David Lipscomb, a foundational leader of the Churches of Christ, believed the universe, the Earth, and lower forms of animals were created by God before “day one” of Genesis, during the time associated with Genesis 1:1-2.  This belief is sometimes called “The Gap Theory.”

During the six days of Genesis 1, God rearranged what God had previously created into a new order and also completed humans, under Lipscomb’s interpretation of the Bible.

Lipscomb was “the single most influential person among Churches of Christ from 1865 until his death in 1917.”[1]  He was the editor of the Gospel Advocate, the leading religious periodical read by those within the denomination during that time.  He also co-founded the Nashville Bible School (now David Lipscomb University) and wrote articles and commentaries on books of the Bible and other topics for Church of Christ audiences.[2]

Despite his influence, Lipscomb’s view on Genesis did not persist within the denomination, as a large but shrinking number within the Churches of Christ today insist that the only reasonable interpretation of Genesis is that the Earth and everything else in the universe was created in six, literal, back-to-back, 24-hour days 6,000-10,000 years ago.  This is often called Young Earth Creationism.

Like Alexander Campbell, a progenitor of the Churches of Christ discussed in my previous article, David Lipscomb was no Young Earth Creationist.

Created, Made, and Reasonable Interpretations

Lipscomb emphasized the difference between “created” in Genesis 1:1-2 and “made” in Genesis 1:3-31, asserting that “making” in the latter’s description of Genesis’s six days is more along the lines of re-arranging what has already been created, as opposed to creating out of nothing.

He personally viewed the Genesis 1 “days” as 24-hour days, but also believed that interpreting those “days” as long periods of time is reasonable and that such an interpretation does not conflict with the Bible.

After initially rejecting evolution in 1879, Lipscomb moderated his view and wrote in 1899 that much of the theory of evolution is true and does not conflict with the Bible.  He thought the concept that humans had evolved was conjecture, but emphasized that God differentiated humans from other creatures by breathing a spirit into the human after completing it.

This article describes what David Lipscomb said about Genesis, Biblical interpretation in light of science, evolution, geology, and similar topics, quoting extensively from a series of his articles published in 1899 in the Gospel Advocate.

David Lipscomb:  Old Earther

Lipscomb’s view that the Earth and the rest of the universe were made by God before day one of the “six days” of Genesis included the view that God created lower life-forms (e.g., certain animals and plants, but not humans) during this pre-six-days period.[3]  He believed there was some form of disturbance on Earth between the end of the Genesis 1:1-2 time-period and the beginning of the six-days’ work in which all or most all life forms died.[4]  God then made a new arrangement for Earth and the forces of nature during the six days.[5]

Lipscomb explained “it can be said with much certainty the time since the heavens and the earth were created has been long” and that “life had existed on the earth previous to the six-days’ work of Gen. 1….  Man and the higher order of animals and plants did not exist before this.  Whether by some disturbance of the earth or by cold or heat, all life, all order, had been destroyed, so ‘the earth was without form, and void,’ and a higher order was introduced and a new arrangement of the forces of nature was correlated, we cannot tell.”[6]

He was uncertain about whether truly all had been destroyed before day one— whether some of the “lower order of animals” in existence today had survived the transition from before “day one” to after or whether “God, in the new replenishing of the earth” during the six days “recreate[d] some of the lower order that had existed before.”[7]

Lipscomb accepted factual observations as “science,” but rejected the inclusion of inferences and theories as “science”—he referred to such things as “conjecture.”  For example, he considered the theory “that this earth has been in existence millions and billions of years” to be “conjecture, not science.”[8]

On Biblical Interpretation in Light of Scientific Discoveries

Lipscomb considered the Bible true and steadfast, but observed that scientific discoveries may properly prompt us to revise our interpretations.  “[T]he Bible is a revelation from God to man,” he explained, “so God adapts its teachings to the comprehension of men; but the great truths in it are of God and are as sure and steadfast as God himself.  But we often, by looking at these revelations from an improper standpoint, misunderstand them, and by the investigations of science may be called upon to revise our conclusions as to what they do teach.”[9]

He went on to review some history of Biblical interpretation in light of scientific evidence: “For a long while men thought the sun moved around the earth; they interpreted the Bible to say so.  When the investigation of the laws of the material world proved the earth moves around the sun, many thought it overturned the statements of the Bible.  The theory that the earth revolves around the sun is universally accepted by Bible students now, and none think the theory contradicts any statement of the Bible; indeed, there is not a statement in the Bible concerning the movements of the earth and the sun that men of science would not now use to describe them.  So the discovery contradicted no statement of the Bible.  But how it extended our conceptions of the universe and of the works and wisdom of the Creator!  It contradicted no statement of the Bible, but our misconception of the statement.”[10]

He applied that history to the interpretation of Genesis 1: “For a great while men understood the first chapter of Genesis said that the world was created in the six days enumerated in this chapter.  The truths of geology led to the study of the matter, and—lo!—the Bible does not say this.  It says ‘In the beginning [an indefinite period, antedating the six days’ work, in which Jesus, as the Word, existed with God before the worlds were made—John 1:4] God created the heaven and the earth.’  Revelation loses none of its truthfulness or its majesty and awe, forfeits none of its claims upon the confidence and reverence of man, by these truths; but it opens up new and grander truths to man and fills his heart and mind with higher thoughts of the glory of God, that passes all imagination of man; it gives nobler views of the glory of his works.”[11]

Scripture: The Gap Theory

From a scriptural standpoint, Lipscomb’s view was that “[t]he Bible nowhere contradicts” the concept that life existed before day one of the six days specified in Genesis 1:3-31.[12]  Lipscomb differentiated Genesis 1:1-2 from Genesis 1:3-31 by, for example, differentiating between the word “created” (used in Genesis 1:1-2) and “made” (featured in Genesis 1:3-31).[13]  Genesis 1:1-2 describes God creating everything in the universe from nothing and Genesis 1:3-31 (the six days) describes God molding, shaping, and connecting what had already been created in Genesis 1:1-2, per Lipscomb.[14]  Genesis 1:1-2 describes “a period of time indefinite before the six-days’ work,” he explained.[15]

Lipscomb expanded on his view that there is a long, indefinite time described in Genesis 1:1-2, a time that included life forms on Earth but that ended with “earth a waste, without living … plants or animals,” per Lipscomb.[16]  Genesis 1:2 (which he describes as “‘The earth was without form, and void.’ The Revision reads: ‘The earth was waste and void.’ The Septuagint reads: ‘But the earth was unsightly and unfurnished, and darkness was over the deep, and the Spirit of God moved over the water.’”) “carries the idea that there had been a change, sudden or violent change, that had left the earth a waste, without living creatures of plants or animals,” he explained.  “It carries the idea, too, that the whole earth was covered with water.  Geology teaches this.  No place of the earth has been found that was not formed under water.”[17]

Lipscomb’s interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2 is similar in effect to Alexander Campbell’s interpretation of those verses.  Their view is often referred to as a form of “The Gap Theory.”  In 1926, the Gospel Advocate endorsed the Gap Theory again nearly ten years after Lipscomb’s death.[18]

Genesis “Days”

Lipscomb believed the six creation “days” of Genesis were 24-hour but also believed that interpreting them as long periods of time does not contradict the Bible.[19]  He personally “greatly objected” to the idea that the six creation days of Genesis were “long periods of time,” reasoning that such an interpretation “seems a forced and unnatural meaning of the Bible statement” and Genesis “seems to contemplate ordinary days.”[20]

Lipscomb also reasoned that “Ex. 20:11 says: ‘In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.’  If ‘day,’ applied to creation, means an indefinite period of time, then in this verse, the word ‘day’ is used in two different senses, with nothing in the sentence to show this,” and this would mean that “[i]n six periods of indefinite time God made the heavens and the earth:  wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh period of twenty-four hours, and hallowed it.”[21]  Lipscomb disagreed with such an interpretation because he disagreed with the view that “the day of the Lord’s rest began when the six-days’ work was completed and continued until this was spoken, and even until now.”[22]  He pointed out that “Jesus says: ‘My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.’ (John 5:17.)  ‘Hitherto’ mean ‘until now,’ … which would indicate God worked the six days of creation, rested the seventh, and then worked in the days of procreation, or carrying forward the work of creation.  He does it through his laws.”[23]

Lipscomb, however, did not insist that the only reasonable interpretation of the Genesis “days” is that they are 24-hour days.  He explained that “there are some things here we do not understand”[24] and that he had “not formed a very fixed judgment on the subject.”[25]  He said that the “Bible does not forbid” interpreting the Genesis “days” as long periods of time,[26] and that the position that such “days” are long periods of time is not “contradicting the Bible.”[27]  His view was that if those days are long periods of time, it would result in “fully removing all difficulties on the subject.”[28]

Day One and Day Four: God Making Arrangements

As to day one of Genesis 1:3-5, Lipscomb explained that light already existed, but God’s activity associated with day one might have been to arrange for light to reach Earth in association.  He said, “Darkness had hitherto enveloped the earth.  God said: “Let there be light: and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided between the light and the darkness.  And God called the light Day, and the darkness called he Night, and there was evening and morning the first day.’ … This scripture does not say there was no light in existence, but may mean that light did not reach the earth, because the Bible is giving here a generation of the earth in its present state.”[29]

Referring to day four, Lipscomb explained that the sun, moon, and stars probably already existed, but God’s activity associated with day four might have been to arrange for the light of sun, moon, and stars to shine on the Earth. He said, “Light was brought into the earth on the first day, and this statement concerning the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day presents a difficulty, since we recognize the sun and the stars as the source of all light.  In this we make be mistaken.  It is probable that  ‘made,’ as applied to sun, moon, and stars, does not mean ‘created;’ but the arrangement of the firmament was such that now they shone upon the earth, and so regulated day and night …; in other words, in the change of the  conditions of the earth and in the arrangement of the firmament around the  earth, the influence of these planets was brought to bear on the earth as it had not been  previous to this new arrangement and correlation of the forces of universe.”[30]

Lipscomb emphasized that we should not be very confident that we comprehend Genesis 1 correctly.  He said he “suggest[s] these things as possibilities, but more to show our inability to comprehend the great facts given us in Gen. 1, that we may see how little we know of the conditions heretofore existing, out of which the present condition of the earth has resulted.  So while it is right to investigate the records of nature, it should be done with a sense of our own inability to understand much of the workings of the natural world.”[31]

Evolution 1879

In 1879, twenty years after Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, David Lipscomb, then editor of the Gospel Advocate, expressed categorically that the theory of evolution conflicted with the Bible.  He wrote that the “theory known as ‘evolution’”—“’All organic existence derived from one original germ of life’”—“stands in direct antagonism to the Mosaic account.”[32]    At the time, Lipscomb described the Mosaic account as holding that “all animals were created full grown, at the highest state of development ….  If Moses be right, Adam was the highest, most perfect type of manhood the world has ever seen. It does not say this in so many words but the facts narrated mean this.  If Darwin be true, the first man was a slightly improved ape. They so run into the other it is impossible to tell when he ceased to be an ape and became a man.”[33]  Lipscomb described Darwin and others espousing evolution as “biased” and as not practicing science.[34]

Lipscomb asserted that “[t]he theory of these men points to all living beings coming into existence, as mere embryos from the lowest orders of living beings.  The facts that they cannot gainsay [(contradict)] point to them all as originating from perfected species and beginning with full grown individuals of these species.”[35]

Lipscomb concluded in 1879 that the evolutionary system, as described by Darwin and others, and the Biblical system “are antagonistic and cannot be reconciled.”[36]

Evolution 1899

Lipscomb would go on to change his mind, however, and moderate his views, as expressed in a series of articles in the Gospel Advocate in 1899.  There, he stated that a great deal of the theory of evolution is true and does not conflict with the Bible.

Lipscomb expressed, however, that it was unproven conjecture that humans were an evolved species, but described humans as differentiated from the lower creations by God “breath[ing] into [the “highest mechanism of God … completed”] a spirit that differentiated it from all the lower creation.” [37]

In 1899, Lipscomb wrote, “These scriptures say that the herbs, with the trees and their fruit, existed before and for the food for beasts, and the living creatures, with the herbs, were for food for man—that is, the lower orders were created as preparatory and for the use of the higher orders.  They live and perish, that the higher orders may live.  The Bible plainly teaches these as facts, and the facts of the material world, so far as they have been determined, fully corroborate the Scripture statement.  These facts, given both in nature and the Bible, are the grounds for the theory of evolution.”[38]

Lipscomb described some of the basics of evolution.  He said that as long as scientists keep to the facts, the theory of evolution does not contradict scripture, but he doubts some of the conjectures of new-species development.[39]  “The Bible is all true. Many of the facts and theories of evolution are true. What is true in this agrees with what is true in the Bible. Men in this field, as in others, anxious to attack the Bible, distort facts and theories, to try to bring the Bible into disrepute; but Christians may possess their souls in patience. The Bible is true, it is of God, and every discovery of science will, in the end, vindicate it, and strengthen faith in it and in God.”[40]

In a revealing passage, Lipscomb explained the gist of his view of human evolution:  “That man stands at the head of all created beings and is the best and highest of material beings, and that all preceding creations in the material world were preparatory steps and stages in refining the material out of which man is made by which his life sustained, is positively affirmed in the Bible and corroborated by the known facts of nature.  When this highest mechanism of God was completed, God breathed into it a spirit that differentiated it from all the lower creation and allied it to the spirits and to God himself.”[41]

In sum, Lipscomb believed much of the evolutionary theory to be correct, proven, and not in conflict with the Bible, but he did not find the evidence that humans evolved persuasive.[42]


David Lipscomb was thus an Old Earth Creationist.

