Ever since the emergence of an understanding of "geological time" in the 18th Century, there has been a perceived tension with the six-day account of creation in Genesis 1 -- at least, if those "days" are reckoned as 24-hours in duration.

One early attempt (19th Century) at reconciling scientific observation1 with the biblical record posited that the days of creation described in Genesis 1:3-31 could still fit into the geological record if there was a "gap" of indeterminate length between that account, and the "primal" creation of Genesis 1:1.2

This so-called "Gap Theory" comes in different forms, but I understand that they share the notion that "Genesis 1:2 refers to a destruction of the primal creation" (C. Henry, p. 144); or that the "original creation" of Genesis 1:1 "to which the fossils belong ... was destroyed in some catastrophe", and that the rest of Genesis 1 is the account of its "re-creation" (J. Lewis, p. 454).

The question, then, is: what evidence is there from the Hebrew text that such a "gap" intepretation is plausible? How have the advocates and critics of the theory explained the linguistic evidence?

Here are the first couple verses of Genesis in Hebrew + transliteration + translation:3

1:1 בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים
bĕrēʾšît bārāʾ ʾĕlōhîm
In the beginning, God created

אֵ֥ת הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם וְאֵ֥ת הָאָֽרֶץ׃
ʾēt haššāmayim wĕʾēt hāʾāreṣ
the heavens and the earth.

1:2 וְהָאָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ
wĕhāʾāreṣ hāyĕtâ tōhû wābōhû
The earth was formless and empty.

וְחֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם
wĕḥōšek ʿal-pĕnê tĕhôm
Darkness was on the surface of the deep

וְר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הַמָּֽיִם׃
wĕrûaḥ ʾĕlōhîm mĕraḥepet ʿal-pĕnê hammāyim
and God’s Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters.

Where is the "gap"?


  1. Associated especially with the names of the Scots James Hutton and Charles Lyell -- so perhaps it isn't altogether surprising that an early "popularizer" of this approach was the remarkable Scottish churchman and theologian, Thomas Chalmers who was himself aware of precursors.
  2. For a brief account of this hermeneutical development, see J.P. Lewis, "The days of Creation: an historical survey of interpretation", Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 32/4 (1989) 433-455 (esp. 453-4); also Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, VI: God Who Stands and Stays, Pt. 2 (Crossway, 1999 [orig. pub. 1983]), pp. 143-4.
  3. English translation is the World English Bible.
  • YES! I trust when Frank weighs in we'll see the evidence(or lack thereof) to conclusively 'prove' this theory.
    – Tau
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 0:29
  • My answer in the file (partially formatted) is 5,929 words and 12 pages long. I still have a couple of notes to fill in (i.e. in places it says find the rule in Waltke/O'Connor). My answer is actually 4000 letters too long for SE.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 2:39
  • For a brief introduction to an alternate to Gap Theory or Young Earth Creationism, see this answer. There need not be a tension between the text and science if the two are not at odds and the criticisms that young earth creationists make regarding literal interpretation are fair. There are other interpretations that allow you to have your cake and eat it too. Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 15:50

2 Answers 2


Note: Since some gap theory arguments rely on phrasing in the King James, I will be quoting from the KJV unless otherwise noted. All verses will be examined in the KJV, other versions will be listed if they correct or add to the discussion.

The Gap Theory, sometimes called the Ruin and Reconstruction Theory of creation, postulates that an unspecified amount of time passed between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. In this time, God’s initial creation (seen in 1:1) was ruled over by Lucifer. With Lucifer’s rebellion, God judged the world. Most of the fossil record (such as the dinosaurs) shows the result of that judgment.

A Difference in bara' and 'asah

According to the gap theory, when God performs an act of bara', He is doing something completely new and without precedent, He is making from nothing. During the gap between 1:1 and 1:2 untold time passed. The restoration was about 6,000 years ago. Anytime the Bible uses bara', it is something that was not there in the first creation.

