Let's talk about "The Gap Theory"
"...if [God] had the eternal purpose to create, why did He not carry it out at once?" - Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p.131
The question of dating the age of the earth goes back to the days of Plato and Aristotle.1 The belief that there were multiple eons that existed before the present eon can date back to the intertestamental period: viz. the Jewish Midrash.2 The belief that the 6 days of creation were acts of restoration can be dated back to the Church Father Augustine.3 The (so-called) “gap theory”, as we know it today “[f]irst revived [and developed] in the early nineteenth century by a Scottish theologian, Thomas Chalmers”4 who “attributed it to Episcopius”5, which posits that “a long period of time elapsed between the primary creation mentioned in Gen. 1:1 and the secondary creation described in Gen. 1:3-31”6, is the correct view to approaching the belief of how old the earth is. The added statement to scripture to disprove the gap theory, the irreconciliation between the initial “sudden” creation described in Genesis 1:1 and the 6 days of creation and the evidence that death must have existed before Adam are (not a complete list of) proofs that the gap theory is correct.
In attempting to disprove the gap theory, Dr. Henry Morris addresses one passage of scripture that Gap Theorists use to support their theory: viz., Isaiah 45:18. In it, we find the statement that God did not originally create the Earth "formless and void"7. This is a problem passage for opponents of the gap theory because they attempt to locate the second verse of Genesis 1, which describes the earth as "formless and void," at the beginning of creation. To deal with this problem passage, Morris adds a word "forever" into the text, so that it should read "God created not the earth [to be] forever unformed…"8 (italics mine); meaning that, even though the earth was initially created unformed, as the gap theorist and the prophet Isaiah gainsay, this earth was not forever intended to be so, hence God's constructing the world, making it not "formless and void." Is not this violating the express command of God to not add to Scripture (Proverbs 30:6)? Moreover, there is a Hebrew word, "‘ôlam", translated "forever" (ESV), that the prophet Isaiah could have used if he so felt that God's message was indeed that He did not create the earth to be forever unformed, but the prophet does not include the word in the text. The same argument, using different words, can be found in John Whitcomb's "The Early Earth"9, which finds the same refutation in the above argument.
In his Systematic Theology, Louis Berkhof rightly argues that Genesis 1:1 cannot be "the superscription or title of the whole narrative of creation."10 Of his arguments, two will be listed: "on that supposition, there would be no account whatsoever of the original and immediate creation [Berkhof believes that the original and immediate creation is described in verse 1, distinguished from a following passive creation, and uses a priori reasoning, as we shall see]"11 and "the following verses contain no account of the creation of heaven at all [this is a very strong point that proves that the first verse is not simply a summary of the fiat of creation and goes actually to prove the gap theorist’s contention]"12, meaning, that if the first verse were a title of the creative act of God, it would needs be that an account of heaven would follow that title of the narrative of creation. But we do not find a narrative of the creation of heaven, therefore the first verse of Genesis 1 cannot be a title of the narrative of creation. He asks another good question elsewhere, "if [God] had the eternal purpose to create, why did He not carry it out at once? [This reveals his belief that God did not carry out the act of creating at once]."13 Berkhof (among others like Morris), believe that there was an original and immediate creation distinguished from the six successive days of creation14:
Theologians generally distinguish between active and passive creation, the former denoting creation as an act of God, and the latter, its result, the world’s being created. The former is not, but the latter is, marked by temporal succession, and this temporal succession reflects the order determined in the decree of God.15
Berkhof himself admits that the question of whether there was a gap of time between the original creation and the first day of the Genesis creation account (i.e., the gap theory) is "debatable," showing that there is a possibility in his mind.16 In explaining the first verse of Genesis one, he argues that this verse’s description of God's creation is the mere act of God, not executed in time.17 Then he says that "we have no right to draw creation as an act of God into the temporal sphere"18, but then argues that "creation results in a temporal existence and thus terminates in time"19 (italics added). This view runs into the problem of the scripture's very language “in the beginning, God created…", and presents the question "how can a God who exists outside of eternity in the beginning act out something?" Berkhof's attempt to place this initial fiat of creation before time can simply not be done and is inconsistent with his own doctrine: "It would seem best to take the expression [of "in the beginning" of verse one] in the absolute sense as an indication of the beginning of all temporal things and even of time itself."20 We