Genesis 1:1-2 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
The second verse of Genesis 1 has been the subject of controversy for a long time. Traditionally most contend that the verse should stand as it is in the Authorised Version, but others insist that it should read, “and the earth became without form and void.” This latter group adhere to what has been called THE GAP THEORY. In this edition of the R.T. we want to look at this matter, and see why the Gap Theory arose, and what are its implications to the rest of Scripture.
Historically, the Gap Theory was first introduced by Dr. Thomas Chalmers of Edinburgh University in 1814. He was a man of considerable influence, being a famous theologian, as well as the founder of the Free Church of Scotland. His writings therefore were accepted by many as authoritative. In suggesting a Gap at Genesis 1:2, he wrote, “Should, in particular, the explanation that we now offer be sustained, this would permit an indefinite scope to the conjectures of geology – and without any undue liberty with the first chapter of Genesis.” This quotation is sufficient to demonstrate the rationale behind the concept. Although Darwin’s “Origin of Species” didn’t appear until 1859, Chalmers lived in that era when geologists were beginning to talk about past ages of the earth.
Later in the 19th century, in 1876, George H. Pember wrote a book entitled “Earth’s Earliest Ages”, in which he popularised the concept of a Gap. The book was keenly read and is still available today. (Re-published by Kregel in 1975)
In 1917 the first edition of The Scofield Reference Bible appeared, and because of its footnote at Genesis 1:2, it more or less canonised the concept of a Gap. Fifty years later, the second edition appeared, lacking this footnote, but had it placed less conspicuously as a footnote to Isaiah 45:18.
In 1970 another book appeared on the subject, entitled “Without form and void”, by Dr. Arthur C.Custance, a retired Canadian physiologist. And during the 19th and 20th century other well-known writers also espoused the Gap Theory, such as Dake (author of Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible), Joseph Bryant Rotherham (author of The Emphasised Bible), Ethelbert W. Bullinger (author of The Companion Bible), Arno Gaebelein, Johann Kurtz, William Buckland, James Gray, William Evans, Arthur Pink, Louis Talbot, Campbell Morgan, Henry Thiessen, Donald Barnhouse, Erich Sauer, Lewis Sperry Chafer, and Clarence Larkin.
All these writers had one thing in common, namely, to accommodate the recent findings of science with the brief references in Scripture concerning the Creation. Genesis 1:2, they said, was backed up by Isaiah 45:18, and showed that there was a catastrophe prior to the creation of Adam and Eve. Apart from extremely brief Scriptural notices, there is nothing else revealed in the Bible about the “catastrophe”, and as a result it lends itself admirably to whatever length of time the geologists require, whether it be in millions or even billions of years. It even enables some believers, apparently, to espouse the theory of evolution without a problem. But that is another matter altogether, and cannot be entered upon in this article.
Whatever the theories of modern science in respect of past ages, it is absolutely impossible to intrude the subject into the first verses of Genesis. The text simply will not allow it. We decline to accept the Gap Theory for the following reasons.
- Paul wrote in Romans 5:12 “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin – -.” Therefore no divine judgment on this world could have occurred prior to the creation of Adam. Sin and death did not exist prior to Genesis 3.
- Paul wrote in 1 Cor.15:45 “The first man Adam was a living soul, the last Adam was a Quickening Spirit.” Hence there were no men before Adam. He was the first man. “Pre-adamite men” have been suggested by expositors in the past, the first mention being by a French Calvinist, Isaac de laPeyrere in 1655. George Hawtin considered that Negroes were “the beasts of the field”, created before Adam, a totally indefensible, grotesque, and racially objectionable theory if ever there was one. No, Adam was the first man. Likewise, there will be no other men, because Christ is termed the “last Adam.” God does not intend to create any further race of human beings.
- God pronounced everything that He’d made, “very good”. That would have been a blatant lie if Adam and Eve had been walking on an earth consisting of decomposing animal matter and extensive fossil beds from a previous catastrophe.
- In Genesis 3 Satan is cursed. The text implies that both Satan and the humans were responsible on that day for what happened, not that Satan was responsible for some earlier calamity.