However, in the fifth day, God created great sea monsters, swarming water creatures, and flying things (1:21). Note that this action is bara' and not 'asah. According to gap theory proponents (pg. 75, 76), this would mean that there were no fowl (lit. "winged thing"), fish, or sea monsters (Heb. tannin which includes whales) in the first creation. However, the fossil record contains birds, pterosaurs, and great sea creatures in ages that are supposed to be in the same time of and before the dinosaurs.

Arthur Pink, a gap theory advocate who ministered internationally prior to his death in 1951, states:

There is a wide difference between “creating” and “making”: to “create” is to call into existence something out of nothing; to “make” is to form or fashion something out of materials already existing.

Younce himself states, "[Bara'] always means the instant, miraculous creation of something which had no previous existence in any form whatsoever." (pg. 86)

After agreeing with Pink, Younce goes on to say this about 'asah (made):

When we see the English words "made" and "created," they have basically the same meaning to the average person, which has caused much confusion; but not so in Hebrew. In the Hebrew, they have distinctly different meanings, the knowledge of which is imperative to understanding Genesis, Chapter One. (ibid. 87)

However, there are times when bara' and 'asah are used in parallel (for example, Isaiah 43:7). At least those contexts would allow bara’ to mean “shape” (Raymond C. Van Leuwen s.v. bara’ in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, pg. 731). And if they are synonyms even once, they do not have "distinctly different meanings." Several verses even uses bara’ as a synonym for “birth” (Ezek 21:30). Perhaps the most telling parallelism of bara’ is found in Isaiah 45:18, bara’ is used parallel to formed (yatzar), made (’asah), and established (kuwn).

For thus says the Lord, Who created (bara’) the heavens, Who is God, Who formed (yatzar) the earth and made (’asah) it, Who has established (kuwn) it, Who did not create(bara’) it in vain, Who formed (yatzar) it to be inhabited: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.

Genesis 2:3 and 4 also use bara’ and ‘asah in parallel.

And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (2:3)

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created (bara’), in the day that the LORD God made (’asah) the earth and the heavens, (2:4)

Here, bara’ and ’asah are used together, showing that their meanings are much closer than Younce and other gap theorists allow.

Another of those parallel times is Genesis 1:26 and 27. In 26 God said, "let us make man in our own image." In verse 27, it says "God created man." Bara' is used 3 times in that verse. Therefore, according to these rules, the verses should be translated as:

  1. And God said, "Let us shape from existing materials man in our own image."

  2. And so God created from nothing man in his own image, in the image of God created from nothing him; male and female created from nothing them.

By the gap theory rules as used by Pink (as quoted and endorsed by Younce), these two verses now contradict. However, Younce tries to say that God formed the body from dust but created the breath which made him a living soul (pg. 76). Thus, even though man was shaped from existing materials, his spirit would be a new creation.

However, if this strict interpretation is so, then it means that man’s physical body is in the image of God (1:26). However, we know from Scripture that God is spirit and has no physical form. Likewise consider what this means regarding male and female. If 1:27’s three uses of bara’ are referring to the spirit and not the body, then the differences in men and women are spiritual in nature and not physical.

The formation of man is found in Genesis 2:7 “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” The word translated “formed” is neither bara’ nor ’asah. It is yatsar which means “formed.” (Yatsar is also parallel to bara’ in Amos 4:13 “he that yatsar the mountains, and bara’ the wind.”) Younce reads it as a synonym of ’asah, which it is. However, he has spent much time drawing distinctions between other Hebrew words. Determining that yatsar is a synonym for ’asah is as simple as seeing them used in parallel in Isaiah 48:15. But once you allow these to be synonyms because they are used in such parallel, you have to allow bara' also as it is in parallel.

If Younce is going to push so hard for completely different meanings of bara’ and ’asah, he works against the Hebrew Bible where they are used in parallel several times. It would be better, if he could support it, to state that in certain contexts they are completely different.

Besides Genesis 1:27, where bara’ is parallel to the ’asah in verse 26, there are other places where bara’ is used with something that already exists.

  • Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
  • Isaiah 43:15 I am the LORD, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King.
  • Isaiah 54:16 Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.
  • Isaiah 65:18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.
  • Ezekiel 21:30 Shall I cause it to return into his sheath? I will judge thee in the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy nativity.
  • Mal 2:10 ...hath not one God created us?

In none of these is the created thing from nothing. When forgiveness is granted, the new heart is not something that never existed before. What is already there is renewed and changed. When God created Israel, he used people who already existed to make the nation and tribes. When God created a rejoicing in Jerusalem, it had already been there (for example, when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant back). One would also be hard pressed to say that each birth (called a “creation” several times) is from nothing.

We see bara’ is not completely distinct from 'asah.

"Became" Instead of "Was"

Common to Gap Theorists is the claim that hyh (Hebrew for "is," "was," etc) should be translated as "became." Younce argues this in three steps:

  1. When the verb is not in the original, it is a simple connecting verb. No change has occurred.

  2. When the verb is in the original, and placed at first part of sentence, it means a present situation of existence is changing.

  3. When the verb is in the original, and follows the subject of sentence, it indicates a change in existence has already occurred. It is a change of thought in the text. This is what is shown in the manuscripts by Genesis 1:2.

However, he gives no reference to any Hebrew grammar book for these rules. He follows these rules in the following:

In the Hebrew the order of the words in a sentence is also important. When the verb is in the original text and follows the subject in the sentence, it indicates a change of tense and should be translated as “became” or “had become.” It is a change of something existing from what it had been. Since the earth had already been created in Genesis 1:1, the verb “hayah” being in the original text and following the subject, thus indicates a change had occurred with the earth after its original creation. Since a change in the earth had already taken place in the past, the verb “hayah” translated “was” should have been translated “became” or “had become,” because it is in reference to a past event. Remember, when the verb “hayah” is in the original text and follows the subject, it indicates a change of thought, event, or of something that had previously existed; but, now had changed.

However, the grammars disagree. In Hebrew, hyh is the simple form of “be.” Word order shows emphasis not tense. In fact, Biblical Hebrew does not use tense the same way English does. Translators infer tense from a combination of state and other things in the verse (so to say that the presence of hyh after the subject changes the tense is both unsupported and unsupportable). For example, the waw-consecutive on an imperfect verb usually (but not always) means "past tense."

hyh is translated 'became' 67x times in the KJV. If you include the word "become," there are 130 more. However, the Hebrew word hyh appears 3,540 times in the Hebrew Bible. Thus, it is only "became" less than 2 percent of the time (1.8% to be precise) and “become” only 3.6% of the time, together, they are less than 5.6%. Such should give the reader pause. However, it is not a sheer number count that matters. It is the form of the verb that matters.

Genesis 1:2 uses the form hyth, the Qal perfect, third feminine singular. Unlike English, Hebrew usually skips the linking verb, but it can be used. In the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Gen 1:2 is mentioned not in connection with a state that is changing from one form to another (became) but "in the description of a past situation which no longer exists, "The earth was (hayeta) formless and void" (TWOT, s.v. hyh).

There certainly are places in Hebrew where the sense of change is inherit in forms of hyh. For example, Leviticus 19:2 states "You shall be (tihyu) holy for I (am) holy." This verse's first clauses ("you shall be holy") uses a form of hyh while the second does not ("for I [am] holy"). It should be noted that the form of hyh in Leviticus 19:2 is Qal imperfect, which is different from that used in Genesis 1:2 (a Qal perfect). However, to jump from seeing a few places where the presence of hyh indicates change to conclude that its basic meaning when present in the Bible is "to become" seems to be unwarranted (TWOT, s.v. hyh).

Moreover, Gesenius (sec 141 g, i) defines the hyth of 1:2 as a copula and not having the full force of the verb.

