November 29, 2003

A Brief History of the Gap Theory of Creation

In the circle of Christian beliefs, concerning the creation of the earth and the universe, there are several different teachings. All agree God created the earth, but beliefs of how and when differ considerably. There are three primary views concerning the age of the earth. Most believe it is a very young planet, and that God created it mature (old) as he created man (Adam) mature. This group has the earth varying in age from 6000 to perhaps 12000 years. Then there is a group that believes a very long indefinite period of time passed between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3, varying from millions to billions of years, and that the creation account following Genesis 1:2 is a recreation, or reshaping, of what was made void and without form by Satan’s fall in Genesis 1:2. The third group believes in theistic evolution, saying God created things over a long period of time, with the Hebrew word “yom” for “day” being used to denote long epochs of time during the six days of Genesis creation. Now, having very briefly presented these different beliefs, PLEASE READ VERY CAREFULLY WHAT I AM ABOUT TO SAY NEXT!




In this Update I intend to present a brief history of what is known as “the gap theory.” It is not the intent and purpose of this report to elaborate on the various Scriptures and inductive reasoning processes put forward by many learned men in support of the basic hypothesis. It is primarily the purpose of this article to render a brief history of the gap theory from its inception into the ranks of Missionary Baptists. However, at least a very basic description of the proposition should be outlined before going into details about its history, and a short summary of the theory will be presented by Gaebelein from his Annotated Bible, where he states the following on pages 16 and 17 (BEGIN QUOTE BY GAEBELEIN):

“It is of the greatest importance to understand that the condition in which the earth (not the heavens) is described in the second verse is not how God created it in the beginning. Scripture itself tells us this. Read Isaiah 45:18. The Hebrew word for ‘without form’ is TOHU, which means ‘waste.’ ‘The earth was waste and void.’ But in the passage of Isaiah 45:18 we read, ‘He created it not a waste.’ The original earth passed through a great upheaval, a judgment swept over it, which in all probability must have occurred on account of the fall of that mighty one Lucifer, who fell by pride and became the Devil. The original earth, no doubt, was his habitation, and he had authority over it, which he still claims as the “prince of this world.” Luke 4:5,6 shows us this. The earth had become waste and void; chaos and darkness reigned. What that original earth was like we do not know, but we know that animal and vegetable life were in existence long before God began to restore the earth. The immense fossil beds prove this. But they likewise prove that man was not then on the earth. Between the first and second verses of the Bible there is that unknown time of millions of years which geology gets a glimpse of in studying the crust of the Earth.” (END QUOTE BY GAEBELEIN).

In order to present a truly representative history of the gap theory, it is first necessary to examine the soil of the times from when it first burst forth its blooms into the light of the nineteenth century. A bit of what we might call a “pre-bloom” time of say, 100 years, would present a picture of mankind beginning to unearth extensive “finds” of various kinds of fossil life. Graphic pictures of pre-historic creatures and plants began to be noticed in exposed rock surfaces, and even more startling were the underground finds of huge dinosaur forms that had once roamed the vast plains of earth. It was a time of great unrest in the minds of learned men who sought an answer to the apparent conflictions of these discoveries with a long accepted belief in a very young earth of some 6000 years.

Into this time of apparent contradiction with the long conceived idea of a young, God-created earth, stepped a brilliant Christian man of that day, the scientist, Georges Cuvier. Morris and Whitcomb, in their publication of “The Genesis Flood,” give the following statement concerning Cuvier: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“The man to whom we refer was Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), professor of comparative anatomy in the museum of natural history at Paris, and the founder of modern vertebrate paleontology – a man of immense learning and reputation. Cuvier’s opposition to flood geology was subtle, because he insisted the earth had been laid down by the flood. He also taught that the major fossil strata of the earth had been laid down by a series of great floods, separated by immense periods of time, and long before the creation of man.” (END QUOTE).

As in most theories, there were certain portions of Cuvier’s hypothesis that needed, over a period of time, to be modified to agree with later discoveries of climate and geological shifts of both life forms and the earth’s crust. Kruten, in his book, “The Age of the Dinosaurs,” as it pertains to the discovery of dinosaur remains in the Paris Basin, says of Cuvier: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“Georges Cuvier, working out the sequence in the Paris Basin, taught that the successive periods in the history of the world were invariably caused by a great catastrophe, wiping out most of the living beings when it occurred, whereupon new forms of life were created or migrated from other regions. The antithesis of catastropism is the principle of actualism or uniformitarianism.” (END QUOTE).

