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Without Form and Void

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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November 13, 2021 12:01 am

Without Form and Void

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 13, 2021 12:01 am

How much time elapsed between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2? Was there a gap between God's creation of the heavens and the earth and the six days of creation? Today, R.C. Sproul addresses the difficulties associated with the gap theory of creation.

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Is the earth of recent origin, say 6,000 years or so, or is the creation of the universe something that, as most modern astronomers and scientists claim, is something that took place 15 to 18 billion years ago? And Christians are engaged in debates all the time over the age of the earth. How much time elapsed between Genesis 1-1 and Genesis 1-2? Was there a gap between God's creation of the heavens and the earth and the six days of creation? Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C.

Sproul exposes the false thinking behind what's known as the Gap Theory. His message is titled, Without Form and Void. Today we're going to begin another series on the hard sayings of Scripture. Now, some of you will recall when we did an earlier series on this subject that I defined the concept of hard sayings really with three different references. In the first place, a saying of Scripture may be called a hard saying if it appears to us to be somewhat harsh in its orientation. So that's one category of the hard sayings. The second reason why we will refer to a text as a hard saying is because it's hard to understand. That is, it's somewhat enigmatic and problematic in our interpretation of its meaning.

And the third category is similar to the second. That is, we refer to a hard saying that has become controversial in the history of biblical interpretation, usually because of one of the first two reasons. So, as we consider that, we're going to begin today with the Old Testament. In fact, we're going to start on page 1, the very first chapter of Genesis, and look at a controversial text that appears as early as the second verse of sacred Scripture. Let's look then at Genesis 1, verse 2. To set it in context, we need to read verse 1 before we read verse 2.

Genesis begins with these words, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. That is verse 1. Now here's the hard saying or the controversial verse that follows immediately. Verse 2, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. Now, that's just the first part of verse 2.

The rest of the verse is, And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. But it's this first segment of verse 2 of Genesis 1 that is our hard saying, hard because of the controversy that attends the interpretation of it. And actually, there are two different controversies that have been attached to the understanding of verse 2 of the first chapter of Genesis.

The first has to do with the third word of the verse. In my translation, I'm reading from the New Geneva Study Bible, The earth was without form. Now, in the early Schofield Reference Bible, the notation there indicates that the verse should be translated, And the earth became without form and void. Now, you can listen immediately and see the difference in meaning between those variant interpretations. It's one thing to say that the earth was without form and void, and quite another to say, And the earth became without form and void.

Because the presumption is that if it became without form and void, that it was something else before it became that. Now, around this interpretation, the old Schofield Reference Bible constructed a theory of biblical interpretation that conditioned the whole scope of understanding the entire book of Genesis. And that theory is known by one of two titles. The common view is that it's called the Gap Theory, and the more technical term for it is called the Restitution Hypothesis. That is, it's a hypothesis.

It's a surmisal. It's an attempt, speculatively, to explain some significant problems in reconciling the biblical account of creation with certain modern theories of the emergence of the universe out of the primordial soup or whatever. And it's called the Gap Theory because what it is suggesting, not only suggesting but affirming, is that there's only one verse in the book of Genesis that refers to God's initial work of creation, and that is verse 1. Now, of course, the book of Genesis does not have a title in the original manuscript. It's not called Genesis.

That's the title that has been added throughout history by the Jews and then subsequently by the Christians in establishing the names of the books of the canon. But we are accustomed to thinking that the book of Genesis is so called because it is concerned to teach something about the beginning of the universe, the genesis of the universe in which we live. If we follow the Gap Theory, we would say that only one verse in the book of Genesis refers to the original work of divine creation, namely Genesis 1-1. And then what follows beginning in verse 2 is not an account of the original creation of the universe but of the recreation or regeneration of a creation that had fallen into a state of chaos.

So then we would perhaps be better to title the book of Genesis the book of regenesis rather than Genesis. So the idea is that there is a historical gap between verse 1 and verse 2, and that gap could be as long as several million years or even billions of years. And so what we're reading about when we read about the six days originally thought to be of creation refers to the six days of re-creation rather than the original work of God.

Now before I look at this further in terms of interpretation, let me say a word about why such speculation and why such a hypothesis emerged in the first place. One of the big problems that people struggle with in terms of the trustworthiness of sacred Scripture has to do with the onslaught of the reliability of the biblical description of creation in light of modern scientific theories and particularly with respect to the age of the earth. We will look at that more closely in our next lecture when we consider the whole question of the six days of creation, but there is an ongoing debate today even within the Christian community with respect to the antiquity of the earth. Is the earth of recent origin say 6,000 years or so ago, or is the creation of the universe something that as most modern astronomers and scientists claim is something that took place 15 to 18 billion years ago?

