et al.

4.     Isaiah 14:12-20; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Revelation 12.

5.     Luke 4:5-7.


Pember, George H., Earth’s Earliest Ages, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1907.

Barnhouse, Donald Gray, The Invisible War, Zondervan Publishing Co., Grand Rapids MI, 1965.

Custance, Arthur C., Without Form and Void, Brockville, Ontario, Canada, 1970.