OBT Logo OBT Logo


A Critique of the Gap Theory (Weston W. Fields, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1976)

A Review by Theo Todman

January 1988

As its sub-title suggests, this book is a consideration of the gap theory - a theory which suggests that there is a long time gap between the events of creation recorded in Genesis 1:1 and those in 1:2. The book is itself a review of Arthur C. Custance's book Without Form and Void, published in 1970. There may be many of our readers who are meeting this idea for the first time, so we will spell out the theory in a bit more detail. Fields states the traditional gap theory as follows :-

  1. Originally God created a perfect heaven and earth, the earth being ruled by Lucifer and populated by a race of men without souls.
  2. Eventually, Lucifer, dwelling in the first Eden, rebelled by desiring to be like God (Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14) and so fell, becoming Satan.
  3. Consequently, sin entered the universe and God judged the earth by causing a flood (hence the waters of Genesis 1:2) leading to a global ice-age.
  4. All fossils date from Lucifer's flood and the underlying plants and animals bear no genetic relationship to those alive today.

As Fields admits, this rendering of the theory may not be agreeable to all who espouse it, and I would have thought that improvements could easily be made. Many would find the references to Lucifer and soul-less men in point 1 objectionable, for instance. However, he claims that this is the classical variant, and this is the one that bears the brunt of his attack. Fields is an uncompromising opponent of the gap theory and he seeks to refute every argument in its support. Even though I have no great sympathy for the theory, I still found his style a little too aggressive. I am always suspicious of authors who utterly confute a theory - I get the feeling that they have become too emotionally involved to weigh the evidence fairly. There is usually something to be said for any Biblical theory even if the weight of evidence is strongly against it. This being said, it is the arguments that really matter, and the reader, especially those who accept some form of gap theory, should not allow themselves to be offended.

One area that may cause consternation is the allegation that gap theorists have been intimidated by scientism, ie. that the theory has been invented to harmonise the Biblical texts with the theories of modern science. Later in the book, Fields applies the same stricture to all who attempt to explain the meaning of the Genesis accounts as anything other than six 24-hour days' creation sometime around 6,000 years ago. My own view is that the intention of the Biblical writers was clearly just this and that attempts at alternative exegesis are not very successful. But equally, I wouldn't be surprised if the Psalmist believed in real storehouses in which the wind was kept (Psalm 135:7). In earlier times, this would have been taken as Biblical Truth and departure from this belief would have been apostasy. Now, of course, it is recognised as poetry.

In this vein, Fields commences his book by demolishing Custance's argument that some sort of Gap theory has supporters going back a long time before the rise of modern geology. Fields correctly observes, as presumably does Custance, that tradition has no authority over the Bible and hence that historical precedent is mainly irrelevant - it only has force in the intimidation debate. This section of the book is unduly long and off the subject. Custance seems to have been rather desperate to find supporters - Caedmon & King Edgar of England are not everybody's heroes and the Zohar is hardly a pillar of orthodoxy, whether Jewish or Christian. However, Fields seems far from fair to Custance over this issue. For instance, after quoting Custance's citation of the Zohar, a Jewish mystical writing of dubious date, which seems clearly to speak of the destruction of a previous creation in Gen 1:2, Fields says that Custance would be unwise to include the Zohar amongst the ranks of gap theorists. This seems to be unfair confusion. The Zohar clearly is inclined towards a gap theory of some sort. Fields' objection is that the book is thoroughly speculative and of doubtful provenance and therefore not to be believed. This is also true, but doesn't stop the Zohar being a witness that Custance can validly call upon as a precedent, even though its exegesis is not very credible.

The meat of Fields' book comes when he investigates the exegetical evidence of the gap theory. The gap theorists' proposals fall into several sections:-

  1. The Hebrew words Asa (to make) and Bara (to create) are used carefully and distinctly in the Bible and indicate that the heavens and the earth were created in Genesis 1:1, but that subsequently the earth was made from pre-existent material.
  2. The Hebrew word Hayetah in Gen 1:2 should be translated became rather than was, so that the earth became without form and void, rather than having been created thus.
  3. The Hebrew expression Tohu wa bohu (without form and void) indicates a situation following a catastrophe.
  4. Numerous other lesser arguments, including the contention that the Greek word katabole, usually translated foundation in the AV, should be translated overthrow - hence the overthrow of the world, meaning its past destruction, rather than the foundation of the world.