Younce points out that the KJV translated hyh as “became” in Genesis 2:7, “and man became a living soul.” Thus hyh means “became” in Genesis 1:2. However, first it should be noted that the forms of hyh are different as well as the structure of the sentence. Instead of hyth (Qal perfect 3fs), it is wyhy (Qal imperfect 3ms with a waw-consecutive). The waw-consecutive means that the verb is sequential to the preceding sentence. Perfect and imperfect verbs are different states in Hebrew and are to be treated differently.

Even more important to this argument than the forms of the verb is the sentence structure. Younce justifies hyth as “became” in Genesis 1:2 because it is written (his second rule) and follows the verb (his third rule). However, in Genesis 2:7, where he argues the translation of wyhy as “became” is correct, the verb comes in front of the subject. His rule states: “When the verb is in the original, and placed at [sic] first part of sentence, it means a present situation of existence is changing.” Therefore, according to his rules, the last part of Genesis 2:7 should be translated as “and man was becoming a living soul.” But that is not the case. When God gave the breath of life, at that moment, man became a living soul. There was no process to it.

Similarly “breaking” his second rule, other verses have hyh written before the subject but do not indicate the current state is in the process of changing. Only those sentences where the subject is explicitly written (if the subject is a pronoun such as he, she, it, or they, Hebrew often skips it and just uses a hyh in the form to indicate the pronoun) will be examined. They will then be translated according to Younce’s rule.

  • Joshua 14:14 “Therefore, Hebron was becoming Caleb’s, son of Jephunneh the Kenezite, inheritance unto this day.”
  • Judges 15:14 “and the cords which were upon his arms were becoming flax that was burnt with fire.”
  • Judges 17:12 “And Micah consecrated the Levite; and the young man was becoming his priest.”
  • 1 Sam 18:29 “And Saul was yet the more afraid of David; and Saul was becoming David’s enemy continually.”
  • 2 Samuel 8:2 “And he smote Moab, and measured them with a line, casting them down to the ground; even with two lines measured he to put to death, and with one full line to keep alive. And so the Moabites were becoming David's servants, and brought gifts.”

So, the second rule is shown to be faulty.

Indeed, the presence of hyh can be a linking verb (copula). This is well known by even the most basic Hebrew student. Gesenius directly addresses the use of hyth in Gen 1:2. He states that it has been weakened to a “mere copula,” that is, a simple linking verb. Therefore, Gesenius translates the clause in question of Gen 1:2 as “and the earth was a waste and emptiness” (GKC 141c note 2).

As opposed to Younce’s rule 3, there are places where forms of hyh either appears after the subject and the meaning is not “became” or appears without an explicit subject and does not indicating becoming. Hebrew allows for the simple linking verb to be skipped and a pronoun used in its place. However, the clear preference is to use the linking verb in the form that shows the pronominal subject (e.g. it was, he was, she was, they were). By using the explicit linking verb, Hebrew can then use the waw-consecutive (which can’t be attached to a noun) to indicate sequence. Again, the verses will be translated according to Younce’s rules.

  • Gen 1:3 And God said, “Let there be light:” and there became light.
  • Gen 1:7 …and it became so.
  • Gen 3:1 Now the serpent became more subtle than any beast of the field. [Custance likes it this way, but the grammar does not support it]
  • Gen 4:2 And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was becoming a keeper of sheep, but Cain became a tiller of the ground.

Gen 4:2 shows that both rule 2 and 3 are faulty. In the verse’s second clause, the verb hyh is written and before the subject Abel. However, it does not indicate that Abel was becoming a keeper of sheep. In the verses that follow, he is already a keeper. Likewise, the third clause contains hyh written after the subject (Cain), but does not mean “became.” This verse is establishing the occupations of the two men who feature in the following narrative. It is only by great convulsions that Custance and Younce claim these rules hold.

Replenish the Earth

In Genesis 1:28, God tells the first couple to "replenish" the earth. The gap supporters state that if the earth is being replenished, surely it had a population before. This is based on a bad understanding of King James English. While the "re-" prefix is used to mean repeat or do it again, it also has the meaning of "completely." For example, "research" does not mean "to look for something again" but "to fully examine."

