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The Gap Theory

November 7, 2012

I’m guessing many a Christian have been confronted with the “Gap Theory” as the most plausible approach to unite both “undeniable” scientific evidence and biblical allegory into a working postulate of the “true” creation account. It attempts to be infallible, accountable, and accurate. It avoids blasphemy by conceding to the truth of the scriptures, thereby appealing to a mass community of Christians, particularly Old Earth Creationists, Gap and Progressive Creationists, and Theistic Evolutionists who believe that God uses natural processes and evolution to create life. At the same time, it allows for scientific evidence of an ancient Earth and life before man.

The Gap Theory

The Gap Theory was posited in response to increasing debate between Christians and the scientific community over the age of the earth and mankind. Taking a literal view of Genesis into account, the Earth was created in six days of twenty-four hours each. God then rested on the seventh day. Beginning with Adam and ending with Jesus, and using the genealogies found in Genesis and Chronicles, an age of approximately 6000 years for the Earth and all that inhabit it is derived. Most famously, this was brought forward by Archbishop James Ussher in 1650 in which he stated that the Creation occurred on the nightfall preceding October 23rd, 4004 BC. By the current date, the earth would be just over 6008 years old.

However, Gap Creationists consider the overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary that the Earth is billions of years old to be provable beyond a reasonable doubt, and therefore cannot be ignored despite the scriptures. Therefore, scripture must be made to account for the “irrefutable” scientific testimony of an ancient earth. It does so by reinterpreting the first two verses of Genesis.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” – 1:1

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.” – 1:2

The Gap Theory proposes an indeterminate amount of time passing between these two verses. The actual Creation Week begins in verse 3. During the time period between verses 1 and 2, Lucifer ruled upon the earth with his angels and a soulless human progenitor race. Lucifer then rebelled against God, and his subsequent banishment from heaven and judgement caused the earth to become “without form, and void“. Thus, the starting point for Genesis 1:3 and the beginning of the Creation Week in which God created all life that inhabits the earth in this age. Therefore, the creation account in Genesis was actually more of a recreation after Satan’s rebellion. This reinterpretation is even further validated by other scripture as listed below.

Gap Creationism

The Gap Theory was first proposed by Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), a notable Scottish theologian. However, it can be traced back to even earlier writings by the Dutchman Episcopius (1583-1643). Chalmer’s writings did very little to shed light on the Gap Theory due to their lack of detail. Other writers such as 19th century geologist Hugh Miller, quoted from and expanded upon Chalmer’s original works. G.H. Pember was the most notable writer to popularize this view, however, with his book: “Earth’s Earliest Ages” (1884). In the 20th Century, Arthur C. Custance gave a strong academic defense of the Theory in his book: “Without Form and Void” (1970). The primary reasoning for proposing the Gap Theory was to validate the struggle of the “geological ages”. Pember’s book goes into great detail about this struggle and it is a struggle many Christians deal with. There is a fossil record that indicates mutual destruction and death and disease before Adam. Genesis is in conflict with this, stating in 1:31 that “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good…”. In light of this verse, it is difficult to believe that the earth was already under the control of a fallen angel, and that the crust of the earth was filled with the fossils of creatures that had previously been destroyed. How could it have been a very good creation if that was the case? How can we validate both science and scripture, or rather, what we believe with what we supposedly know? The following is a small list of “proofs” for the Gap Theory, and my comments on each.