These arguments are overthrown in vigorous manner as follows:-

  1. Asa / Bara : while agreeing that there was an original distinction between these two words, Fields points out, from parallel passages and from passages in which both words are used, that they are on occasion used interchangeably.
  2. Hayetah : Fields explains the first clause of Genesis 1:2 as a circumstantial noun clause, describing in more detail the state of affairs after the action of verse 1, rather than as a verbal clause describing further action.
  3. Tohu wa bohu : Fields prefers the translation unformed and unfilled to that of the AV's without form and void - hence the title of his book. He points out that, in general, tohu is not used with any sense of judgement implied. However, the two other occurrences of bohu (in which it is also combined with tohu) do carry this implication, albeit of a future judgement. The author also disposes of the proof text of Isaiah 45:18. "He created it not in vain (tohu): he created it to be inhabited" (AV) by, in effect, agreeing with the NIV rendering "He did not create it to be empty".
  4. Katabole : The translation overthrow is simply rejected as innovative and unsupported by the Lexica.

It must be admitted, however, that the arguments above are very complex and difficult for the layman to pass judgement on, requiring detailed knowledge of Hebrew, Aramaic, Akkadian and Ugaritic before its arguments can be seriously evaluated. Fields gives the impression of knowing his material better than those he opposes, but the complexities must leave the outcome of the debate in some doubt.

There follow discussions on the relationship between creationism, evolutionism and apologetics, during which various other understandings of Genesis are described, found apologetically and exegetically wanting, and dismissed. These include theistic evolution and the day-age theory. The latter theory suggests that each day of creation should be taken as an age of unspecified duration, making the creation week correspond in some manner to the geological ages. Attempts to place the initial creation of the universe before Genesis 1:1 are also discussed and rejected. Fields has some nasty things to say about rationalist apologetics which I'd like to refute if I had the space!

Finally, Fields tries to defend the traditional understanding of Genesis by reference to the theory of flood geology backed up by arguments for a young earth from scientific data including the decay of the earth's magnetic field and the deficiencies of radio-carbon dating. This section seems to be full of straw man arguments. For instance, Fields goes to great lengths to show that an exponentially decaying field must once have been crushing without giving the evidence for exponential decay, or arguments against possible oscillations, or pointing out the uniformitarian assumptions employed. The space wasted frolicking in the consequences of exponential decay would have been better employed displaying the disputed evidence for it.

Besides, the origin of the Earth's magnetic field does not have to be tied in with its creation - perhaps the field arose from eddies in the Earth's core initiated last time it was struck by a comet ?

What are we to draw from all these considerations ? Firstly, that when we approach any subject, whether Biblical or otherwise, we should approach it open-mindedly, with the intention of following the evidence wherever it leads us. We should not be perpetually on the look-out for harmonisations. Nor should we be over-careful to avoid entertaining thoughts that might lead us into problems in other areas. On the issue of creation, it seems to me that the Biblical texts in isolation are clearly saying that the heavens and the earth were created in six days not very long ago - and Fields is to be warmly commended for pointing this out. However, and again this is a personal view, it seems equally clear that looking at the earth and particularly the wider universe in itself leads the independent observer to the view that they are of immense age. The scientific work done in this area by creationists strikes me as being wishful thinking and is in any case not science, because a scientific investigation cannot be undertaken if results have to conform to statements in a Book so that certain conclusions are disallowed. This is not to imply support for any theory of evolution, the study of which may be just as unscientific, nor to suggest that the creationist emphasis on catastrophism as against unbending uniformitarianism hasn't been scientifically beneficial. It is only to say that each discipline has to proceed under its own rules, and that inter-disciplinary problems have to be sorted out later.

If Biblical creationists admitted that they believed the Biblical records by faith in the face of the probability of the contrary scientific evidence, and the gap theorists or, on the other hand theistic evolutionists admitted that what they feel to be the evidence of their own eyes prevents them from accepting the Biblical texts at face value, some of the acrimony would be taken out of these debates. As it is, facts, or rather probabilities, are turned on their heads. This is not to deny that a serious reconciliation problem exists - but this is not solved by denying or ignoring half the evidence.

In conclusion, what of the book as a whole? Of the four sections, section 1 Historical Interpretation is interesting but largely irrelevant while section 2 Grammatical & Linguistic Observations is cogently argued but will be inordinately difficult for the average reader. Section 3 Other Creation Theories raises the wider issues. Finally, Section 4 The Young Earth : Indications of Recent Creation is disappointing and too brief to do the subject justice. However, the book is well worth reading and retaining for reference and will be stimulating to all who can read with attention, whether or not they have thought seriously on these issues before.

© Theo Todman January 1988.

Please address any comments on this document to

Return to Theo Todman's OBT Page

Return to Theo Todman's Home Page