The Hebrew word in 1:28 is mil'u, the Qal imperative masculine plural form of male', meaning "fill." The root male' is used 249 times in the Old Testament. Only seven times in the KJV is it translated as "replenish." Of those, only one other is in the Qal imperative form (Genesis 9:1).

However, a Qal Imperative does not mean "do it again" as the Gap Theory reads "replenish." The imperative form of a verb means it is given as a command. The Qal stem is the simple active form of Hebrew (Biblical Hebrew uses 7 stems showing active, passive, and reflexive form which combine with simple, intensive, and causative. There are no separate forms for simple reflexive or causative reflexive.). Nothing about the Qal imperative form says male' should be understood as "fill [it] again."

There are a total of six places in the Bible where the Qal imperative form of male' is used (BDB Qal... Imv. mil'u Gn 1:22 + 5 t.; Gen 1:22, 28; 9:1; Exodus 32:29 (lit. "fill one's hand"->"consecrate yourself"); 1 Kings 18:34; Jer 51:11). Of those, only Genesis 1:28 and 9:1 are translated as "replenish" in the KJV.

Perhaps most telling is that in Genesis 1:22, God commands the newly created sea creatures to fill the waters. The very phrasing of the two sentences is very similar.

Genesis 1:22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. [KJV]

Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. [KJV]

Not only is "fill" from the same word (mil'u) used in 1:28, it is in the same state of Qal imperative masculine plural. If the exact same word only six verses prior means "fill," then logically, in 1:28 it means the same thing. Before one says that the word in 1:22 should be translated as refill, remember that Gap Theory proponents would stipulate the use of bara' in the verse means that there were no sea creatures before this event (Younce, 75f). Since, according to their theory, it cannot mean "refill" in 1:22, the same word, in the same form, in a very similar phrase only 6 verses later cannot mean “refill” then either.

Translate the "waw" as "but" instead of "and"

Well established among the gap theory is that the first "and" of verse 2 should be translated as "but." In fairness, the Septuagint translates the waw with a de, which is commonly "but." However, of the 30 English translations shown in the comparison tool of Bible Study Tools, not a single one used "but" (none of the same translations used “became” for hyth, either). Several began the verse with "now" and many skipped the conjunction altogether. There are good reasons for both options.

  1. On the side of skipping the conjunction altogether is the fact that Hebrew uses conjunctions much more frequently than English does and in ways that English does not. In prose, almost every sentence after the introduction to the narrative begins with a waw conjunction on the first word (whether that be a noun or verb). For flow and understandability in English, that conjunction may be dropped off.

  2. For translating with "now," it should be noted that verse 2 begins with a disjunctive clause* (conjuction + subject + verb instead of conjunction + verb + subject) which gives background to the following narrative. It is not to show a sequence (which the gap theory stipulates even though the two events in the sequence are an untold time span apart). If the author of Genesis wanted to show a sequence (even a gap of time as postulated by the gap theory), the typical waw-consecutive on an imperfect verb would have been used. Indeed, the waw-consecutive on an imperfect is used throughout the rest of the chapter, many verses even have more than one.

*Younce, Custance, et. al. are correct that it is disjunctive, but they give the wrong reasons. Moreover, disjunction does not mean “translate as but.”

Verse 2 with its disjunctive-waw is describing the state of the earth upon creation. No time passed between verse 1 and verse 2. God created the heavens and the earth in a state described in Hebrew as tohu wa-bohu. See this link for more details on tohu waw bohu.


Younce and others actually confuse the rebhia and the silluq. Yet the two look nothing alike. Rebhia is a diamond shaped accent that appears over the tone syllable of a word while silluq is a small vertical line that appears beneath the word's tone syllable. He quotes Custance's A Long Held View as support. They speak of rebhia in places where the accent is silluq.

