The book of Genesis is the great book of beginnings in the Bible. True to the meanings of its Hebrew and Greek names (Hb bere'shith, "In Beginning" [based on 1:1]; Gk Geneseos, "Of Birth" [based on 2:4]), Genesis permits us to view the beginning of a multitude of realities that shape our daily existence: the creation of the universe and the planet earth; the origins of plant and animal life; and the origins of human beings, marriage, families, nations, industry, artistic expression, religious ritual, prophecy, sin, law, crime, conflict, punishment, and death.

Author: Since pre-Christian times authorship of the Torah, the five books that include the book of Genesis, has been attributed to Moses, an enormously influential Israelite leader from the second millennium b.c. with an aristocratic Egyptian background. Even though Genesis is technically anonymous, both the Old and New Testaments unanimously recognize Moses as the Torah's author (Jos 8:35; 23:6; 1Ki 2:3; 8:9; 2Ki 14:6; 23:25; 2Ch 23:18; 25:4; 30:16; 34:14; 35:12; Ezr 3:2; 6:18; Neh 8:1; 9:14; Dan 9:11,13; Mal 4:4; Mk 12:19,26; Lk 2:22; 20:28; 24:44; Jn 1:17,45; 7:19; Ac 13:39; 15:21; 28:23; Rm 10:5; 1Co 9:9; Heb 10:28). At the same time, evidence in Genesis suggests that minor editorial changes dating to ancient times have been inserted into the text. Examples include the mention of "Dan" (14:14), a city that was not named until the days of the judges (Jdg 18:29), and the use of a phrase that assumed the existence of Israelite kings (Gen 36:31).

Background: The Torah (a Hebrew term for law) was seen as one unit until at least the second century b.c. Sometime prior to the birth of Christ, the Torah was divided into five separate books, later referred to as the Pentateuch (literally, five vessels). Genesis, the first book of the Torah, provides both the universal history of humankind and the patriarchal history of the nation of Israel. The first section (chaps. 1-11) is a general history commonly called the "primeval history," showing how all humanity descended from one couple and became sinners. The second section (chaps. 12-50) is a more specific history commonly referred to as the "patriarchal history," focusing on the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants: Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob's 12 sons. Genesis unfolds God's plan to bless and redeem humanity through Abraham's descendants. The book concludes with the events that led to the Israelites being in the land of Egypt.

Message and Purpose

Creation: God is the sovereign Lord and Creator of all things. God created everything out of nothing. No pre-existent material existed. He is the Creator, not a craftsman. This indicates that He has infinite power and perfect control over everything. He is separate from the created order, and no part of creation is to be considered an extension of God. All that God created is good, because He is a good and majestic God. God is Lord, maintaining sovereignty and involvement with His creation. God's control over human history is so complete that even the worst of human deeds can be turned to serve His benevolent purposes (50:20).

Human life: Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, unique from the rest of creation, to have fellowship with Him. Humans are a paradox. On the one hand, people are the capstone of all God's creation, created in God's image (1:26-27) and possessing Godlike authority over all the created order within their realm (1:28-29; 9:1-3). On the other hand, they are sinners—beings who have used their God-given resources and abilities in ways that violate God's laws (2:17; 3:6) and hurt other people (3:8-11; 6:5,11-12). Even so, during their lifetime God expects people to follow His laws (4:7), and He blesses those who live according to His ways (6:8-9; 39:2,21). God wants to work through individuals to bring a blessing to every human life (18:18; 22:18; 26:4). Nevertheless, Genesis teaches that because of sin all human beings must die (2:17; 3:19; 5:5,8,11). Since all human life is created in the image of God, there is no person or class of humans superior to others. Humanity was created to live in community. The most fundamental unit of community is the family: a husband and wife (male and female) with children.

