THE GAP THEORY REVISITED
by Bob Wheeler
Unformed and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory
Master Books, 2005
245 pp., pb
In 1976 Weston Fields published his book Unformed and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory. It is largely a rebuttal of an earlier work by Arthur C. Custance entitled Without Form and Void, which defended what is known as “the Gap Theory.” Fields’ book was republished in 2005.
The Gap Theory is an attempt to reconcile the biblical account of creation with the findings of modern geology. It had become apparent to geologists at the end of the 18th Century that the earth was very old, has passed through several successive geological ages, and that there had been forms of plant and animal life, such as dinosaurs, that had since become extinct. The question then became how to reconcile the geological evidence with the biblical account of creation, which seemed to indicate that the whole process only took six days a few thousand years ago. One possible solution was proposed by the distinguished Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers, who suggested what became known as “the Gap Theory.”
The Gap Theory posited the existence of an unspecified length of time between the original creation of the universe and the six days of creation mentioned in Genesis Chapter 1. It assumes that some sort of disaster destroyed the original creation and that what is described in Genesis 1 is a recreation of the earth. This, then, would allow for the long geological ages postulated by modern science. The Gap Theory then became popularized in a footnote in the Scofield Reference Bible, as well as in Halley’s Bible Handbook. A later version appeared in Unger’s Bible Handbook.
Dr. Fields, however, will have none of this. In his view Ex. 20:11 and Neh.9:6 state that the entire universe was created ex nihilo in just six days, and that the grammatical structure of Gen. 1:1-3 will not permit a gap between verse 1 (“In the beginning . . .” – NASB) and verse 3 (“Then God said”). According to him the Hebrew “vav” (“and”) at the beginning of verse 2 links the three clauses of that verse (“the earth was formless and void,” “and darkness was over the face of the deep,” “and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters”) with verse 1. Verse 2, then, would describe the condition of the world at the beginning of the process of creation of the entire universe, thus not allowing for a gap between the two.
Dr. Fields’ argument becomes quite involved and arcane at points; and sometimes, in the opinion of this reviewer, a bit too strained, with both sides (Dr. Fields and Dr. Custance) reading more into the text than is actually there. E.J. Young, for example, whom Dr. Fields sometimes cites in his footnotes, connects the three clauses of verse 2 with the main verb in verse 3 (“Then God said. . .”). Verse 2, then, describes the condition of the world at the beginning of the six day process described in the remainder of chapter 1.
What neither Dr. Fields nor Dr. Custance may have known at the time is that there is compelling evidence that points to a geological catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs and brought on the Ice Age. A comet or asteroid is believed to have stuck the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, spreading a thick cloud of debris. Gen. 1:2, then, could very well describe the scene immediately after the comet struck. The sky was darkened; most life had been wipe out. God then began the creative process anew.
This is not to say that there are no problems with the Gap Theory. If Gen 1:14-18 were taken in a strictly literal fashion, the sun and moon simply did not exist until the fourth day of creation. (In my scenario, as the debris in the sky gradually settled, light appeared first, on the first day, and then the sun and moon became visible later, on the fourth day.)
Likewise Paul’s statements that death came through sin (Rom. 5:12-17; 8:19-21; I Cor. 15:21,22) would pose a problem, since under the Gap Theory whole species became extinct before man had sinned. But the Bible is concerned primarily with what has happened since the creation of man, not with what may have happened before.
Dr. Fields is right in not wanting to let secular science dictate our interpretation of Scripture. Unbelieving scientists are quick to jump to conclusions that eliminate God from their worldview. But it is God’s written revelation that gives us the interpretation of the mute facts of nature. Science has often erred, and a new discovery will often overturn a previously held conclusion. But we cannot simply ignore or dismiss the physical evidence. While fossils do not prove the Theory of Evolution, they do suggest that the world is very old, and the evidenced cannot be ignored.
God is the author of both nature and Scripture; and if each is interpreted properly they do not contradict each other. The two basic questions are, what can science actually prove? And what does the Bible actually teach? On the latter question it is not the aim of the Bible to give detailed scientific explanations of natural phenomena, or a detailed history of the cosmos. It’s focus, rather, is on man, on his fall and redemption; and thus we must be careful not to make the Bible say more than it actually does. On this point we think that both Drs. Custance and Fields may have been prone to take things a little too far.