The Gap Theory (Part B)

Originally published in Creation 3, no 3 (August 1980): 33-35.

The interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2, as it applies to the Gap (Ruin-Reconstruction) Theory, revolves around four major points.

  1. The alleged (by Gap Theorists) difference in meaning between the Hebrew verbs BaRa' (“to create”) and aSah (“to do,” “make,” etc.). Gap Theorists say that 'aSaH cannot mean “to create” and so therefore Exodus 20:11 which speaks of Gods “making” ('aSaH) everything in six days must refer not original creation but a supposed re-creation (described Gen. 1:2ff).
  2. The grammatical relationship of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. Gap Theorists affirm that the grammar allows, or even requires, a chronological hiatus between the events described by these two verses.
  3. The translation of HaYeTHah in Genesis 1:2. Proponents of the Ruin-Reconstruction Theory translate: “the earth became, or had become formless and empty”; rather than the traditional “was formless and empty.”
  4. The meaning of the expression BoHU and WoHU (“formless and empty”). Gapists allege that the expression itself implies a process of destruction.


Probably the best up-to-date discussion of these exegetical points is that of Weston W. Fields in his book Unformed and Unfilled (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1978). Fields shows that none of these claims by Gap Theorists will stand up to a critical, contextual analysis. We may notice the following points:

The history of the exegesis of Genesis 1:1–2 shows that the Ruin-Reconstruction interpretation first appeared about the end of the 18th century.

Firstly, a study of the history of the exegesis of Genesis 1:1–2 shows that the Ruin-Reconstruction interpretation first appeared about the end of the 18th century, evidently in response to demands by geological science for long periods of time for strata formation. The earliest interpretation available to us is that of the Greek Old Testament (The Septuagint, abbreviated LXX), which was produced in Egypt in the century following 250–200 BC. The LXX translation does not permit the reading in of any Ruin-Reconstruction scenario, as even Custance—a leading Gapist—realized. Turning now to consider the four main issues mentioned above:

(1.) BaRa'and 'aSaH. It is generally agreed that BaRa' means “to create”—it refers to “the production of that which had no existence before” (Keil). However, faced with Exodus 20:11, Gap Theorists have sought to prove that 'aSaH cannot mean “to create,” but means (in this context) “to recreate”—to make something out of substance previously existing. Thus, Gapists do not interpret Exodus 20:11 as referring to the (original) creation, but to the six days of “re-creation” held to be described in Gen. 1:2ff.

A number of verses show, however, that BaRa' and 'aSaH may be used interchangeably: among them is Nehemiah 9:6. This verse states that God made ('aSaH) “the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth, and all that is in it, the seas and all that is in them.” The reference is clearly to the (original) creation, but the verb 'aSaH is used. (We presume that no Gapist will want to propose a Ruin-Reconstruction theory which includes all of heaven and earth! Even if he did, then it would presumably include the ordered strata of geology too, thereby evacuating the whole theory of its purpose. . . .)

The fact is that the two words may be used interchangeably in the Old Testament (OT). Indeed, in some places they are used in synonymous parallelism (e.g. Gen. 2:4; Exodus 34:10; Isaiah 41:20; 43:7). Applied to Exodus 20:11 and 31:17, and also Neh. 9:6, this conclusion limits the creation of the universe to the six days of creation recorded in Gen. 1:2ff.

(2.) The Grammar of Genesis 1:2. Gen. 1:2a (“And the earth was formless and empty. . . .”) is a noun-clause. Following v.1, which is a subject-and-verb clause, v. 2a is therefore correctly identified as a “circumstantial clause”—that is, a clause expressing the circumstances attending the fact described by the principal statement (i.e. v.1). So v. 2a explains more clearly the condition or the circumstances attending God’s creative act. Grammatically then, v. 2a (and also 2b and c) constitute a description of the earth as originally created. This conclusion is supported by the recognition that the conjunction WaW (“and,” Hebrew We) at the beginning of the verse is a “WaW copulative,” which grammarian Gesenius compares to the English phrase “to wit” (see Fields, p. 8l ff). Thus the grammatical relationship of verses 1 and 2 rules out the Gap Theory, since v. 2 actually comprises three clauses descriptive of the original condition of earth as created. The New International Version (NIV) captures the sense: “Now the earth was formless and empty. . . .”

(3.) The translation of HaYeThaH (part of the Hebrew verb HaYaH, “to be”). Gap Theorist A.C. Custance claims that of 1320 occurrences of the verb HaYaH in the OT, only 24 can certainly be said to bear the meaning “to be.” But he makes the unwarranted deduction that therefore HaYaH in Gen. 1:2 cannot mean “was,” but must mean “became.” Given the argument of (2.) above, semantic considerations require that in this context, “was” must be the correct translation of HaYeTHaH. This is supported by the Greek (LXX). Furthermore, in Gen. 1:2 HaYeThaH is not followed by the preposition Le, which would have demanded the translation “became” and removed ambiguity. Finally,

(4.) The Meaning of ToHu and BoHU. The argument that this expression refers to “a sinful, and therefore, not an original state of the earth,” relies on importing into Genesis 1:2 meanings from other OT contexts (viz. Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23).

While ToHU and BoHU occur together only these three times in the OT, ToHU appears alone in a number of places. The simple meaning common to these latter is “formlessness,” however brought about (whether by judgment, destruction, etc.). The word itself contains no implication about the causes of formlessness: these must be gained from the contexts in which the word appears. Isaiah 45:18—a favorite of Gapists—which is rendered by the King James Version: “he created it not in vain (ToHU),” should be rendered “he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited.” The context speaks of God’s grace in restoring Israel: he did not choose his people in order to destroy them. He is the Lord who did not create the earth to be a chaos, but to be formed and filled during the remaining days of creation.

Though the expression ToHU and BoHU in Isaiah 34:11 and Jer. 4:23 do speak of a wasteness and emptiness resulting from judgment for sin, this meaning is not implicit in the expression itself but is gained from the contexts. No such reference is required by the context of Gen.1:2.

The simple meaning of Gen.1:2 is that God created the earth unformed as yet, and unfilled as yet. The sequel in Gen.1 relates how the earth was progressively formed and filled. (By the way, the suggestion that because Gen. 1:28 refers in the KJV to “replenishing” the earth, therefore the earth must have been at some previous time already “plenished” (!) is trite. The simple meaning of the Hebrew word is “to fill,” not “to refill.”).


The foregoing discussion on the exegesis of Gen. 1:1–2 should serve to illustrate the extremely tenuous exegetical support that exists for the Ruin-Reconstruction Theory. The interested reader is directed to Fields’ book (op. cit.) for a thorough discussion of these and other relevant points.


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