They claim that this accent shows the waw which follows is a disjunctive and not conjuctive. While it is true that waw can mean either "and" or "but" depending on the context and specific form, the use of silluq before it doesn't change it at all. Silluq ends every verse in the Hebrew Bible. In fact, that's its job (along with sof passuq), to mark the end of a verse.

Likewise, most verses in prose begin with waw ("and"). To be consistent, if every time a silluq was followed by a waw was translated as "but," the translation would be very different. For example, the first five verses of Genesis 1 would read like this in the KJV:

Genesis 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 BUT the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 BUT God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 BUT God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 BUT God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

While gap theorists like the way verse 2 starts and might be okay with verse 3, the use of "but" to begin verses 4 and 5 make little sense. God called forth light, but He saw the light was good and divided it from darkness but called the light day? Did God not expect His work to be good? Maybe not since, according to the Gap Theory, He had already made a world that turned out to be very bad. Clearly, the waws on 4 and 5 are best translated with "and." A waw following a silluq does not mean “but.”

In the same section, Custance quotes the Jewish mystical work Sefer Hazzohar (The Book of The Light) often simply called Zohar. Zohar does present a destruction and reconstruction interpretation of Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. It is commonly attributed by Orthodox Jews and Kabbalists to the Rabbi Simeon b. Jochai, a student of Akiva (Akiva was executed around AD 135). Rabbi Simeon is commonly called “Rashbi.” Custance then leaps to the conclusion that this means the ruination interpretation was known in the first century and might even have been known to the Apostle Paul. And, therefore, Paul might have had it in mind when he penned 2 Corinthians 4:6. And thus, after several mights, he concludes 2 Corinthians 4:6 does indeed support the Gap Theory.

However, Rashbi was not active until after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. Paul was martyred around AD 63.

On top of this stretch, Custance does not even mention in passing a very important fact about Zohar-the authenticity of Zohar is greatly disputed. Zohar was completely unknown until the 13th century when a Jewish writer named Moses De Leon published it in Spain. He claimed that it came from Rabbi Simeon b. Jochai, and he, Moses De Leon, had found it. Analyses by modern scholars both secular (Rubin, Ephraim “When was the Zohar Written”) and religious (Rabbi David Bar-Hayim. "Truth, Authenticity, Tradition and Reason: Who Wrote the Zohar?". Machon Shilo. Rabbi Yiḥyah Qafiḥ. "The Holy Wars Against the False Qabalah of the Zohar". chayas.com. Gershom Scholem) have concluded that Zohar is a forgery by De Leon. In fact, Zohar's authenticity was questioned almost from the beginning, partly from the fact that it refers to events and people that happened well after the death of Rashbi. De Leon's widow even claimed that he, De Leon, was the sole author (Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. Zohar). According to her, De Leon penned several works that he then distributed under other, more famous, names with the purpose of gaining profit (ibid.). Also, Zohar shows influence from the Talmud, works of midrash, and commentaries written by medieval rabbis even those as late as Maimonides (~1135-1204) and Nahmanides (1194-1270).

Those who support Zohar’s authenticity claim that it was started by Rashbi but expanded upon by later students. This is why it has no quotations from those after De Leon’s publication.

But modern analysis backs up De Leon’s widow. In the Zohar there are frequent errors of grammar in Aramaic (which Rashbi and those close to him in time would not make), a lack of knowledge of the Land of Israel (which Rashbi had), and places where Spanish grammar and words show through (which Rashbi had no way to know).

Formless and Empty

While Isaiah and Jeremiah use the same Hebrew phrase (tohu waw-bohu) to describe a setting of judgment, it is unsound to read later meanings back into earlier meanings. For example, one should not expect to read Isaiah’s first-known example of an apocalypse and see an angelic guide as became popular in later apocalypses such as Zechariah.

Bohu appears 3x in the Hebrew Bible, always near tohu (Gen 1:2; Isa 34:11, Jer 4:23). In an entry by Edward J. Young, TWOT notes that the pictures of desolation in Isaiah and Jeremiah borrow from Genesis in the sense that the two prophets see the area under judgment as in the same shape as the earth after it was created but for different reasons. In Isaiah and Jeremiah, they see the land judged to the extent it is in the same shape as the world used to be. It is not that God destroyed the Earth to tohu and bohu in Genesis. Simply, when God created them, he made them tohu and bohu.

