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Historical Evidence of The Gap Theory

Pre-Geologic Age

Almost without exception, the Gap theory is credited to Dr. George Chalmers of Edinburg University in 1814. Supposedly Dr. Chalmers introduced this theory in an attempt to harmonize the Genesis account with the vast periods of time demanded by uniformitarian geologists. It is then claimed that George H. Pember further elaborated the theory in his work (Earth’s Earliest Ages) in 1876, and the theory was finally popularized in the footnotes of the Scofield Reference Bible beginning in 1917. Today, it is said that only pinheads and nitwits of dubious scholastic background maintain a belief in the “Gap Theory”. If, as it is today asserted, the theory can only be traced back to Dr. Chalmers, then the statement of its reason for introduction should not be discounted. On the other hand, if the theory antedates both Dr. Chalmers and any uniformitarian geologist, then it should and indeed must be investigated by any serious student of scripture to determine why such a Gap exist. Mark E. Howerter, in his work “Creation VS Evolution: The Gap Theory Explained”, follows the now accepted view when he wrote: Uninformed Christians have propagated two theories that have tried to reconcile the Bible with evolution. They have done this because from kindergarten through graduate school it is taught that evolution is a proven scientific fact. Christians have swallowed this hook, line and sinker. They have tried to get God out of a bind, so to speak, because the Bible is in direct contradiction with the theory of evolution. People who take the Bible seriously and literally have introduced two theories to explain how the Bible and evolution can be reconciled. These theories are commonly known as the Gap Theory and the Day-Age Theory. Again, the above statement is typical of the majority view of the “informed” world of Christian theology and treats anyone who holds to the Gap Theory as being a child like uninformed Christian. It is further and again insinuated, that the theory was developed in order to reconcile the Bible and evolution. However, D. F. Payne, in his paper published by Tyndale Press entitled, “Genesis One Reconsidered”, makes a brief statement which alludes to a different view than that of the majority: “The ‘gap’ theory itself, as a matter of exegesis, antedated the scientific challenge, but the latter gave it a new impetus”. The right question to such a statement should have been, 'by how long did it antedate the scientific challenge, and how explicit are the earlier references.' Arthur C. Custance rightly asserts in the book entitled “Without Form And Void.” “If its antecedence can be established with any certainty, one then has to find some other reason than the threat of Geology for its having arisen”.

It seems fair to state that if the Gap Theory was an accepted view held by earlier Christian commentators, it was presented without any intention of refuting a geological challenge to the veracity of the Holy Scriptures. It must therefore have arisen either because of a careful study of the original text of Scripture itself had given intimations of it, or perhaps due to some ancient tradition about the after-effects of the catastrophe itself. Why then has modern Christianity continued to assert that the Gap Theory is of modern origins? But, lest we get ahead of ourselves, let us continue our search backwards to find the true origin, if any, of the Gap Theory.

History records that during and after the Babylonian Captivity, the Jewish people began accumulating the comments and explanations of their best-known teachers of the Old Testament. These teachings were gathered together and are called the Midrash, the oldest pre-Christian exposition of the Old Testament. Louis Ginsberg, in his work entitled, “The Legends of the Jews,” recorded this excerpt from the first chapter of Genesis:

“Nor is this world inhabited by man the first of things earthly created by God. He made several other worlds before ours, but he destroyed them all, because He was pleased with none until He created ours.”

Another noted reference is to be found in the writings of a student of Akiba ben Joseph, namely Simeon ben Jochai. Akiba ben Joseph was president of the rabbinical school called Bene Barek near Saffa. He was executed by the Romans in 135 A. D. His student is traditionally ascribed the authorship of “The Book of Light” or the Sefer Hazzohar, sometimes simply called the “Zohar”. The work represents opinions held toward the end of first century and thus represents views widely held during the time of our Lord. There is a comment on Gen. 2:4-6, which reads as follows:

“These are the generations (i.e., this is the history of….) of the heavens and the earth…. Now wherever there is written the word ‘these’ ( hl]ae ) the previous words are put aside. And these are the generations of the destruction that is signified in verse 2 of chapter one. The earth was Tohu and Bohu. These indeed are the worlds of which it is said that the blessed God created them and destroyed them, and on that account, the earth was desolate and empty.”