  1. The word “was” in verse 2 is more accurately translated from Hebrew as “became“, allowing for Satan’s rebellion and subsequent war to shatter the earth leaving it “without form, and void“. This is merely a linguistic approach to attempt to validate this theory, as most prominent past and present biblical scholars agree that “was” is the proper English translation from the original Hebrew. However, even if we were to accept this translation as accurate, there are still too many theological errors to the Gap Theory that cannot be ignored, and the reinterpretation of this single word is perfunctory evidence at best. The change in wording still allows for a creation occurring roughly 6000 years ago.
  2. God is perfect. Everything that He does is also perfect. Therefore, a newly created Earth would not be chaotic, imperfect, or “without form, and void“. This is proven by scripture. Deuteronomy 32:4 tells us that God “… is the Rock, his work is perfect“. The Earth also would not have been shrouded in darkness, “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” – Isaiah 45:18. And 1 John 1:5 tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” These are all completely silly attempts to validate scripture with scripture as these verses are used entirely out of their original contexts. The verse in 1 John is speaking ethically and morally about light and darkness as good and evil qualities rather than the actual physical properties of light and dark. Therefore, Gap Theorists use this verse to validate darkness covering the earth in Genesis 1:2. However, as we can clearly see that God has not yet created light, there could not be light upon the earth in verse 2. By reading verse 2 in the context of an act of divine creation, it is easy to glean that “darkness” in verse 2 refers to an absence of light. The verse in Isaiah is used to prove that the earth was created to be inhabited, thus inferring a perfectly created earth using the evidence from Deuteronomy that was ruled over by Lucifer and his angels. This allows for the ancient age of the earth, dinosaurs (more on them in my next essay), the ice age, and other geological formations by adherents without contradiction to the events in Genesis. However, it is easy to see that Isaiah was referring to the fact that God created the Earth for man to inhabit. Nothing else in the entire passage (45:18-25) indicates that Isaiah was hinting at or referring to a previous incarnation of the Earth. Isaiah was pleading for salvation through the Lord for the people of Israel, giving prophecy of Cyrus the Great who would be God’s instrument in the restoration of Jerusalem and the Temple. He was reassuring the people of Israel that God would not simply rub them our of existence, that He had a plan for them. God’s creation was perfect at the end of the creation week. This is weak evidence to support the Gap Theory. God created man to be perfect as well. It is US that have failed Him.
  3. A runaway verse in Psalm 104 is also used to justify the Gap Theory. Verse 30 states: “Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” This attempts to indicate that the the Spirit moving over the waters in Genesis 1:2 was in the act of renewing the post-war earth after Lucifer’s fall. This also is weak evidence, considering that, in context, the verse is referring to the living things inhabiting the earth. Verses 27-30 speak of our dependency on God and our certain death without Him. The “renewing” is of us, not the earth itself as we cover the face of the earth.
  4. Another “proof” of the Gap Theory is the knowledge that angels existed before the creation of the earth, indication that a previous creation had taken place. Job 38:7 is used for this evidence. At this point in the narrative, God finally answers Job’s questions, although perhaps not in the way Job would have liked. Verses 38:4-7 concern the creation of the earth, and verse 7 clearly states that the angels worshiped God as he “laid the foundations of the earth“. In verse 7, the “sons of God” refer the angels. Using this evidence, the Gap Theory states that a previous creation took place prior to our own, validating the existence of Satan and his angels on earth. However, the bible already tells us that the angels were created before us. Clearly Satan had already been created and fallen before the creation of Eden as he already existed there in his fallen state. Nailing an exact time down for their creation is tricky on the other hand. Hebrews 1:14 tells us that angels are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minster for them who shall be heirs of salvation.”. This could indicate that the angels were created just prior to the creation of the earth with the duties of ministering to mankind. However, Revelation 5:11-14 indicates that another duty of the angels is to worship the Lord God around His throne. By our reckoning, this means that the angels could have been created millions of years ago. However, the scriptures tell us that angels were created before the creation of the earth. Genesis indicates that God created the earth in the beginning of our physical universe. God and the angels exist outside our physical universe. He is not restricted by the same laws of time and space as we are. Given that the angels share that existence, they cannot be held under those same restrictions either. Genesis is the creation of our physical universe. Angels do not share in that creation.
  5. Satan again is used as evidence in that he had been a sinner from the very beginning. John 8:44 is used primarily for this evidence, however, passages from Isaiah and Ezekiel are also used. John 8:44 tells us that “He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning…“. Therefore, Satan must have existed prior to “the beginning“. However, my previous statements already proved that Satan existed before the creation of our universe given that Satan existed in Eden in his fallen state. I firmly believe that the creation account in Genesis concerns the creation of our own physical universe. The “heaven” is our universe, the sea of galaxies and stars that stretches on for infinity. Isaiah 14:12-15 is also used to support the theory that Satan lived on earth with his angels. Verse 12 tells us that Satan was cast out of heaven. Ezekiel 28:11-19 tells us why. He was “perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” His “heart was lifted up because of thy beauty” and he “corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness.” Satan fell prey to vanity. His pride overrode his reasoning. He felt he could be above God Himself! Isaiah goes on to tell us that Satan would “ascend into heaven… above the heights of the clouds.” indicating that he was below the heavens in some fashion, therefore he must have occupied earth. However, this too is weak evidence, as attempting to become as or better than God is always represented as rising above the clouds to heaven. Isaiah was tasked with giving God’s word to His people. What better way to explain divine, incomprehensible things than by symbolization? It was easy for Israel to understand that God was above and they were below. Satan was no different. And in Satan’s foolishness, he was cast out of heaven. All signs seem to point to the fact that Satan’s rebellion took place in heaven, not on earth. However, Satan has not been cast out of heaven just yet. As indicated in Job 1, Satan still has access to God’s throne, albeit in a limited fashion. Ezekiel 28:18-19 tells us of Satan’s final punishment, which will occur after the tribulation.

