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Popular Compromises of Creation—The Gap Theory

Popular Compromises of Creation—The Gap Theory

by Bert Thompson, Ph.D.


It is rare in the creation/evolution controversy to find issues on which both creationists and evolutionists agree. Generally speaking, the two world views are light-years apart. But there is one thing on which both sides agree: evolution is impossible if the Earth/Universe-system is young—with an age measured in thousands, not billions, of years. R.L. Wysong has commented:

Both evolutionists and creationists believe evolution is an impossibility if the universe is only a few thousand years old. There probably is no statement that could be made on the topic of origins which would meet with so much agreement from both sides. Setting aside the question of whether vast time is competent to propel evolution, we must query if vast time is indeed available (1976, p. 144).

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It is interesting to observe how something on which both sides agree has caused so much disagreement. Aside from the basic issue of whether creation or evolution is correct, the most serious area of conflict between the biblical and the evolutionary scenarios is the chronological framework of history—in other words, the age of the Earth. This matter is of importance not only to evolutionists, but to theistic evolutionists, progressive creationists, and other “old-Earth creationists.” While a young Earth presents no problem whatsoever for a creationist, it is the death knell to each and every variety of the evolutionary scenario.

A simple, straightforward reading of the biblical record indicates that the Cosmos was created in six days only a few thousand years ago. Opposed to that view is the idea of evolutionists that the Universe is 15-20 billion years old, and that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old. Further complicating matters is the fact that the biblical record indicates living things were placed on the newly created Earth even before the end of the six-day creative process (e.g., plant life came on day three). The evolutionary scenario, however, postulates that primitive life evolved from nonliving chemicals roughly 3.5-4.0 billion years ago, and that all other life forms developed during the so-called geologic ages, with man arriving on the scene in one form or another 1-2 million years ago.

Even to a casual observer, it is apparent that this is no small problem. Much of the controversy today centers on the age of the Earth. The magnitude of the controversy is multiplied by two factors. First, theistic evolution and progressive creation are impossible if the Earth is young. Thus, if the proponents of these views wish to retain their belief systems, it is imperative that they find a way to place the time for an ancient Earth in the biblical record. Second, there is no middle ground that will permit the old-Earth/young-Earth scenarios to coexist; the gulf separating the biblical and evolutionary views on the topic of the age of the Earth is just too large. As Henry Morris has observed:

Thus the Biblical chronology is about a million times shorter than the evolutionary chronology. A million-fold mistake is no small matter, and Biblical scholars surely need to give primary attention to resolving this tremendous discrepancy right at the very foundation of our entire Biblical cosmology. This is not a peripheral issue that can be dismissed with some exegetical twist, but is central to the very integrity of scriptural theology (1984, p. 115).

If the Earth is ancient, where in the Bible can the time be inserted to ensure that antiquity? The time needed to guarantee an old Earth might be placed: (a) before the creation week; (b) during the creation week; or (c) after the creation week.

The attempt to insert geological time into the biblical text during the creation week is known as the Day-Age Theory—a concept that has fallen on hard times in recent years because it is completely without lexical or exegetical support from the biblical record (see Thompson, 1982, 1994). As a result, it has been rejected by numerous old-Earth creationists, theistic evolutionists, and progressive creationists.

Rarely do those desiring to insert geologic time into the biblical record attempt to place the time after the creation week, for two reasons. First, placing time after the creation has occurred does not help the case of the theistic evolutionist or progressive creationist. Time “after the fact” is a moot issue. Second, the biblical genealogies (e.g., Genesis 5, Genesis 11, Luke 3, etc.) have the text so well protected that it is manifestly impossible to insert the billions of years of time needed to allow for an ancient Earth (see Thompson, 1989).

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Thus, the Bible believer intent on accommodating his theology to the uniformitarian dogma of an ancient Earth must find another way to force vast time spans into Genesis 1. The only option remaining is to insert the time before the creation week—a concept known as the Gap Theory.


Popularity of the Gap Theory (also referred to by such synonyms as the Ruin-and-Reconstruction Theory, the Pre-Adamic Cataclysm Theory, and the Restitution Theory) is generally attributed to the writings of Thomas Chalmers, a nineteenth century Scottish theologian. In recent years, the Gap Theory has undergone an “evolution” of its own, and for that reason is not easily defined. There are several variations, and its defenders do not agree among themselves on strict interpretations. However, a brief summation of its main tenets might be as follows.

