The words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” have evoked considerable debate; but without apology, that is how this book begins. In the words of one of the historic creeds: “I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” These words are only the beginning of this book of beginnings — a prologue to a prologue. Genesis gives more than an account of creation. It also describes other beginnings — humanity's Fall into sin and the start of God's elaborate rescue mission for all peoples. It tells what happened first in many important respects (creation, sin, judgment, languages, races, marriage); but at the center of Genesis lies God's sovereign call to Abram and Sarai, a couple of idol worshipers in the Middle East.
The Book of Genesis was written and compiled by Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai. Biblical and extrabiblical evidence points to this fact. Jesus clearly assumes Mosaic authorship of Genesis in the statement, “Moses therefore gave you circumcision” (compare also Acts 15:1). Since the reason for circumcision is mentioned only in Gen. 17, Jesus had to be referring to Moses' compilation of the story. Second, both Jewish and Christian tradition unanimously agree with this Biblical testimony: Moses compiled and wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, in the Wilderness of Sinai. This would place his authorship of Genesis around the fifteenth century b.c.
Many scholars since the nineteenth century have denied Moses' authorship of Genesis. Instead, some of these scholars have suggested that the Pentateuch, including Genesis, was compiled at a later date, perhaps in the sixth century b.c. According to this analysis, anonymous editors used at least four documents to piece together the Pentateuch. These four documents were identified by tracing the divine names, such as Elohim and Yahweh, through the Pentateuch, and by tracing certain variations in phraseology and word choice. The four documents are the called J document, which uses Yahweh for God; the E document, which uses Elohim for God; the P or Priestly document; and the D or Deuteronomic document. More recently, this dissection of the Pentateuch has been challenged, and no real consensus has emerged from the ensuing scholarly debate.
By appreciating the unified structure of Genesis, Moses' guiding hand in the compilation and authorship of Genesis can be discerned. Certainly, Moses used other literary sources to piece together his narrative. Sometimes these sources are identified (see Gen. 5:1). Moses presumably edited these older documents to make them understandable to his readers — the second Israelite generation after the Exodus. And later prophets updated the language for the ensuing generations of Israelite readers.
But after all the analysis, it is clear that Moses wrote and compiled Genesis to encourage the early Israelites while they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. The content of Genesis would have been especially significant to them. It explains why their ancestors went to Egypt in the first place, why their nation was destined for another Promised Land, and why God had revealed Himself so dramatically to them in the wilderness.
Genesis, the book of beginnings, has two parts. The first part (chs. 1-11) serves as a prologue to the second part (chs. 12-50), the book's main event — God's sovereign work in Abraham's family to accomplish His good will for all nations. This prologue (chs. 1-11) provides keys that unlock the rest of the book and the rest of the Bible as well.
Four key concepts presented in Genesis 1 through 11 are crucial for comprehending the rest of the Bible. First, the God who entered the lives of Abram and Sarai is the same God who created the entire universe. He is the only true and living God — Yahweh, the Creator and the Savior of the world. Second, all people have rebelled against God, their benevolent Creator, and His good will for them. Humanity has inherited a state of sinfulness from Adam and Eve's rebellion in the garden of Eden. Third, God judges and will judge the actions of all people. God, by sending the Flood, made it clear to Noah and to everyone that human wickedness is entirely unacceptable. God cannot let evil reign free in His creation. Fourth, sin continues to plague all of humanity — even after the Flood. Although the Flood did not wash away sin, God, as the second half of Genesis (chs. 12-50) reveals, has a plan to save humanity from its own evil deeds.
The first part of Genesis provides the setting for the story of Abram and Sarai (chs. 12-50). Their world is populated by a broad spectrum of people groups, each with its own language, customs, values, and beliefs, and all have adopted their own imaginary gods.
