THE GENESIS GAP THEORY
This Theory is a way of looking at verses 1 & 2 of the first chapter of Genesis, which has been particularly promoted in G. H. Pember's "Earth's Earliest Ages," a work first published in 1876. it views verse 1 as factually describing a primeval universe created by God complete as to its intended purpose. Verse 2 is then seen as depicting the condition of the terrestrial globe, supposedly not as first created, after an unstated time interval prior to the first day of the seven during which our present creation was brought into being. The simple theory of a time gap between verses 1 and 2 has been expanded by some so as to postulate an original perfect creation subsequently ruined by catastrophe due to an evil intervention resulting in chaos and requiring a new creation. The latter is sometimes called the Judgment Gap Concept, or Restitution Hypothesis.
Although not so styled, there is extant also an Anti-Gap Theory which regards verse 1 as historically descriptive of the seven day period of God's one and only creative session. Some advocates treat verse 1 as relating to the first day; others hold that it epitomises the seven (or six) days of the Creator's works.
The two Theories are exemplified by the following extracts :
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth had become waste and wild, and darkness was on the face of the roaring deep, - but the Spirit of God was brooding on the face of the waters"
J. B. Rotherham.
"In the beginning of God's preparing the heavens and the earth - the earth hath existed waste and void, and darkness is on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God fluttering on the face of the waters, and God saith, -Let light be"
: Robt.Young. 3rd Edn..cf.NEB.
There exists an entire spectrum of shades of opinion given by translators and others versed in Hebrew, and the easy course would be to select one authority and submit unquestioningly to the views he offers. But this is not the way to the truth; and the ordinary Bible student, whose point of view this article seeks to present, is confronted with the daunting task of examining these various claims for himself and testing them by the inspired words of scripture. The expert Hebraist can be expected to set out linguistic niceties in laymen's terms, and what he demonstrates by analogy to be sound syntax has to be accepted; but the Hebraist has no special endowment in the field of rational argument and logical deduction, and his conclusions must be examined for viability.
In pursuit of this re-appraisal the undermentioned two documents have been critically investigated :
A. "Studies in Genesis One" by Professor E.J. Young of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, U. S. A.
B. "Exegesis of Genesis One, 1 & 2", being an article in No 16 of Volume 2 of Scripture Research, by Dr. A.J. Roddy of California Baptist College in Riverside, U. S. A.
Although not an advocate of the Gap Theory, Dr Young virtually demolishes the mainstay of the Anti-Gap Theory in saying, "It must be clearly seen that if verse one is a dependent clause, the doctrine of absolute creation is then not taught in the first chapter of Genesis", A.p2.. His statement that "the first verse of Genesis therefore stands as a simple declaration of the fact of absolute creation", A.p7., whatever he may have intended to imply, is one that will not be disputed by any proponent of the Gap Theory. Dr Young makes a detailed analytical survey of the several arguments for construing verse 1 with verse 2 and concludes - "although such a construction is grammatically possible, it is to be rejected as unsuitable to the context", A,p8.
It contrasts strangely against the general reasonableness of Document A to read on p.14, as a conclusion, "Verse two describes the earth as it came from the hands of the Creator and as it existed at the time when God commanded the light to shine forth". For the first part of this statement comes as a surprise to the unprepared reader, as Dr.Young has by no means led up to such a dogmatic conclusion through any process of logical argument. Reviewing the preceding pages, however, we find on p.11, just before a similar assertion, that he says, "In view of the immediately preceding statement of absolute creation (in v.l), however, we may not be far wrong if we assume that this three-fold condition (in v.2) had been in existence from the very beginning until God said, 'Let there be light' ". So, this all important conclusion is discovered to be based on nothing more than an assumption, and even that uncertainly expressed !
Within the context of this unsupported assertion we can find no clue to the background to Dr Young's chinking. However, we may not be far wrong if we assume that he had in mind what he gives as a conclusion to the third of his three studies. This conclusion No.5 states, on p.104, "The beginning of the first day is not indicated, although from Exodus 20.11. we may warrantably assume that it began at the absolute beginning. Genesis 1.1.". Again we find a conclusion based on an assumption, even if more confidently made.