Another source that reflects Ginsberg’s Jewish legend is found in the earliest Aramaic version of the Old Testament, know as the Targum of Onkelos. The following translation is found of Gen.1:2: “w’aretsah hawath tsadh’ya” The English rendering of the above translation would read “and the earth was laid waste.” We therefore have an interpretation of the original Hebrew of Gen. 1:2 that leaves little room for doubt that Onkelos, as well as the general belief of that time, believed that something had occurred between verses 1 and 2 which reduced the earth to a desolate condition. Furthermore, evidence is found in that the Jewish scholars who wrote the Massoretic Text, incorporated “indicators” to guide the reader to correct punctuation. One such mark is called “Rebhia,” which is classified as a “disjunctive accent” intended to notify the reader to pause before proceeding to the next verse because there is a break in the text. A mark of this kind appears at the end of Gen. 1:1. Custance states, “It is one indication among others, that the initial waw which introduces verse 2 should be rendered “but” rather than “and,” a dis-junctive rather than a con-junctive, 14. Professor E. J. Young also remarked about the pause thusly: “The word ------- (at the end of verse 1) is separated from what follows by means of the disjunctive accent Rebhia, and so we are to let our thoughts dwell upon it before passing on to (what follows).” It seems clear so far that there was a continued belief in a period of time existing between Gen.1:1 and 1:2. Although none of these points taken individually carry overwhelming evidence, together they do require the truly serious student to further investigate the possibility of a gap. The one thing that seems evident is that those who held this view did not believe it needed to be defended. Instead, there seems to be various legends built around the knowledge of a gap incorporated into the late Jewish and early Christian belief systems. That no defense was necessary validates the wide acceptance of this view during and before the time of our Lord. Further evidence is found in the great work “De Principiis” written by Origen, who lived from 186 to around 245 A. D. While discussing Gen. 1:1, he states: “It is certain that the present firmament is not spoken of in this verse, nor the present dry land, but rather that heaven and earth from which this present heaven and earth that we now see afterwards borrowed their names.” Obviously, Origen believed some time period existed between verses 1 and 2, for he later comments that the condition resulted from a “disruption,” which he described by using the Latin verb dejicere, “to throw down”. As wide spread as the works of Origen are read by those who have identified themselves as the informed, why no notice is given to this statement of Origen when discussing the Gap Theory is quite puzzling. Yet, the evidence does not stop there, for as we shall see, there is a continued body of writings up to the time of Thomas Chalmers in the early nineteenth century. Origen made no attempt to explain why this “casting down” had happened. In fact it wasn’t until some years later that the first writing was published to try and explain why there was a Gap between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. Strangely enough, it was an English poet named Caedmon who is credited with the first explanation of what might have happened between Gen. 1:1and 1:2. In this work, Caedmon presented the view that man had been introduced in order to replace the angels that had corrupted themselves and ruined the earth. Today, R. B. Thieme, Jr. teaches a modified version of this belief in his book, “The Angelic Conflict. Caedmon lived in England and is considered the earliest of the Anglo-Saxon Christian poets. The only information concerning Caedmon is in the Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation (731), by the English theologian Saint Bede the Venerable. According to Bede, Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman, who had a vision one night and heard a voice commanding him to sing of "the beginning of created things." Later, Caedmon supposedly wrote the poem about the creation known as Caedmon's Hymn, which Bede recorded in prose. Bede further states that Saint Hilda, the abbess of a nearby monastery (now called Whitby), recognized Caedmon's poetic ability and invited him to enter the monastery as a lay brother. Caedmon spent the rest of his life at the monastery writing poetry on biblical themes. In the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford is a manuscript containing the so-called Caedmon poems. It is now agreed that many of the poems in the Bodleian collection were probably written later than Caedmon's poetry. The only work that can be attributed to Caedmon is "Hymn of Creation," which Saint Bede quoted. It survives in several manuscripts of Bede's Ecclesiastical History and contains several dialects. Caedmon’s work was originally written in Old English verse, but was translated into prose by Lawrence Mason, in the “Yale studies in English” series edited by Albert S. Cook and Henry Holt in 1915. The following is taken from lines 14-35, 68, 79, 80, 92 f., 114. “These angelic hosts were wont to feel joy and rapture, transcendent bliss in the presence of their creator; then their beatitude was measureless. Glorious ministers magnified their Lord, spoke his praise with zeal, lauded the Master of their being, and were excellently happy in the majesty of God. They had no knowledge of working evil or wickedness, but dwelt in innocence forever with their Lord: from the beginning they wrought the heaven nothing but righteousness and truth, until a Prince of Angels through pride strayed into sin: then they would consult their own advantage no longer, but turned away from God’s loving kindness. “They had vast arrogance in that by the might of their multitudes they sought to wrest from the Lord the celestial mansions. Then there fell upon them, grievously, the envy, presumption, and pride of the Angel who first began to carry out the evil plot, to weave it and promote it, when he boasted by words – as he thirsted for conflict – that he wished to own the home and high throne of the heavenly kingdom of the north”.