That's quite a huge discrepancy, and Christians are engaged in debates all the time over the age of the earth, and even the evangelical world is divided between the two camps of old age earthers and new age earthers, not to be confused with the new age movement. But in any case, this theory conveniently solves that dilemma by saying that the Bible only gives one verse to the original creation, and it could have happened at any time thousands, millions or billions of years ago, and that what is being described here in the rest of Genesis is of much more recent origin, namely that what Genesis is describing here is the restoration or restitution of a creation that had undergone a cataclysmic, catastrophic fall between Genesis 1-1 and Genesis 1-2. And there are allusions to some of the poetic literature later on in the prophets and in Job that refer to the cosmic upheaval in heaven with the fall of Satan and so on, and interjected into this gap would be first the original creation where everything was good, then we have this cosmic catastrophe with the fall of the angels with Satan leading them, and the plunging of the universe into ruin, after which then God repairs the damage, and it is the repairing of that damage that we read about in the rest of the opening chapters of Genesis. Now, from a literary perspective, the whole thing virtually hinges on the interpretation of the verb here in Hebrew, which in almost every translation of the Bible is translated by the English word was, but according to the gap theory or the restitution hypothesis should be translated by the word became. Now, was, the word was would indicate the state in which it was in the initial aspects of creation, and as I mentioned earlier, the word became would suggest a dramatic change of some sort. Now, linguistically, the verb that is used here occurs literally hundreds of times in the Bible, and in any Hebrew lectionary, the primary meaning of the word is given to mean was. Now, it is true that in less than 1% of the occurrences of it in Hebrew, it can and is sometimes, rarely indeed, translated by the English word became. So, the translator does have the option when he comes to a text that uses this word to render it either by the English word was or the English word became. Now, when that happens, the normal method of biblical translation is to use the primary normal meaning of the term unless there is compelling reason to use the other term. And usually that compelling reason is discovered within the immediate context of the text in question or in the broader context of biblical usage.

In this case, it seems to me that the preference to use the translation became rather than was is not so much driven by the immediate context, though it includes that. But the major motivation here seems to be this contemporary philosophical problem that we have reconciling the idea of an early earth and an early date to creation with the scientific claims that run to the contrary. As one who has been involved for decades in the special theological discipline of apologetics, which is the task of defending the truth claims of Christianity, I've never been very much impressed by the gap theory or the restitution hypothesis.

As nice as it would be to solve many of our problems, it seems to me, just as a matter of opinion, to be somewhat forced and contrived. And I think that it behooves us as Christians when we are defending the truth claims of Scripture to be very careful not to use hypotheses that seem to be extremely unlikely linguistically and hermeneutically. And so, as I said, I reject this theory.

Now, what I say the immediate context is appealed to, to reinforce the interpretation of the verb by the English word became, has to do with what it is that is being described. Remember verse 2 says, the earth became without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep. And again, the gap theory says the earth became without form and became void and became dark in terms of the deep.

And one of the compelling reasons that people use from that text to support the gap theory is that it's somehow beneath the dignity of God to create anything in a state of formlessness, of darkness, and of emptiness. Particularly when we see that these three descriptive terms of the void, the darkness, and the emptiness suggest a picture or a portrait not of orderliness and harmony, but it gives a kind of an ominous, threatening, chaotic idea that is not overcome until the Holy Spirit does His transforming work of hovering over the waters of the deep and bringing substance into the emptiness and light into the darkness and order into this apparent disorder. Add to that another salient fact, and that is that in other Near Eastern mythological accounts of creation such as found in the Babylonian view and others, there is a common theme of seeing the universe coming into being as a result of a cosmic primordial struggle between forces of good and forces of evil, between forces of darkness and forces of light, where the principal poetic image or mythological image is that of God's struggling with a primordial sea monster who dwells in the abyss of the deep.

And so we could pursue this business of a catastrophic fall that then sees the world being plunged in the chaos and the old serpent Satan is ruling over the universe and he's bringing darkness to the earth and so on. And what we hear then is the victory of God over the forces of chaos, over the forces of Satan, over the sea monster who inhabits the deep, and so on. And so that's another reason why some have argued for a gap between Genesis 1-1 and 1-2. The historic and classic biblical interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is not that it is a description simply of chaos or of some threatening, ominous evil that is part of the original creation, but as Luther and the Reformers and others throughout history have argued, that Genesis 1-2 is simply a description of the as yet unordered and incomplete work of divine creation. The thematic statement of verse 1 refers to God's original work of creation. And in the biblical account of that creation, initially before God separates the dark from the light and before He creates any luminaries such as the sun and everything, there would be a darkness. And before He fills the earth with creeping things and flying things and fish and animals and plants and everything, there would be a certain emptiness and that there is a predominance of water would be consistent with our understanding of how the world even is constructed today.

