From time to time, we receive questions about various aspects of Genesis. One that comes up frequently is the gap theory which asserts that there was an enormous gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. The gap theory was one of the earlier attempts to reconcile the secular belief in deep time (millions of years) with the biblical timescale of around 6000 years. The gap theory does not stand up to scrutiny and has been thoroughly refuted. But since it still comes up from time to time, it is helpful to understand the position as well as its shortcomings.
The gap theory asserts that a large gap of time exists between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, and that a lot of unrecorded events happened during this time. Advocates of this position often argue that verse two should be translated “And the Earth became formless and void…”, as if the Earth in verse 2 was quite different from the Earth that God initially created in verse 1.
There are a few different versions of the gap theory. In one of the most popular versions, Satan was given dominion over the original Earth. The (unrecorded) fall of Satan supposedly takes place in the billions of years that elapse between verse 1 and verse 2. The dinosaurs allegedly lived and died during this period. In some versions of the gap theory, there is a “Lucifer’s flood” in which God destroyed all life on that original Earth due to Satan’s rebellion.
Hence, advocates of this theory believe that Genesis 1:2 implies that the Earth became formless (a wasteland) and empty (of life) because God judged that original world. After all, the same Hebrew words translated as “formless and void” (in NAS) in Genesis 1:2 are mentioned in Jeremiah 4:23 with respect to God’s judgment against Israel should they continue in sin and fail to repent. Furthermore, Isaiah 45:18 states that God did not create the Earth “a waste place” (using the same Hebrew word translated as “formless” in Genesis 1:2). So Genesis 1:2 must mean that the Earth became formless and empty sometime after God created it, right?
Some advocates of the gap theory also point out that in the King James translation of the Bible, Adam and Eve are told to go and “replenish” the Earth in Genesis 1:28. Doesn’t “replenish” mean to “refill”, thereby implying that the Earth had become empty and Adam and Eve were to fill it again? This would make sense if Satan had ruined the original Earth by his rebellion against God.
The gap theory also has the advantage that it allows Christians to apparently reconcile the Bible with the belief of secular scientists that the Earth is extremely old – billions of years old. After all, there are Bible verses that indicate that the heavens and Earth or various parts of them are “old.” 2 Peter 2:5 speaks of the “ancient world” and 2 Peter 3:5 says that the heavens existed “long ago.” Proverbs 8:22 describes God’s works “of old”, and Habakkuk 3:6 refers to the “ancient hills.”
The appeal of the gap theory is that it answers a lot of questions with a certain amount of internal coherence. When did Satan fall? How do we make sense of fossils? Where do dinosaurs fit in, and why doesn’t the Bible mention them? How did the Earth become “formless and empty?” Why did Adam and Eve have to replenish the Earth? How can the Earth be old if Genesis is real history? The problem is that it answers all these questions incorrectly. Applying biblical principles of interpretation, the gap theory does not stand up to rational scrutiny for a number of reasons.
First, the gap theory is disallowed by Hebrew grammar because verse 2 uses a “vav disjunctive.” This requires some explanation. The Hebrew alphabet has a letter called “vav” (or “waw”) that, when used by itself, is a word. This is just as the English letters “a” and “I” are also words when used in isolation. The Hebrew “vav” is usually translated as “and” or sometimes as “then.” Note that most of the verses in Genesis chapter 1 begin with the word “and” or “then.” In fact, every verse in Genesis chapter 1 (except verse 1) begins with that Hebrew letter-word, though some English translations drop it.
When “vav” is followed by a verb (in the original Hebrew word order which is not always the same as in English translations), it generally denotes a sequence of events. “And this happened, and that happened, and so on.” This grammatical construction is called a “vav consecutive.” Genesis 1:3 through the end of the chapter are all vav consecutives. They all have “and” followed by a verb in the original Hebrew Word order: “And said God… And saw God… And called God…” indicating they are reporting historical events chronologically.
However, Genesis 1:2 uses a Hebrew grammatical construction called a “vav disjunctive” which is the Hebrew “and” followed by a non-verb, such as “the earth.” This construction indicates that what follows is a comment or explanation of what came before it. It is similar to how we use parenthesis in English. Thus, Genesis 1:2 is a comment on Genesis 1:1.
This vav disjunctive disallows any gap of time between verse 1 and 2 because verse 2 does not follow in time. On the contrary, verse 2 is explaining and clarifying verse 1. It describes the conditions that existed when God first created the heaven and the Earth – namely, when God first created heaven and earth, the earth was formless and empty and dark. Why was the Earth formless and empty and dark? Was it because of some disaster? No, it was because God had not yet formed it and filled it, and had not yet created light. Genesis 1:2 clarifies the conditions that existed on Earth when God first created it.