It was during Cuvier’s lifetime that the conflict between the theories of Pre-Adamic “Catastrophism” and “Uniformitarianism” spread across the civilized world. There were many theologians who lifted the flag in support of Curvier’s hypothesis of a long period of chaos and catastrophe before the first appearance of man. Some of these theologians were portrayed by Surburg in the book “Darwin, Evolution, and Creation,” where he wrote the following: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“In the nineteenth century George H. Pember, in his book, ‘Earth’s Earliest Ages,’ set forth the interpretation that a long period or ‘gap’ was to be reckoned with after Genesis 1:1. Pember is thus sometimes credited with the formulation of the ‘gap’ or ‘restitution’ theory. The possibility of a gap or long period of time after Genesis 1:1 has been held by a number of nineteenth century theologians, among then Hengstenberg (1802-69), famous Lutheran theologian at the University of Berlin; Franz Delitzsch (1813-90), professor of Old Testament at Erlangen, and by Boehme, Oetinger, F. Von Meyer, Stier, Keerl, Kurtz, and others.” (END QUOTE).

I shall have something to say about Surburg’s suggestion that Pember is the originator of the gap theory at a later time, but for now I would like to present as clear a picture as possible on the catastrophism theory advanced by Cuvier. To close our analysis of Curier’s idea, I will provide a quote from Wendt in his book, “Before the Deluge,” where he speaks of Cuvier’s theory as follows: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“According to Cuvier, the earth was shaken many times in its history by upheavals and cataclysms. Some of these were local events; in such cases they only annihilated life in the affected regions, so the new living beings drifted in from other regions and repopulated the devastated areas. In his principle work on paleontology, ‘Recherches Sur Les Ossements Fossiles,’ Curier stated: ‘Life on earth has been frequently interrupted by frightful events. Innumerable organisms have become the victims of such catastrophes. Invading waters have swallowed up the inhabitants of dry land; the sudden rise of the sea bottom has deposited aquatic animals on land. Their species have vanished forever; they have left behind only sparse remains, which the naturalist is currently striving to interpret.’ Cuvier did not exactly state that life on earth had been extinguished to finality, and then recreated by God in superior form; that theory was to be advanced by his successors.” (END QUOTE).

Concerning Cuvier’s belief concerning the existence of man during the time of the earth’s great catastrophes, Wendt flatly states: “Cuvier did not believe in the existence of man in primordial times.”

While I agree with Dr. Surburg’s statement that G.H. Pember is often credited with the formulation of the original gap theory, this has caused many who do not believe the gap theory to say it was only an answer to Charles Darwin’s famous book, The Origin of Species, published in 1859. However, this is completely false.

The weight of my research credits the original formulation of the gap theory to have originated from the lips of Dr. Thomas Chalmers, a noted gentleman of some renown, some 45 years before Darwin’s book was published. Whitcomb and Morris, in their book, “The Genesis Flood,” are correct in their assessment of the “earliest” appearance of the gap theory, of which they state as follows: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“As early as 1814, Cuvier’s views were being pronounced in England by Dr. Thomas Chalmers, who found room between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 for this succession of pre-Adamic catastrophes and thus became the great popularizer of the now famous ‘Gap Theory.’ Many of the greatest geologists of this period, such as Adam Sedgwick, Rodgerick Murchison, and William Buckland, approved Cuvier’s theory because it seemed to offer an easy explanation of the fossil strata.” (END QUOTE).

It would seem reasonable that the 1810 pre-Adamic catastrophe theory of Cuvier would prompt an almost immediate searching of the Scriptures by diligent born-again believers in an attempt to find God’s linguistic answer to a scientific problem. I have always held that God’s word has the answers for the problems mankind faces in the interpretation of what it teaches. It seems quite reasonable to me that his word was used at that time to present a linguistic solution to a scientific dilemma. I believe the born-again believer who first discovered this linguistic revelation in Genesis was Dr. Thomas Chalmers, who began to expound it publicly “as early as 1814.” The character of this man reveals an inner nature that held the Bible inspired to the point of defending his beliefs openly. The following information concerning Dr. Chalmers, taken from The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, is quoted as follows. (BEGIN QUOTE).