are forced to, and Berkhof himself inadvertently forces himself to, do exactly what Berkhof does not allow, viz., "[drawing] creation as an act of God into the temporal sphere"21 (italics omitted). The solution to Berkhof's debatable question lies in taking his separation which he himself allows between the first two verses of Genesis one, and letting the first creative half of that separation fall into the temporal sphere, executed in time, like the text allows and bears witness to in claiming that "in the beginning God created…"; then taking the latter half of that separation and changing it to a re-creation of the earth in the following content of the Genesis creation account. The only way that we can allow for a separation between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 without allowing a gap theory is to claim that the initial creation was incomplete and without form, as Morris does. This seems to be different from the view that Berkhof takes, seeing as Berkhof's view is merely that Genesis 1:1 is describing a decree of God executed outside of time, not that Gen. 1:1 is describing a creation of the world that is initially formless and void. Berkhof's route is not correct as we have seen, and Morris' route is also not correct, as shall be seen. Morris claims that the initial creation contained only elements, "not yet formed but nevertheless comprising the basic matter--the 'dust' of the earth."22 This contradicts Isaiah's statement that God didn't create the earth formless and void, already addressed previously in this essay.
Another argument which opponents of the gap theory put forth is that there can't have been death existing in the earth before Adam's fall, since Genesis says that God saw what He created and it was very good (Gen. 1:10)23. Most gap theorists need death to exist before Adam's sin in order to explain the fossil record24. The Scofield Study Bible reads, "[r]elegate fossils to the primitive creation, and no conflict of science with the Genesis cosmogony remains."25 How, the opponent says, can death have existed in a creation that God called "good"? To answer this, we are first going to show how death did exist before Adam's transgression, and then we will address the question.
The record itself does not say that no evil previously existed in the earth, but positively asserts that evil did exist in Satan; and. it was by this evil already present, and which came in contact with man, that the Fall was induced. Death itself was in existence, seeing that it is implied by the bestowal of the tree of life in Eden by which immortality could be obtained. By the creation of Adam and Eve and the withdrawal of them in a separate, distinctive place (i.e. the Garden of Eden, thus indicative that the rest of the earth was as yet unprepared for their reception), God was designing a provision for the emancipation of the earth under the holy dominion of man, i.e. to subjugate the evil already existing and to triumph over Satan. But the unfilial conduct of our first parents made the gracious purpose of God, without preliminary training, a dangerous procedure, so that man was driven from the tree of life. Being mortal, he fell under the penalty of a law of death then in existence, and which he might have avoided by obedience; and when the Bible says that death came by man and passed upon all men, it simply refers us to the plain fact that immortality, in the tree of life, was tendered to man, and he rendering himself unfit for its reception, fell under the power of death, and with him, of course, all his descendants. The Bible and science here accord, for Eden was not the whole earth, but only a limited space, specially fitted for man; for evil was here present before man came; the simple withdrawal of the tree of life exhibited the already existing laws of mortality; the curse itself was (1) a removal from an Eden state, (2) the sad experience and confirmation of evil into which man was driven outside of Eden.26
Opponents may say, that God had foreseen Adam’s transgression (1 Pet. 1:20), why couldn't God have made a tree of life in provision for Adam’s transgression? To this we answer, that, if God placed the tree of life in provision for the foreseen transgression, why then does God withdraw the tree of life after that foreseen transgression? God would have given Adam the tree of life if He made the tree in advance for his transgression, but that is not what the account says. Now to address God calling the creation good while there is death present, Paul himself calls the present death-laden creation "good" in 1 Timothy 4:4: "For everything created by God is good" (ESV). So it must not be in the counsels of God that declaring the creation “good” means that spiritual transgression has not happened. Also, our argument is that God is calling a re-creation without any inhabitants on it good. We are not claiming that God called the first creation, after the fall of Satan, good. Neither are we claiming that God called the recreation, which would be after the fall of Satan, good. Another counter-argument that has been put forth in favour of the gap theorist, to explain the reason why God called the creation "good," is,
…this [God’s calling the creation “good”] (Bush’s Notes, Lange’s Com., etc.) may have for its fundamental application the notion that God saw that it-the creation-answered fully the purpose designed-that in such and such a creation He made the provision intended.