If one looks at planet earth from a spaceship and sees a photograph taken from outer space, the color of our planet is obviously blue, reflecting the massive amounts of water that cover the globe. And so, as I say, standard historic interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is not to describe some kind of cosmic battle between God and an equal and opposite force of evil or the force of darkness, but simply refers to the beginning stages of divine creation, which then is spelled out in greater detail as God adds the lights and adds the animals and the plants and begins to fill that which He has molded. This is the beginning superstructure for creation, the outline as it would be before the details are filled in.

But the controversy, I'm sure, will continue to rage, and I'm simply taking the time today to spell out for you what this particular controversy is all about and why people are exercised over it. And certainly, the gap theory is possible. It is a possible interpretation of Genesis 1-2. I am persuaded that though it is a literary possibility and a theological possibility, there really is no compelling reason to assume it. I think that when we look at a problem such as we have just discussed in the opening chapters of Genesis, we have to do so with a certain kind of caution and a certain kind of patience and realize that in our day there is probably no dimension of the Christian truth claims that is more under attack in the secular world than the very foundational question of creation. In the history of philosophy, one of the reasons why the Christian church received a high degree of intellectual credibility, for example, in the Middle Ages and in the European medieval university system, even from those who were not professing faith in Christianity, was that the secular thinkers of that day found it difficult to avoid the conclusion that something had to create this universe in the first place. And so it's not a surprise that the central point of aim of skepticism against Christianity, against religion, against Islam, against Judaism is at the point of creation. Because if we can eliminate the idea of Creator, then the whole rest of the message of Scripture falls.

It's so easy for us as Christians to be tempted to reject the clear teaching of Scripture because we don't want to look foolish to a watching world. I think Dr. R.C. Sproul's response was helpful, wasn't it?

The creation account we find in Genesis is true. Today's message here on Renewing Your Mind is from Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, Hard Sayings of the Bible.

And I hope you'll stay with us in just a moment. Dr. Burke Parsons will join us to talk more about this topic. In this 15-part series, Dr. Sproul tackles some difficult passages, including what it means when we read that God hardened Pharaoh's heart.

What the strange fire in Leviticus was, and how we make sense of the wars in the Old Testament. We'll be happy to send you this complete series as a digital download. Just request it today when you give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. There are a couple of ways you can reach us to make a request. Let me give you our phone number.

It's 800-435-4343, but you can also go online to Well, as I mentioned, Dr. Burke Parsons is here in the studio. He's a Ligonier teaching fellow, our chief publishing officer here at Ligonier Ministries, and the senior pastor at St. Andrew's Chapel. He's also the editor of Table Talk magazine. And Burke, it's always great to have you here in the studio to talk about these things of eternal significance.

Obviously, R.C. thought these hard sayings were important enough. He devoted four different teaching series to these difficult sayings or misunderstood sayings that we find in Scripture. Would you share with our listeners why we prioritize things like this?

Well, thanks, Lee. It is a significant topic. And the truth is we could write multiple books looking at many verses and passages in Scripture that have been perhaps misunderstood, misapplied because of poor hermeneutics, that is a method of interpretation, a poor method of interpreting those verses, taking them out of context, misunderstanding how those teachings of Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, really do apply to us as Christians today. And so it is one of the things that we deal with all the time as editors and as teachers and as a pastor. People come from all sorts of different churches and all sorts of different backgrounds, and they've been taught so many different things on numerous passages and verses, and they come with all these presuppositions about what these verses must mean and do mean, and you cannot disagree. So what we have found over the years is that there are certain passages that we believe are perhaps the most misapplied, misunderstood, sometimes misappropriated. And so what we're trying to do is gently help believers understand better what Scripture teaches and, as equally important, what it doesn't teach. Thank you, Burke, for being with us and sharing that insight. That's why we air this series each Saturday. And next week Dr. Sproul will turn to the sixth chapter of Genesis, where we read about the sons of God and the daughters of men.

Who were these so-called sons of God? We'll find out next week here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-23 07:42:40 / 2023-07-23 07:50:34 / 8

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