According to this portion of the poem, fallen angels were responsible for the catastrophe or ruin seen in Gen. 1:2. Upon which, the Lord cast them “that had committed a dire sin” (line 46) into a specially created “joyless house of punishment,” banishing them from heaven (line 68). Of significant interest is line 92f, which states that the “heavenly seats” were left vacant by the rebels.

“Our Lord bethought him, in meditative mood how he might again people, with a better race, his high creation, the noble seats and glory crowned abodes which the haughty rebels had left vacant high in heaven. Therefore Holy God willed by his plenteous power that under the circle of the firmament of the earth should be established with sky above and wide water, a world-creation (i.e., as opposed to a heavenly one) in a place of the foes whom in their apostasy he hurled from bliss”.

He further adds that “this broad earth stood …. Idle and useless, alien even to God himself” (line 105) and concludes that God looked upon this emptiness and “created heaven and earth” (line 114). Although the poem does not take into account the omniscience of God, a reason for the destruction indicated in Gen. 1:2 is indeed expounded. Obviously, this was part of God’s plan. Pre-Adamic or angelic history was but a precursor to God unveiling His ultimate purpose, the creation of man and ultimately the Church, which is the last of creation in act, but the first of creation in purpose. Anyone reading all that has been stated up to this point must admit that both Jewish and early Christians believed that order existed long before Day One of the Creation Week. Although Caedmon does not clearly state where the disorder or ruin on earth came from, it seems clear that he believed it was associated to the rebellion in heaven. The next record of the Gap came from Hugo St. Victor (1097 – 1141), a Flemish scholar and member of the Augustinian Monastery of St. Victor. He wrote:

“Perhaps enough has already been debated about these matters thus far, if we add only this, ‘how long did the world remain in this disorder before the regular re-ordering (disposition) of it was taken in hand? For the fact that the first substance of all things arose at the very beginning of time – or rather, with time itself – is settled by the statement that, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’. But how long it continued in this state of confusion, Scripture does not clearly show.

Obviously, Hugo does not equate the work of the first day with the act creation. or at this time should we say, the act of restoration. Of particular interest is his statement that this topic was a source of debate, not about its veracity but to the length of time between Gen. 1:1 and 2. Suffice it to say that Hugo had no knowledge of geology or evolution and was not trying to defend the faith from their evils. Yet he believed there was an interval, indeed by his statement, it was an accepted point of doctrine that an interval existed between Gen. 1:1 and 2. Next, in our line of witnesses is the great theologian, Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274). Aquinas emphatically stated but it seems better to maintain (the view) that the creation was prior to any of the days (literally, before any day)”. By this statement, Aquinas did not believe the first day was the first day of creation, for to him, creation came some time earlier. Thus far, we have followed the order of historical evidence presented by Arthur C. Custance in “Without Form and Void”. It is therefore only appropriate that we now present a mid-summation quoted from his work:

“…… The writers would not have agreed with Usher that Creation occurred 4000 B.C. They might very probably have assented to his chronology as applied to the creation of adam but they would have set the creation of the universe (the heavens and the earth) further back in time by some unstated amount. Gen.1:2 does NOT represent the condition of things immediately after the initial creation…. but some time later. None of these writers venture to suggest how long the interval had been. The idea of an earth so old that the period of man’s history pales into insignificance when viewed merely in chronological terms was probably not in their thoughts. One has the impression rather that they saw this interval merely as an interval…. not as a period perhaps vastly greater than all the time that has elapsed since. My point here is merely to emphasize that we cannot make anymore of these witnesses than to say that they did believe there was a break in the creative processes between Gen. 1.1 and 1.2. They may have seen it as of quite a short duration.

What is important about this statement is that by far, the majority view since the Babylonian captivity is that of an interval between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. No recognition of the length of that interval was necessarily important in prior centuries. It therefore seems appropriate to correct at this time a much abused title, that of “Modern Theologian.” The true modern theologian is not those who hold to an interval in Genesis, but the “Young Earth Theorist,” who have also demonstrated a lack of excellence in research by not chronologing the long history of the Gap Theory before they claimed it to be developed only as a defense against unproven evolution and scientific geological research as to the age of the earth. In fact, they have opened up a much greater potential for attack against the Veracity of Scripture than what they claim was done by Gap theorist, and as we shall see, that attack is one that will soon haunt all Christians for years to come. However, there is still a few more pieces of the historical evidence that must be reviewed before we give a final conclusion to this first chapter in defense of the Biblically correct Gap that exists between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2. As time passed, the question of a discontinuity became crystallized more concretely and was discussed in greater detail by Dionysius Petavius (1583 – 1652), a French Roman Catholic Jesuit Theologian, who was first Professor of Philosophy at Bourges and later Professor of Theology at Paris. Petavius did not believe that the basic elements of which land and water were later made, came into being on the same day that the land and water came into being. Thus we read his words: “The question of ‘How great an interval there was’ it is not possible except by inspiration to attain knowledge of. Nor, indeed, do I judge those basic components of earth and water, which I have taught originated first of all, to have been fabricated the same day on which had occurred the appearance of daylight, as it pleases certain persons (to believe), but by no means with sound enough reason.” As can be seen, Petavius believed the basic elements were made long before the actual creation of water and land. Further, in his day, men who would hold to a “young earth” theology were called men that did not have “sound … reason.”

The evidence does not stop there, for next we come to Benedict Pererius, philosopher, theologian, and exegete, born about 1535, at Ruzafa, near Valencia, in Spain. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1552 and taught successively literature, philosophy, theology, and Sacred Scripture in Rome. He published eight works, and left a vast quantity of manuscripts. The main difficulties of Genesis are met in "Commentariorum et disputationum in Genesim tomi quattuor" (Rome, 1591-99). This is a mine of information in regard to the Deluge, Ark of Noe, Tower of Babel, etc. and is highly esteemed by Biblical scholars, even men of the critical bias of Richard Simon (Histoire critique du Vieux Testament, III, xii). Concerning the interval in Genesis he wrote:

“Even through before the first day, the heavens and the elements were made subsequent (ie., basic essence of creative activity) nevertheless they were not perfected and completely furnished until the period of the six days: for then was given to them (their) furnishing, (their) fulfillment (filling up), and (their) completion. However, just how long that darkened state of the world lasted, ie., whether it lasted more than one day or less than one day, this is not clear to me, nor (I hold) is it clear to any mortal man unless to one to whom is has been divinely made so.” The above statement does not attempt to fix a specific time as to the length of the interval, but Pererius does recognize an interval of time of unknown duration during which the world was in a darkened state. Still, the idea of a destruction was not as prevalent by this time as it had been in previous years. That the concept of a destruction had been recognized by early scholars like Alcuin of York is reflected in Alcuin’s edition of The Book of Jasher where he rendered the counterpart of Gen. 1:2 as follows: “So that the face of nature was formed a second time”. (Alcuin of York (735-804, C.E.) was the creator of the modern alphabet. He was an English scholar who, while head of the cathedral school of York, wrote a history of England.). Next, we come to Johann August Dathe—an eminent oriental scholar and biblical critic who became professor of oriental literature at Leipzig in 1763 and who is perhaps best known for his six-volume work on the books of the Old Testament, illustrated with philological and critical notes and edited with the help of the original Hebrew text as well as other Latin versions--translated the second verse of the first chapter of Genesis, "And the earth was made (facta erat) a waste and a desolation." He further comments on the passage as follows: “Waw, before ‘the earth’ cannot be translated ‘AND’ for it would refer back to verse 1, where the narrative has ‘the earth and the heqven were created by God’. Whereas verse 2 proceeds to tell how that the earth, at some uncertain time, had undergone some remarkable change. Therefore waw stands for ‘afterwards’ and is so to be interpreted, as it so often is – for example in Num.5.23 and Deut 1.19”.

We therefore, have one more link in the chain of evidence supporting the contention that the view did not originate with Chalmers at all, but predated Chalmers as well as modern geologist by some 2500 years. It was not until 1814 or some 50 years later that Dr. Chalmers attempted to reconcile the Divine and geologic records in an Examination of Cuvier’s Theory of the Earth. Chalmers paper stated that the first act of creation was that of creating something from nothing, and that the first day’s work recorded in Genesis may have taken place after long periods of time. He further stated the earth may have had “a fair residence of life” but it had become desolate: and that although the sun, moon, and stars continued their existence in relationship to the earth, they had somehow become obscured. In itself, this was no new thought to the very learned theologian of the day, but it did begin a trend in certain Christian quarters which laid emphasis on what is now called the “Gap Theory”. How Chalmers’ work became the premier document for proponents of the Gap, and how he became known as the one who popularized this theory is confusing; since at that time, the belief in an interval between Gen.1.1 and 1.2 was already well document. Even more confusing is why so many “Young Earth Theorist” refuse to acknowledge the real history of the Gap and persist to declare that it is of early origin. However, whether through ignorance and lack of scholarly research or purposely omitted in order to lend credence to an even more implausible theory of creation, Young Earth Theorist have perpetrated a great injustice to the truth and an even greater injustice to their readers. As we shall later see, only an interval can explain the complete purpose of God in creating man in order to bring into existence His true purpose … the creation of His Church. For now it can confidently be stated that the belief in an interval between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2 is the foundational belief of the early Church and of Judaism. Science finally caught up with the truth that has always been in scripture, and even as archeology now proves the accuracy of Biblical history, geologic science proves the accuracy of the origins of this earth as presented in the Bible. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The Church was the main opponent to the acceptance of the earth being round and revolving around the sun. I hope history will not record that we were also the main opponents to the scientific evidence as to the age of the earth.
What the true Bible scholar should be doing is determining why man was recently introduced into such an old universe. Since there shall never be a missing link found by science to continue any form of belief in evolution, the next step is for man to begin thinking he was placed here by some alien race. The universe is indeed old, yet man is a very recent addition to it, the question is why. The teleological proof of the existence of God demands that we recognize that the order in the universe also includes time. Since history is a component of time, even the history of the freewill of the creatures that live within time, as measured by the fixed units of measure that transpire within time (ie …. The rotation of the earth and the moon around the sun, etc.) is an effect who’s existence finds its source from a cause. God did not cause Angelic creation to fall. Yet, the fall of the perfect Angelic creation was a necessary part of His plan. Therefore, Angelic freewill became the cause of the fall as a part of God’s plan. Because of that fall, God caused man to be placed in time at what seems to be billions of years since time began. Man is therefore an effect with purpose and plan caused by God. Only the science of theology can explain mans recent entrance into Gods created universe. As we shall see, God has not left us blind. Yet, only with the recognition of a interval or Gap between Gen. 1.1 and 1.2, can a complete Biblical understanding be sought and eventually found as we look at what God has openly declared to us is the end of the entrance of man.

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