Biblical Creation: Interpreting Genesis 1:1-3


Carl Laney, Th.D.

The Gap Theory       (Thomas Chalmers; George H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages; Scofield Reference Bible; Arthur C. Custance, Without Form and

Statement of Theory: This theory is motivated by the desire to harmonize the Genesis account of creation with the vast time periods of earth history demanded by uniformitarian geologists.

Genesis 1:1 — An independent, narrative sentence describing an original perfect creation.

Gap — A gap following the fall of Satan in which the earth underwent a cataclysmic change as a result of a divine judgment on a pre-Adamic race.

Genesis 1:2 — An independent, narrative sentence describing the chaotic condition of the universe (Jer. 4:23-26; Isa. 24:1, 45:18) after the fall of Satan (Ezek. 28:12-15; Isa. 14:9-14).

Genesis 1:3 — An independent, narrative sentence describing the first step in the process of reconstructing and reforming the judged earth.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth perfect and beautiful, but at some subsequent period the earth passed into a state of utter desolation as a result of divine judgment. Genesis 1-2 describes the refashioning of the earth after a vast geologic period.

Objections to Theory (see Whitcomb, Early Earth, pp. 116-34).

  1. The Hebrew syntax links verse one and two and does not allow for a gap between these verses.
  2. The theory must redefine the “very good” of 1:31 for the earth would be the domain of a fallen, wicked being, Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).
  3. The theory assumes that death prevailed before Adam in contradiction to the fact that the curse came after Adam’s fall (Gen. 2:17, 3:19; Rom. 5:12).
  4. The theory leaves us with no clear word from God concerning the original perfect creation.  This would seem unusual in light of the Scripture’s emphasis on God as creator (Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 11:3).
  5. The theory contradicts Exodus 20:11 which states that within six days (not before the first day) God made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.
  6. The theory diminishes the significance of the world flood since it assumes that the major fossil bearing formations were laid down by the catastrophe of Genesis 1:2.
  7. The verb “was” (hayetha) should not be translated “became” implying a chronological development after creation for the waw disjunctive in 1:2 is used to describe circumstantial information (cf. Zech. 3:1-3; Jonah 3:3; Gen. 2:25) relating to the preceding clause, not something which happened subsequently.
  8. “Waste and void” (tohu wa-bohu) do not necessarily indicate divine judgment (Isa. 24:1; Jer. 4:23). The empty space (tohu) of the heavens (Job 26:7) is not something evil. Rather the earth was originally created “unformed and unfilled” but God fully intended for it to be inhabited (Isa. 45:18).
  9. “Darkness” is not always a symbol of sin and judgment (as in Jn. 3:19 or Jude 13) for Psalm 104:19-24 and 139:12 makes it quite clear that physical darkness is not inherently evil. The evening of each day included darkness and was a positive blessing providing for man’s rest and refreshment.
  10. While “created” (bara) does not in itself demand the idea of creatio ex nihilo, it certainly allows for it, and this doctrine is confirmed by Hebrews 11:3. ‘asa (‘to do or make”) stands as a synonym for bara in Genesis 1, and does not signify a reforming of preciously existing materials as in the case of yasar, Genesis 2:7. The occurrence of ‘asa in Exodus 20:11 is devastating to the Gap Theory.

The Recreation Theory (Unger, Bible Handbook; Barker, Waltke)

Statement of Theory: Original creation is not recorded in the Genesis account. The “gap” during which Satan fell and the original creation passed under divine judgment occurs before Genesis 1:1. The refashioning of the earth (Gen. 1:1) from its judged and chaotic state took place at a much later period in geological history.

Gen. 1:1      An independent summary statement of that which is unfolded in the following verses. It describes a relative, not an absolute beginning.

Gen. 1:2      These three clauses are circumstantial to verse 1 describing the condition of the earth at the time of the principal action of verse 1 or when God first spoke.

Gen. 1:3      An independent narrative sentence describing the first action in the process of bringing the earth into its present order.

Genesis 1:1 does not refer to an original creatio ex nihilo but to a reforming or refashioning of the earth after the divine judgment resulting from the fall of Satan and some angels.  The theory posits a more aged earth and claims to solve the alleged conflict between the Genesis account of creation and modern science.

Objections to Theory

  1. The objections to the Gap Theory (except for 1 and 7) hold true as objections to the recreation theory.
  2. The theory arbitrarily distinguishes between John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3 as describing original creation and Genesis 1:1-3 as recreation.
  3. The theory leans heavily on hypothesis and is founded more on what is not revealed than on that which is revealed.
  4. The principle of preference for the clearest interpretation would direct the interpreter away from such a hypothetical reconstruction of creation events.  Interpreters should choose the clear over the obscure.

The Original Creation Theory (Leupold; Whitcomb, The Early Earth; Weston W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled)

Statement of Theory

Gen. 1:1      An independent narrative sentence giving the record of the first part of God’s work on the first day of original creation. This verse reveals that God the Creator first made the material heavens and earth.

Gen. 1:2      Three circumstantial clauses describe the condition of the earth as it was until God began to form the original material into its present form. The earth was in a perfect yet unfinished state during the first part of the first day of creation.

Gen. 1:3      An independent narrative sentence showing the manner in which God worked — by His word — and the first step in the process of bringing the well-ordered universe into its present form.

This view accepts Genesis 1-2 as the account of God’s original creation of the universe creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”). The clauses in Genesis 1:2 imply no imperfection but merely describe the earth as unformed and unfilled early in the first day of creation. The earth was not imperfect, but only unfinished until the completion of creation on the sixth day.

Objections to the Theory

  1. The verb “was” (hayetha) in 1:2 should be translated “became” inplying a chronological development after creation.
  2. “Waste and void” (tohu wa-bohu) are terms which indicate divine judgment (Isa. 24:1, Jer. 4:23).
  3. “Darkness” is a symbol of sin and judgment (Jn. 3:19, Jude 13).
  4. The word “created” (bara) does not in itself demand the idea of creatio ex nihilo. 

These objections are answered under “Objections” to the Gap Theory (# 7-10), p. 2.

Support for Theory

  1. The view avoids the tenuous hypothesis of an original creation, divine judgment, and cosmic chaos which allegedly antedates the creative activity of God as recorded in Genesis 1-2. There is nothing explicitly revealed in Scripture which lends support to such a theory.
  2. The view avoids arbitrary distinctions between John 1:3 and Hebrews 11:3 as original creation, and Genesis 1:1-3 as a recreation.
  3. The view avoids the obscurities of the Gap Theory and Recreation Theory. It is definitely the most clear and simple interpretation of the text.
  4. The view is advocated by such careful scholars as Leupold, Keil, E.J. Young, Umberto Cassuto, John C. Whitcomb, John Davis, and Weston W. Fields.


Weston W. Fields, Uniformed and unfilled, Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing House, 1976.

Gerhard F. Hasel, “Recent Translation of Genesis 1:1,” The Bible Translator (October, 1971): 154-67.

Merrill F. Unger, “Rethinking the Genesis Account of Creation,” Bibliotheca Sacra (1959): 27-35.

John C. Whitcomb, The Early Earth, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.

E.J. Young, Studies in Genesis One, Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1964.

Note also the articles in Christianity Today, October 8, 1982, February 1, 1985, and August 19, 1988.

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