The Old Testament



Introduction to Genesis


Although the author of Genesis is not identified in the book, its integral part in the Pentateuch (Genesis�Deuteronomy) suggests that the author of these five books was the same person. The books of the Pentateuch give evidence of unity through their common plot, theme (divine promises), central figure (Moses), and literary interconnections. Jewish and Christian traditions attribute the Pentateuch to Moses, whose life paralleled the events of Exodus�Deuteronomy (cp. 2 Ch 23:18; Lk 16:29, 31; Ac 28:23).

Passages in Exodus�Deuteronomy testify that Moses authored diverse materials (Ex 17:14; 24:4-8; Nm 33:2; Dt 31:9, 22). Although we cannot be certain about the contents of the "book of the law [of Moses]" (Jos 1:7-8; 8:31; 23:6; 2 Kg 14:6), its association with Moses established a "psychology of canonicity" that set the pattern of divinely authoritative writings (Nm 12:6-8; Dt 18:15; 34:10). Scholars have usually recognized that minor post-Mosaic contributions must exist in the Pentateuch, such as the report of Moses' death (Dt 34). Some have contended that the first-person ("I") sections were written by Moses and that another author set them in a third-person ("Moses") narrative frame. Prior to the nineteenth century, the consensus remained that Moses wrote the essential whole, probably during the wilderness sojourn.

The Reliability of Genesis

Since the events of Genesis preceded Moses, this raises the question of where he got his information. For most of the Christian era, the principal explanation was divine revelation coupled with the availability of written records, such as genealogies and stories.

Gradually, though, by the nineteenth century, a new consensus arose among "critical" scholars. They believed that the Pentateuch was the product of a series of unnamed Jewish editors who progressively stitched together pieces of preexisting sources dating from the tenth to the sixth centuries b.c. Instead of being Mosaic, the Pentateuch was viewed as a mosaic. Such scholars today often view the stories in the Bible's first five books as fabrications conceived hundreds of years after the supposed events, perhaps during the exile.

There is significant evidence, however, that Genesis reflects the political and cultural setting of the second millennium B.C. The structure and contents of chapters 1-11 generally parallel the Babylonian epic Atrahasis (c. 1600 B.C.). Social and religious practices among the patriarchs correlate better with the earlier period than with the first millennium B.C. For example, Abraham's marriage to his half-sister Sarah was prohibited under the Mosaic law (20:12; Lv 18:9). It is unlikely that the Jews of the exilic period would have fabricated offensive events or preserved such stories unless these were already well-entrenched traditions. Also the prevalent use of the El compounds for the name of God (e.g., God Almighty-El Shaddai, 17:1) in Genesis contrasts with their virtual absence in first-millennium B.C. texts. The tolerant attitude toward Gentiles and the unrestricted travels of the patriarchs do not suit the later setting. The evidence, when considered as a whole, supports the position that Genesis remembers authentic events.

Genesis and Ancient Myths

The parallels between chapters 1-11 and creation and flood myths have elicited the question, Is the Bible merely a Hebrew version of myths about beginnings?

When weighing the importance of parallels, these principles should be kept in mind. First, not all parallels are equally significant, since minor ones can be attributed to common content. Second, the identity of who is borrowing from whom cannot be definitively concluded. Often it is best to assume a universal memory as the source. Third, the functions of the stories are much different. For example, the flood story of the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic is incidental to the main idea of telling how Gilgamesh sought immortality. In the Bible, by contrast, the flood narrative is central to the development of the theme.

That the Bible's theology is divergent from the polytheism of antiquity argues against the Bible's dependence on sources from other cultures. The author of Genesis was aware of the cultural context of the nations and often crafted his accounts to counter the prevailing view. The historical framework of chapters 1-11 (e.g., "these are the records of," 2:4; 5:1) and the genealogies (chaps. 4-5; 10-11) indicate that the author presented a historical account, not a literary myth.

Chapter 1

Notes on Genesis

1:1 The Hebrew word for "God," Elohim, is grammatically plural, but does not indicate a numerical plural (i.e., "gods"). Hebrew uses the plural form to indicate honor or intensity, sometimes called the "plural of majesty." The consistent appearance of a singular adjective (Ps 7:9) or verb (Gn 20:6) used with Elohim shows that the one God is intended. Where the plural adjective or verb occurs, the context determines whether Elohim means the "gods" of the nations (Ex 20:3) or whether the plural agreement is simply due to scribes being more grammatically precise (Gn 19:13; cp. 1:26-27). From the Israelite standpoint the oneness of the true Deity is never in question. In Dt 6:4 "The Lord," that is, Yahweh the God of Israel, is called "our Elohim," and declared to be "One."

Twisted Scripture: Genesis 1:1-2

Twisted Scripture: Genesis 1:1-2

The creation story has been interpreted in various ways. Some Christians believe a time gap exists between these verses, with verse 1 referring to God's initial creative act and verse 2 describing a world plunged into chaos and darkness, possibly through the expulsion of Satan from heaven. Only later in the chapter does God choose to create human beings (v. 27). According to this gap theory, millions of years could have passed between verses 1 and 2.

Using similar logic, those followers of the New Age movement who believe in the existence of the lost continent of Atlantis place the rise and fall of the ancient civilization between verses 1-2. Edgar Cayce, known as the "sleeping prophet," taught that Atlantis existed 10 million years ago and was inhabited by spirit beings. After a cataclysmic destruction ("chaos and darkness"), the spirits of the inhabitants eventually took up residence in the bodies of Adam and Eve and the others who populated God's new creation (v. 27). Thus all earthlings originally resided in Atlantis.

