The Gap Theory

SERMON TOPIC: The Gap Theory

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 9 November 2018


Sermon synopsis: There are two variants of the theory:
PASSIVE GAP THEORY (Restitution Creationism, Creatio Ex Materia)
According to this view God simply waited for millions of years after creating the heavens and the earth to complete his creative work.

ACTIVE GAP THEORY (Ruin-Reconstruction)
This Theory holds that the earth was originally created with form, but after a gap of millions of years it became “without form and void”. The idea is that, at the end of these geological ages, a great cataclysm took place on earth, with Satan having rebelled in heaven and many of the angels following him in that rebellion. God, therefore, cast him to the earth, and the earth underwent a great cataclysm, leaving it finally without form and void, and with darkness on the face of the deep, as described in Genesis 1:2.

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Gen 1:1 (KJV) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Secular evolutionists say that everything in geology, biology and cosmology can be explained by existing (slow) processes of Uniformitarianism.


As such, secular geologists say that the earth is billions of years old and that there was no creator.

Christians all agree with each other that God created the earth, but are divided on the issue of the earth’s age:

Old-earth creationists agree with the evolutionary timescales of millions or billions of years and attempt to harmonise Genesis 1 with evolutionary timescales (not the Theory of Evolution per se – as they still believe in God as the creator).

Young-earth creationists take a very literal view of Genesis 1 and insist that the earth is a few thousand (6,000 – 10,000) years old.


We will look at some theories that Creationists have regarding the timing of the creative week.

Old Earth Creationism

Theistic Evolution

Progressive Creationism

Gap Theory

Young Earth Creationism



GEN 1:1

GEN 1:2

Gen 1:1 (KJV) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Gen 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

This theory asserts that there is a “gap” of millions (or billions) of years between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2.

There are two variants of the theory:

PASSIVE GAP THEORY (Restitution Creationism, Creatio Ex Materia)

According to this view God simply waited for millions of years after creating the heavens and the earth to complete his creative work.

Theologians who promoted this view include: J.N. Darby (1800–1882), J. Wheelhouse (1844-1918), F.E. König (1846-1936), A. Heidel (1907-1955), E.J. Young (1907-68). Some contemporary theologians who appear to have adopted this position are: G. Henton Davies (1906-98), D. Kidner (1913-2008), B.S. Childs (1923-2007), Norman Geisler (1932-), John Ankerberg (1945-), William Lane Craig (1949-), Hank Hanegraaff (1950-) and Greg Koukl (1950-).


ACTIVE GAP THEORY (Ruin-Reconstruction)

This Theory holds that the earth was originally created with form, but after a gap of millions of years it became “without form and void”.

Dr. Henry M. Morris writes:

“The idea is something like this: billions of years ago God created the spacemass-time universe. Then the geological ages took place over billions of years of earth history. The different forms of life developed that are now preserved in the fossil record. These life-forms represent those ages - the invertebrates of the Cambrian Period, the dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period, finally the mammals, birds and ‘ape-men’ of the Tertiary Period - just before the recent epoch.” 


 … the idea is that, at the end of these geological ages, a great cataclysm took place on earth, with Satan having rebelled in heaven and many of the angels following him in that rebellion. God, therefore, cast him to the earth, and the earth underwent a great cataclysm, leaving it finally without form and void, and with darkness on the face of the deep, as described in Genesis 1:2. 1


1 genesis/ gap-theory/ the-gap-theory-an-idea-with-holes/

Subsequently, according to this idea … God then re-created or reconstituted the earth in the six literal days of creation recorded in the first chapter of Genesis. 1

1 Ibid


What did the early church believe regarding the age of the earth?

The sexta-septamillennial view held that each millennium is actually a day according to God (cf. 2 Peter 3:8), and that at the end of the 6,000 years (6 millennial days) since the creation, Christ will return.

Early adherents of this view included Pseudo-Barnabas, Papias, Irenaeus, Methodius, Lactantius, Commodianus, Theophilus, Tertullian, Melito, Hippolytus of Rome, Victorinus of Pettau and the Montanists.