Also, while he personally believed that the “days” of Genesis 1 are 24-hour days, he recognized that the belief that those “days” are long periods of time is also reasonable and consistent with the Bible.

Throughout his examination of Genesis, he emphasized a healthy respect for what we do not know.  This respect informed his view that scientific discoveries can suggest a reconsideration of the proper interpretation of scripture.







Sources & Notes 

[1] Richard T. Hughes, The Churches of Christ (Student Edition), Westport, Connecticut:  Praeger (2001), page 76.

[2] See Hughes, supra, page 76; Robert E. Hooper, “David Lipscomb (1831-1917),” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. by Douglas A. Foster et al., Grand Rapids, Michigan:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (2004), pages 480-482.

[3] David Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate 72 (February 2, 1899), page 72.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9]   David Lipscomb, “Evolution and the Bible,” Gospel Advocate 8 (January 5, 1899), page 8.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate (February 2, 1899), supra, page 72.

[13] David Lipscomb, “How Little We Know,” Gospel Advocate 136 (March 2, 1899), page 136.

[14] Ibid. (“But the word ‘made’ does not always mean to create out of nothing; but it frequently means to mold, shape, or introduce into new relations and change to new ends and purposes. ’In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ refers to the calling these into existence.  The ‘heaven’ refers to all the hosts of heaven in this statement.”).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] James A. Allen, “Current Comment,” Gospel Advocate 122 (February 11, 1926), page 122 (“The Bible does not give the age of the earth.  … [Genesis 1:1] also clearly indicates that this creation took place at some definite period before the six days’ work.  The Bible does not state when this period was nor how long it lasted …. The account of the six days’ work shows plainly that the earth previously existed.”).  James A. Allen was the editor of the Gospel Advocate at the time.

[19] David Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate 183 (March 23, 1899), page 183.

[20] Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate (1899), supra, page 72; see also page Lipscomb, “How Little We Know,” Gospel Advocate (March 2, 1899), supra, page 136 (““It grew out of our statement that we were disinclined to adopt the idea that the ‘day’ of Gen. 1 was an indefinite length of time, but was our ordinary day of twenty-four hours.  We have not felt sure about this, but the style naturally suggests the common day.”)).

[21] Lipscomb, “How Little We Know,” Gospel Advocate (March 2, 1899), supra, page 136.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate (February 2, 1899), supra, page 72.

[25] Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate (March 23, 1899), supra, page 183.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Lipscomb, “How Little We Know,” Gospel Advocate (March 2, 1899), supra, page 136.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] David Lipscomb, “Evolution Evolved,” Gospel Advocate 68 (Jan. 30, 1879), page 68.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. at 69.

[36] Ibid. at 69.

[37] Lipscomb, “Evolution and the Bible,” Gospel Advocate (January 19, 1899), supra, page 40.

[38] David Lipscomb, “Evolution and the Bible,” Gospel Advocate 40 (January 19, 1899), page 40.

[39] David Lipscomb, “The Bible and Evolution,” Gospel Advocate 56 (January 26, 1899), page 56.

[40] Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate (February 2, 1899), supra, page 73.

[41] Lipscomb, “Evolution and the Bible,” Gospel Advocate (January 19, 1899), supra, page 40.

[42] Lipscomb, “The Bible and Evolution,” Gospel Advocate (January 26, 1899), supra, page 56; see also Lipscomb, “The Bible and Geology,” Gospel Advocate 71 (February 2, 1899), supra, page 72 (“Many of the facts and theories of evolution are true.”).

Also see David Lipscomb, “Evolution and the Bible,” in Salvation from Sin, edited by J.W. Shepherd (Nashville, TN:  Gospel Advocate Co., 1913; James L. Gorman, “The Stone-Campbell Movement’s Responses to Evolution, 1859-1900,” 14 Stone-Campbell Journal 191 (Fall 2011); Paul A. Antony, “‘Untruths and Propaganda’ – Churches of Christ, Darwinism, and the 1985-1986 ACU Evolution Controversy,” D. Min. dissertation (Abilene Christian University.  Digital Commons @ ACU, Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 8, 2016).

Also, T. SHOWALTER. Of Snowville, Va., (writer of the “Virginia Jottings” column in the GA) wrote to advocate for the 24-hour “day.” (GA, 1899, page 272). J.M. McCaleb wrote (1900 GA, page 50) advocating “days” were not 24-hour days.  And he wrote a second article urging the same (1900 GA, page 434).  Paul of California wrote in to argue against what McCaleb said and to argue for 24-hour days. (GA 1900, page 498) McCaleb replied (GA 1900, page 597).

For this article, I stopped my close look at what Lipscomb said about evolution with the 1905 Gospel Advocate.