Sin: Evil and sin did not originate with God. Adam and Eve were created innocent and with the capacity to make choices. Sin entered the world at a specific place and time in history. Adam and Eve chose freely to disobey God, fell from innocence, and lost their freedom. Their sinful nature has passed to every other human being. Sin resulted in death, both physical and spiritual. Sin has led to a world of pain and struggle.

Covenant: Genesis is a narrative of relationships, and certainly relationships grounded in covenants with God. These covenants provide a unifying principle for understanding the whole of Scripture and define the relationship between God and man. The heart of that relationship is found in the phrase, "They will be My people, and I will be their God" (Jer 32:38; cp. Gen 17:7-8; Ex 6:6-7; Lv 26:12; Dt 4:20; Jer 11:4; Ezek 11:20). God's covenant with Abraham is a major event both in Genesis and throughout the Bible. God called Abraham out of Ur to go to Canaan, promising to make him a great nation which in turn would bless all nations (Gen 12:1-3). God repeats His oath in Genesis 22:18, adding further that it would be through Abraham's seed that all nations would someday be blessed. Paul applies the singular noun "seed" as a reference to Christ (Gal 3:16). It is through Christ, Abraham's prophesied descendant, that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant would come to every nation.

Contribution to the Bible

Genesis lays the groundwork for everything else we read and experience in Scripture. Through Genesis we understand where we came from, how we got in the fallen state we are in, and the beginnings of God's gracious work on our behalf. Genesis unfolds God's original purpose for humanity.

Genesis provides the foundation from which we understand God's covenant with Israel that was established with the giving of the Law. For the Israelite community, the stories of the origins of humanity, sin, and the covenant relationship with God helped them understand why God gave them the Law.


Genesis is chiefly a narrative. From a narrative standpoint, God is the only true hero of the Bible, and the book of Genesis has the distinct privilege of introducing Him. God is the first subject of a verb in the book and is mentioned more frequently than any other character in the Bible. The content of the first 11 chapters is distinct from the patriarchal stories in chapters 12-50. The primary literary device is the catchphrase "these are the family records." The phrase is broader in meaning than simply "generation," and refers more to a narrative account. This was a common practice in ancient Near East writings. This phrase also serves as a link between the key person in the previous narrative and the one anticipated in the next section. Genesis could be described as historical genealogy, which ties together creation and human history in one continuum.