The widely held view among gap theorists today is that the original creation of the world by God, as recorded in Genesis 1:1, took place billions of years ago. The creation was despoiled because of Satan’s rebellion against God, resulting in his being cast from heaven with his followers. A cataclysm occurred at the time of Satan’s overthrow, and is said to have left the Earth in darkness (the “waste and void” of Genesis 1:2). [NOTE: It is alleged by some Gap theorists that the cataclysm occurring at Satan’s overthrow terminated the geologic ages, after which God “re-created.” It is alleged by others that the cataclysm occurred first, and then was followed by the geologic ages, after which God “re-created.”] The world as God had created it, with all its inhabitants, was destroyed, which, it is claimed, accounts for the myriad fossils present in the Earth. Many holding to this theory place the fossils of dinosaurs, so-called “ape-men,” and other extinct forms of life in this gap. Then, God “re-created” the Earth in six literal days. By way of summary, then, the “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 contains the story of an original creation, a judgment, and ruination, while the verses in Genesis 1:3 through the remainder of the chapter record the story of the Earth’s re-creation.

Is the Gap Theory Popular?

The Gap Theory has had, and continues to have, numerous supporters. George H. Pember, in Earth’s Earliest Ages (1876), advocated the Gap Theory. Harry Rimmer, in Modern Science and the Genesis Record (1937), helped popularize the theory. The renowned Canadian anthropologist, Arthur C. Custance, produced Without Form and Void (1970), which many consider the ablest defense of the Gap Theory ever put into print. George DeHoff advocated the theory in Why We Believe the Bible (1944).

J.D. Thomas, former chairman of the Bible Department at Abilene Christian University, has stated that “no man can prove that it is not true, at least in part” (1961, p. 54). The popular Scofield Reference Bible was first published in 1909; by 1917, it contained a reference to the Gap Theory in the footnotes accompanying Genesis 1. In more recent editions, references to the theory may be found as a footnote to Isaiah 45. John Clayton has accepted major portions of the Gap Theory, but has added to and deleted from the theory to produce what has come to be known as the Modified Gap Theory (see Clayton, 1976, pp. 147-148; Thompson, 1977, pp. 192-194; McIver, 1988, 8[3]:1-23; Jackson and Thompson, 1992, pp. 114-130).

Arguments Presented in Support of the Gap Theory

Advocates of the Gap Theory base their beliefs on several arguments, a summary of which is given here; comments and refutation follow.

  1. Gap theorists suggest that the word bara (used in Genesis 1:1, 21, 27) must mean “to create” (i.e.: ex nihilo creation), while the word asah cannot mean “to create,” but rather means “to make.” Therefore, the original creation was “created”; the creation of the six days was “made” (i.e., “made over”).
  2. Gap theorists suggest that the Hebrew verb hayetha (translated “was” in Genesis 1:2) should be rendered “became” or “had become”—a translation required in order to suggest a change of state from the original perfect creation to the chaotic conditions implied in verse 2.
  3. Gap theorists believe that the “without form and void” of Genesis 1:2 (tohu wabohu) can refer only to something once in a state of repair, but now ruined. Pember accepted these words as expressing “an outpouring of the wrath of God.” Gap theorists believe that the cataclysm that occurred was on the Earth, and was the direct result of Satan’s rebellion against God. The cataclysm, of course, is absolutely essential to the Gap Theory. Isaiah 14:12-15 and Ezekiel 28:11-17 are used as proof-texts to bolster the theory.
  4. Gap theorists believe that Isaiah 45:18 (“God created the earth not in vain”—tohu; same word translated “without form” in Genesis 1:2) indicates that the Earth was not tohu at the initial creation. Therefore, they suggest, Genesis 1:2 can refer only to a judgment brought upon the Earth by God.

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  5. Gap theorists generally believe that there was a pre-Adamic creation of both non-human and human forms—a position adopted to account for the fossils present in the geologic strata.

The Gap Theory—A Refutation

I would like to suggest the following reasons why the Gap Theory should be rejected.

1. The Gap Theory is false because of the mental gymnastics necessary to force its strained argumentation to agree with the actual biblical text.