There is good reason for such clarification. A person reading Genesis 1:1 for the first time might erroneously assume that God created the heaven and earth just as they are today – an earth with continents and rolling hills and full of life and light. Genesis 1:2 exists to clarify that this was not the case. When God first created the Earth, it was dark, and without form, and empty; that is the meaning of verse 2. The Earth was not dark, formless, and empty because of some disaster. Rather, it is because God had not yet created light, and had not yet formed the earth (given it continents separated from oceans), and had not yet filled the earth with plants and animals. The rest of Genesis then explains how the Earth became illuminated with light, shaped into continents and oceans, and filled with plants and animals, over the course of six days from its initial state of dark, formless and empty.
But don’t the Hebrew words “formless and void” denote judgment of God since the same Hebrew words are used as judgment in Jeremiah 4:23? Not at all. The words just mean “without form” and “empty” without – by themselves – implying any history. The Earth was originally created as formless and empty so that God would then form it and fill it in stages. This was a pattern for us to follow and forms the basis of our work week (Exodus 20:8-11). The Jeremiah passage poetically describes the judgment of God as being so severe that it would reduce that portion of the Earth back to its original state, as if God were uncreating the Earth. Furthermore, Isaiah 45:18 conveys the meaning that God did not create the Earth for the purpose of being a waste place. It does not mean that the Earth was never formless and void. Rather, this verse is describing the intention of God, not the chronology. Namely, God created the Earth for the purpose of housing life.
“Was” or “Became?”
Genesis 1:2 states, “And the earth was formless and void…” The Hebrew word here translated as “was” is “hayah.” But should it be translated “became?” The word is occasionally translated as “became”, but only when there is an obvious change from one state to another. In Genesis 2:7, when God breathed into the man and Adam became a living soul, there was a definite change – from lifelessness to life. So the translation “became” is justified. But the Hebrew word “hayah” is used in Genesis 29:17 to describe Rachel who “was beautiful of form and face.” It is not as if she suddenly changed at that point. No change is obvious and therefore “was” is the correct translation. Given that Genesis 1:2 uses a vav disjunctive to describe the conditions in Genesis 1:1, there cannot be any change because no time has elapsed. Therefore, “was” is the correct translation of this verse.
And what of God’s commend for Adam and Eve to go and “replenish” the Earth? (Genesis 1:28, KJV). Doesn’t replenish mean to “refill”, thereby implying that the earth was once full, but became empty? The Hebrew word translated “replenish” here in the King James version is “male (maw-lay)” and means to fill thoroughly or fill completely. It does not mean “refill” and does not imply anything about previous conditions. In fact, the same Hebrew word is used in Genesis 6:11 when the Earth had become “filled” with violence due to the wickedness of man. It was not “refilled” with violence. Joseph gave orders to “fill” the bags of his brothers with grain in Genesis 42:25. He cannot mean “refill” since they were there to buy grain – the bags were initially empty.
Incidentally, this is not an error in the King James translation. The meaning of a word can drift over the centuries as people find new ways to use it. When the King James Bible was translated in 1611, the word “replenish” meant “to fill completely”, not “refill” as it often implies today. In any case, since the Hebrew word simply means “to fill completely”, Genesis 1:28 does not imply that the Earth was ever full before Adam and Eve.
Death Before Sin?
The gap theory as described above has a serious theological problem. By asserting that fossils formed during a gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, long before the creation of Adam and Eve, the gap theorist has implicitly denied the foundational Gospel principle that death is the penalty for sin. After all, many fossils are the mineralized bones of dead animals. Yet, if such death occurred long before the creation of Adam and Eve, then Adam’s sin did not bring death into the world; death would have already been in the world. But don’t passages like Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22, Genesis 2:17, 3:19, indicate that Adam’s sin brought death into the world?
Some have suggested that Adam’s sin only brought human death into the world. Yet, the Scriptures indicate that God instituted animal death at the time of Adam’s sin; God provided (animal) skins of clothing for Adam and Eve in response to their sin (Genesis 3:21). Therefore, God must have killed an animal or animals to use their skins. Adam’s sin affected not only the human race (Romans 5:12), but all creation (Romans 8:20-22). This would include animals. They die because Adam was given authority over them; his sin affected all that was under his authority.
