Question: Is there a significant gap in time between the creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 and a re-creation of the universe in verse 2 following some kind of devastating judgment or cataclysmic event?
This question represents a view of creation known as the “Gap Theory.” This theory was made popular in the late 1800’s and on into the 20th century by Rev. C.I. Scofield.
In commenting on Genesis 1:1, Scofield writes: “The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages.”[i] Then, in reference to Genesis 1:2, he says: “Jer. 4:23-26, Is. 24:1 and 45:18, clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as the result of a divine judgment.”[ii] He goes on to suggest that the fall of Lucifer from heaven (Ezek. 28;12-15; Is. 14:9-14) likely happened during this ‘Gap,’ accounting for the destruction of God’s original pristine creation.
The first question we need to ask is: does Genesis 1:1-2 teach a gap in time during which God’s original creation was destroyed and then re-created? In answering this question, use this fundamental principle of biblical interpretation: ‘The Scripture is clear when the interpreter follows basic grammatical rules.’ The answer, then, is “No,” Genesis 1:1-2 does not teach this gap in time. In fact, it is not even implied.
The clear interpretation of the passages Scofield refers to in Jeremiah 4 and Isaiah 24 speak prophetically of God’s future judgment on the nations at the return of the Lord, and give no indication of referring to some gap in time in Genesis. And Scofield’s reference in Isaiah 45:18 speaks to the purpose of creation, not to any supposed re-creation.
So then what is the clear teaching of Genesis 1:1-2?
Simply this: verse 1 tells us about God. He is the Creator. All that exists (“the heavens and the earth”) exists by His will.
Verse 2 begins the account of creation with a description of the raw materials brought into existence at the moment of its conception. “The earth” (Heb. eretz, Lit., “land,” or “ground”) in this context does not refer to the globe we call earth because in verse 2 the “earth” has no shape. It is “formless.” Rather, earth in this context is equivalent to “matter,” the material stuff the universe is composed of. This earth, or matter, is also described as “empty,” (Heb. tohu)—a word that indicates “chaos.” Also, at the very moment of creation there was no light whatsoever, and among the chaotic material floating in the darkness was a shapeless body of water (“the deep”).
That is the clear, straightforward meaning of the passage. But beyond its surface meaning there is another important, theological, consideration. If there had been a Gap in time that caused the fossil record (a record of death) of geological ages before Adam and Eve, then the statement in Romans 5:12 would be false:
…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—
But in fact:
Rom. 5:21 … just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord!