Is there a gap in Genesis 1:2?

[1] In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [2] (The earth was formless and empty, and darkness was upon the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the water.)

Some expositors propose that verse 2 represents a gap in the record of creation events. Normally, those who hold to the so-called “Gap Theory” interpret “formless and empty” as some form of chaotic result coming on the heels of God’s judgment of Satan. They suggest that the original creation was destroyed or terribly marred by God’s casting Satan out of Heaven and down to Earth. Many theologians use this “gap” to account for a very old earth, allowing millions, if not billions, of years to pass with Earth in this condition. Some even attempt to place all fossilization (of animals and man) within this gap—which creates a greater theological problem with having death (even of man) existing prior to the fall. A number of theologians bolster their view by appealing to several extrabiblical, ancient near eastern creation accounts which speak of a battle between the creator-god and something or someone evil.

This brief study responds with a more careful look at the Hebrew text to see if it allows for such a view.

  • Verse 1 begins with the prepositional phrase bereshit (“in [the] beginning”) behaving as an adverbial temporal modifier of the verb bara’ (“he created”). The word order places the modifier first, putting the temporal phrase in a position of prominence and setting the tone for what is to follow—the focus is more on time than on other issues (such as who was acting).
  • The verb bara’ (“he created”) is a qatal (perfect) form whose main focus is on simply stating the fact of the action thus depicted (cf. Chisholm, Exegesis to Exposition, 86). The timing of the verb is determined solely by the context (which clearly indicates that the action took place in the past even from the narrator’s viewpoint).
  • The subject of the verb is ‘elohim (“God”) and the compound direct object is ‘et-ha’arets we’et-hashshamayim (“the heavens and the earth”). Accusative markers (‘et and we’et) are employed in a normal fashion to indicate definite (i.e., possessing the definite article “the”) direct objects.
  • Verse 2 begins with a waw-disjunctive (the conjunction waw + non-verb) indicating a disjunctive clause. Such a clause has two major functions: contrast and background information (cf. Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §3.2.2). Since contrast does not appear to be the intent of the narrator (e.g., the earth is not purposely being contrasted with the heavens), the obvious choice is background information (normally parenthetical when inserted within a narrative in this fashion). Anaphora is employed here by beginning this sentence just as the last one ended (with ha’arets, “the earth”). That acts as a hinge to focus attention on the primary topic for the rest of the section through 2:3.
  • It is best to treat verse 2, therefore, as a parenthesis providing background information regarding the earth, which is the major topic of the section.
  • A noun-clause (omitting a verb) could have been employed for the disjunctive clause of verse 2. However, the narrator (Moses) chose (under the supervision of the Holy Spirit) not to employ it. He chose the verb hayatah (“it was”). Being the qatal (perfect) of a stative verb (indeed, the premier stative verb), the verb focuses on the state of being (a static stative), the existing condition of the earth (cp. Joüon-Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew, §113p). Had the narrator employed a yiqtol (imperfect), the force of the verb would have been a state of becoming, transition, change, occurrence (dynamic stative). The meaning is that the earth was being described as it existed as a result of the act of creation in verse 1.
  • Interestingly, the choice of Greek verb in the Septuagint translation of verse 2 demonstrates that the Jews 250 years before Christ understood that the qatal (perfect) of hayah in the Hebrew text is equivalent to a form of the Greek eimi (“to be” = static stative) rather than an equivalent to a form of ginomai (“to become” = dynamic stative).
  • The condition is described as tohu wabohu (“formless and empty”). Although some might argue that this is a nominal hendiadys (cf. Putnam, Hebrew Bible Insert, §1.8.3a, “a formless void”), the subsequent context indicates that the narrator intended each adjective to stand alone. In the first three days of creation the earth was given its form and in the second three-day period it was filled. God did not create the earth to remain without form and empty—He created it to be inhabited (see Isa 45:18). Thus, He first brought land out of the water and prepared an environment in which life forms might thrive. Then He filled that hospitable environment with life forms. Note that there is absolutely no indication in the Hebrew for the concept of chaos, disorder, or anything other than the Creator’s original intent for that stage of Earth’s creation.
  • The wayyiqtol (wayy’omer, “then he said”) in verse 3 picks up the chronological sequence of events that began with the lead verb “he created” in verse 1. The remainder of the section is a chronological sequence of events pegged by the consecutive days (1st through 7th) as well as the characteristic wayyiqtol verb constructions whose primary focus is on sequential actions (therefore, it is often called waw-consecutive).

In answer to those who would place the fall of Satan in verse 2 and tie it to the ancient myths of a supernatural battle and a resultant chaotic state, Genesis 1:31 summarizes all of God’s creation work as “very good.” That does not leave room for Satan to be walking upon Earth, nor does it seem to allow for chaos or the existence of evil. Exodus 20:11 offers yet another strong reason why the Gap Theory does not meet biblical standards. God Himself wrote the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets which Moses received on Mt. Sinai. The commandment concerning the Sabbath states in no uncertain terms that God created the heavens, the earth, and the seas, and all that is in them in just six days. Therefore, Genesis 1:1–2 must be included in the six days, not in some gap of millions of years. Indeed, any gap, if one existed, would have to be less than one day in length due to the Lord’s explicit statement in Exodus 20:11.

Conclusion: The Hebrew text does not support any form of “Gap Theory”—neither does the rest of Scripture, especially Exodus 20:11.

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