Quoted age of Earth (years)



less than 6000




Clement of Alexandria


dates Adam at 5592 BC and places creation outside of time

Hippolytus of Rome


5500 BC

Julius Africanus


5500 BC



much less than 10,000



less than 6000



Adam to birth of Christ = 5228 years



5600 BC

Venerable Bede


3952 BC (based on the Masoretic text)

George Syncellus


5534 years at the resurrection of Christ

Martin Luther


3960 BC

John Calvin


less than 6000

James Ussher


4004 BC

John Lightfoot


3928 BC

" Earth_age_opinions_of_prominent_Christians_-_pre-1800"> Earth_age_opinions_of_prominent_Christians_-_pre-1800

Some incorrectly claim that Augustine (5th century) believed in an old earth. But, using the Septuagint chronology, he wrote in “City of God” that Creation took place around 5600 BC. One of the chapters in this book has the title “On the mistaken view of history that ascribes many thousands of years to the age of the earth.” Furthermore Augustine believed in the historicity of Adam and Eve, the Garden of Eden, as well as the worldwide flood. So theistic evolutionists who appeal to Augustine for support are misguided.

The historical view of Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant interpreters saw no gap between the first 2 verses of Genesis. The Gap Theory is a relatively recent idea. Until the advent of modern geology, no one proposed a gap between these verses.


Bible commentaries before the rise of the Theory of Uniformitarianism in the late 18th century are silent about the “Ruin-Reconstruction” theory. The man responsible for its origin is Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847). He and William Buckland proposed:

Millions of millions of years may have occupied the indefinite interval, between the beginning in which God created the heavens and the earth and the evening or commencement of the first day of the Mosaic narrative ... The condition [of the earth and waters] is also described as a state of confusion and emptiness (tohu va bohu), words which are usually interpreted by the vague Greek term chaos, which may be geologically considered designating the wreck and ruins of a former world.


1 " gap_theory.html

Following is a defence presented by some Gap Theorists. 1

A straw man is a common form of argument based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. It is used to describe people who create a false “straw man” to represent their opponent’s position, then subsequently destroying the straw man and claiming victory.

The former slide was a straw-man argument. Chalmers was not trying to accommodate Darwin, but Charles Hutton (1726–1797) who originated the theory of uniformitarianism—a fundamental principle of modern geology.


The Gap Theory became the dominant view among evangelicals until the 1960s. It was widely disseminated in older editions of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909), the Newberry Reference Bible (1890) and Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible (1963).

Other proponents include E. W. Bullinger (1837-1913), G. H. Pember (1837-1910), Arthur Pink (1886-1952), Harry Rimmer (Modern Science and the Genesis Record: 1937), L. Allen Higley (Science and Truth: 1940), George DeHoff (Why We Believe the Bible: 1944) and Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960).

More contemporary supporters of the theory include: Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Chuck Missler, John Hagee, Billy Graham, Peter Ruckman, Michael Pearl and Benny Hinn.


E.g. Here is a chart by the well-known and influential Dispensationalist Clarence Larkin (1850-1924) in the early 20th century, illustrating his belief in the Gap Theory.

Gap-Theorists argue that God wouldn’t create the world in a chaotic condition. Part of their argument is focussed on the Hebrew conjunction “waw” that begins Gen 1:2.

They wish to translate it as “but”. The idea is that there is a contrast between what was stated in Gen 1:1 and the statement of Gen 1:2. The author is emphasizing that the earth was created perfect but something happened that caused to become formless and void. 1

The Hebrew word “waw”, usually translated “and” is a simple conjunction. Gap Theorists attempt to make it a word that indicates a strong contrast to that which was previously stated. Yet it is merely the simple term for “and”… A crucial doctrine should not be based upon this one word. 1

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Gap theorists want to render “and the earth was” as “but the earth became”.

Gen 1:1-2 (KJV) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And (Heb: waw) the earth was (Heb: hayah) without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

The word translated “was” in Gen 1:2 is the Hebrew verb “hayah”. Gap theorists point out that in other places in the creation account the verb “hayah” is translated “became” or “had become” (Gen 2:7,10; 3:22, etc.). 1

Thus, they argue that the earth was created perfectly and then became without form and void. The world, though created perfect, became desolate and uninhabitable.


No known translation says “became”. In all the standard translations, Gen 1:2 is rendered as “was”. Aalders writes that “although the alternative interpretation is linguistically possible, it does not reflect common Hebrew usage”.