It should be noted that Dr. Young, on p.78, quotes this verse 11 of the 20th chapter of Exodus thus - "for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth". But why is this left unfinished? What about the context, which elsewhere rightly is used as a basis of interpretation ? In fact, the verse continues - "the sea and all that in them is". The word for Sea, YAM, first occurs in Genesis 1:10., "And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas". The meaning of the three domains of Exodus 20. 11. is thus established by the association here of Seas and Earth, for both are so named by God on the third day, the second day being when God named the firmament Heaven. So, "all that in them is" refers to those creatures indigenous to the three elements, in both passages given in the same order, which were made during days four to six.
It is an inescapable fact that ERETS in verse 2, apparently referring to the primeval equivalent of what we now call our planet, must have a meaning different from what it has in verse 10, where it means "dry land". The English word Earth, of course, has a similar range of meaning. The vital question is, which of these two meanings does ERETS have in verse 1 ? The two options will produce two mutually exclusive propositions, equally valid within a limited context.
The first proposition views verse 1 as an epitome or summary of the seven days of creation, a view favoured by Dr. Young. In this instance Exodus 20.11. relates not only to the three domains named by God, but to those two instanced in verse 1. ERETS then means "dry land" in verse 1. and "heaven" is the "firmament". In such a case the ERETS of verse two is introduced without an antecedent and is existing before "the beginning", another way of saying "the doctrine of absolute creation is then not taught in the first chapter of Genesis"; which may be so.
The second proposition views verse 1 as an independent statement of an event pre-dating those narrated in the succeeding verses. This ERETS equates with the meaning of ERETS in verse 2 ; and seeing that the firmament was derived from the Earth of verse 2, then the "heaven" of this verse must be different from that of verse 8. This proposition debars the first verse from constituting a summary of the seven days creation, but it does allow "beginning" to be taken absolutely.
Within the compass of these two propositions lies the crux of the problem. No amount of knowledge of Hebrew will help, nor lack of it hinder, in resolving the logical consequences imposed by the context. In this first chapter it says twice that God made a heaven and an earth. If these two statements are taken as equivalent, then "the beginning" is relative, not absolute; for the heaven and earth of verses 8/10 were both formed out of the Earth of verse 2. If they are not equated then verse one cannot epitomize the seven day creative works.
D.Young expresses his idea, which approximates to our first proposition, thus : "The first verse of Genesis is a broad general declaration of the fact of the creation of the heaven and the earth. - - - That fact is stated in grand summary fashion in verse one. Then follows a detailed account of how God brought the well-ordered universe from the original material into its present form", A.pp.9/10/11. But if we accept this idea we cannot logically also accept his statement that "The first verse of Genesis stands as a simple declaration of the fact of absolute creation", A.p.7; since it has been shown that with the first proposition "the beginning" cannot be absolute. Nor, if we accept this idea, can we agree with him regarding verse 2, that "by its introductory words, 'and the earth', it does take up the thought of the first verse". A,p.31; as the earth in verse 1 does not equate with the earth in verse 2, unless verse one is treated under the second proposition.
There can really be little doubt but that Dr Young's two. last quoted comments are correct; which implies that the idea of a "grand summary" is but wishful thinking that cannot be supported from the larger context of the account of creation. Particularly apposite are these observations by G. H. Pember in his "Earth's Earliest Ages", p.25, - "the 'and', according to Hebrew usage - as well as that of most other languages, proves that the first verse is not a compendium of what follows, but a statement of the first event in the record. For if it were a mere summary, the second verse would be the actual commencement of the history, and certainly would not begin with a copulative" (i.e. VAV = and) .
Turning now to document B, on p.499 Dr.Roddy states, "Verse 2 then, is not to be separated from the creation of 1:1 as though a new situation were being introduced.". His use of "then" implies a conclusion reached by some previous argument; but his showing that in verse 2 that the earth is the subject of special emphasis does not lead to such a conclusion. Dr.Roddy may hold what opinion he wishes, but others equally may be inclined to see that emphasis on the earth and its condition as clearly pointing to a "new situation".