So, as this suggestion posits, and seems very plausible, it wasn’t that there was no evil existing in the spiritual realm that is meant by God calling the creation “good”, but rather, that creation was teleologically sufficient.27
The added statement to scripture to disprove the gap theory, the irreconciliation between the initial “sudden” creation described in Genesis 1:1 and the six days of creation and the evidence that death must have existed before Adam are (not a complete list of) proofs that the gap theory is correct. This theory goes back before scientific enquiries and studies into geology began conflicting with young earth creationism.28 It was inchoate during the intertestamental period and in the Church Fathers' period. The testimony of the earth's age from geology in natural theology can, indeed, coincide with Biblical revelation.
1 Berkhof, L. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1941. P. 138.
2 Genesis Rabba 3; Genesis Rabba 23. Cited by Tim Cochran, retrieved on 11/28/14. Retrieved from http://www.dispensationalfriends.org/articles/envoldview.html
3 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 127; Sauer, E. The Dawn of World Redemption. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1953. Pp. 35-36. Cited by Tim Cochran. Retrieved on 11/28/14. Retrieved from http://www.dispensationalfriends.org/articles/envoldview.html
4 Morris, H. H. The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1976. P. 46.
5 As quoted by Springer, J. The Gap Theory. Church of God. Retrieved on 11/27/14. Retrieved from http://lifehopeandtruth.com/god/is-there-a-god/the-gap-theory/
6 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 158.
7 This argument, in favour of the gap theory, can be found in, for e.g., Larkin, C. Dispensational Truth. Glenside, PA: Rev. Clarence Larkin Est, 1920. 6 "Rightly Dividing the Word", 2.
8 Morris, H. Op. Cit. P. 49.
9 Whitcomb, J. C. The Early Earth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1986. P. 148.
10 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 151.
13 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 131.
14 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. Pp. 132, 151-2.
15 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 132.
16 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 152.
17 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 132.
18 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 131.
19 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 132.
20 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 130.
21 Berkhof, L. Op. Cit. P. 131.
22 Morris, H. M. Op. Cit. P. 50.
23 Ham, K. The New Answers Book 1. Green Forest, AR: Answers in Genesis, 2006. 2 Why Shouldn't Christians Accept Millions of Years?, 7; see also "...how could a fossil record, which gives evidence of disease, violence, death, and decay..., be describes as 'very good'?" from Op. Cit. 5. What about the Gap & Ruin-Reconstruction Theories? "Problems with the Gap Theory," 2.
24 Ham, K. Op. Cit. 5. What about the Gap & Ruin-Reconstruction Theories? "Problems with the Gap Theory," 2. "Most ruin-reconstruction theorists have... accepted the millions-of-years dates for the fossil record."
25 Scofield, C. I. The Scofield Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 1945 (Originally published as The Scofield Reference Bible, this edition is unaltered from the original of 1909.) As cited by Batten, D. What is the "Gap Theory"? its origin and history? Marysville, WA: Creation Ministries International, 2000. Retrieved 12/5/2014. Retrieved from http://www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c003.html
26 Peters, G. The Theocratic Kingdom. Redding, California: Pleasant Places Press, 2005 (Original work published 1884). Prop. 120, Obs. 7. Bold emphasis added.
28 Springer, J. Op. Cit.; Rokin03. "Gap Creationism", Rokin03's blog. Retrieved at 11/28/14. Retrieved from http://yahwehword.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/gap-creationism/
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