Henry Morris writes, “By far the tremendous majority of times, however, when the verb is used, it is simply translated ‘was’. In the absence of any indication in the immediate context that it should be rendered by a change of state, where it became something which it wasn’t, one would normally assume it was simply a declarative statement describing how the situation existed at the time. The earth was, in response to God’s creative fiat, initially without form and void.” 1

1 " the-gap-theory-an-idea-with-holes


Hebrew scholar W.C. Watts: “In Genesis 1:2a the verb is perfect. It indicates a fixed and completed state. In other words, original matter was in a state of chaos when created: it came into being that way.” 1

Harold Stigers: “The cataclysmic theory (also called the restitution theory) respecting v. 2 can have no place in a proper translation. The construction of ‘became void,’ etc., is not justified by Hebrew syntax. When the verb ‘to be’ (hayah) is to be constructed as ‘became,’ the addition of the prepositional lamedh is required with the following word to provide this meaning, and this preposition is absent here.” 2

1 A Survey Of Old Testament Preaching p. 16 2 A Commentary On Genesis p. 49


Most scholars testify that the translation of “became” in this passage is doubtful, if not impossible to uphold. Therefore, to base this theory on a suspect translation is wrong from the start.

Though in some instances the Septuagint translators rendered the verb hayah as “became” they did not render it such in Genesis 1:2. This demonstrates that they understood the word to mean “was” and not “became”. 1

There should be a compelling reason for translating it “became” here. However, nothing in the text suggests this translation. It comes from a desire to harmonize science and Scripture. 1

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Another argument is that Isa 34:11 and Jer 4:23-26, the only other instances the phrase “without form and void” is used, clearly refers to divine judgment. Hence, Gen 1:2 must also be a reference to judgment.

The phrase “tohu wa bohu”, translated “without form and void” does not necessarily assume some type of judgment as the Gap Theory supposes. The phrase can mean unformed and unfilled. It is a neutral term describing God’s unfinished creation. The early earth was at a stage that was not ready for humanity and the rest of creation. That which was previously unformed was then formed and filled by the Creator. The words do not necessitate judgment as has been contended - it merely describes the earth in an undeveloped state. 1

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Isa 45:18 (KJV) 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 (Heb: tohu), he formed it to be inhabited…

Because the term “in vain” is the Hebrew “tohu”; or the same word translated “without form” in Gen 1:2, Gap Theorists say that if God did not create it that way, it must have become that way.

But again, the context is significant. In Isaiah, the context requires the use of the translation ‘in vain’. That is, God did not create the earth without a purpose; He created it to be inhabited. 1

1 " genesis/ gap-theory/ the-gap-theory-an-idea-with-holes/ 1 Dec 1987


The word “tohu” is actually translated 10 different ways in about 20 occurrences in the Old Testament. Isa 45:19 has the same word, and there it has to be translated ‘vainly’ or ‘in vain’. It is also proper to translate it that way in Isa 45:18. It depends on the context as to how it is to be precisely translated. In Gen 1:2 the context simply indicates the earth had no structure as yet. 1

1 " genesis/ gap-theory/ the-gap-theory-an-idea-with-holes/ 1 Dec 1987


Gap theorists use Jer 4:23-26 to support their viewpoint.

I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form and void; and the heavens had no light… I beheld, and indeed there was no man, and all the birds of the heaven had fled. I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness, and all its cities are broken down at the presence of the Lord and His fierce anger.

The context of Jeremiah 4 has nothing to do with the original creation. In context, the passage is about the destruction of the Holy Land, not the entire earth… In addition, this passage speaks of survivors after the judgment. There would have been no survivors of the judgment that the Gap Theory proposes. 1

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Furthermore, the meaning of the expression “tohu wa bohu”, in Isa 34:11 and Jer 4:23, often cited as proof for the Gap Theory, does not necessarily mean chaos as Gap Theorists argue. The details in the context of Isaiah 34 and Jeremiah 4, where the phrase “tohu wa bohu” is used, make judgment clear. The context of Genesis is not one of judgment. It is not proper to read the circumstances of judgment in Isaiah and Jeremiah back into Genesis where no judgment is required, or even hinted at. 1

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Isaiah 24:1 is often cited as a verse that speaks of the earth being formerly in ruin.

Behold, the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface, and scatters its inhabitants.

The statement in Isaiah 24:1 does not deal with the original creation in Genesis. The previous verses referred to the destruction of Babylon and Tyre while the following verses refer to the destruction of the Holy Land. 1

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Gen 1:2 records the darkened state of the earth before the creation of the sun or before the light from the sun came through. Advocates of the Gap Theory claim that the fact that it was dark suggests that something is wrong with the creation, but there is nothing implicitly wrong with darkness.

