General Editor's Foreword

We say it and hear it said so often that it sometimes loses its force: The Bible is God's Word.

Can you imagine what it would be like for God to speak to you? How attentive would you be?

God has spoken and continues to speak through His written Word. John Calvin said that as we read Scripture we do well to hear it as if God were uttering these words to us. When this realization grips us, we listen carefully. If we don't understand at first, we will take actions that will enable us to understand what God is saying—just because of who the speaker is.

God's Word isn't easy. It was originally given in times, places, and cultures very different from our own. God has given to the church in over two millennia men and women dedicated to helping their generation understand God's Word.

The Holman Concise Bible Commentary is an excellent first commentary for Bible study. As you use this commentary, you are putting yourself in the company of some of the outstanding evangelical scholars of our time. Each of these writers loves God's Word and has a passion to help you grow in your ability to read, understand, and apply the truths of God's Word in your life.

In addition to the clear commentary, The Holman Concise Bible Commentary includes numerous eye-pleasing elements that will make learning a pleasure.

I pray that as you study the Bible your reading and study will be guided by the Holy Spirit's illuminating ministry as in the days of Nehemiah when the people of God celebrated with great joy because they understood the words that had been made known to them (Neh. 8:12).

Soli Deo Gloria

David S. Dockery, General Editor


The Book of Genesis takes its name from the Greek version of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), which called it Genesis, meaning beginning. This is an accurate translation of bereshit, the first word in the Hebrew book. The title is most appropriate to the book's contents, for it concerns the divine origin of all things, whether matter or energy, living or inanimate. It implies that apart from God everything can be traced back to a beginning point when God's purposes and works came into being. Bereshit indicates that God brought forth the "heavens and the earth" as the first act of creation (Gen. 1:1).

Jewish and Christian tradition has nearly unanimously attributed the authorship of Genesis to Moses (see "The Pentateuch"). Genesis is the only book of the Pentateuch that does not mention Moses' name or indicate something about its authorship. This omission may well be because the latest events of the book predate Moses by several centuries. Also biblical books seldom designate their authors. Yet the remainder of the Pentateuch builds upon Genesis, without which the constant allusions to the patriarchs and other persons and events would make no sense. The summary of the conclusion of Genesis (Gen. 46:8-27) in Exodus 1:1-7 serves as a bridge between the patriarchs and the exodus deliverance and highlights the continuity of the Pentateuch's story.

Theme. The name Genesis describes what is at least a major theme of the book—beginnings. It recounts the beginnings of the heavens and earth, of all created things within them, of God's covenant relationship with humankind, of sin, of redemption, of nations, and of God's chosen people Israel.

Beginnings, however, is not a completely satisfying summary theme because it fails to answer the fundamental historical and theological question—why? To know what God did—He created all things "in the beginning"—is important. But to know why God acted in creation and for redemption is to grasp the very essence of divine revelation.

The theme of Genesis centers around the first utterance of God to man and woman recorded in the Sacred Text, namely Genesis 1:26-28.

Here God clarifies that He created man and woman to bless them and so that they could exercise dominion on His behalf over all creation. Human disobedience threatened God's purpose for humanity in creation. God responded by calling Abraham, through whom God's blessing would ultimately triumph. Admittedly, this interpretation of the theme derives not only, if at all, from Genesis but from a total biblical theology. Because it is a matter of theology, it will be more productive to consider it later under that heading.

Literary Forms. The three major sections of Genesis are characterized by distinct literary types. The primeval events (Gen. 1-11) are cast in a poetic narrative form to aid in oral transmission. The accounts of the first three patriarchs (Gen. 12-36; 38) are reports about ancestors that were retained in family records. The Joseph narrative (Gen. 37; 39-50) is a short story containing tension and resolution. Within each of these major literary types, however, are other minor types such as genealogies (5:3-32; 11:10-32), narratives in which God appears (17-18; 32:22-30), words from God (25:23), blessings (1:28; 9:1; 27:27-29), and tribal sayings (49:3-27). Genesis presents history in every sense of the term. Genesis, however, presents history in the form of narrative that embraces a host of literary types to communicate its theological message clearly and effectively.