Notes on Genesis

1:14-18 The lights were "signs" that mark off time periods. They were not to be heeded as astrological signs, correlating heavenly movements with events on earth. The worship of heavenly bodies is condemned (Dt 4:19).

Article: Are the Days of Genesis to Be Interpreted Literally?

Article: Are the Days of Genesis to Be Interpreted Literally?

by Ted Cabal

This question has stoked controversy among conservative Christians in recent times, but it has proved to be of little interest to theistic evolutionists (those who accept evolution as God's mechanism in creation) and those rejecting Genesis as God's inerrant Word. The debate has been primarily between young- and old-earth creationists, who believe that God literally created the various kinds of living things (as opposed to the common descent of Darwinism). Both sides hold that humans have not descended from other species, and both reject the atheism and macroevolutionary theory of neo-Darwinism.

The two creationist camps, however, differ in interpreting the creation days of Genesis. If the days were consecutive 24-hour periods, and if the earth was created on the first day, then calculations based on biblical genealogies reveal that the earth was created only thousands of years ago. If the days were either of indeterminate length or nonconsecutive, then the Bible does not reveal when the earth was created. Interestingly, both sides agree that the genealogies reveal that Adam and Eve were specially created only thousands of years ago.

Young earth creationists (YCs) interpret the days as 24-hour, consecutive periods for reasons such as the following: (1) The days in Gn 1 are consecutively numbered and comprised of an "evening and morning." (2) Exodus 20:8-11 commands a literal week of six days of work and one day of rest based on God's original creation/rest week. The two weeks would seem, then, to be of equal duration. (3) According to Rm 5:12, "sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin," but old-earth creationism would have animal death entering the world before the sin of Adam and Eve.

Old earth creationists (OCs) argue against 24-hour creation days for reasons such as these: (1) The Hebrew word for "day" (yom) is used in different ways in the creation account. For instance, Gn 1:5 refers yom only to daytime (daylight), not nighttime. Also, Gn 2:4, literally translated, speaks of "the yom that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." (2) God's rest on the seventh "day" has no evening and morning (Gn 2:2-3), and Heb 4:3-11 portrays this same Sabbath as continuing to the present time. (3) Adam could not have named all the birds and animals in 24 hours according to Gn 2.

Both sides believe they have strong arguments favoring their interpretation and rebutting the other side. And historically, debate regarding biblical interpretation has often led to a clearer understanding of God's Word. But it is also highly debatable whether this issue merits the rancor and division often attending it. Some YCs accuse OCs of compromising the Bible with evolutionary science. Some OCs charge YCs with undermining biblical credibility by generating a false conflict between science and the Scriptures.

Happily, one thing is not debatable among those who believe the Bible: even if the correct interpretation of the creation days is not readily apparent in the present generation, the Bible can be trusted in every way. Debates about biblical interpretations should not be interpreted as the failure of Holy Scripture.

Notes on Genesis

Twisted Scripture: Genesis 1:27

Twisted Scripture: Genesis 1:27

Modern-day vampires trace their origins to this verse and the mythical figure of Lilith, who was supposedly created before Eve. The legend of Lilith derives from a theory that Genesis has two creation accounts (this verse and 2:7, 20-22). The two stories allow for two different women. Lilith does not appear in the Bible (apart from a debatable reference comparing her to a screech owl in the Hb text of Isa 34:14). Some rabbinic commentators, however, refer to Lilith as the first created woman, who refused to submit to Adam and fled from the garden. Eve was then created to be Adam's helper. After their expulsion from the garden, Adam reunited for a time with Lilith before finally returning to Eve. Lilith bore Adam a number of children, who became the demons of the Bible. According to kabbalistic legend, after Adam's reconciliation with Eve, Lilith took the title Queen of the Demons and became a murderer of infants and young boys, whom she turned into vampires.

Notes on Genesis

1:26-27 "Let Us make..." (3:22; 11:7; Isa 6:8) does not indicate multiple gods. Such a polytheistic view would be inconsistent with the lofty theology of the chapter and with the singular "His own image" (Gn 1:27; cp. 5:1-2). Ancient theories of the universe's origin typically explained creation as the outcome of either a sexual cohabitation of male and female deities or of a battle between the major deity and some other hostile entity. The Bible uniformly affirms that God is asexual with no corresponding female consort. God made the universe by His authoritative speech, not by battling chaos deities. Genesis 1 was written in part to show that the view of the physical world current at that time (i.e., physical entities representing various deities) was wrong. The cosmos is inanimate and entirely under the control of the one God. Plural and singular forms are combined in 1:26-27 (cp. "the Spirit of God," v. 2), reflecting God's unity and yet His fullness. Subsequent scriptural revelation develops this further.

Although humans are created in the "image" and "likeness" of God (the terms are essentially synonyms; cp. 5:3), it does not follow that God has a body. "Image" or "likeness" often refers to a physical representation of something that may be nonmaterial. Man was created to serve as God's representative to govern the earth. Since man is God's image-bearer, murder merits the strongest retribution (9:6). The OT prohibits making any material image of God (Ex 20:1-4; Dt 4:16) because God is spirit (Jn 4:24). In Lk 24:39 Jesus explains that a spirit "does not have flesh and bones" (see Isa 31:3). Because God is spirit, He is invisible (Jn 1:18; Rm 1:20; Col 1:15; 1 Tm 1:17).