Our critic this week is Joel who has responded to my article on the gap theory. Joel argues that there must be a gap of time between verses one and two of Genesis 1 on the basis of the phrase “without form and void” used in Genesis 1:2. Although I already refuted that claim in my original article, a more detailed explanation may provide additional insight. Here is Joel’s message in purple text along with my comments in black.
Joel: “Without Form, and Void.” (Genesis 1:2) “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.”
Joel: What does the phrase “without form and void” mean?
Dr. Lisle: It means “without form and void.” To conclude more than that would go beyond the text.
Joel: We can find out by comparing Scripture with Scripture (1 Cor. 2:13).
Dr. Lisle: This sounds right because we should compare Scripture with Scripture. But we need to do it properly in a way that is faithful to the text.
Joel: Jeremiah 4:20-28: “Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled: suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment. How long shall I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? For my people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge. I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. I beheld, and, lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by his fierce anger. For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate; yet will I not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black; because I have spoken it, I have purposed it, and will not repent, neither will I turn back from it.”
Dr. Lisle: It appears that Joel is going to argue that the condition “without form and void” is always the result of catastrophe or judgment since in this passage judgment has resulted in such a condition. But of course, this is a hasty generalization fallacy. It is strange that Joel would use this error in reasoning since I already refuted this fallacy in the original article.
Joel: So by comparing Scripture with Scripture, would you say the phrase “without form, and void” sounds like an act of “creation” or “destruction?” It’s obviously destruction!
Dr. Lisle: No, “without form and void” is not an act of creation nor an act of destruction because it is not an act at all! It is a state. The Hebrew words translated “without form and void” are not verbs; they are adjectives. They describe the way something is, not how it came to be that way. It is illogical to assume that all instances of a given state came about by the same action. A house can be empty because it was robbed, or it can be empty because no one has moved in yet. “Empty” just means “empty” and does not provide, in itself, the action that led to the state. Let me illustrate Joel’s error by applying his reasoning to a similar situation.
Consider this argument: “What does the word ‘blind’ mean? When we compare Scripture with Scripture, we see that blindness is the result of a person’s sin. When Saul was persecuting the church, the Lord blinded him (Acts 9:4-9). So, what does it mean that the man was blind in John 9:1? Obviously, God was punishing him for his sin.” Such an argument is irrational and is specifically refuted by Jesus in John 9:3 who said, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Blindness is a state of being. There are many possible causes of it. Likewise, “without form and void” is a state of being. The cause of such a state in one instance need not be the same cause in a different instance. Genesis 1 clearly teaches that the reason the Earth was without form and empty on the first day is because God initially created it that way and then took six days to form it and fill it. God had not yet created the continents or any life forms on day 1 – so of course the Earth was without form and empty. The rest of Genesis is God forming and filling the initially formless and empty creation.
Joel: Note the similarities of Jeremiah 4 with Genesis [sic] 2: Jeremiah 4: “Without form, and void,” “heavens are black,” no light, “tents and curtains are spoiled” in God’s judgment. Genesis 1: “Without form, and void,” “darkness,” no light, “the tent and curtain” of the universe was spoiled in God’s judgment (See Is. 40:22; 2 Pet. 3:4-11).
Dr. Lisle: There is a connection between Jeremiah 4 and Genesis 1, but it is not what Joel suggests. The point of Jeremiah 4 is that God’s judgment will be so severe, that it will be as if He had undone all the work He did during the creation week. The Earth would be reduced to the way it was when God first created it, before He then formed it and filled it with life. Jeremiah 4 uses an allusion to Genesis 1, and allusions can only refer to what was already written. That is, we use Genesis 1 to better understand Jeremiah 4, not the reverse as Joel has mistakenly claimed.
Notice that God uses this same act of “uncreation” when He pronounces judgment upon Adam. As a result of Adam’s sin, Adam would return to dust (Genesis 3:19), which is what Adam was before God formed Him (Genesis 2:7). Now, should we follow Joel’s reasoning and conclude that the dust from which Adam was created in Genesis 2:7 was actually the result of Adam’s sin on the basis that the dust in Genesis 3:19 was? Clearly not. Rather, God often judges by undoing an act of creation.
Joel: Jeremiah 4:20 even starts with “destruction upon destruction,” not “creation upon creation!”
Dr. Lisle: And Genesis 1 begins, “In the beginning God created…” Context matters. Genesis 1 is about creation just as Jeremiah 4 is about destruction in judgment.
Joel: The “heavens” in Jeremiah 4 match the “heavens” in 2 Peter 3:4-7.
Dr. Lisle: Yes, and the same heavens are mentioned in Genesis 1:1 where the text says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Should we conclude that the heavens in Genesis 1:1 are the result of judgment rather than creation by virtue of the fact that the heavens are later mentioned with regard to judgment?
Joel: Also note, that even though this Jeremiah passage is referring to the end of the Tribulation, it is written in the “past tense,” just as Genesis 1:2 is written.
Dr. Lisle: Actually, Hebrew verbs do not have tense like English verbs. Rather they have a stem and a conjugation. The tense of English translations of Hebrew words is determined by context. The context of Jeremiah 4 is judgment, going from formed and filled to formless and empty, whereas the context of Genesis 1 is creation, going from formless and empty to formed and filled. They are opposites.