  1. God's Creation Goal (1:1-2:25)
  2. Sin, Its Consequences/God's Grace (3:1-11:32)
  3. Abraham: The Obedience of Faith (12:1-22:19)
  4. Isaac: The Link with God's Promises to Abraham (22:20-25:18)
  5. Jacob's Struggle for the Promises (25:19-36:43)
  6. Deliverance through Joseph (37:1-50:26)

Purpose and Theology. The purpose of Genesis was to give the nation Israel an explanation of its existence on the threshold of the conquest of Canaan (see Theme). Moses had at hand written and oral traditions about Israel's past and records concerning the other great themes of Genesis. He was, however, the first to organize these, select from them those that were appropriate to the divine redemptive purposes, and com-pose them as they stand. His task as inspired, prophetic author was to clarify to his people how and why God had brought them into being. He also wanted them to know what their mission was as a covenant, priestly nation and how their present situation fulfilled ancient promises.

Close attention to the themes that link Genesis and the remainder of the Pentateuch clarify these purposes. God had revealed to Abraham that he would be granted the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1,5,7; 13:15), that his descendants would leave that land for a time (15:13), but that they would be delivered from the land of their oppression to return to the land of promise (15:16). This land would be theirs forever (17:8) as an arena within and from which they would be a means of blessing all nations of the earth (12:2-3; 27:29). Joseph understood this and saw in his own sojourn in Egypt the divine preservation of his people (45:7-8). God had sent him there to save them from physical and spiritual extinction (50:20). The time would come, he said, when God would remember His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and would return them to Canaan (50:24).

The link with Exodus is clear in the call of Moses to lead his people from Egypt to the land of promise (Exod. 3:6-10,16-17; 6:2-8). Their charter as a covenant nation—a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exod. 19:6)—recalls God's promise to bless the nations through Abraham (Gen. 12:3; 22:18). The covenant renewal at the Plains of Moab repeats those same themes. The Lord was about to lead His people into Canaan to possess it as their inheritance (Deut. 4:1; 5:33; 7:1,12-16; 8:1-10; 9:5; 11:8-12,24-25). There they would serve Him as a redemptive agent, a catalyst around which the nations would be reconciled to God (Deut. 4:5-8; 28:10).

The theological message of Genesis, however, goes beyond the narrow concerns of Israel alone. Genesis does indeed provide Israel's reason for being, but it does more. It explains the human condition that called forth a covenant people. That is, it unfolds the great creative and redemptive purposes of God that found focus in Israel as an agency of re-creation and salvation.

God's original and eternal purposes are outlined in Genesis 1:26-28. God created man and woman as His image to bless them and so that they could exercise dominion over all creation on His behalf. The key themes of biblical theology and of Genesis are, therefore, God's blessing and human dominion under God's reign.

The fall of humankind into sin subverted God's goal of blessing and dominion. A process of redemption from that fallenness and of recovery of the original covenant mandate of God had to be effected. That took the form of the choice of Abraham through whose offspring (Israel and ultimately the Messiah) the divine creation purposes might come to pass. That man and nation, joined by eternal covenant to Yahweh, were charged with the task of serving Him as the model of a dominion people and the vehicle through which a saving relationship could be established between Him and the alienated world of nations.

Of course, Israel failed to be the servant people, a failure already anticipated in the Torah (Lev. 26:14-39; Deut. 28:15-68). God's goals cannot, however, be frustrated. So from the nation arose a remnant, a remnant finally compressed to only one descendant of Abraham—Jesus the Christ—who accomplished in His life and death the redemptive and reigning purposes of God. The church now exists as His body to serve as Israel was chosen and redeemed to serve. God's Old Testament people served as the model of the kingdom of the Lord and the agency through which His reconciling work on earth can be achieved through His New Testament people.

The theology of Genesis then is wrapped up in the kingdom purposes of God who, despite human failures, cannot be hindered in His ultimate objective of displaying His glory through His creation and dominion.

God's Creation Goal (1:1-2:25)

Primeval history describes the accounts of the creation, the fall, the flood, the tower of Babel, and the distribution of the human race. It embraces all those facets of human experience that led up to and necessitated the call of Abraham to covenant service to the Lord.