It should not be assumed to refer to something evil. Of necessity, there would have been darkness before light. 1

The Bible does not teach that physical darkness is always equated with evil. The psalmist wrote, “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl” (Ps 104:20). 1

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Darkness later came to represent, in some contexts, a symbol of evil—as opposed to light—since ‘God is light and in Him is no darkness at all’ (1 John 1:5). But in the context here there is no evil connotation suggested. 1

Darkness can symbolize evil, yet darkness itself is not evil. The Gap Theory confuses the symbol with the thing symbolized. 2

The idea is that there was darkness before light merely shows that creation was in progress. The Bible says there was an evening, and hence darkness, at all six days of creation (Gen 1:5,8,13, 18-19). There is no statement anywhere of God’s disapproval of the darkness. 2

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According to the Gap Theory, the original creation was in Gen 1:1. What happened on the six days of Genesis was not creating but rather making over. Gap theorists make a distinction between the verbs create “bara” and made “asah”. The verb “bara” is used with regard to God creating while “asah” means refashioning or made to appear. 1

E.g. The New Scofield Reference Bible makes this distinction. 2

1 " faq/ don_stewart/ don_stewart_654.cfm 2 Only three creative acts of God are recorded in this chapter: (1) the heavens and the earth, v. 1; (2) animal life, vv. 20-21; and (3) human life, vv 26-27. The first creative act refers to the dateless past… neither here (Genesis 1:3) nor in vv. 14-18 is an original creative act implied. A different word is used. The sense is made to appear, made visible. The sun and the moon were created ‘in the beginning.’ The light came from the sun, of course, but the vapor diffused the light. Later the sun appeared in an unclouded sky (The New Scofield Reference Bible, 1967, p. 1 note #3, #6)


But the distinction made between the Hebrew words for “created” and “made” is not valid as the words are used interchangeably. E.g. We have “bara” and “asah” used alongside in the same passages to describe the same event - the creation of man.

Gen 1:26 (ESV) Then God said, “Let us make (asah) human beings in our image, to be like us…” So God created (bara) mankind in his own image…

Gen 5:1 (ESV) This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created (bara) man, he made (asah) him in the likeness of God.


John Whitcomb comments:

Genesis 1:21 states that “God created [bara] the great sea-monsters…” while verse 25 states that God made [asah] the beasts of the earth… Surely we are not to think that the sea creatures were directly created on the fifth day, but land animals were merely “appointed” or “made to appear” on the sixth day! All those who hold that “bara” and “asah” cannot be used on the same kind of divine activity are faced with a serious difficulty here. 1

1 John Whitcomb, The Early Earth, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972, p. 128


If there was a gap of billions of years between the first 2 verses of Gen 1, which was followed by a 6-day creation, another problem is that the sun was created on the fourth day, yet evolutionists claim it is 4,603 billion years old. 1

As with Progressive Creationists, this forces Gap theorists to assert that the sun was already in existence, but on this fourth day it and other heavenly bodies ‘appeared’ when a dense cloud layer dissipated after millions of years. 1

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If God had meant ‘appeared’, then He presumably would have used the Hebrew word for appear (ra’ah), as when the dry land ‘appeared’ as the waters gathered in one place on Day 3 (Gen 1:9). 1

If the sun, moon, and stars were part of the original creation in Gen 1:1, then why did God have to create light (Gen 1:3). 2

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As with Progressive Creationism the Sabbath cycle is a problem for Gap theorists. They hold that the heavens and the earth were created aeons ago and after a gap God refurbished the earth. But Moses claims that the heavens and the earth were all created in the first 6 days.

Exodus 20:8-11 (NASB) “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.


Almost all Gap Theorists adopt the view that human-like creatures existed before Adam. Although not directly related to modern humans, they did have their own sinful history. The fossils that we find today testify to their existence. 1

Some try use this pre-Adamic creation as a means to explain the origin of demons (an argument from silence and contrary to the Jewish belief on the origin of demons in Jesus’ time).

Although Gap Theorists contend that pre-Adamic human-like creatures existed, there is no biblical warrant for this. The Bible knows nothing about such people. 1

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Some cite Gen 1:28 in the KJV as a proof that the earth was formerly filled with people.