Genesis' main story — God's plan to bless all nations through Abraham's descendants — starts in chapter 12. It begins with God's call to Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah) to become the parents of a new people — a new nation. This new nation would become God's tool for blessing all peoples. Even though Abram and Sarai were merely an elderly couple with the means to travel, God chose to begin His plan of redemption for the entire world with them. The Genesis' description of their experiences demonstrates the irruption (the breaking into from without) of God's blessing into their lives. Central to God's blessing was His covenant with Abraham — the Abrahamic covenant (see 12:1-3; 15:1-21). God, the awesome Creator of the entire universe, freely chose to make everlasting promises to Abraham and his descendants. These promises in the Abrahamic covenant were the foundation for all of God's subsequent promises and covenants in the Bible. Genesis is not merely a beginning; it provides the foundation for the rest of the Biblical narrative.
1:1 In the beginning is a thesis statement, which can be paraphrased, “here is the story of God's creation of the heavens and the earth.” John 1:1 speaks of a time that predates Gen. 1:1, but no information is given here on what happened before this time. It is possible that the rise, rebellion, and judgment of Satan transpired before these events. In ch. 3, Satan has already fallen (he tempts Eve in the guise of the serpent), and Gen. 6:1-4 speaks of angels who are already fallen. Furthermore, God's angels already have been created (see 3:24). In ch. 1 the focus is on the creation of the material world — the heavens and the earth. God: This standard Hebrew term for deity, Elohim, is in the form called the plural of majesty or the plural of intensity. In contrast to the ordinary plural (gods), this plural means “the fullness of deity” or “God — very God.” Even though the word for God is plural, the verb for created is singular. It means “to fashion anew.” This oft-used word in the Bible always has God as its subject. Here, it means that God renewed what was in a chaotic state. God changed chaos into cosmos, disorder into order, emptiness into fullness. The heavens and the earth mean “all of creation” or “the cosmos.”
1:2 The two words without form … void express one concept — chaos. The earth had been reduced to this state (Jer. 4:23); it was not the way God had first created it (Isa. 45:18). Darkness is a potent biblical symbol of evil and wrong (Job 3:5; Ps. 143:3; Isa. 8:22; John 3:19). The deep is a term for the secret places of the waters (see also 7:11); this term sounds enough like the name of the Babylonian goddess Tiamat to remind the ancient reader of the Babylonian story of creation to which this story stands in dramatic contrast. All these images together portray chaos, disaster, and devastation. From this portrait of utter ruin, God brought an orderly creation. The Spirit of God was hovering like a mother stork might hover over her nest — a portent of life to come from the dark, murky depths of the chaos below (the Spirit is described as a dove in Matt. 3:16).
1:3 Let there be light: These words express a principal theme of the Bible: God bringing light into the darkness (see Isa. 9:1, 2). Here, God produced physical light. The New Testament records God sending His Son to be the light of the world (John 8:12). In the end, there will no longer be any darkness at all (Rev. 21:23). God said it, and it was done: there was light. His command caused reality.
1:4 Having examined the light, God declared it to be good — a powerful term of God's blessing.
1:5 Day … Night: The naming of these elements of creation is a mark of God's sovereignty. In the thinking of the peoples of the ancient Near East, naming something was a mark of power or lordship. For them, names were not merely labels, but descriptions with some force to them. Since the sun was not yet created (vv. 14-19), the first day (lit., a day, one) is ambiguous. Some say that the “seven days” is a literary frame on which the story of creation is draped. Others argue for a strict pattern of seven 24-hour days.
1:6 In biblical usage, the term firmament means “heavens.” Literally, it means “something stretched out, like hammered metal.”
1:7 divided the waters: The notion of upper and lower waters is somewhat mysterious. The language may simply refer to waters gathered in a liquid state and to moisture in the atmosphere. The division of the waters is another of God's acts in bringing order out of disorder.
1:9 The gathering of the waters and the separation of the dry land are further actions of God in establishing control over the chaos described in v. 2. Each act of separation and distinction brings order out of disorder, form out of formlessness, cosmos out of chaos. Each act also demonstrates the Lord's power and wisdom (Prov. 8:22-31).