Bernard Ramm, a progressive creationist, has admitted as much:

It gives one of the grandest passages in the Bible a most peculiar interpretation. From the earliest Bible interpretation this passage has been interpreted by Jews, Catholics, and Protestants as the original creation of the universe. In six majestic days the universe and all of life is brought into being. But according to Rimmer’s view the great first chapter of Genesis, save for the first verse, is not about original creation at all, but about reconstruction. The primary origin of the universe is stated in but one verse. This is not the most telling blow against the theory but it certainly indicates that something has been lost to make the six days of creation anti-climactic. So entrenched has this theory become in hyper-orthodox circles that they feel as if the foundations are removed if this theory is criticized, whereas the majority of commentators feel that the entire theory has a peculiarity to it in that it makes the great creation chapter the second time round! (1954, p. 138, emp. in orig.).

2. The Gap Theory is false because it is based on an incorrect distinction between God’s creating (bara) and making (asah).

According to the standard rendition of the Gap Theory, the word bara must refer to “creating” (i.e., an “original” creation), while asah can refer only to “making” (i.e., not an original creation, but something either “made over” or made from preexisting materials). A survey of these two words in the Old Testament, however, clearly indicates that they are used interchangeably. Morris has observed:

The Hebrew words for “create” (bara) and for “make” (asah) are very often used quite interchangeably in Scripture, at least when God is the one referred to as creating or making. Therefore, the fact that bara is used only three times in Genesis 1 (vv. 1, 21, and 27) certainly does not imply that the other creative acts, in which “made” or some similar expression is used, were really only acts of restoration. For example, in Genesis 1:21, God “created” the fishes and birds; in 1:25, He “made” the animals and creeping things. In verse 26, God speaks of “making” man in His own image. The next verse states that God “created” man in His own image. No scientific or exegetical ground exists for distinction between the two processes, except perhaps a matter of grammatical emphasis… (1966, p. 32).

The insistence by Gap theorists, and those sympathetic with them, that the word bara always must mean “to create something from nothing,” simply is incorrect. In his commentary, The Pentateuch, Old Testament scholar C.F. Keil concluded that when bara appears in its basic form, as it does in Genesis 1,

…it always means to create, and is only applied to a divine creation, the production of that which had no existence before. It is never joined with an accusative of the material, although it does not exclude a pre-existent material unconditionally, but is used for the creation of man (ver. 27, ch. v. 1,2), and of everything new that God creates, whether in the kingdom of nature (Num. xvi.30) or of that of grace (Ex. xxxiv.10; Ps. li.10, etc.) (1980, 1:47, first emp. in orig.; last emp. added).

There are numerous examples where bara and asah are used interchangeably. In Psalm 148:1-5, the writer spoke of the “creation” (bara) of the angels. Yet when Nehemiah addressed the creation of angels (9:6), he employed the word asah to describe it. In Genesis 1:1, the text speaks of God “creating” (bara) the Earth. But when Nehemiah spoke of that same event (9:6), he employed the word asah. When Moses wrote of man’s “creation,” he used bara (Genesis 1:27). But one verse before that (1:26), he spoke of the “making” (asah) of man. Moses also employed the two words in the same verse when he said: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created [bara], in the day that Jehovah made [asah] earth and heaven” (Genesis 2:4).

Gap theorists teach that the Earth was created (bara) from nothing in Genesis 1:1. However, Moses stated in Genesis 2:4 that the Earth was made (asah). Gap theorists are on record as advocating the view that asah can refer only to that which is made from something already in existence. Do they believe that when Moses spoke of the Earth being “made,” it was formed from something already in existence?

One verse with which proponents of the Gap Theory have never dealt adequately is Nehemiah 9:6.

Thou art Jehovah, even thou alone; thou hast made [asah] heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all things that are thereon, the seas, and all that is in them, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee.

The following quotation from Fields explains why this verse is so extremely critical in a refutation of the Gap Theory.

While the passages in Genesis cited by one of the lexicons…mention only the making of the firmament, sun, moon, stars, and animals, it must be carefully marked by the reader that in Nehemiah 9:6 the objects of God’s making (asa) include the heavens, the host of heavens, and the earth, and everything contained in and on it, and the seas and everything they contain, as well as the hosts of heaven (probably angels).