Gen 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…

They argue that you can only replenish (i.e. fill again) something that was already filled.

But the word translated “replenish” is the Hebrew verb “male”. While in modern English “replenish” means “refill”, the Hebrew word simply means “to be full, to fill” (Strong’s ref 4390 1). It is the same word used in Gen 6:11, “the earth was filled with violence”.

1 hebrew/ 4390.htm


All modern English translations render this word as “fill”.

(ESV) And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…”

(NASB) God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…”

(NKJV) Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth…

(NIV) God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth…”

The English translation of the Septuagint by Brenton (1851) renders it as “And God blessed them, saying, Increase and multiply, and fill the earth…”


So why did the KJV (1611) translate it as “replenish”?

An examination of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) shows that the English word “replenish” was used to mean “fill” from the 13th to the 17th centuries. In no case quoted in these 5 centuries does it unambiguously mean “re-fill”.

The OED defines “replenish” as having 10 meanings throughout its history. 1 Only one of these usages includes the idea “again”. The first known use carrying this connotation appears in a poem in 1612 (Pepys’ Diary) where it says: “buy ... to replenish the stores”.

1 (1) fully stocked; provided, supplied; (2) filled, pervaded; (3) physically or materially filled; (4) full, made full; (5) make full, fill, stock with; (6) inhabit, settle, occupy the whole of; (7) fill with food, satiate; (9) fill (space) with; fill (heart) with (a feeling); (9) fill up again; fill up (a vacant office) (AD 1632); (10) become full, attain to fullness.


The alleged judgment which caused the earth to become “without form and void” is usually spoken of as a flood because Gen 1:2 says that the earth was covered by water. It is known as the Luciferic flood, named after the angel who is identified with Satan.

The cause for the judgment is usually given as the rebellion of Satan or some pre-Adamic race that sinned. All of the inhabitants of the earth were judged by God, leaving behind fossil remains. The present plants and animals living today have no genetic relationship with the fossil left behind by the judgment of God. 1

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Surely the fossil evidence can be better explained by a Flood that we know happened (the Flood of Noah) rather than by a flood which Scripture does not mention (the Luciferic Flood).

All of this (a pre-Adamic world, a pre-Edenic fall of Satan and another flood) are arguments from silence. The Bible does not explicitly teach anywhere that Satan rebelled and fell before Eden. Rev 12 does not speak of Satan’s historic fall (unless you’re an Amillennialist), but a future eviction from heaven in the Tribulation. Ezek 28 seems to imply that Satan’s fall may have been in Eden. It refers to him as being “blameless” and “the seal [or serpent] of perfection” in Eden, not a being who was already fallen.

Ezek 28:12-15 (NIV) “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God… You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.”


Job 38 also implies that at the creation of the earth, the angels had not yet fallen.

Job 38:4-7 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?... while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”

Obviously those who hold to the Gap Theory will claim that the earth was created billions of years ago and that Satan fell subsequent to this, but before the recreation of earth. But to Young-Earth Creationists, surely this implies that Satan’s fall was in Eden.


We have already noted that the judgement of “you shall eat the dust” (Gen 3:14) is metaphorical and the equivalent of “I have cast you to the ground” (Ezek 28:17). The word “ground” used here is “erets”, which usually means “earth”.

Then in Isaiah 14:12, another passage which speaks of Satan, at least in a secondary sense, it says “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth (erets)…” (NIV), again probably metaphoric of the “you shall eat the dust” judgement of Satan in Eden.


Those who hold to the Gap Theory assign fossils to the gap period they place between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2.

The same criticism of Progressive Creationism can be applied to the Gap Theory. Referring to Adam Rom 5:12 states that “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin…” (NKJV).

Yet if the Gap Theory (the Ruin and Reconstruction version) is correct, there was death before Adam (as evidenced by the Fossil record).


According to the Ruin and Reconstruction version - under Adam’s feet, entombed in the sedimentary rocks was the testimony of the reality of the existence of death long before Adam, from the inhabitants of the former world.

If animals and prehistoric men died for millions of years before Adam existed, this theory (along with Progressive Creationism) implies that Adam was doomed to physically die – regardless of sin.


Are we on the second earth?

John refers to the current heaven and earth as “the first heaven and the first earth”.

Rev 21:1 (ESV) Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.



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