Joel: “Without form, and void” presupposes former habitation: See Jer. 4:23; Nah. 2:10.
Dr. Lisle: No. This is equivalent to the claim “blindness presupposes the sin of the person: See Acts 9:4-9.” But of course, Jesus refutes such reasoning John 9:1-3. Likewise, “without form” and “void” mean just that: “without form” and “void” respectively, with no presupposition on the way such a state came to be. Let’s take a look at each word in detail.
The Hebrew word translated “without form” or “formless” is “tohu.” The same word is used to describe the formlessness of a wilderness in Deuteronomy 32:10, with no implication that such a land had been previously inhabited. The same word is used to describe a vacuous argument in Isaiah 29:21, yet it would be absurd to conclude that an argument was once inhabited! In 1 Samuel 12:21 the same word is used to describe things that are “futile” in the sense of not profitable for righteousness. But that doesn’t mean that such pursuits were previously inhabited! In Job 26:7, “toho” is what God stretches the north of the Earth over, representing the emptiness of space. Are we to believe that Joel thinks that this outer space was previously inhabited? Isaiah 44:9 uses the same word to describe molten idols because they do not profit a person. But should we believe that such molten idols were once inhabited?
The Hebrew word translated “void” or “empty” is “bohu.” It literally means “empty.” The same word is used in Isaiah 34:11 to describe a plumb line of “emptiness.” The synonymous parallelism in this passage places “bohu” in parallel with “tohu”, indicating that they are synonyms. And we have already found that “tohu” does not imply judgment, or previous habitation, but merely formlessness.
Joel: So remember that the phrase “without form, and void” as found in both Genesis 1:2 and Jeremiah 4:23 indicate God’s judgment and both are in connection with the heavens and the earth ending (2 Pet. 3:4-11).
Dr. Lisle: Just as the blindness in Acts 9:4-9 does not have the same cause as the blindness in John 9:1-3, neither does the emptiness of the Earth when it was first created (before God filled it) have the same cause as the emptiness due to judgment. The dust which Adam became at death was due to judgment. But the dust from which Adam was made in the first place was not the result of judgment. Rather, it was dust because God had not yet formed it into a man. Likewise, the emptiness of the Earth at the instant of its creation (as described in Genesis 1:1-2) is not because of any unmentioned judgment (of which there is absolutely no evidence in Scripture), but was because God had not yet formed or filled the Earth.
Joel: God used his words to speak the worlds (plural!) into place: (Hebrews 11:3) “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”
Dr. Lisle: God did indeed speak the worlds into existence – but not all on the same day. God created the Earth on day one (Genesis 1:1-5). He spoke the other worlds into existence on day 4 (Genesis 1:14-19). The Hebrew root word translated “stars” is “kocab” and would include the other planets as well. And since God created the heaven and Earth and all that is in them in the span of six days (Exodus 20:11), this eliminates any perceived gap.
Joel: Now compare this to Isaiah 55:11: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” When God used his words to create the earth, they didn’t result in a voided earth.
Dr. Lisle: First, Joel has committed an equivocation fallacy on the word “void.” The Hebrew word translated “void” in Isaiah 55:11 is “raykam” – a different word than the “void” of Genesis 1:2. Second, even if the word were the same it would not prove Joel’s point. Isaiah 55:11 does not say that the objects of God’s creation are never initially “void” or “empty.” Rather, it indicates that God’s words always accomplish what God intends them to do. They do not return “empty” in the sense of failing to accomplish their function. This is consistent with Genesis 1:1-2 where God created an Earth that was initially empty of life and without formed landmasses. Then God spent six days forming and filling the earth. God’s words accomplished all of creation; they did not return void.
Joel: Isaiah 45:18 “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: I am the Lord; and there is none else.” When comparing this verse to Genesis 1:2 you would have to conclude that there is a contradiction in the words of God (who are you trying to kid?!) because God says that he formed the earth, and established it (hung it upon nothing), and he created it not in vain, but to be inhabited as part of his creative work and that is not what is going on in Genesis 1:2. Or, that something went wrong in Genesis 1:2 and that the earth being “without form, and void” and having “darkness” and being “covered in the deep” was not a sign of creation, but a sign of destruction.
Dr. Lisle: I already refuted this in the article to which Joel is responding. So apparently, he didn’t read it carefully. Notice that Joel’s interpretation contradicts Isaiah 55:11 which he himself cited previously. Namely, if Isaiah 45:18 meant that God created the Earth on day 1 already inhabited and to be inhabited, but then Genesis supposedly indicates that the Earth became uninhabited, then God’s words failed. God was apparently unable to keep the Earth inhabited and had to try again! But of course, such a conclusion is horribly unbiblical. No. Isaiah 45:18 refers to God’s purpose for the completed Earth. Namely, God created the Earth so that people could inhabit it. And He took six days to do this (not one day)!