“Chalmers, Thomas (1780-1847). Scottish minister. Born in Anstruther and educated at St. Andrews University, he was inducted to Kilmany Parish in 1803, and lectured part time at his University. He experienced evangelical conversion in 1811, and his ministerial and emphasis and activity were completely changed. He began to write for ‘The Christian Instructor,’ publication of which marked the turning of the tide in the moderate-evangelical encounter. In 1815 he was inducted to the Tron Church, Glasgow, and was heard by crowded congregations twice every Sunday. Glasgow reeled in shock when Chalmers left in 1823 to teach moral philosophy at St. Andrews’s University, but when he moved on to Edinburgh to teach philosophy, his friends were sure he had found his sphere. He became Moderator of the Evangelical Party in 1832, and thereafter the leader and symbol of the movement. During the next decade he championed the cause of church extension, building in six years some 216 churches, and raising 290,000 pounds, a fantastic amount for that day and time. After “The Disruption,” Chalmers became the Moderator of the Free Church Assembly, and professor of Theology in New College. His “Institutes of Theology” was published posthumously in 1849.” (END QUOTE).

The “Free Church Assembly” of which Chalmers became Moderator, was an Association of local free churches that made up what was known as The Free Church of Scotland. In order to understand Chalmer’s connection with the Association, the following quote from The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church is offered: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“Free Church of Scotland. Popularly known as ‘The Wee Free Church of Scotland.’ It represents the minority of the former Free Church of Scotland who refused to enter the union with the United Presbyterian Church to form the United Free Church of Scotland. The original Free Church was constituted in 1843 after “The Disruption,” when about one-third of the ministers and members seceded from the Church of Scotland rather than submit to what they considered to be state control of the local churches. Their leader, Dr. Thomas Chalmers, declared: ‘We quit a vitiated establishment and would rejoice in returning to a pure one.’” (END QUOTE).

Thomas Chalmers was certainly more than qualified to advance such a premise as the gap theory in the Genesis account of creation, possessing Doctors degrees in three disciplines, Bible Languages, the Sciences, and Divinity. Certain domestic calamities, and a severe illness of his own, opened up the fountains of his soul, and drew him closer to the Lord. So, when he was asked after this to prepare an article for an Encyclopedia in Edinburgh by Brewer, he commenced an extensive study of the evidences that Christianity was genuine, during which he became absolutely certain of Christ as Savior, and that the Bible was the veritable “Word of God.” After this, according to the Cyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, “He grew earnest, fervent, devout, and faithful to his pastoral duties.”

This reference bears testimony to a man who was an objective scientist that recognized the Bible as the “Word of God,” from which a linguistic answer could be provided to a scientific question. In a future Update, Lord willing, I will give a thorough exposition of the “Gap Theory” by Dr. Thomas Chalmers. But the purpose of this lengthy Update has been to present the history surrounding its origin, and to carry that history to the time when it first entered the ranks of Missionary Baptist churches. As outlined previously, it was not long before theological ideas began to form around the periphery of Culvier’s hypothesis on what is known as catastrophism. Some simply rejected it, some tried to adjust it, and still others linguistically interpreted Genesis 1:1,2 to provide a theological answer to a scientific hypothesis. The pattern is much the same today. Unbelieving scientists are providing scientific answers to creation. Some believing scientists are offering scientific answers to the creation. And theologians are arguing over interpretations as to how to interpret inspired Biblical words. As for myself, I believe Genesis 1:1, and I could care less how or when God created the heavens and the earth, I just know he did it. However, I will give you my opinion on the Genesis account of creation in a future Update, Lord willing.

So how did the Gap Theory get into Missionary Baptist work? A Dr. Henry Drummond, like Chalmers, was an evangelical minister of the Free Church of Scotland. He was born four years after Chalmers died. The parallelism in their lives, induced by almost being contemporaries, and Drummond’s following the doctrinal path of Chalmers, is quite evident in the following quote taken from the New International Dictionary of the Christian Church: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“Drummond, Henry (1551-1897). Scottish writer and evangelist. Born at Stirling, and educated at Edinburgh University, he was persuaded by D.L. Moody to suspend his theological course and to work with him in evangelistic campaigns during Moody’s first visit to Britain. After 1866 he taught Natural Science at the Free Church College in Glasgow, and in 1883 published the best seller, ‘Natural Law in the Spirit World.’ In 1884 he was ordained and became Professor of Theology in the college. He influenced many generations of students through his evangelistic work, visiting Australia in 1887 and the United States in 1890. His lectures at Boston were published as ‘The Ascent of Man’ in 1890. But his best known work was ‘The Greatest Thing in the World,’ which was a meditation on I Corinthians 13:13.” (END QUOTE).

