Is The Gap Theory Biblical?

Chris What is your stand on The “Gap Theory” of Genesis 1? Does it really matter? Does this “theory” explain the war in heaven with Lucifer as some suggest? – Michael L.

This is a fantastic question, and one that I appreciate on a personal level because several years ago I seriously entertained the possibility. For those who aren’t familiar with the theory, the argument is that there is a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. It was popular with such well respected expositors as J. Vernon McGee. Supposedly, the millions—even billions—of years that scientist say the earth and universe has been around can be put between those two verses.

The chief evidence for the theory is Isa. 45:18, which says God “did not create [the earth] to be empty.” The word for “empty” here is tohu, which is the same word used in Gen. 1:2, “the earth was formless (tohu) and void.” Advocates say that if the earth was not created tohu, but by Gen. 1:2 it had become tohu, then something must have happened to the original creation in Gen. 1:1. This is further backed by the fact that the verb “was” in “and the earth was formless and void” in Gen. 1:2 can be translated “had become,” which means Gen. 1:2 could actually be rendered “and the earth had become formless and void.”

On the surface, this appears to be very compelling. However, the use of tohu in Isa. 45:18 isn’t as strong evidence as it first appears. The important part of the verse says, “he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.” In Hebrew poetry, which this passage is an example of, two clauses set side by side are used to enhance meaning. Thus, when Isaiah says God did not create the world tohu, it means that God did not create it to be tohu as the next clause demonstrates. Instead, it was created to be inhabited. It was created for us (as evidenced by the fact that the context is the final salvation of Israel).

This brings us to the second part of your question, which is whether or not it explains the war in heaven. Again, many advocates of the Gap Theory argue that there was originally a pre-Adamic race ruled by Lucifer. Lucifer, however, caused a war in heaven at which time he was cast to earth. As punishment, God destroyed his kingdom, enshrouding it in darkness for hundreds of millions of years. Thus, the creation story of Gen. 1 is actually a story of recreation, not of the original creation. It is also why the first words God speaks are “Let there be light.”

Beyond the fact that there is little biblical evidence for this position (the Bible does talk about a war in heaven and Satan being cast out, but it does not connect it with the early earth or a pre-Adamic race; in fact, a pre-Adamic race is nowhere mentioned in Scripture), Isa. 45:18, the very verse appealed to support the Gap Theory, actually works against it. If God did not create the world to be empty but instead created it to be inhabited by humanity, then it makes no sense to say that it was created for Lucifer and his kingdom.

A final point has to do with general motivation for advocating a gap theory. Historically, no one ever found such a gap between the two verses until science came up with millions of years that supposedly needed to be explained. Whether or not science is right, the point is that we shouldn’t look for ways in Scripture to explain it away. Biblical passages must be taken in their own contexts. One of the surest ways to come up with a bad reading of a passage is to be looking for a meaning in it. As well intentioned as gap proponents are, I’m afraid they’ve done just that. Their good intentions have turned out to be the very thing that has caused their mistake.