1:10 Again, naming the creation marks God's lordship (see v. 5). The naming of the earth in this verse suggests that the term was used in anticipation in v. 2.
1:11, 12 The broad words grass, tree, and fruit tree encompass all plants, shrubs, and trees. The reference to seed and kind speaks of the fact that the plant kingdom will continue to reproduce. God not only created plant life; He also set in motion the processes that make plant life reproduce.
1:14, 15 The creation of the sun, moon, and stars is described in general terms in these verses; vv. 16-18 spell out the details. Lights in the firmament are luminaries (objects that shine). They produce the division between the day and night. signs and seasons: Some have mistakenly viewed these words as a biblical basis for astrology. The signs in this case relate to phases of the moon and the relative positions of stars that mark the passage of time from the vantage point of earth. The two words form a pair that may be translated seasonal signs.
1:16 As in vv. 14, 15, the term for lights can mean “luminaries.” The word can either designate the sun, which emits light, or the moon, which reflects light. He made the stars also: This is a remarkable statement. In the ancient Near East, other religions worshiped, deified, and mystified the stars. Israel's neighbors revered the stars and looked to them for guidance. In contrast, the biblical creation story gives the stars only the barest mention, as though the writer shrugged and said, “And, oh, yes. He also made the stars.” Such a statement showed great contempt for ancient Babylonian astrology (see Pss. 29; 93).
1:17 God set them: Interestingly, the sun and moon are not named here, though they are clearly intended. The principal issue throughout these verses is that God alone is in control.
1:21 The verb for created is the same one used in 1:1 (see v. 27, the creation of man). According to its kind suggests the capability to reproduce themselves (see v. 12). God not only made the living creatures, but He gave them the power to propagate and to proliferate, to fill the air and the seas in great numbers and in wonderful variety.
1:22 God blessed them: The first use of this important phrasing in the Bible (see 1:28; 2:3; 12:2, 3), and it is used of fish and birds!
1:24 The expression living creature contains the word sometimes used for the soul, but the word can also mean “life,” “being,” “living thing,” or “person,” depending on the context. The same phrase is used for man in 2:7. cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth: Three sweeping categories, like those of vv. 11, 20, make the point that God created all living things.
1:25 God saw that it was good: The sixth time that this phrasing is used (see 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21). Everything that God had made so far was good.
1:26 Let Us Make is emphatic. It emphasizes the majesty of the speaker. Furthermore, the use of a plural for God allows for the later revelation of the Trinity (see 11:7; Matt. 28:19). The us cannot refer to the angels that are present with God because man is made in the image of God alone, not also that of the angels. in Our image: What is the image of God in man? The traditional view is that God's image is certain moral, ethical, and intellectual abilities. A more recent view, based on Hebrew grammar and the knowledge of the ancient Near East, interprets the phrase as meaning “Let us make man as our image” (the Hebrew preposition in this phrase can be translated as). In ancient times an emperor might command statues of himself to be placed in remote parts of his empire. These symbols would declare that these areas were under his power and reign. So God placed humankind as living symbols of Himself on earth to represent His reign. This interpretation fits well with the command that follows — to reign over all that God has made. according to Our likeness: This phrase draws attention to the preceding figure of speech. Since God is Spirit (John 4:24), there can be no “image” or “likeness” of Him in the normal sense of these words. Indeed, image-making was later strongly prohibited because of the clear ties that has with idolatry (see Ex. 20:4-6). We may not make images of God for He has already done so! We are His images; it is we who are in His likeness. This is the reason God values people so much: we are made to reflect His majesty on earth. have dominion: Rule as God's regent. That is, people are to rule as God would — wisely and prudently — over all that God has made (fish, birds, cattle, and so on).
Word Focus — God
(Heb. pl. ʾelohim) (1:1, 26; Deut. 7:9; Isa. 45:18)