Understanding the gap theory

What is the gap theory?

I appreciate your question; it is one that is often asked.

The gap theory is also called the "ruin-reconstruction theory."  There are many different versions of the gap theory but they all include these four concepts: a literal view of Genesis; a belief in an old age of the earth; an opposition to evolution; and a gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2 which is necessary to accommodate the geologic strata which, they believe, proves an old earth.

Scottish theologian, Thomas Chalmers of Edinburgh University first proposed the gap theory in 1814 in order to harmonize the creation account in Genesis with the long geologic ages being proposed by the geologists of the day.  He said this theory, "…would permit an indefinite scope to the conjectures of geology--and without any undue liberty with the first chapter of Genesis."  The gap theory gained enormous popularity and acceptance because of its inclusion in the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible, which first appeared in 1917.

So lets look more closely at the gap theory.  First, the gap theory acknowledges that God created a perfect heaven and earth: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)  Next, between verses one and two Satan ruled a race of "men" without souls.  Eventually, Satan rebelled and sin entered the universe bringing on God's judgment in the form of a flood (this refers to the water in 1:2) leaving the earth "without form and void."  "And the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters." (Genesis 1:2)  Two common explanations by "gapists" for all the fossils we see today are: (1) the result of "Lucifer's flood" or (2) perhaps the result of millions of years between verse one and verse two.  After this "ruining" of God's perfect creation, Genesis 1:3 and following detail the "reconstruction."

The gap theory presents some very serious and distressing problems.  Most disturbing is that the motivation for developing the theory was to harmonize the Bible with science.  Imposing outside ideas on the Bible only leads to further compromise.  The pronouncements of ever-changing science cannot be accepted uncritically.  The acceptance of this theory by those intimidated by science has only polluted the gospel message.  This is evident when we consider the implications of the gap theory on some very key Scriptures:  Exodus 20:11 says, "For in six days the Lord made the heavens an the earth…" Where's the gap?  If this gap occurred why didn't God say more about it in other Scripture.  In 1 Corinthians 15:45 it tells us that Adam was the "first man," so how could this allow for a race of men before Adam?  In that same chapter in verse 21 it clearly states that, "For since by a man [Adam] came death, by a man came also the resurrection of the dead."  (See also Romans 5:12.)  If we reinterpret this verse to mean death before Adam then can we also reinterpret the "resurrection of the dead" to mean something else?  In Genesis 1:31 after finishing His creation God says, "it is very good."  Thus, does this mean that all those fossils (dead things) Adam was standing on top of were very good?  No, it couldn't.  This must mean that either God is a liar or His word is not completely accurate.  This is a slippery slope that provides a reason for many to discredit and not believe God and His Word.

It is especially sad to see so many find a false sense of security in this position when we consider the erroneous scientific foundation upon which the gap theory is built. The gap theory, developed to accommodate science, is actually self-defeating.  First, most geologists do not accept a worldwide cataclysm (Lucifer's flood).  Second, such a theory is scientifically impossible when we consider the geologic record.  If the world was reduced to being "formless and void" with Lucifer's flood how could that have produced such a relatively ordered fossil record?  This would also mean that Noah's flood left no record in the fossils.  This is especially unreasonable since Noah's flood was specifically stated as being a judgment for sin and billions of fossils (again, they are dead things) speak clearly of a "world that then was" that perished (2 Peter 3:6).

There is no reason to accept the gap theory and many today have replaced it with other compromise positions like "progressive creation" and "theistic evolution."  However, these too can provide a slippery slope for greater compromise.  Acceptance of the gap theory or any of these other positions by a Christian who tries to compromise the Bible in order to avoid intellectual conflict or gain respectability only serves to distort the Bible, misrepresent God and harm the mission of the church. 

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©Tom Carpenter
Originally published in the Rockdale/Newton Citizen