Dr.Roddy's positive contribution is his effective demonstration that the verb HAYAH in verse 2 may not be rendered "become", as Rotherham has it, but must be "was", as in the standard versions. He rightly remarks as to the earth being 'without form and void', that "obviously it was created that way or it had become that way", B.p508. Then he goes on, oddly, "But if it had become that way, it would have to be prior to Gen.l : 1.", a comment singularly devoid of clear thought, as certainly the earth could have become what it is described to be in verse 2 after its creation in verse 1. If I were to tell you that my watch was stopped, instead of saying it had become stopped (which would be true), you are not to thereby infer that my watch had always previously been stopped. The confused observations that immediately follow this comment seem to be based on the type of rendering of these first two verses exemplified by Robt.Young's Literal Version, which Dr.E.J.Young has shown to be untenable.
"It has been largely assumed", says Dr.Roddy, B.p509, "that the words TOHU and BOHU (waste and void) are always used in a context of judgement". But there is no assumption about this : it is a demonstrable fact that this is exactly so, as is noted by Rotherham. The only two other occurrences of TOHU and BOHU are in Isaiah 34:11. and Jeremiah 4:20, and the reader should for himself verify the contexts of these two passages and observe that judgment is the theme. That TOHU alone is not always in a context of judgment is not being disputed.
We read on p.512 that "Genesis 1:2 states that this was the condition of the earth when God first created her". Yet this verse says no such thing: this is a pure supposition and is not necessarily demanded by the context. For, as Dr Young rightly remarks of this verse, "it is not to be construed with the preceding, but with what follows", A.p30.
Dr.Roddy disparages a biased rendering, by an unnamed translator, which uses the phrase "darkness of judgement", because CHOSEK does not demand the idea of judgment. Yet he himself shows a similar bias in proposing "created from nothing" for BARA. We do not know whether or not God created the heaven and earth in verse 1 from nothing. The material, if any, is not in mind either in BARA or in "create". The definition of the verb to create is given as, "to bring into existence"; and this is common to both Webster's New International and the New Oxford Illustrated Dictionaries. The word does not demand the idea of coming out of nothing, though it does always mean the bringing into being of what previously did not exist. Dr.Young recognises that BARA does not mean 'creatio ex nihilo', but appears to think that "create" does; for he says that BARA "has a more restricted usage that the English word 'create'", A.p7. In fact, probably the reverse is true; for BARA has meanings, e.g. to cut, which 'create' does not have. Creation out of nothing is a philosophical postulate which is no part of divine revelation.
An acknowledgement of appreciation should be made to Dr.Young for his positive showing that "verse one is a narrative complete in itself" and can only be treated as an "independent clause"; though this could have been demonstrated likewise by means of numerics. Dr.Roddy, too, is to be commended for his analysis of the usage of HAYAH, and showing its proper rendering to be "was". But if there is a real case for the Anti-Gap Theory, then it has not been brought to light in the two documents considered which are the works of proponents of this Theory.
Does this then mean that the Gap Theory is true ? No, not at all. A theory can never be true or false; but it can be tenable if it fits together all the known facts, and untenable if it does not. The facts by which either Theory must be weighed are the plain statements of Scripture taken in context and such logical deductions as are unambiguously to be inferred from them.
Before considering these facts let it first be observed that those wanting to challenge the Restitution Hypothesis have attached an undue emphasis to interpretation derived from Hebrew syntax. The extent to which' the ordinary student of the Bible must submit to the opinions of Hebraists for exegesis is minimal compared with that based on accuracy of reading the text in context. Even Professor Young, apart from the single exception already noted, reaches his main conclusions on the basis of context; for, as he shows, some relevant passages can be construed in Hebrew in more ways than one.
In simple terms the argument from Hebrew syntax is that HAYAH may be rendered as "became" only when the object of the sentence has a Lamed prefix, e.g. Gen.2:7, Ex. 9:24, Num. 26:11, Jos. 7:5.
So it is a fact that HAYAH may only be translated "was" in Genesis 1.2. (just as it is in RSV and other versions) ; to render it "had become" is to inject an emphasis, at least, that the Hebrew does not intend.
