Bob Jones University, YEC, and Gap Theory

So @nlents and some of us have been looking at the history of BJU in light of some comments by their president. I wanted to get the facts straight, and perhaps get some nuance from @TedDavis, @deuteroKJ , and other scholars in the know.

President Pettit stated in a BJU chapel service in 2020,

“For example, we require every professor to confess this creed. In our science department with 23 plus PhDs with degrees from all over the world, they have to confess that they believe that God created the world. ‘I believe in the inspiration [of] the Bible, the creation of man by the direct act of God.’ We’ve even taken it a little bit further. You have to believe that God has created the world in six literal days. If you don’t believe that, then your employment is terminated immediately.”

Now, it is commonly perceived that BJU is a YEC institution, but is that really the case? Back in 1927 when BJU was founded, YEC was not a dominant view in fundamentalism. Most fundamentalists were old earth creationists, commonly subscribing to the “gap theory,” thinking there was a gap in time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. While most exegetes now reject that specific idea, one could put the gap in several other points in the narrative (e.g. between 1:2 and 1:3).

BJU even made a very positive statement about Gap Theory, which was on their website until early 2016.

The “gap theory” was popularized among fundamental Bible-believing Christians by C.I. Scofield in the notes to his reference Bible. Through over half of the twentieth century it remained a standard interpretation held by a number of leaders within biblical Fundamentalism. With the publication of The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris in February of 1961 and the subsequent birth of the modern creationist movement, there began a shift toward a more straightforward reading of Genesis 1 and the gap theory quickly fell out of favor. The “gap theory” is, in its simplest form, a biblically based belief that there is a time gap of indeterminate length between the first two verses of Genesis, after the original creation of the universe but before “day one” of Genesis 1:3.

Supporters of the gap theory point to Genesis 1:2 which says that the “earth was without form and void” and Isaiah 45:18 which says that the Lord “created [the earth] not in vain” and argue that there is a contradiction between the two statements. Some gap supporters also use Genesis 1:28 where Adam was instructed to “replenish the earth” to imply that there was a pre-adamic race. In recent years, young earth creationists have not found these arguments to be compelling evidence for a gap of millions or even thousands of years between the first two verses of Genesis. Nor have they found the theory helpful in explaining the fossil record from a biblical perspective. They point out that Genesis 1:28 literally means “to fill”; Isaiah 45:18 simply means that God’s plan for the earth was that it should be a home for man.

Many fundamentalists of past generations who espoused the gap theory did so out of a sincere attempt to properly interpret Scripture. They held a high view of the inspiration of the Bible and would be horrified to think that anyone today would consider them to be yielding any ground to evolutionists, an archenemy they opposed.

In conclusion, while the faculty of the Division of Natural Science at Bob Jones University understand the gap theory interpretation held by other sincere Bible-believing Christians, especially those of past generations, we see no necessity for it. We believe that the best way to understand both Scripture and the scientific evidence is in terms of an earth that is only 6 to 10 thousand years old. For this reason, none of our faculty either believes or teaches the gap theory.

What in the World! — Why did you take this statement down after March...

So here is where it gets interesting. It turns out that the move to YEC was very very recent. See this comment from a BJU student:

I don’t know when/if the transition was made. I had a Bible professor in the late 70s who taught the Gap theory. I don’t know if the school had an official position then. I don’t remember any controversy. According to some who know better, he must’ve have held a theologically liberal view of the earth. Which is nonsense and these kind of assertions do nothing to strengthen the YEC position.

Stephen M. Davis, PhD

Essential Elements of Young Earth Creationism and Their Importance to Christian Theology (Part 8) | SHARPER IRON

There is good reason to believe that Bob Jones Sr. (founder of BJU) was a gap theorist, or at minimum held that the view should be tolerated among fundamentalists. Any clearer documentation on this would be really helpful.

So now, it appears, that president Pettit would immediately terminate any science professor that holds to the predominant view of BJU when it was founded, and likely even the position of its founder.

How is that possible?

Turns out that the BJU Creed does not take a stand on the age of the Earth, but in 2014 BJU published several “position papers” including one that commits the institution to YEC. At the same time, AIG published the Tenets of Creation (TOC), and leadership at BJU signed on. Soon after in 2016, they took down the statement on Gap Theory.

So it seems that BJU has very recently taken a more hardline stance on YEC, moving from toleration of many OEC views, to insisting on YEC. This is such a departure from the position of their founders, that their president seems to be claiming that he would immediately fire any science professor that held to the position of BJU at its founding.

The recency of this sharp turn to YEC is important, as it indicates that something important. BJU is a YEC stronghold at the moment, but that isn’t inevitable, and retrenchment on YEC is not even consistent with its own founding mission as a fundamentalist university, as expressed in the BJU Creed, which does not take a stand on the age of the earth.


Gap Theory (along with Day-Age Creationism) predates Darwin’s work. It was popularised by one of the most prominent creationists of the early half of the Twentieth Century, Harry Rimmer. It seems however to have largely gone into eclipse, with Jimmy Swaggart being the only prominent advocate of it that I know to be still alive. Oral Roberts was also a prominent proponent (what is Oral Roberts University stance on this, does anybody know?).

I’m unsurprised by BJU’s trajectory on this. It is part of a wider trend of of most conservative Christian institutions in the decades after the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961. I would not be surprised if BJU wasn’t fairly dyed-in-the-wool YEC well before they officially confirmed it with their 2014 publication.


Notably, this statement is made in reference to faithful Christians. That’s the GAE! Well not exactly, but closely related in the good senses.

Gap Theory more broadly construed (beyond specifically the 1:1 and 1:2 gap) is advocated by quite a few people, including John Walton.

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While I didn’t know how recent BJU’s white papers were, none of this surprises me. I suspect Ronald Numbers’ book addresses several of the Bob Jones up to the 70s or 80s. Morris and Whitcomb’s book definitely moved the goalpost, along with the almost universal rejection of the gap theory. But what really brought out the specific YEC only positions (explicitly) is the desire for AiG’s endorsement. Some institutions have done this explicitly. Some implicitly–like Bryan College, that says one thing on paper, but are much narrower in the hiring process for science and Bible faculty.


I would suggest that “the 1:1 and 1:2 gap” is the defining feature of Gap Theory (hence its name), also known as Ruin and Restoration Creationism. Lacking that gap, Walton’s views would simply seem to be an unnamed form of Old Earth Creationism more generally. Also, from what I can ascertain, this view postulates a literal 6-day creation, placing it closer to YEC than other forms of OEC. From what little I’ve read of Walton’s view, it does not seem that he interprets the 6 days as literally.

Another reasonably recent, although now deceased, Gap Theorist was apparently Herbert W. Armstrong founder of the Worldwide Church of God.


AFAIK, the label “Gap Theory” is almost always connected to Gen 1:1-2 that it seems unhelpful to construe it more broadly and stick with the same label. Taking Gen 1:1 as a title (i.e., to describe 1:3ff, with v. 2 describing a pre-creation state) is quite different. I don’t remember “gap theory” applied to this view.


I observe a conflation in the conversation.

Some treat any gap in the narrative as Gap Theory.

Some specifically refer to the 1:1 and 1:2 gap as Gap Theory, and that is certainly more historically accurate, and has been widely criticized.

Some are conflating these two understandings to argue that any gap in the narrative is widely criticized.

What is the right rhetorical label then? I’m not sure.

He puts the gap in different places for different reasons.

Some OECs do not have any gaps.

A good description of Gap Theory, by anthropologist and Science and Religion researcher Tom McIver can be found here:

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The only “gap” in Walton’s view is between ch. 1 and ch. 2 b/c of his sequential reading of the two accounts (so call it the sequential view!).

HIs understanding of Gen 1:1 as summary or title of the six days doesn’t really have a label (other than the “title/summary” view I suppose!). This is a common reading of the (very difficult) syntax of 1:1-3.