Conclusion

As you can see, most of these so called “proofs” for the Gap Theory are easily debunked. Most of them are simply the result of reading a verse from the bible out of context from the rest of the passage. The Gap Theory is used to disprove the theory that the earth is only 6000 years old. However, I don’t believe that disproving the Gap Theory would prove Young Earth Creationism in kind. Merely adding the years listed from the biblical genealogies doesn’t prove that the age of the earth and mankind is roughly 6000 years. The genealogies themselves could be incomplete, and in the context of the bible, represent only the Israelite nation, or rather the descendants of Abraham. The genealogies that branch off after Noah, representing other nations are fairly incomplete as the bible focuses primarily on the Israelite nation. This means that we couldn’t possibly use them to construct a timeline of events, at least not until the beginning of recorded history. Not to mention after the Babel incident, we have no way of knowing the length of time between the scattering of the nations and their resettlement elsewhere. Did the North Americans, for instance, migrate directly from the tower to the american landmass? Or did they slowly migrate there over a long period of time? This points to obvious gaps in the genealogies and makes them a poor source for dating the age of the earth. It is, indeed possible that the world is only 6000 years old. It is also possible that it is millions of years old, as indicated by the remains of dinosaurs and other geological evidence that we simply can’t ignore. After all, how do we explain the fossil record? Almost all written history begins around 3000 BC, which coincides with the theory of a young 6000 year old earth. This is all post-flood history, indicating that the flood must have occurred sometime before that. Scripture tells us that all the animals were saved on the ark, or at least enough of them to propagate the species once the flood waters receded. However, this does not mean that all the animals survived into this age. But this also means that another flood or catastrophic event would have had to occur for fossilization and we have no record of that. Is it also possible that “days” in Genesis could mean lengths of time rather than actual 24 hour periods? This is matter of interpretation, and not one that is provable. When reading the bible for the first time, I personally felt that the ages of the earth were irrelevant, as were the time periods being discussed. The bible itself never gives exact dates, we can only extrapolate dates from other literature and writings of the time period. Given that dates were not discussed in the bible, how can we then deem them so important?

I believe we are also missing the biggest point here. “Avoid foolish questions [debates] and genealogies and contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain [useless].” – Titus 3:9. Better yet, “Foolish and unlearned questions [ignorant disputes] avoid, knowing that they do gender [generate] strifes [quarrels].” – 2 Timothy 2:23. The age of the earth and of mankind is a trivial doctrinal point, and most likely a mystery that will not be solved until God deems us ready for this knowledge. The bible is meant to be a guide to proper Christian living and brotherly love. It tells us only what God deems necessary for us to know. We need only know that God created the earth and mankind upon it. It does not matter when He did it, only that He did it and that we owe Him our existence. This type of pointless debate was illustrated well in the book of Job, and by reading that book, we can easily see, through God’s responses that there are things we are meant to know and understand, and things we are not meant to know and understand. We must only let God be God. And this is the only truth we need to know.

Published by Jay McAnally
Copyright © 2012
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