Old Earth, Old View

"One of the popular devices for trying to accommodate the evolutionary ages of the geologists and astronomers in the creation record of the Bible has been the 'gap theory'—also called the 'ruin-and-reconstruction' theory." - Henry Morris, Ph.D. (here)

    In this quote, Dr. Morris suggests the "gap theory" is a recent innovation to resolve apparent problems with modern scientific evidence. In reality, the basic theory and associated concepts has been around for a very, very long time, quite a long time before any modern scientific evidence was known concerning the age of our earth and cosmos.
    What follows is a collection of various citations along these lines. I will update this article when I am made aware of more examples to include.

    Massoretic Text:

    "In the Massoretic Text in which the Jewish scholars tried to incorporate enough 'indicators' to guide the reader as to correct punctuation there is one small mark which is technically known as Rebhia which is classified as a 'disjunctive accent' intended to notify the reader that he should pause before proceeding to the next verse.  In short, this mark indicates a 'break' in the text.  Such a mark appears at the end of Genesis 1:1.  This mark has been noted by several scholars including Luther.  It is one indication among others, that the initial waw which introduces verse 2 should be rendered 'but' rather than 'and', a dis-junctive rather than a con-junctive." - Arthur C. Custance, Without Form and Void, ch.1, p.5

    In the Revised Edition of Chamber's Encyclopedia, published in 1860, under the heading "Genesis," we find the following statement:

    "Two principal methods of reconciliation (between the Creation story of Genesis and the conclusions of modern Geology) are advanced, those of Dr. Buckland, and Hugh Miller respectively. The first of which adopts and amplifies the Chalmerian interpolation of geological ages prior to the first day . . . an opinion strangely enough to be found already in the Midrash." - Chamber's Encyclopedia, Revised Edition, 1860, 'Genesis'

    In the Jewish Midrash, we find the following remarks pertaining to creation:

    "Other worlds were created and destroyed ere this present one was decided on as a permanent one." - Genesis Rabba 3

    "The deluge in the time of Noah was by no means the only flood with which this earth was visited. The first flood did its work of destruction as far as Jaffé, and the one of Noah's days extended to Barbary." - Genesis Rabba 23

    Jewish Virtual Library:

    "To this should be added the theory, which Philo attributes to the Stoics, that the present world was created after a number of previous experimental worlds were created, only to be destroyed (ibid. 3:7). R. Abbahu, for example, maintained that there were successive creations (Gen. R. 3:9; Eccles. R. 3:11, Mid. Ps. 34)." (here)

    We find in the Sefer Hazzohar (or Zohar) the following commentary:

    "'These are the generations of heaven and earth, etc.' Now wherever there is written the word 'these' the former words are put aside. And these are the generations of the destruction, which is signified in verse 2 of Chapter 1. The earth was Tohu and Bohu. These indeed are the words of which it is said that the blessed God created the worlds, and destroyed them, and on that account the earth was 'desolate and empty' (tohu and bohu).'" - Simeon ben Jochai, Sefer Hazzohar (Zohar), Genesis 2:4-6

    Onkelos Targum:

    "Among the early Jewish writings there are a number of Aramaic paraphrases of the Old Testament. The oldest of these so-called Targums is that of Onkelos, which is confined to the Pentateuch. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Onkelos was a proselyte who was the son of a man named Calonicas, and was the composer of the Targum which bears his name, which he in turn had received from Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, both of whom lived toward the end of the first and the beginning of the second century A.D. However, in the Jerusalem Talmud the very same thing is related by the same authorities (and almost in the same words) of the proselyte Aquila of Pontes, whose Greek version of the Bible was much used by the Greek-speaking Jews down to the time of Justinian; so it is sometimes argued that Onkelos is but another name for Aquila. Aquila Ponticus was a relative of the Emperor Hadrian, living in the second century A.D. Thus even if Onkelos is not an absolutely authentic figure, the works attributed to him must still be placed very early in the Christian era.
In dealing with the first chapter of Genesis, Onkelos gave the following Aramaic paraphrase of verse 2: W'are'ah hawath tsadh'ya
In this passage, the composite verb form (tsadh'ya) means 'was destroyed,' being the Aramaic form of the verb to be (hawath) with the feminine passive participle of the verb tzadhah, which means 'to cut' or 'to lay waste.'" - Arthur C. Custance, The Doorway Papers, Vol. 6, Part 3, Ch. 3, p. 3

    Tertullian refers to water as to signify a purifying act of God.  In speaking of the meaning of baptism, he relates in this connection the Spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis 1:2 so as to imply a purifying or redemptive meaning behind Genesis 1:2:

    "But it will suffice to have thus called at the outset those points in which withal is recognised that primary principle of baptism,—which was even then fore-noted by the very attitude assumed for a type of baptism,—that the Spirit of God, who hovered over (the waters) from the beginning, would continue to linger over the waters of the baptized. But a holy thing, of course, hovered over a holy; or else, from that which hovered over that which was hovered over borrowed a holiness, since it is necessary that in every case an underlying material substance should catch the quality of that which overhangs it, most of all a corporeal of a spiritual, adapted (as the spiritual is) through the subtleness of its substance, both for penetrating and insinuating. Thus the nature of the waters, sanctified by the Holy One, itself conceived withal the power of sanctifying. Let no one say, “Why then, are we, pray, baptized with the very waters which then existed in the first beginning?” Not with those waters, of course, except in so far as the genus indeed is one, but the species very many. But what is an attribute to the genus reappears likewise in the species. And accordingly it makes no difference whether a man be washed in a sea or a pool, a stream or a fount, a lake or a trough; Alveo. nor is there any distinction between those whom John baptized in the Jordan and those whom Peter baptized in the Tiber, unless withal the eunuch whom Philip baptized in the midst of his journeys with chance water, derived (therefrom) more or less of salvation than others. All waters, therefore, in virtue of the pristine privilege of their origin, do, after invocation of God, attain the sacramental power of sanctification; for the Spirit immediately supervenes from the heavens, and rests over the waters, sanctifying them from Himself; and being thus sanctified, they imbibe at the same time the power of sanctifying." - Tertullian, On Baptism, ch.4

    "Among the ancients, again, whoever had defiled himself with murder, was wont to go in quest of purifying waters. Therefore, if the mere nature of water, in that it is the appropriate material for washing away, leads men to flatter themselves with a belief in omens of purification, how much more truly will waters render that service through the authority of God, by whom all their nature has been constituted! If men think that water is endued with a medicinal virtue by religion, what religion is more effectual than that of the living God?  Which fact being acknowledged, we recognise here also the zeal of the devil rivalling the things of God, while we find him, too, practising baptism in his subjects. What similarity is there? The unclean cleanses! the ruiner sets free! the damned absolves! He will, forsooth, destroy his own work, by washing away the sins which himself inspires! These (remarks) have been set down by way of testimony against such as reject the faith; if they put no trust in the things of God, the spurious imitations of which, in the case of God’s rival, they do trust in. Are there not other cases too, in which, without any sacrament, unclean spirits brood on waters, in spurious imitation of that brooding of the Divine Spirit in the very beginning?" - Tertullian, On Baptism, ch.5

    "For just as, after the waters of the deluge, by which the old iniquity was purged—after the baptism, so to say, of the world—a dove was the herald which announced to the earth the assuagement of celestial wrath, when she had been sent her way out of the ark, and had returned with the olive-branch, a sign which even among the nations is the fore-token of peace; so by the self-same law of heavenly effect, to earth—that is, to our flesh—as it emerges from the font, after its old sins flies the dove of the Holy Spirit, bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens where is the Church, the typified ark. But the world returned unto sin; in which point baptism would ill be compared to the deluge." - Tertullian, On Baptism, ch.8


    "Although all the discussions in the preceding book have had reference to the world and its arrangements, it now seems to follow that we should specially re-discuss a few points respecting the world itself, i.e., its beginning and end, or those dispensations of Divine Providence which have taken place between the beginning and the end, or those events which are supposed to have occurred before the creation of the world, or are to take place after the end. . . . The next subject of inquiry is, whether there was any other world before the one which now exists; and if so, whether it was such as the present, or somewhat different, or inferior; or whether there was no world at all, but something like that which we understand will be after the end of all things, when the kingdom shall be delivered up to God, even the Father; which nevertheless may have been the end of another world,—of that, namely, after which this world took its beginning; and whether the various lapses of intellectual natures provoked God to produce this diverse and varying condition of the world.  This point also, I think, must be investigated in a similar way, viz., whether after this world there will be any (system of) preservation and amendment, severe indeed, and attended with much pain to those who were unwilling to obey the word of God, but a process through which, by means of instruction and rational training, those may arrive at a fuller understanding of the truth who have devoted themselves in the present life to these pursuits, and who, after having had their minds purified, have advanced onwards so as to become capable of attaining divine wisdom; and after this the end of all things will immediately follow, and there will be again, for the correction and improvement of those who stand in need of it, another world, either resembling that which now exists, or better than it, or greatly inferior; and how long that world, whatever it be that is to come after this, shall continue; and if there will be a time when no world shall anywhere exist, or if there has been a time when there was no world at all; or if there have been, or will be several; or if it shall ever come to pass that there will be one resembling another, like it in every respect, and indistinguishable from it. . . .  But let us now return to the order of our proposed discussion, and behold the commencement of creation, so far as the understanding can behold the beginning of the creation of God.  In that commencement, 'In that beginning which is cognisable by the understanding, God, by His own will, caused to exist as great a number of intelligent beings as was sufficient; for we must say that the power of God is finite, and not, under pretence of praising Him, take away His limitation.  For if the divine power be infinite, it must of necessity be unable to understand even itself, since that which is naturally illimitable is incapable of being comprehended.  He made things therefore so great as to be able to apprehend and keep them under His power, and control them by His providence; so also He prepared matter of such a size as He had the power to ornament,' then, we are to suppose that God created so great a number of rational or intellectual creatures (or by whatever name they are to be called), which we have formerly termed understandings, as He foresaw would be sufficient.  It is certain that He made them according to some definite number, predetermined by Himself:  for it is not to be imagined, as some would have it, that creatures have not a limit, because where there is no limit there can neither be any comprehension nor any limitation.  Now if this were the case, then certainly created things could neither be restrained nor administered by God.  For, naturally, whatever is infinite will also be incomprehensible.  Moreover, as Scripture says, 'God has arranged all things in number and measure;' 'Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight.' and therefore number will be correctly applied to rational creatures or understandings, that they may be so numerous as to admit of being arranged, governed, and controlled by God.  But measure will be appropriately applied to a material body; and this measure, we are to believe, was created by God such as He knew would be sufficient for the adorning of the world.  These, then, are the things which we are to believe were created by God in the beginning, i.e., before all things.  And this, we think, is indicated even in that beginning which Moses has introduced in terms somewhat ambiguous, when he says, 'In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.' For it is certain that the firmament is not spoken of, nor the dry land, but that heaven and earth from which this present heaven and earth which we now see afterwards borrowed their names." Origen, De Principiis, b. 2, ch. 1,3,9