The two accounts of creation (1:1-2:3 and 2:4-25) are designed respectively to demonstrate the all-wise and all-powerful sovereignty of God (first account) and His special creation of humanity to rule for Him over all other created things (second account). Though the creation stories are fundamentally theological and not scientific, nothing in them is contradicted by modern scientific understanding. Genesis insists that all the forms of life were created "after their kind" (1:11-12,21,24-25); that is, they did not evolve across species lines. Most importantly, the man and the woman were created as "the image of God" (1:26). In other words, humanity was created to represent God on the earth and to rule over all things in His name (1:26-28). God's desire was to bless humanity and to enjoy relationship with them.

Sin's Consequences/God's Grace (3:1-11:32)

The privilege of dominion also carried responsibility and limitation. Being placed in the garden to "work it and watch over it" represented human responsibility (2:15). The tree in the midst of the garden from which humans should not eat represented those areas of dominion reserved to Yahweh alone. The man and woman, however, disobeyed God and ate of the tree. They "died" with respect to their covenant privileges (2:17) and suffered the indictment and judgment of their Sovereign. This entailed suffering and sorrow and eventual physical death. God had created man and woman to enjoy fellowship with Himself and with each other. Their disobedience alienated them from God and each other.

The pattern of sin and its consequences set in the garden is replayed throughout Genesis in the accounts of Cain, the generation of the flood, and the men of Sodom. The fall means that we humans are predisposed to sin. Though God punishes sin, sin does not thwart God's ultimate, gracious purpose for His human creation. Embedded in the curse was the gleam of a promise that the offspring of the woman would someday lead the human race to triumph.

The consequences of sin became clear in the second generation when Cain, the oldest son, killed Abel his brother. Just as his parents had been expelled from the presence of God in the garden, so now Cain was expelled from human society to undertake a nomadic life in the east. Embedded in the curse was the gleam of grace, the "mark on Cain," symbolizing God's protection.

Blessing and Curse (4:17-5:32). Cain's genealogy illustrates the tension between God's blessing and spreading sin. Through the achievements of Cain's descendants, humanity began to experience the blessing of dominion over creation. Progress in the arts and technology was, however, matched by progress in sin as illustrated in Lamech's boastful song of murder. Meanwhile, God's redemptive, creation mandate continued through another son of Adam and Eve—Seth. His genealogy led straight to Noah, to whom the original creation promises were reaffirmed (6:18; 9:1-7).

Deliverance (6:1-9:29). With the passing of time it became increasingly clear that humanity was unwilling and unable to live out the responsibilities of stewardship. Humans again violated their proper place within God's order by overstepping the limits God had placed on them. As a result of the improper intermingling of the "sons of God" (understood as either the angels or the rulers on the earth) and "the daughters of men," God again saw the need to reassert His lordship and make a fresh beginning that could give the human race another chance at obedience.

The consequence of sin was the great flood, a catastrophe so enormous that all life and institutions perished from the earth. God's grace was still active in preserving a remnant on the ark. In response to the worship of His people, God promised never again to destroy the earth so long as history ran its course. God's pledge to Noah reaffirmed the creation promises of blessing and dominion. Though differing in detail from the original statement of Genesis 1:26-28, the central mandate is identical. The new humanity springing from Noah and his sons was called on to exercise dominion over all the earth as the image of God. The sign of the permanence of that arrangement was the rainbow.

Once more, as though to underline the effects of the fall on human faithfulness, Noah fell victim to his environment. Adam had sinned by partaking of a forbidden fruit; Noah sinned by perverting the use of a permitted fruit. Both cases illustrate that unaided humans can never rise to the level of God-ordained responsibility.

When Noah learned of the abuse he had suffered at the hand of his son Ham, he cursed the offspring of Ham—the Canaanites. He blessed those of his other two sons. This set in motion the relationships among the threefold division of the human race that would forever after determine the course of history. God would enlarge Japheth (the Gentiles), but in time Japheth would find refuge in the preserving and protecting tents of Shem (Israel). The Shemites (or Semites) thus would be the channel of redemptive grace.

ARTICLE: The Flood

The cataclysmic deluge described in Genesis 6-9 as God's judgment on the earth is mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament (Gen. 10:1,32; 11:10; Pss. 29:10; 104:6-9; Isa. 54:9) and in the New Testament (Matt. 24:38-39; Luke 17:26-27; Heb. 11:7; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:5; 3:3-7). That more verses are devoted to the flood than to the creation (Gen. 12) or the fall (Gen. 3) suggests the significance of the account.

