The Gap Theory


Origins of the Theory
Hebrew Words
Other "Proofs"
Lucifer's Fall

Origins of the Theory

The theory contends that there is a long period of time in between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis chapter 1. In that period of time there is room for the billions of years necessary for evolution, and according to the Gap Theory it is from this period of time that all the fossils and other evidence of evolution comes. In Genesis 1:2, the phrase "without form and void" is the Hebrew phrase, tohu va bohu. This phrase was said to also be translated as "in vain" in Isaiah 45:18 ("He created it not in vain"). The word for "was" in verse 2 was said to actually mean "became" and thus it was concluded that God did not create it "without form and void", but it became that way. Along with this, the word for "create" is said to mean "to fashion out of nothing" and is thus different from the word "made" that is used several times in Genesis 1. Thus the theory holds that God "created" the heavens and earth in verse 1, which then became without form and void, and the rest of chapter one describes God rebuilding what was destroyed.

This was said to be why the word for "created" is only used two other times after verse one, when God created soul life for animals, and then when God created man in His own image. He didn't have to "create" things again, except for soul life on day five and man on day six, because they were created "in the beginning," before the long gap of time. Finally, man is told to "replenish" the earth, implying that there was some form of life before that (though not soul life as we know it, which was created on day five). I will discuss each of these main points, and also point out why the theory actually contradicts the Scriptures. But first, it is important to understand where this theory originally came from.

It is not a theory that was drawn from a normal or natural reading of the Bible. In the 1800's the growing influence of secularism on the various fields of science began to cast doubt on the integrity of the Scriptures. Many theories were advanced about the age of the earth, including that of Charles Lyell who developed the geological column. Charles Darwin was greatly influenced by these trends and developed his theory which would explain the evolution of all living things, slowly over a long period of time. In response to these theories, well-intentioned theologians began to promote theories which would reconcile the long ages (which appeared incontrovertible) with the Biblical account in Genesis.

One such theory developed by Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) suggested that the geologic column was formed by a series of catastrophes over eons of time prior to Adam, and culminating with the final flood in Noah's day. As early as 1814, Dr. Thomas Chalmers of Scotland began teaching Cuvier's theory, and reconciled it with the Genesis account by relegating the eons of time to a period between the first two verses of Genesis. He then reinterpreted the six days of Genesis 1 as God's rebuilding, rather than creation. Thus the Gap Theory (also known as the Ruin-Reconstruction theory) was publicized. Various other scholars of the time adopted this view, including E. W. Bullinger, whose writings had great influence on V. P. Wierwille and his followers, as well as C. I. Scofield, whose teachings have influenced many seminary students since then.

Besides The Gap Theory there are other theories that present different ways of reconciling the evidence for an earth that is billions of years old with Scripture, in addition to various theories that suggest the earth is only thousands of years old, not billions.  See This Old Earth and the creation/evolution sites on the Suggested Links page 

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Hebrew Words

Regarding the word "was" in Genesis 1:2 ("The earth was without form and void..."), I was taught that the word should be translated "became." But the Hebrew word used here is hayah, and is defined in Strong's as "to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass." It is also translated as be done, come, come to pass, fall, happen, last, pertain, and a number of other English words. Thus it can mean either "was" or "became" and the context must determine which it should be.

A great emphasis was placed on the distinction between "created" and "formed" or "made." To create (Hebrew bara) in Genesis 1:2 means to bring into existence, out of nothing, that which never before existed.  The fact that other words are used throughout Genesis 1 instead of “create” tells us that God was fashioning things out of material that already existed, having been created in verse 1.  The word "create" is used only in verses 1, 21, and 27. The Gap Theory proposed that the heavens and the earth, having been created in verse 1, then became formless and void.

Concerning the phrase tohu va bohu in verse 2, it was said that the same phrase is used in Isaiah 45:18. That verse reads, "...he created it not in vain." However, the words "in vain" are just the Hebrew word tohu, and the word bohu is not used.  The word bohu in fact only appears three times in the whole Bible. In Isaiah 34:11 it is translated “emptiness.” The only other place besides Genesis 1:2 where tohu va bohu occurs and is translated “without form and void” is Jeremiah 4:23. But the context (verses 23-31) describe a ruin and a wilderness, not total destruction.