    Scholarly commentary on the subject contain sentiments such as the following:

    "In both old and more recent times there have been God-enlightened men who expressed the conjecture that the work of the six days of Gen.1 was properly a work of restoration, but not the original creation of the earth; and that originally man had the task, as a servant of the Lord and as ruler of the creation, in moral opposition to Satan, to recover for God the outwardly renewed earth, through the spreading abroad of his race and his lordship over the earth.
Thus Prof. Bettex says that man should originally, 'as the vice-regent of God, gradually have reconquered the whole earth.' Also Prof. v. Heune, who likewise upholds the restitution theory, says, 'that the great operation of bringing back the whole creation to God, starts with man. . . .'
Traces of such an explanation of the record of creation are found in ancient Christian literature as early as the time of the church father Augustine (about 400 A.D.). In the seventh century it was maintained by the Anglo-Saxon poet Caedmon. About A.D. 1000 King Edgar of England adopted it. In the seventeenth century it was specially emphasized by the mystic Jacob Boehme. In the year 1814 it was developed by the Scottish scholar Dr. Chalmers, and in 1833 further by the English professor of Mineralogy, William Buckland.
There are also very many German upholders of this teaching, as for instance, the professor of geology Freiherr von Heune (Tubingen): and well known are the English scholar G. H. Pember, and also the Scofield Reference Bible. From the Catholic side there are Cardinal Wiseman and the philosopher Friedrich von Schlegel." - Erich Sauer, The Dawn of World Redemption, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1953, pp.35-36

    "Some have imagined that the six days of creation represent so many periods, rather than literal days, chiefly on the ground of the supposed high antiquity of our globe, and the various great epochs or periods, each terminating in a grand revolution, through which our earth seems to have passed, before coming to its present state, when it became a fit habitation for man. There is, however, no need to resort to any such theory. The first verse in the book of Genesis simply states the general fact, that 'In the beginning' -- whenever that may have been -- 'God created the heaven and the earth.' Then, in the second verse, we find the earth described as it was at the close of the last great revolution, preceding the present state of things: 'And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.' An almost indefinite space of time, and many changes, may therefore have intervened between the creation of heaven and earth, as mentioned in verse 1 and the chaotic state of our earth, as described in verse 2. As for the exact date of the first creation, it may safely be affirmed that we have not yet the knowledge sufficient to arrive at any really trustworthy conclusion." - Alfred Edersheim, The World Before the Flood, Religious Tract Society, London, n.d., p.18

    Pseudo-Jasher, a forgery published in 1751 (prior to modern geology), not to be regarded as a legitimate document, nevertheless observed the catastrophe and re-creation element of Genesis 1.  As far as any significance is concerned, it at least shows the gap can be readily observed apart from any desire to have Genesis to correspond with modern scientific evidence:

    "Whilst it was the beginning, darkness overspread the face of nature, and the ether moved upon the surface of the chaos. And it came to pass, that a great light shone forth from the firmament, and enlightened the abyss. And the abyss fled before the face of the light, and divided between the light and the darkness. So that the face of nature was formed for the second time." Pseudo-Jasher 1:1-5 (c. 1751)

    Pseudo-Jasher is really quite insignificant, as we all know. I think what is important in this study is to notice--among the more ancient and Jewish references--a general open-mindedness with which the Jews understood Scripture, quite unlike a common American fundamentalist today. They simply didn't embrace any sort of hard-nosed young earth position, and, recognizing how truly silent the Bible is on much of the details,  they had no problem envisioning happenings to make sense of certain features and oddities in the text. They were apparently able to tell from Genesis 1:2 that our creation was not the initial one, and likewise, they could tell from the rainbow and other details that Noah's flood was not the first of it's kind.

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