- The text of Genesis 1 contains a common Hebrew literary formula, by which the historical progression of events is recorded by constant repetition of the word “and”. Bullinger points this out in his Companion Bible, and says that it is the figure of speech Polysyndeton. This precludes a break at Genesis 1:2, even though Bullinger was himself a strong advocate of the Gap Theory!
- There is a serious moral problem involved in the acceptance of a Gap. If God had to destroy a former creation, and gave us hardly any information as to why, how do we know that He is not incompetent? Do we have any guarantee that similar “mistakes” are not possible for the future? On the other hand, if it was not a mistake, but due to rebellion, have we the assurance that God was able to salvage other creations He made?
- Consequent on the last point, if there was a rebellious pre-adamite race, why did God destroy them rather than send His Son to redeem them? We learn from Scripture that Christ died for “Adam”, meaning the human race of which we are now a part, not for some other pre-adamic race of beings. Why did God choose to redeem one race and not another? This again is a serious moral problem.
- Finally, observe how it sounds when put like this – “To start with, God created heavens and earth, and earth became a total ruin, with darkness on the ocean, and God said, ‘Let there be light.'” In all theworld’s literature, there is no other known example where such a bizarre format was adopted. Surely it must create laughter amongst literary giants when posited as a serious interpretation.
Here then are our final comments. We have read Pember’s account in “Earth’s Earliest Ages”, and are astonished at how a man of such erudition could formulate a theory based on such flimsy literary evidence, that flies in the face of Scriptures such as those quoted above. The Lord said that the children of this world are often wiser than the children of light, and this seems to be the case in a number of directions. Logic, common sense, and rationality are cast to the wind. We have read, for example, that God created evil, based on a single misunderstood text; and that when God said it was “not good” for man to dwell alone, it suggested a sinful state prior to Genesis 3; we have heard the true (but almost unbelievable) story of how certain women missionaries of the 19th century in Africa were mal-treating children, because, as they put it, “Jesus said suffer the little children to come unto me”; we have also heard about certain evangelists who never acknowledged anyone they met, because Jesus told His disciples “Salute no man by the way”; and so we are waiting to hear that Paul was an avid beer drinker because when he arrived at “the three taverns, he took courage”! (To our American readers, Courage is a brand name of beer in the U.K.)
An esteemed friend of ours, Dr. Charles Ozanne, an Oxford Graduate in Hebrew and Aramaic, has shown us how wrong it is to translate the Hebrew word hayetha (was) in Genesis 1:2 as “became.” It is the usual word “to be”, and although sometimes it takes on the meaning of “became”, this is a translation that seldom occurs, and allowable only by the context. For example, Lot’s wife “became” a pillar of salt. There is no mistaking the meaning there. But in Genesis 1:2 the progression of thought naturally follows, step by step, so that “the earth was without form and void,” or perhaps “the earthcame into being as empty and formless.” This is the state in which the primeval material presented itself, and which God worked on progressively through the days of creation.
Some years ago I was entertaining Joseph Arnon, a mature Jewish student from Israel, and referred him to the second verse of Genesis 1. “What do these words really mean?” I asked, in respect of “without form and void”. “Listen to them in Hebrew,” he said. “Keep repeating it after me, tohu vavohu, tohu va vohu, tohu va vohu.What does it sound like? Can you hear the African drums? These words are onomatopoeic, they were designed to sound like the condition they signified, one of emptiness.” “So they don’t convey the idea of catastrophe?” I asked. My friend laughed. “Impossible! They merely set out the condition of the earth before God began His special work on it. Look at it like this. Here is a parcel of ground. It is uneven. It has a rocky outcrop on one side. But it has just been sold for development. A construction company is about to build on it. Tohu va vohu would admirably describe that ground. It is empty, unformed, but ideal for constructing a dwelling. Here come the men and their machines. Soon it will look a lot different. If you were to speak Hebrew as your natural language, you would never have thought of a catastrophe, the idea would have been laughable.”
We recommend to our readers Weston W. Fields’ book on this subject, entitled “Unformed and Unfilled”, 1976, published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Phillipsburg, New Jersey.