The word tohu is used 19 times (including the two places where it occurs with bohu), and besides “without form” it is also translated as “waste” (Deuteronomy 32:10) and wilderness (Job 12:24; Psalm 107:40), among other things.  Both words, tohu and bohu, are used to describe places of emptiness, or wilderness, not utter destruction, as I was taught. The remainder of Isaiah 45:18, in fact, helps us understand the meaning of tohu by describing the opposite of it: God "formed it to be inhabited." The context of the verse is not speaking of the state of creation but of the purpose. Genesis chapter 1 describes a creation that was not yet habitable in the beginning, and God proceeded to set it in order (See This Old Earth)

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Other "Proofs"

Back when I believed in this theory, the verse that solidified it in my mind was Genesis 1:28, when God told Adam and Eve to "replenish" the earth, i.e. “fill again.” Surely this implies that it had been full before that. However, the Hebrew word for replenish (male) is translated as "fill" 107 times, "full" 48 times, "fulfill" 28 times, "consecrate" 15 times, "accomplish" 7 times, and a few other words. It is only translated "replenish" 7 times. Once again, the context must determine its meaning. The English word "replenish," in fact, meant "fill" from the 13th to the 17th centuries. Only later did it come to mean "refill." The King James Version was translated in 1611, and so it used the word according to its then-current meaning. Modern versions translate it as "fill."

Another "proof" for a ruin-reconstruction theory was the use of the word katabole referring to the "foundation of the world" in several passages in the New Testament. It literally means a throwing down, and could be interpreted as the "overthrow" of the world, which would then refer to the destruction when the earth became without form and void. But is this the only possible meaning of the word? What about Sarah's conception in Hebrews 11:11 ("Sara herself received strength to conceive [katabole] seed...")? Did Sara "overthrow" her seed, or cast it down to destruction? The word is normally used in the sense of throwing down like a potter throws clay onto the pottery wheel, or "casting down" the foundation of a building, before building on it. This is why it was translated as "foundation" to begin with.

To further elaborate on the cataclysm that caused the destruction at the end of the long gap of time, believers in the Gap Theory often use II Peter 3.

II Peter 3:
5 For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water:
6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:
7 But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
[see NASB]

Proponents of the Gap Theory (including V. P. Wierwille) have said that the phrase "being overflowed with water, perished" in verse 6 does not refer to the flood of Noah's time, but rather to the destruction referred to in Genesis 1:2, "...darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."  Their reason, if they give one, usually had to do with the assumption that only the earth was destroyed in Noah's flood, and the heavens were not affected, while Peter’s reference speaks of the destruction of heavens and earth. But verse 5 says it was "by the Word of God,” not Satan, that the earth of old was flooded and verse 6 says "whereby [by the Word] the world that then was... perished."  This is not talking about something the devil did to destroy the "first creation." This is talking about God's judgment by His Word. Verse 7 refers to the "heavens and earth which are now" being kept in store "by the same Word," and are "reserved unto fire against the day of judgment."  The whole context of this section is God's judgment.

I was also taught that in this chapter the word "perished" meant "complete and utter ruin" in contrast to the days of Noah, when the earth was not completely and utterly ruined, but only the life on it destroyed. However, the word for ‘perished’ here is apollumi which is translated “lost, destroyed, and marred,” as well as “perished.” Again the context determines the extent of the destruction. If the destruction between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 was complete and utter ruin, so that there was nothing left but a "formless void" or nothing but waters (i.e. "the deep" in Genesis 1:2) there would be no remnants left to observe. This defeats the whole point of the theory, which is to fit the fossil record within a Biblical time frame. If the great cataclysm at that time completely destroyed the earth, how could we say that the fossil record was evidence of it? On the other hand, if we allow the word "perished" to mean that the world was destroyed but was not completely obliterated, this fits just fine with the flood of Noah's time.

According to II Peter 3:6, The world (kosmos) perished (but was not completely obliterated). Verse 7 refers to the heavens and earth which are now, that is, the present heavens and earth, which are reserved unto fire against the day of judgment that is coming in the future. Peter had referred to Noah in the previous chapter as well, and the subject of this whole section of II Peter is God's judgment on man. This fits with Noah's flood better than with destruction caused by Satan rebelling and being cast out of heaven. It also fits with the rest of the Scriptures much better, since there is no mention anywhere in the Bible of any other global flood besides that which happened in Noah's time.