So, the fossils of animals must have formed sometime after Adam sinned – not before. We find fossils with evidence of disease in them: arthritis, cancer, and so on. Such disease is a result of the curse God placed on the world as a result of Adam’s sin. Such death and disease would not have already been in the world when God created Adam and Eve because the Bible indicates that the world was “very good” when the Lord finished creating it on the sixth day (Genesis 1:31).
In the Span of Six Days
Exodus 20:11 also eliminates any gap of time within the creation week because this verse indicates that God created heaven and earth and all that is in them in a period of six days. Jesus also confirmed that Adam and Eve existed from the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6), which makes sense since they were there on the first week. But Christ’s statement would make no sense if Adam and Even were not around until thousands or millions of years after creation.
The Earth Really is Old
And what of those verses that teach that the Earth is old? Well, the Earth is old – very old – about 6000 years old! We think of a 100-year old person as old, and yet the Earth is far older than that. Even when it was only 1500 years old, it was still far older than any living person. But how old is “old?” One of the most important principles of biblical interpretation is to interpret the general in light of the specific, the unclear in light of the clear. Passages like Exodus 20:11 indicate that God created in 6 days, and passages like Genesis 5 give the timespan between the patriarchs. This puts the incarnation of Christ about 4000 years after creation.
Passages like 2 Peter 2:5 do mention the “ancient world” – but context shows this is referring to the world of mankind that was destroyed by the flood. That event occurred over two thousand years before this passage was written – which is very ancient, but not millions of years ago. Likewise, Proverbs 8:22 does describe God’s works “of old”, but does not specify how old. The same Hebrew word is used to describe the ancient mountains in Deuteronomy 33:15, but this passage does not specify how old, nor does it even remotely suggest millions of years. The same word is used in Nehemiah 12:46 to refer to the “ancient times” of David and Asaph. David did indeed live a long time ago, but clearly, he did not live millions of years ago.
Another Hebrew word often translated as “of old” (e.g. Deuteronomy 32:7) is “olam.” The word has a range of meanings, and can even mean “everlasting” when referring to future events. But how old is old? The hills are said to be old/ancient using this word in Genesis 49:26 and in Deuteronomy 33:15. Does this mean they must be millions of years old? This cannot be the case because the same world is used to describe ancient human activity, such as Isaiah 57:11, 58:12, 63:9, 64:5; Joshua 24:2; Psalm 119:52; Jeremiah 2:20, 5:15, 28:8; Ezekiel 26:20; Amos 9:11; Malachi 3:4. Mankind is ancient – thousands of years old. However, we all agree that humanity has not been around for millions of years.
God had the power to instantly create an earth that was already formed and full of life. But instead He choose to work over time for six days; He then rested a day. He did this as a pattern for us (Exodus 20:8-11). There was no evil during the creation week. At every step when God evaluated His work, “it was good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 23). And finally, when He finished everything, He saw that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:30) – because it was not only good but also complete.
The Fall of Satan
So when did Satan rebel? The Bible does not provide the exact date. But it does give us some boundaries on when the event must have occurred. The fall of Satan must have occurred after day 6 of the creation week. Why?
In Genesis 1:31, on the sixth day, God looked at everything He had made and behold it was “very good.” Since Satan is part of God’s creation, it follows that Satan was also very good at that point and therefore had not yet fallen. Furthermore, the fall of Satan must have occurred before he tempted Eve in Genesis chapter 3, since he lied to her (Genesis 3:4).
Fossils and Dinosaurs
The Bible also gives us the framework to understand when dinosaurs lived, and how we can account for fossils. We know that dinosaurs were made on day 6 of the creation week because all land animals were made on that day (Genesis 1:24-25, 31), and dinosaurs are land animals (by definition). But how can we account for their fossils? Fossils are usually found in sedimentary rock – rock that is deposited by water. The sedimentary rock layers in which dinosaur fossils are found tend to be continental in scope. What kind of watery catastrophe could kill so many land animals on a continental scale and bury them in sediment? Genesis 6-8 gives a cogent explanation. A global flood could easily account for the majority of fossils we find on continents. For more information on dinosaurs, see our article series beginning here: https://biblicalscienceinstitute.com/origins/dinosaurs-part-1/
The gap theory is not consistent with the clear teaching of Scripture, that God created heaven and earth and everything within them in the span of six days (Exodus 20:11). In most versions, it puts death before sin, thereby undermining the Gospel. And we do not need such compromise. By applying logic to a careful reading of the text, we can give basic and biblical answers to questions about fossils, the fall of Satan, and so on. Genesis really does make sense as written.