Now this is a very singular circumstance, for those who argue for the distinctive usage of asa throughout Scripture must, in order to maintain any semblance of consistency, never admit that the same creative acts can be referred to by both the verb bara and the verb asa. Thus, since Genesis 1:1 says that God created (bara) the heavens and the earth, and Exodus 20:11 and Nehemiah 9:6 contend that he made (asa) them, there must be two distinct events in view here….

So that, while asa is quite happily applied to the firmament, sun, moon, stars, and the beasts, its further application to everything else contained in the universe, and, indeed, the universe itself (which the language in both Exodus 20:11 and Nehemiah 9:6 is intended to convey) creates a monstrosity of interpretation which should serve as a reminder to those who try to fit Hebrew words into English molds, that to strait-jacket these words is to destroy the possibility of coherent interpretation completely! (1976, pp. 61-62, emp. in orig.).

3. The Gap Theory is false because, in the context of Genesis 1:2, there is no justification for translating the verb “was” (hayetha) as “became.”

Gap theorists insist that the Earth became “waste and void” after Satan’s rebellion. Yet usage of the verb hayah argues against the translation, “The earth became waste and void” (Genesis 1:2). Ramm has noted:

The effort to make was mean became is just as abortive. The Hebrews did not have a word for became but the verb to be did service for to be and become. The form of the verb was in Genesis 1:2 is the Qal, perfect, third person singular, feminine. A Hebrew concordance will give all the occurrences of that form of the verb. A check in the concordance with reference to the usage of this form of the verb in Genesis reveals that in almost every case the meaning of the verb is simply was. Granted in a case or two was means became but if in the preponderance of instances the word is translated was, any effort to make one instance mean became, especially if that instance is highly debatable, is very insecure exegesis (1954, p. 139, emp. in orig.).

The verb hayetha of Genesis 1:2 is translated “was” in all the standard translations because that is its meaning. Surely it is significant that none of the Old Testament linguists felt compelled to translate hayetha to suggest that the Earth became waste and void, as gap theorists propose.

4. We reject the Gap Theory because tohu wabohu does not mean only “something once in a state of repair, but now ruined.”

Gap theorists believe that God’s “initial” creation was perfect, but became “waste and void” as a result of Satan’s rebellion. Whitcomb has responded:

“Without form and void” translate the Hebrew expression tohu wabohu, which literally means “empty and formless.” In other words, the Earth was not chaotic, not under a curse of judgment. It was simply empty of living things and without the features that it later possessed, such as oceans and continents, hills and valleys—features that would be essential for man’s well-being. In other words, it was not an appropriate home for man…. [W]hen God created the Earth, this was only the first state of a series of stages leading to its completion (1973, 2:69-70).

5. The Gap Theory is erroneous because there is no evidence for the claim that Satan’s rebellion was on the Earth, or responsible for any great “cataclysm.”

The idea of a cataclysm that destroyed the initial perfect Earth is not supported by an appeal to Scripture, as Morris has explained.

There is, in fact, not a word in Scripture to connect Satan with the earth prior to his rebellion. On the other hand, when he sinned, he was expelled from heaven to the earth…. There is, therefore, no scriptural reason to connect Satan’s fall in heaven with a cataclysm on earth…. That Satan was not on earth, at least not as a wicked rebel against God, prior to Adam’s creation, is quite definite from Genesis 1:31. “And God saw everything that He had made, and…it was very good.” …Therefore, Satan’s sin must have occurred after man’s creation (1974, pp. 233-234, emp. in orig.).

6. We reject the Gap Theory because its proof-text (Isaiah 45:18) is premised on a removal of the verse from its proper context.

Isaiah 45:18 reads:

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 [the phrase “in vain” is tohu, the same as “without form” in Genesis 1:2—BT], He formed it to be inhabited.

Gap theorists suggest since Isaiah stated that God did not create the Earth tohu, and since the Earth of Genesis 1:2 was tohu, therefore the latter could not have been the Earth as it was created in Genesis 1:1. The implication is that the Earth became tohu as a result of the cataclysm precipitated by Satan’s rebellion.