Imagine a house-builder who takes great joy in his work. He looks at a house he built years ago, and says, “I made this house to be inhabited. I didn’t make it to be empty, rather, I built it so people could live there.” Then imagine we found a picture of an early stage of the house, still in construction, without a roof or doors. Of course, no one could live in the house at that point. Would it be rational to call the builder a liar? Should we say, “This picture shows that you obviously did not build this house to be inhabited! No one was there yet, and no one could live there at that time!” Wouldn’t that be absurd? And so is Joel’s claim that Isaiah 45:18 teaches that the unfinished Earth must have been inhabited from the first instant.
Joel: Look at the comparison: Isaiah 45:18’s characteristics about the earth: Established, Formed, Inhabited, and Not in Vain. Genesis 1:2’s characteristics about the earth: Established (the Earth is already “hung upon nothing” in Gen. 1:2), Without Form, Void (No Inhabitants), and Vain (worthless).
Dr. Lisle: Isaiah 45:18 refers to God’s purpose for the finished Earth, after God had spent six days forming and filling it. Genesis 1:2 specifies the conditions of the unfinished Earth when God first created it – before He formed it and filled it. The waw-disjunctive in verse 2 indicates that it is a comment on verse 1; namely, verse 2 describes the initial state of the Earth before God formed it and filled it with life. Genesis 2:4, however, refers to the finished heaven and Earth, describing an Earth that was formed (with continents and oceans) and filled (with living creatures). Genesis 1-2 confirms Isaiah 45:18 – God indeed formed the Earth to be inhabited, and He took six days to accomplish this – not in an instant as Joel mistakenly claims.
Joel: It is obvious that Genesis 1:2 is referring to earth’s “destruction” and not “creation.”
Dr. Lisle: The waw-disjunctive in verse 2 indicates that it is explaining verse 1. So does verse one speak of destruction or creation? “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So there is no doubt that verse 2 is referring to the Earth as it was at the first instant it was created. Joel’s claim has absolutely no textual basis, and is actually refuted by the text.
Joel: The Gap Fact would be the correct term,…
Dr. Lisle: That is a question-begging epithet fallacy. When people have absolutely no evidence to support their claim, sometimes they hope to persuade by simply calling it a “fact.” But that doesn’t make it so. It is rather silly to call a theological claim a “fact” when it has absolutely no textual support, and when it is in fact disallowed by the text.
The waw-disjunctive in verse 2 disallows any gap of time because it does not follow in time; rather it is a clarification of verse 1. So, grammatically, a gap makes no sense. Consider a sentence: “My new house is empty.” Can you put a gap of time in between “my new house” and “is empty”? That would be absurd because “is empty” describes the condition of “my new house.” Imagine someone claiming, “There is an enormous gap of time between ‘my new house’ and ‘is empty.’ Clearly, the fact that the house is empty implies that it was judged by God and became empty because the builder formed it to be inhabited.”
Joel: … and NO, I’m not a billion year earth supporter. I’m a young earth Creationist.
Dr. Lisle: That’s good. But the issue is not really about the age of the Earth, but rather believing what the Bible says. The text of Genesis 1 teaches that God created the Earth initially as ball of water with no life, and then formed it and filled it over the course of six days. Exodus 20:11 indicates that everything in heaven and earth was created in that span of six days, which disallows any gap.
Joel: It’s a hasty generalization fallacy to group one doctrine with others who teach false doctrine.
Dr. Lisle: The gap theory, like theistic evolution or day-age progressive creation, is not something one could logically derive from the text, and is in fact disallowed by Hebrew grammar. Genesis 1:2 uses a waw-disjunctive. This is where the word “and” is followed by a non-verb (in the original order of the Hebrew text). The phrase “and the Earth” is a waw-disjunctive because “the Earth” is a noun, not a verb. This indicates that verse two is a clarification of verse one – it describes the condition the Earth was in when God first created it in verse one. There cannot be a gap of time between verse one and verse two because verse two does not happen after verse one!
In their Hebrew textbook, Kutz and Josberger have this to say about the waw-disjunctive in Genesis 1:2:
Although the standard word order for Hebrew narrative is verb + subject, the author may choose to place some other part of the sentence in the initial position (fronting). Placing the subject first is often used to signal information that provides background for the story. You have already seen an example of this in v. 2 of your assigned reading from Genesis 1:1-5. The italicized nouns [“And the Earth”] in the English translation below are placed first in the Hebrew clause to signal background information that is not part of the narrative sequence. [underline added] 
Hence, Genesis 1:2 is clarifying the conditions that existed on Earth when God first created it. It is providing background detail for Genesis 1:1, and therefore does not describe something that happened after Genesis 1:1. Without verse two, people might erroneously assume that God created the Earth instantly with its current shape (continents separated from oceans) and full of life. Verse 2 clarifies that God initially created the Earth empty of life, and without its continents; it was unformed and empty. This is because God had not yet formed it or filled it. This is the point of the rest of Genesis. It describes God forming and filling His creation over the course of six days. God did form the Earth to be inhabited, but He did this over the course of six days as a pattern for us (Exodus 20:8-11).
 Kutz, K., and R. Josberger, Learning Biblical Hebrew, Lexham Press, Bellingham, WA, 2018, p. 60