The Old Testament Account

Because of the great wickedness of humanity (Gen. 6:5,11), God resolved to destroy all living beings (6:13) with the exception of righteous Noah and his family (6:9,18). God instructed Noah to make an ark of cypress wood (6:14; "gopher wood," KJV). He told Noah to take his family and seven [pairs] of every clean species and two of every unclean species of animals, birds, and creeping things, along with provisions for the duration of the flood (6:18-21; 7:1-3). The rains lasted forty days and nights, covered "all the high mountains under the whole heaven" (7:19), and destroyed every living creature on land (7:21-23). When Noah and his family emerged from the ark after a year and ten days, he built an altar and offered sacrifices to God (8:14-20). God blessed Noah and his family (9:1) and made a covenant that He would never again destroy the earth by flood (8:21; 9:11). God gave the rainbow as a visible sign of that covenant (9:12-17).

Date and Extent of the Flood

It is impossible to determine the exact date of the flood, since no archaeological or geological materials have been found that would enable its accurate dating. Estimates have placed it between 13,000 and 3000 b.c.

The extent of the flood has been debated. Arguments for a universal flood include: (1) the wording of Genesis 6-9, which is best interpreted as a universal flood (see 7:19-23); (2) the widespread flood traditions among many, widely scattered peoples that are best explained if all peoples are descended from Noah; (3) the unusual source of water (Gen. 7:11); (4) the length of the flood, whereas a local flood would have subsided in a few days; (5) the false assumption that all life resided in a limited geographical area; and (6) God's limitless ability to act within history.

Arguments against a universal flood have persuaded some scholars to accept a limited flood. Some arguments are:

(1) the amount of water needed to cover the highest mountain, which would be eight times as much as there is on earth; (2) the practical problems of housing and feeding so many animals for a year; (3) the destruction of all plant life submerged in salt water for over a year; (4) the view that destruction of the human race required only a flood covering the part of the earth inhabited at that time; and (5) the lack of geological evidence for a worldwide cataclysm.

While all of our questions cannot be answered, the biblical data points in the direction of a universal flood.

Theological Significance

(1) The flood demonstrates God's hatred of sin and the certainty of His judgment on it. (2) God's giving people 120 years to repent before judgment came demonstrates His patience in dealing with sin. (3) The sparing of one family demonstrates God's saving grace. (4) The flood reveals God's rule over nature and over humanity.

Blessing Reaffirmed (10:1-32). The "table of nations" demonstrates the fulfillment of God's command to be fruitful and fill the earth. The climactic position of the Shemites focuses attention on Eber for whom the Hebrews (ibri) were named. This ancestor of Abraham anticipates the Jewish patriarchs who are the focus of the second half of Genesis.

Confusion at Babel (11:1-32). The story of the tower of Babel separates the genealogy of the descent from Noah to Eber and Peleg and the genealogy that connects Noah to Abraham. In the days of Peleg, son of Eber, the earth was "divided" (10:25). Through Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant it someday would be reunited. The Babel narrative thus illustrates the false and defiant sense of humanistic solidarity that sought to evade the creation mandate to fill the earth under God's dominion. The scattering of the nations accomplished that purpose but did not effect compliance to the will of God that made true servanthood a reality. That is why a new covenant, one with redemptive aspects, had to be implemented.

The birth of Abram Gen 11:26  
God's call of Abram Gen 12:1-3 Heb 11:8
The entry into Canaan Gen 12:4-9  
Abram in Egypt Gen 12:10-20  
Lot separates from Abram Gen 13:1-18  
Abram rescues Lot Gen 14:1-17  
Abram pays tithes to Melchizedek Gen 14:18-24 Heb 7:1-10
God's covenant with Abraham Gen 15:1-21 Rom 4:1-25; Gal 3:6-25; Heb 6:13-20
The birth of Ishmael Gen 16:1-16  
Abraham promised a son by Sarah Gen 17:1-27 Rom 4:18-25; Heb 11:11-12
Abraham intercedes for Sodom Gen 18:16-33  
Lot saved and Sodom destroyed Gen 19:1-29  
The birth of Isaac Gen 21:1-7  
Hagar and Ishmael sent away Gen 21:8-21 Gal 4:21-31
Abraham challenged to offer Isaac as sacrifice Gen 22:1-19 Heb 11:17-19; Jas 2:20-24
The death of Sarah Gen 23:1-20  
The death of Abraham Gen 25:1-11