The immediate context, however, has to do with Israel and God’s promises to His people. Isaiah reminded his listeners that just as God had a purpose in creating the Earth, so He had a purpose for Israel. Isaiah spoke of God’s immense power and special purpose in creation, noting that God created the Earth “to be inhabited”—something accomplished when the Lord created people in His image. In Isaiah 45, the prophet’s message is that God, through His power, likewise will accomplish His purpose for His chosen people, Israel. Morris has remarked:

There is no conflict between Isaiah 45:18 and the statement of an initial formless aspect to the created earth in Genesis 1:2. The former can properly be understood as follows: “God created it not (to be forever) without form; He formed it to be inhabited.” As described in Genesis 1, He proceeded to bring beauty and structure to the formless elements and then inhabitants to the waiting lands. It should be remembered that Isaiah 45:18 was written many hundreds of years after Genesis 1:2 and that its context deals with Israel, not a pre-Adamic cataclysm (1974, p. 241).

7. The Gap Theory is false because it implies death of humankind on the Earth prior to Adam.

Pember believed that the fossils (which he felt the Gap Theory explained) revealed death, disease, and ferocity—all tokens of sin. He suggested:

Since, then, the fossil remains are those of creatures anterior to Adam, and yet show evident token of disease, death, and mutual destruction, they must have belonged to another world, and have a sin-stained history of their own (1876, p. 35, emp. added).

The idea that the death of humankind occurred prior to Adam’s sin contradicts New Testament teaching which indicates that the death of humankind entered this world as a result of Adam’s sin (1 Corinthians 15:21; Romans 8:20-22; Romans 5:12). Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:45 that Adam was “the first man.” Yet long before Adam—if the Gap Theory is correct—there existed a pre-Adamic race of men with (to quote Pember) “a sin-stained history of their own.” The Gap Theory and Paul cannot both be correct.


In 1948, M. Henkel, a graduate student at the Winona Lake School of Theology, wrote a master’s thesis on “Fundamental Christianity and Evolution.” During the course of his research, he polled 20 leading Hebrew scholars in the United States, and asked each of them if there were any exegetical evidence that would allow for a gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. They unanimously replied—No! (Henkel, 1950, p. 49, n. 30). We are unable to see that anything in this regard has changed in over four-and-a-half decades.


Clayton, John N. (1976), The Source (South Bend, IN: privately published by author).

Custance, Arthur (1970), Without Form and Void (Brockville, Canada: Doorway Papers).

DeHoff, George W. (1944), Why We Believe the Bible (Murfreesboro, TN: DeHoff).

Fields, Weston W. (1976), Unformed and Unfilled (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Henkel, M. (1950), “Fundamental Christianity and Evolution,” Modern Science and the Christian Faith, ed. F. Alton Everest (Wheaton, IL: Van Kampen Press).

Jackson, Wayne and Bert Thompson (1992), In the Shadow of Darwin: A Review of the Teachings of John N. Clayton (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).

Keil, C.F. and Franz Delitzsch (1980), Biblical Commentaries on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

McIver, Tom (1988), “Formless and Void: Gap Theory Creationism,” Creation/Evolution, 8[3]:1-24, Fall.

Morris, Henry M. (1966) Studies in the Bble and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Morris, Henry M. (1974), Scientific Creationism (San Diego, CA: Creation-Life Publishers).

Morris, Henry M. (1984), The Biblical Basis for Modern Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Pember, George H. (1876), Earth’s Earliest Ages (New York: Revell).

Ramm, Bernard (1954), The Christian View of Science and Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Rimmer, Harry (1937), Modern Science and the Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Thomas, J.D. (1961), Evolution and Antiquity (Abilene, TX: Biblical Research Press).

Thompson, Bert (1977), Theistic Evolution (Shreveport, LA: Lambert).

Thompson, Bert (1982), “The Day-Age Theory: Another False Compromise of the Genesis Account of Creation,” Reason & Revelation, 2:29-32, July.

Thompson, Bert (1989), “Questions and Answers,” Reason & Revelation, 9:17-18, May.

Thompson, Bert (1994), “Popular Compromises of Creation—The Day-Age Theory,” Reason & Revelation, 14:41-44,46-47, June.

Whitcomb, John C. (1973), “The Gap Theory,” And God Created, ed. Kelly L. Segraves (San Diego, CA: Creation-Science Research Center), 2:67-71.

Wysong, R.L. (1976), The Creation-Evolution Controversy (East Lansing, MI: Inquiry Press).



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