New versions of the once popular “gap” theory are now arising. The motive is the same—to accommodate an old universe (and Earth) into Genesis 1, but to still retain a recent, literal six-day Creation Week. However, correct exegesis with close attention to syntax and semantics, plus the recognition of no verb tenses in the Hebrew, preclude any possible “reading” of long ages into the Hebrew of the key texts, verses 1–3 and 14–16. The strongest argument confirming the traditional view that Genesis 1:1 describes the creation of a young universe at the beginning of Day One of Creation Week is still the link to Genesis 1:2 through the word “earth”.
What is popularly known as the “gap” theory of Genesis 1 originally appeared as a “ruin-reconstruction” theory round about 1814 in Edinburgh in Scotland. There has recently come into being a “gap” theory without the ruin-reconstruction element. This article will examine some syntactic and semantic features of the Hebrew of Genesis 1 in order to evaluate these theories, but I will begin by looking into the historical situation.
An historical perspective
The chief arguments in the nineteenth century were that:
- the verb in Genesis 1:2a could be translated “became” instead of “was”.
- “darkness” is evil in Scripture, hence Genesis 1:2b indicates a falling away from the perfection of Genesis 1:1.
- the phrase tohu-wa-bohu always indicates destruction and judgment.
All this was said to imply that a terrible catastrophe had occurred between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, involving a pre-Adamite race of beings who had succumbed to Satan’s wiles and had to be destroyed. Hence the “ruin”. There then followed a “reconstruction” as described from Genesis 1:3 to 2:4, until the perfect world of Adam and Eve in Eden was brought into being.
Other arguments were used, especially one deriving from the King James Version of the English Bible at Genesis 1:28. There, the fifth verb (male) was unfortunately translated “replenish”, whereas the same form in the Hebrew of Genesis 1:22 had been correctly translated as “fill”. People of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were unaware that “replenish” in the seventeenth century just meant “fill” and was no closer to “refill” than “re-comment” is to “remark”. The prefix “re-” does not always mean “again” in English.
However, various supporters of the “gap” theory later tried to claim that their theory was not novel in 1814, by which time many famous but generally unbelieving geology dilettanti had purported to show that the Earth was far more ancient than the Bible seemed to make it. But the truth is that the “gap” theory in the form held then and since cannot be matched by Jewish or Gentile beliefs prior to that time. Claims concerning Origen and other early Christian writers cannot be sustained from their own writings as being in any recognisable way similar to the views of Thomas Chalmers and his sympathisers….
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