Tohu is used 20 times in 19 verses of the Hebrew Bible. 11 of those uses are in Isaiah. The meaning of the word is broader than the gap theory would like. Only rarely is the context of tohu judgment. Also, the parallelism in Isaiah 45:18 shows that the meaning is not the same as in Genesis 1:2. Isaiah is a poet, and parts of his book are poetry. Hebrew poetry does not rhyme; instead it uses parallels to repeat and establish meaning.

Psalm 1:1
Blessed is the man
    Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
                Nor stands in the path of sinners,
                Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;

In this verse, there are several parallels. Walks, stands, and sits stand in parallel. Counsel, path, and seat are parallels. Likewise, the ungodly, sinners, and scornful are together in thought. These parallels serve to enhance and explain one another. In Isaiah 45:18, this parallelism is likewise evident.

Isaiah 45:18
For thus says the Lord,
    Who created the heavens,
    Who is God,
    Who formed the earth and made it,
    Who has established it,
    Who did not create it in vain,
    Who formed it to be inhabited:
“I am the LORD, and there is no other. 

Regarding the two clauses in question, “Who did not create it in vain/ Who formed it to be inhabited,” “in vain” is parallel to “be inhabited.” The second expounds on the first. “To be inhabited” explains “in vain.” God’s purpose in creation was to make the world inhabited. Tohu should not be understood as formless (as it means in 1:2) but as lack of purpose. Indeed, 11 of the 20 occurrences are translated as “vain,” “vanity,” or “confusion” in the KJV. While words have multiple meanings, it is folly to import all meanings of a word into all occurrences. Here, since Isaiah has defined his use of tohu to be “purposeless,” the reader should not read back into it the meaning of “wasted” that is used in Gen 1:2.


In conclusion, the following have all been found contrary to the Gap Theory:

  1. Bara' and 'asah indeed have synonomous meanings.

  2. The first waw in Genesis 1:2 is correctly translated as "and."

  3. The hyth in Genesis 1:2 is correctly translated as "was."

  4. Tohu and bohu mean that the Earth was originally created in a state that was uninhabited, but God's intention in the creation was to make them inhabitable.

  5. The ending of Genesis 1:1 with a silluq (not a rebhia as claimed) is normal and has no impact on the waw following.

  6. Replenish in 1:28 simply means "fill." It gives no indication that there had been prior inhabitants on the earth.

  • 3
    Whew, what a discourse! And I have the sense much more could have been said-providing their was space to say it. You can see from Joseph's answer the simple appeal of it, along with the simplified version of the grammar to support it. But on careful examination, it becomes what it is, simply a theory attempting to fill in a 'gap' between science and faith. Thank you for this prodigious effort!
    – Tau
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 7:54
  • Creation Ex Nilho did not come into vogue until the Greeks. Furthermore, Strongs notes that Bara' means to shape or create and evokes the idea of a sculptor forming from clay. This would be consistent with creation as an act of forming the already existent primeval matter, known as chaos referenced in the Wikipedia link. Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 15:57
  • 3
    @JamesShewey, that ex nihilo is first explicitly stated in Maccabees was one of the pieces that hit the cutting room floor last night. As for Strong's, though, I prefer BDB. Strongs shows how the words are translated not what they mean.
    – Frank Luke
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 18:28
  • What an answer. Thank you so much for this Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 16:47

The Idea in Brief

From the perspective of the Hebrew Bible, there are three apparent reasons why there is a “gap” of indefinite time between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2.


First, the Hebrew Scriptures indicate that the Lord did not create the earth formless and void. The word for “create” (בָּרָא) in the following verse is the same word for “create” (בָּרָא) that occurs in Gen 1:1, however the subsequent verb forms that occur in this verse refer to other actions.

