Genesis The First Book of Moses

The English title is based on the name given by the Greek translators of this book in the second century bc. The name could be translated "source" or "generation." The original Hebrew title is simply the first word of the book, Bereshith, "In the beginning."

Key Texts: 1:1 and 12:3

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

"I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Key Term: "Beginning"

This book tells the beginning of many things: the creation of the world, the origin of the human race and marriage, the rise of sin and death. The book also shows the beginning of God's glorious plan to build a kingdom of redeemed people.

One-Sentence Summary

The God who created mankind and punished disobedience with death began His great plan of redemption with His covenant to Abraham, whose descendants arrived in Egypt as God's cherished people.

Author and Date of Writing

Moses, Perhaps Around 1445 bc

Although Genesis was written by an anonymous author, its integral part in the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) suggests that the author was the same person who wrote the other four books. Internal evidence in the five books reveals their common plot, common theme (divine promises), central figure (Moses), and specific literary interconnections. Jewish and Christian traditions attribute the Pentateuch to Moses, whose life paralleled the events of Exodus-Deuteronomy (e.g., 2 Ch 23:18; Lk 16:29, 31; Ac 28:23).

First Audience and Destination

The Israelites at Mount Sinai

The original hearers and destination are not stated but believed to be the Israelite nation in the wilderness on their way to Canaan.

Occasion

Genesis sets the birth of Israel at Sinai in the context of both family history (Gen 12-50) and cosmic history (Gen 1-11). As such it enabled this people to understand who they were and Whose they were. Knowing was vital to their fulfilling the purpose for which God had called them.

Purpose

Genesis lays the historical and theological foundation for the rest of the Bible. If the Bible is the story of God's redemption of His people, Genesis 1-11 tells why redemption is necessary: humans are rebels, unable to redeem themselves. Further, Genesis 12-50 shows the steps God initiated to establish a redeemed people and to make a way for the Redeemer to come. He did this through His unconditional covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and with His providential care through Joseph's life. God's people who study Genesis today should view it with this original purpose in mind.

First Pass

God, the Creator

God is the central character of Genesis. He is sovereign Lord and Creator of all things. Genesis assumes the fact of divine creation but does not try to prove it (1:1-2:3). Genesis does not specify when creation occurred or exactly how long it took. Genesis eloquently teaches that God created all things, including Adam and Eve, by special creation for fellowship with Himself.

Sin and Its Consequences

Adam and Eve were created innocent and with a capacity to choose. Freely they chose to disobey God, fell from innocence, and lost their freedom (3:1-24). The freedom of human beings is limited by fallen human nature. Death came because of sin and humanity was so corrupt that God wiped them out in a great flood and started over with Noah and his family (6:1-9:17). The second humanity also proved corrupt, and God confused their languages and scattered them (11:1-9).

God Calls a Man, a Family, a Nation

God's plan of redemption began to unfold by His calling one man to establish a family, one family chosen from among all the families of the earth (12:1-3). That family would be God's instrument of blessing and salvation for all peoples. Through each generation in Genesis, God demonstrated that the promise depended only on His sovereign power and that no circumstance, person, family, or nation could thwart His purposes (11:27-50:26). Human sin could not destroy God's plan but rather provided Him opportunity to demonstrate His glory. Joseph may lie dead in a casket in Egypt, but his dying command was that his bones be carried home to Canaan when, not if, God brought His people again into the land He promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (50:25).

The Reliability of Genesis

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

By the nineteenth century a new consensus arose among "critical" scholars that became the starting point of all future study. They understood 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 bc. Instead of being "Mosaic," the Pentateuch was viewed as a "mosaic." Such scholars today often view the stories as simple 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, the era in which Abraham and his heirs lived. The structure and contents of chapters 1-11 generally parallel the Babylonian epic Atrahasis (c. 1600 bc). Social and religious practices among the patriarchs correlate better in the earlier period than the first millennium. For example, Abraham's marriage to his half-sister Sarah was prohibited under the Mosaic law (20:12; Lv 18:9). It's unlikely that the Jews of the exilic period would fabricate offensive events or preserve such stories unless they were already well-entrenched traditions. Also, the prevalent use of the El compounds for the name of God (e.g., El Shaddai = God Almighty, 17:1) in Genesis contrasts with their virtual absence in first millennium 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 presents authentic events.

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, three general principles should be kept in mind. First, not all parallels are equally significant. Second, the identity of who is borrowing from whom cannot be definitively concluded. 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 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 dependence. The author of Genesis was aware of the cultural milieu 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.

How Genesis Fits Into God's Story

  1. Prologue: Creation, Fall, and the Need for Redemption
  2. God Builds His Nation (2000-931 bc)
  3. God Educates His Nation (931-586 bc)
  4. God Keeps a Faithful Remnant (586-6 bc)
  5. God Purchases Redemption and Begins the Kingdom (6 bc to ad 30)
  6. God Spreads the Kingdom Through the Church (ad 30-?)
  7. God Consummates Redemption and Confirms His Eternal Kingdom
  8. Epilogue: New Heaven and New Earth

Christ in Genesis

Creation is the first theme of Genesis, and Christ is the agent of creation. "For everything was created by Him" (Col 1:16). Christ as Redeemer is first promised in Genesis 3:15. When God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, He provided a substitute for Isaac (Gen 22:8) in the same way He provided Christ as our substitute through His sacrificial death. Through Abraham's seed, Jesus Christ, all peoples of the earth will be blessed.

Christian Worldview Elements

Teachings About God

Genesis reveals God first as Creator. He is righteous in His commands, and He judges when mankind disobeys Him. Genesis further reveals God as the One who makes His covenant with undeserving people (see Gen 15:1-6). The first promise of Christ is given in Genesis 3:15; the Spirit of God is mentioned in Genesis 1:2 and 6:3.

Teachings About Humanity

Genesis shows the glory of humanity by emphasizing that mankind alone of all creation was made in "the image of God." On the other hand Genesis shows the shame of humanity by recounting three incidents involving the whole race: the fall, the flood, and Babel. All three events portray humans as sinners in need of a Savior.

Teachings About Salvation

Genesis introduces critical truths about salvation developed in later parts of Scripture. In particular, the incident of the death of a ram instead of Isaac points to a substitutionary understanding of sacrifice. Further, the New Testament makes much of Abraham as a pattern of salvation for all the redeemed: "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness" (Gen 15:6).

Genre and Literary Style

A Historical Narrative Written in Excellent Hebrew

Although Genesis was "The First Book of the Law," it recorded relatively few divine commands (but see 2:16-17; 9:6-7). Genesis has preserved two historical narratives. Chapters 1-11 contain a selective history of the entire human race. Chapters 12-50 tell the story of the direct ancestors of the Israelites. Genesis also contains a few passages of poetry (see 3:14-19) and important genealogies (see chap. 5). The Hebrew style of Genesis is like that of the rest of the Pentateuch. The writer composed his account carefully.

A Principle to Live By

God's Mercy (Gen 11:27-12:3, Life Essentials Study Bible, P. 17-18)

Since God reached out to us before we reached out to Him, we should always thank Him for saving us by His sovereign grace.