It is a fact that verse one, with its seven Hebrew words, stands alone, unique and complete (just as Dr.Young has shown), and may not be incorporated into the verses that follow it.
It is a fact that in verse two the Earth is emphatically introduced as the subject of the ensuing narrative, and that this Earth (ERETS) is to be equated with the Earth of verse one.
It is a fact that this Earth of verses one and two constituted the material out of which subsequently was formed the Heavens, the Seas and the Earth (also ERETS) or dry land of verses 8 and 10.
It is a fact, deducible from the context, that neither the Heavens nor the Earth mentioned in verse one can be identified with the Heavens and the Earth of verses 8 and 10.
It is a fact, deducible from the context, that Exodus 20:11. refers to these verses 8 and 10, as well as later verses, and that it cannot be construed to make verse one either epitomise or form any part of the seven days of creation.
It is a fact that TOHU with BOHU occurs but three times, viz. Gen. 1:2, Isa.34:11 & Jer.4:23,[Strongs 8414 and 922] and that the last two are set in a judgment context.
These seven facts would seem to embrace all that can be asserted on the basis of scripture, and it is not permissible to impose upon them conjectures that would make them yield a particular meaning.
The context of the opening verses of Genesis does not demand that the first verse be taken in any figurative sense; indeed, the sentence structure of verse two, with its emphasis on the Earth, requires verse one as a preamble, a literal historical statement of primeval creation accounting for the Earth's existence so that it can be singled out for treatment. This emphasising of the Earth projects it forward as the subject into the ensuing verses from verse two, concerning which Dr.Young comments - "grammatically, it is not to be construed with the preceding, but with what follows." A.p30. It is this emphatic position of the Earth in verse two that demonstrates the invalidity of treating the verse as an expansion of verse one, as Dr.Roddy apparently attempts to do.
Dr.Roddy has paraphrased verse 2 as follows -
"Now as for the earth, it was a shapeless mass and darkness was upon the face of the yawning abyss. Moreover, God's Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters." B.pp.499/513.
Though this by no means supports his mistaken idea of construing verse two with verse one, there is no reason not to regard Dr.Roddy's rendering as providing an acceptable statement of Scripture as to terrestrial conditions on day one when God spoke and called the light into being. Logically, those same conditions must also have been in effect immediately prior to the commencement of the first day, though we are not told in Scripture how long those conditions had existed nor whether this was the state of the Earth from the beginning. Any assertions are conjectural.
Apart from the fact that the Heavens and the Earth were created in the beginning and that this was before the first of the seven days of creation, we do not know from Genesis whether that "beginning" was five seconds or five billion years before day one. In so far then that we are given no information about this space of time, however short or long, there is thus a discontinuity in the narrative of creation, or a hiatus. So it is not a mere theory but an inescapable fact that there is a hiatus between verses one and two. The theory only relates to the suppositions made about the duration and nature of alleged events in that gap.
It would be possible as a theory to postulate that this gap was only of short duration and that, as Dr Young conjectures, "verse two describes the earth as it came from the hands of the Creator". But such a theory has not been propounded as the Anti-Gap theorists do not recognize verses one and two as being sequential narratives with an historical hiatus between them, even though this is logically inescapable. The Anti-Gap Theory has no substance or tangibility, even as a hypothesis, as an analysis of the statements and syntax of the first chapter of Genesis shows that a gap of some kind does exist.
The only candidate as a theory suggesting what may have taken place in this gap is the Judgment Gap Theory or Restitution Hypothesis, though the latter really is a complementary view of the 7-day creation. It cannot be denied that certain proponents of this Theory have gone to extreme lengths in order to promote it, even importing false notions. Yet the basis of the Theory is not without evidential support. It is not a certainty that the Hebrew words TOHU and BOHU must entail destruction arising from divine judgment; but the verifiable fact that this is so in two places is strong evidence indicating the probability of a similar context for their other occurrence in Gen 1:2.
The Judgment Gap Theory, then, is not a proven or provable fact; but it is a tenable theory for which no serious challenger has yet been proposed.
Maurice S. Lloyd April 1980
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