I’m not sure it’s the ONLY gap, but yeah, that is where he puts one.

So that creates the puzzle Im addressing. At least on some level it is a “gap theory” (lowercase) of some sort, even if it not Gap Theory.

I also find many YEC proponents equally disingenuous about the historical roots of their position. All over the place, one finds high praise to Whitcomb and Morris, who are seen as changing the landscape to make the YEC view now the only viable alternative (in their opinion), the only position that is faithful to the biblical text and also (in their opinion) scientifically sound. The banter at the site linked above (Essential Elements of Young Earth Creationism and Their Importance to Christian Theology (Part 8) | SHARPER IRON) is just one more example of this.

What you usually don’t learn from such folks, is that Morris and Whitcomb were not very original, in fact. As many here know, they both took much inspiration and core ideas from the Adventists, especially Ellen White’s disciple George McCready Price. Morris and Whitcomb were forthright about this, even if their book deliberately downplayed the magnitude of Price’s influence on them. But, if someone points this out today, a typical response is to accuse that person of being duped by the “agnostic” Ronald Numbers. Yes, Numbers identifies as an agnostic, but there’s nothing doubtful about his historical work on the origins of modern creationism. I call out Ken Ham for this type of deceit here: Ken Ham’s Alternative History of Creationism - Articles - BioLogos. AFAIK, Ham just ignores my charges. Readers may see the evidence for themselves.


I find the efforts by many YECs to diss their “fundamentalist” ancestors of the 1920s for accepting an old earth (whether the more popular gap view or the day-age view) simply disingenuous, even outrageous. The original fundamentalists–the people who coined that word and were proud to use it in self-description, at least originally (many stopped using it once it became common to toss it at them pejoratively by others)–were virtually all OECs of some type, including even what is now called the Framework View in some cases. Those who disparage them today as “liberals” or “compromisers” or “accommodationists,” despite their unflinching advocacy of biblical inerrancy (which was a fundamental plank of fundamentalism), are IMO just arrogant, narrow-minded ideologues who fail entirely to admit that their own YEC interpretation of Genesis is in fact just that, an interpretation. My goodness, a “plain reading” of the opening chapters of Genesis plants in the minds of most honest readers many unanswered questions that cry out for an interpretive conceptual framework of some sort, a framework that isn’t just a “plain reading” of the text. They accuse their forebears of “liberalism,” simply for being honest about various possibilities raised by the text itself, entirely apart from scientific claims. In effect, they are setting themselves up as God: this, and only this, is what I meant when I said that. This is no way to treat the Bible, especially if it really is a divine revelation to humans (as they and I both believe). They need to take the text far more seriously than they do.


DItto for the late J Vernon McGee.


Even as a kid many decades ago, I always preferred to think of the gap theory more as the “something is already there” interpretation, void and without form meaning uninhabited and desolate to man. This as opposed to the garden, entirely suited to Adam.


I own both editions of Numbers’ book, but I have only the second (which includes ID) with me right now. Bob Jones the persons are not in the index. BJU has 3 entries, none of which address this specific topic.


What was this statement’s URL, if anybody knows? It might turn up useful information to look at Internet Archive snapshots of it to see if their view evolved at all since the IA started (around 2000).

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Clearly it’s because of more recent scientific discoveries…


I suspect that at this point much of it is just ignorance.

In the case of administrators, eg at BJU, it looks not like ignorance, but a fairly cynical power grab.

In the case of Ken Ham, he interestingly enough, has some nuance on the issue. He acknowledges his fundamentalist forebearers are OEC, but then just assumes that if they were informed as he is about creation science and all its advances, then they would all be YEC. That’s pretty presumptuous, and certainly (at minimum) up for debatable.

I think these tensions are important to sort out, and a sign of some fairly large inconsistencies between fundamentalism and Hamism.


Here it is:

Appears to have been published in just 2012. So their swing to Ken Ham seems to be a fairly wild swing away from their historical position, taking place very quickly and recently.

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