Isaiah 45:18 (NASB)
18 For thus says the Lord, who created (בָּרָא) the heavens. He is the God who formed (יָצַר) the earth and made (עָשָׂה) it, He established (כּוּן) it and did not create (בָּרָא) it a waste place, but formed (יָצַר) it to be inhabited.

       בָּרָא = to create (same verb in Gen 1:1)
       יָצַר = to form (same verb in Gen 2:7-8 to describe forming man from dust of ground)
       עָשָׂה = to make (same verb in Gen 1:7-11 to describe the reformation of the earth)
       כּוּן = to establish, or to arrange

According to this verse in Isaiah, the earth as a waste place was not “created” (בָּרָא) by God, but was something that God “arranged” (כּוּן) and “formed” (יָצַר) for habitation. That is, the emphasis on this verse in Isaiah is not the creation of the earth (Gen 1:1) but its actual restoration (after Gen 1:2). In other words, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1) but he did not “create” the earth as formless and void (Gen 1:2), which words in Biblical Hebrew carry very negative connotations.

Thus --and secondly-- the words formless and void are negative terms, which occur in other places in the Hebrew Bible: in each and every instance, the imagery is negative. For example, the word “formless” (תֹּהוּ) appears in the Hebrew Bible twenty times, and in every single instance the meaning is wasteland or confusion (or vanity). The word void (בֹּהוּ) appears in the Hebrew Bible three times, and carries the idea of complete confusion or chaos. Besides Gen 1:1 these two words appear together again later in the Hebrew Bible: in the first instance, the imagery describes the devastation of the apocalyptic Day of the Lord (Is 34:11), and in the second instance the imagery is the complete devastation of the Land of Israel from the impending Babylonian invasion (Jer 4:23). In this latter passage, the verse mentions that “the heavens had no light.” In reference to this same Babylonian invasion, Isaiah describes the black-out of the sun, moon, and stars (Is 13:10), where there is no light. Thus formless (תֹּהוּ) and void (בֹּהוּ) mentioned in Gen 1:2 would include the wider imagery within the Hebrew Bible of the associated black-out of the sun, moon, and stars (which therefore would have required “arrangement” and “forming” after Gen 1:2).

Third, at the time of Gen 1:1 --at the time when the earth was created-- the Sons of God (heavenly beings) had shouted for joy.

Job 38:5-8 (NASB)
5 Who set its measurements? Since you know.
Or who stretched the line on it?
6 “On what were its bases sunk?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
7 When the morning stars sang together
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8 “Or who enclosed the sea with doors
When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb...

The creation of the earth therefore was a time of great glory and celebration among the “Sons of God” (heavenly beings) in heaven.


When we compare and contrast the three lines of thought (as described, above), the inference is that some “gap” of time occurred between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2, when the earth --once created in magnificent glory (Job 38:5-8)-- had somehow become desolate within a complete state of darkness (Gen 1:2). These stark contrasts in the Hebrew Bible therefore point to a “gap” of indefinite time between Gen 1:1 and Gen 1:2.

  • You do an excellent job explaining "gap theory", the challenge is to 'prove' that God had intended a 'pre-creation' universe apart from the 6 day one.
    – Tau
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 7:03
  • @Joseph I was looking for (e.g. in Gesenius, Jastrow, BDB) the translation of the word כּוּן as re-arrange, but I had no luck. Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 20:18
  • @PaulVargas - I made an edit to change "re-arrange" to just "arrange" (the implication here is to constitute, to fix, or to establish)
    – Joseph
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 23:08
  • 1
    @user2479 - I kept the scope of my answer on the question of the OP, which was limited to the "Gap Theory" inside the Hebrew Bible.
    – Joseph
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 23:13
  • it is inconsistent with the nature of God to create something without form and void, to create something wasted and desolate quoting from Chuck Smith Bible Commentary see studylight.org/commentary/genesis/1-2.html#verse-csc
    – doctorate
    Commented Aug 8, 2021 at 11:00

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