Dr. Drummond has been mentioned because he is referenced by the man most responsible for the introduction of the Gap Theory into Missionary Baptist ranks, Dr. J. Louis Guthrie, who was one of the three founders of the Missionary Baptist Seminary in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dr. Guthrie, speaking of him in his book, “Christ in Creation,” says: “Drummond has written the nearest to a spiritual science, and consideration of all phases of life, in his ‘Natural Law in the Spiritual World,’ but his work is mostly from analogy.” Again, Dr. Guthrie speaks of Drummond in regard to his views on the doctrine of trichotomy, as he comments: “I am indebted to Drummond, Sabatier, Dr. Giorgio Bartoli and others for some help I have had in this trend of thought. They have given valuable suggestions to which I have fastened quite a train of thought.”

But it is not Drummond that gave us the gap theory, but a man whose ideas conflicted with Drummond on the theory of catastrophism before Adam, Dr. Giorgio Bartoli. After having researched many names quoted by Dr. Guthrie in his works, it appears evident to me that Dr. Guthrie was familiar with the viewpoints of both Drummond and Bartoli. And from the writings of Dr. Guthrie it is readily apparent he accepted and expounded the viewpoint of Dr. Bartoli. Dr. Guthrie speaks of him in his book, “Christ in Creation,” where he gives the following testimony of Bartoli: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“Dr. Bartoli in his little book, ‘The Biblical Story of Creation,’ makes this observation in the amazing statement, ‘even now, after the millenniums that our earth has existed, no simple bodies exist, only composite ones. The element is is an artificial product of man, which he extracts from the chemical combination of which it is part and parcel. It is not physical progress that prevails in the world, but degeneracy. Our creation is getting gradually older, poorer, and uglier; the earth moreover, is drying up constantly, becoming less habitable, and by degrees becoming a desert. The progressive decay and degeneration of the earth and man is a fact, beyond the possibility of a doubt. Not evolution, but involution, is the great law of the universe. Involution means the imperfect from the perfect, the simple from the composite, the immoral from the moral, ugliness from beauty, crime and vice from innocence, disorder from order, and death from life.’ This is the pronouncement of a man who is chemist and physicist, who has taught these sciences along with geology and biological science in many universities of Europe and Asia. He has lectured extensively in nearly all countries in Europe and the Americas, and knows language, philosophy, science, and theology in their practical phases. He writes in nearly every modern Occidental language. He is now Superintendent of Mines in Sardinia. His varied experiences have qualified him to speak with authority. His knowledge of literature, the sciences, theology, and philosophy can hardly be questioned.” (END QUOTE).

Dr. Bartoli, a contemporary of Drummond, picked up the standard left behind by Dr. Chalmers and spread its influence across the American and European continents. An excellent presentation of Dr. Bartoli’s concept of the pre-Adamic world catastrophe is given in his book, “The Biblical Story of Creation.”

Dr. L.D. Foreman, in his book, “The Bible in Eight Ages,” gives a lengthy quote from Dr. Bartoli’s book on pages 102 to 105. Speaking of the pre-Adamic fallen angels, Dr. Bartali writes as follows: (BEGIN QUOTE).

“Since they could accomplish nothing against God, these miserable creatures vented their malice upon the earth, where they fell in millions. That disastrous fall produced a world cataclysm. Our solar system was convulsed, disemboweled and reduced to chaos – confusion, darkness, and complete disorder prevailed.” (END QUOTE).

So, in summary, the thread of continuity that stretches from Missionary Baptists back to the birth of the Gap Theory in about 1814, began with a first stitch by Dr. Thomas Chalmers, rippled across the Atlantic on the wings of Dr. Giorgio Bartoli, and entered our ranks largely through the brilliant, fertile mind of Dr. J. Louis Guthrie.

I dedicated my third book, “The Key to the Bottomless Pit,” to Dr. Fred G. Stevenson, a rare man of God, who made this dullard think. Dr. Fred was, during his many years of teaching at the Little Rock Missionary Baptist Seminary, the best Hebrew teacher of his era among Missionary Baptist Seminary teachers of Hebrew in our ranks. Dr. J. Louis Guthrie suffered an early demise as a teacher at Little Rock, but Dr. Stevenson had tremendous influence on the many students he taught during his long tenure at the school. The only other Missionary Baptist preacher I ever knew that could speak slower than Fred was “Buddy” Pennington, a dear brother who, like Fred, has gone on to be with the Lord. Most of the graduates of the school during the fifties, sixties, and seventies, were avid proponents of the Gap Theory. Since that time a growing number of its graduates have advocated the “young earth” theory, held by the teachers who have followed the precepts advanced by the school of creation.