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Lucifer's "Fall"

The reason for the destruction preceding God's rebuilding in Genesis 1 is usually given as Lucifer's fall. In fact the overflow of waters is sometimes referred to as Lucifer's flood, to differentiate it from Noah's flood. To begin with, it may surprise you that the name Lucifer only appears once in the entire Bible. It is in Isaiah 14:12, and the context (especially verse 4) shows that it is addressing the King of Babylon.

Isaiah 14:
4 That thou shalt take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!
5 The LORD hath broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers.
6 He who smote the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he that ruled the nations in anger, is persecuted, and none hindereth.
7 The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing.
8 Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us.
9 Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.
10 All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us?
11 Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.
12 How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13 For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15 Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16 They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
17 That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
18 All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
19 But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
[see NASB]

There is actually nothing in this passage that demands that it be referring to Satan in a pre-fallen state, rather than the literal king of Babylon, and this is the only place in the entire Bible where the name Lucifer (which means "light-bearer") occurs. One other passage that is often taken to be referring to the pre-fallen devil is in Ezekiel 28. Here it is said to be addressed to the King of Tyrus (Ezekiel 28:1, 12). In this case, however, there is at least some reason for concluding that it is referring to more than just the literal king.

Ezekiel 28:
12 Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty.
13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created.
14 Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.
15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.
16 By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.
[see NASB]

He is said to have been in Eden in verse 13, and is called a covering cherub (an angelic being) in verses 14 and 16. It may be figurative language, but if it is indeed referring to Satan (note that the name Lucifer is not used here) it calls him a covering cherub that was in Eden, and was perfect until iniquity was found in him. The question then is, when was iniquity found in him? If he tried to rebel and was cast out of heaven before Genesis chapter one, then how could God describe all of His work as "very good?" And if the covering cherub had already fallen, why did God not warn Adam and Eve of the existence of an evil one, as He did so many other places in Scripture? It would make more sense that the serpent did not fall until he deceived Eve and brought about the fall of mankind (although I Timothy 2:14 states that while Eve was deceived, Adam was not).

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The theory actually brings up more questions than it answers. Among them is, why would God make a heaven and earth with some form of people in it (or at least hominids, human-like creatures) only to have it be destroyed when the devil rebelled? And why, if God did make an earlier heaven and earth, does He tell us nothing about it in His Word? Also, is the devil so powerful that he can destroy all of God's creation the way this theory suggests that he did?


It must be remembered that the Gap Theory was largely popularized by a 19th century minister, in an attempt to reconcile evolution and the Bible. The theory was adopted by many theologians, including E. W. Bullinger who influenced much of what V. P. Wierwille taught. (Before the 19th century, most Christians believed that fossils were the result of Noah's flood.) I had to ask myself, even though I believed in the Gap Theory for many years, is it in the Scripture?  


The implication of the Gap Theory is that what God started out to do in His creation, the devil made ruin of and God had to start over. Did God know what was going to happen when he created the heavens and the earth? For that matter, when he finished what He did in Genesis chapter one, He said it was "very good." If Satan had fallen before that time and become the Evil One, how could all creation be described as "very good?" And if Satan had fallen before man was put in the garden, why did God give Adam no warning of the Evil One, as He did in so many other places in the Bible?

There are also other theories that attempt to reconcile the Bible with evolution or at least with an earth that is billions of years old. I have focused here on this particular theory because it is the one I was taught, and believed in for many years. About ten years ago I was doing research for a college paper about evolution vs. creation. I was surprised to find much written in recent decades about how Noah's flood supposedly explained the so-called evidence for evolution, but very little about the Gap Theory which I had believed to be the "last word" on the subject. What little I found about it suggested that it was all but abandoned as a viable theory, and I did not understand why. It was at that time I began to suspect that my knowledge of the Bible was not as thorough as I had thought. But it was not until several years later, when I could explore the internet, that I found information that made sense. For those of you who would like to read more about the Gap Theory, there are a number of websites dealing with it. Most are explaining the problems with the theory, although there are a few that promote it. Just put Gap Theory in any search engine and follow the links. There are also a number of good websites that deal with the entire evolution - creation debate at length, and I recommend exploring them if you are interested (see the Links page). The worst thing you can do is assume you know the answers, as I did for so long.

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This page last updated October 16, 2017


Mark Clarke