  1. Creation of Heaven and Earth (1:1-2:3)
    1. Creator and creation (1:1-2)
    2. Six days of creation (1:3-31)
    3. Seventh day—day of consecration (2:1-3)
  2. The Human Family In and Outside the Garden (2:4-4:26)
    1. The man and woman in the garden (2:4-25)
    2. The man and woman expelled from the garden (3:1-24)
    3. Adam and Eve's family outside the garden (4:1-26)
  3. Adam's Family Line (5:1-6:8)
    1. Introduction: Creation and blessing (5:1-2)
    2. "Image of God" from Adam to Noah (5:3-32)
    3. Conclusion: Procreation and perversion (6:1-8)
  4. Noah and His Family (6:9-9:29)
    1. Righteous Noah and the corrupt world (6:9-12)
    2. Coming judgment but the ark of promise (6:13-7:10)
    3. Worldwide flood of judgment (7:11-24)
    4. God's remembrance and rescue of Noah (8:1-14)
    5. Exiting the ark (8:15-19)
    6. Worship and the word of promise (8:20-22)
    7. God's covenant with the new world (9:1-17)
    8. Noah's sons and future blessing (9:18-29)
  5. The Nations and the Tower of Babel (10:1-11:26)
    1. Table of nations (10:1-32)
    2. Tower of Babel (11:1-9)
    3. Family line of Abram (11:10-26)
  6. Father Abraham (11:27-25:11)
    1. Abram's beginnings (11:27-32)
    2. The promissory call and Abram's obedience (12:1-9)
    3. Abram and Sarai in Egypt: Blessing begins (12:10-13:1)
    4. Abram and Lot part: Promises recalled (13:2-18)
    5. Abram rescues Lot: Abram's faithfulness (14:1-24)
    6. Covenant promises confirmed (15:1-21)
    7. Abram's firstborn son, Ishmael (16:1-16)
    8. Covenant sign of circumcision (17:1-27)
    9. Divine judgment and mercy (18:1-19:38)
    10. Abraham and Sarah in Gerar: Promises preserved (20:1-18)
    11. Abraham's promised son: The birth of Isaac (21:1-21)
    12. Treaty with Abimelech (21:22-34)
    13. Abraham's test (22:1-19)
    14. Family line of Rebekah (22:20-24)
    15. Sarah's burial site (23:1-20)
    16. A wife for Isaac (24:1-67)
    17. Abraham's death and burial (25:1-11)
  7. Ishmael's Family Line (25:12-18)
  8. Isaac's Family: Jacob and Esau (25:19-35:29)
    1. Struggle at birth and birthright (25:19-34)
    2. Isaac's deception and strife with the Philistines (26:1-35)
    3. Stolen blessing and flight to Paddan-aram (27:1-28:9)
    4. Promise of blessing at Bethel (28:10-22)
    5. Laban deceives Jacob (29:1-30)
    6. Birth of Jacob's children (29:31-30:24)
    7. Birth of Jacob's herds (30:25-43)
    8. Jacob deceives Laban (31:1-55)
    9. Struggle for blessing at Peniel (32:1-32)
    10. Restored gift and return to Shechem (33:1-20)
    11. Dinah, deception, and strife with the Hivites (34:1-31)
    12. Blessing and struggle at birth (35:1-29)
  9. Esau's Family (36:1-8)
  10. Esau, Father of the Edomites (36:9-37:1)
  11. Jacob's Family: Joseph and His Brothers (37:2-50:26)
    1. The early days of Joseph (37:2-36)
    2. Judah and Tamar (38:1-30)
    3. Joseph in Egypt (39:1-23)
    4. Joseph, savior of Egypt (40:1-41:57)
    5. The brothers' journeys to Egypt (42:1-43:34)
    6. Joseph tests the brothers (44:1-34)
    7. Joseph reveals his identity (45:1-28)
    8. Jacob's migration to Egypt (46:1-27)
    9. Joseph, savior of the family (46:28-47:12)
    10. Joseph's administration in Egypt (47:13-31)
    11. Jacob's blessings (48:1-49:28)
    12. The death and burial of Jacob (49:29-50:14)
    13. The final days of Joseph (50:15-26)
2100 b.c.2000 b.c.1900 b.c.1800 b.c.
Job 2100?-1900?Abraham 2166-1991Isaac 2066-1886Jacob 2006-1859 Joseph 1915-1805
11th Dynasty of Egypt 2134-19913rd Dynasty of Ur 2113-200612th Dynasty of Egypt 1991-1786
Abraham moves from Haran to Canaan. 2091

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah 2085

God's covenant with Abraham 2081?

Earliest pottery in South America 2200

Construction of Ziggurat at Ur in Sumer 2100
Contraceptives developed in Egypt 2000

Chinese create first zoo, Park of Intelligence. 2000

Babylonians and Egyptians divide days into hours, minutes, and seconds. 2000

Mesopotamians learn to solve quadratic equations. 2000

Code of medical ethics, Mesopotamia 2000

Courier systems of communication developed in both China and Egypt 2000
Jacob wrestles with God. 1903?

Potter's wheel introduced to Crete 1900

Use of the sail in the Aegean 1900

First Chinese city founded at Erlitou on
Yellow River 1900

Egyptian town of El Lahun gives evidence of town planning with streets at right angles. 1900

Mesopotamian mathematicians discover what later came to be called the Pythagorean theorem. 1900

Khnumhotep II, an architect of Pharoah Amenemhet II, develops encryption. 1900
Amorite Ascendancy 1894-1595

Musical theory, Mesopotamia 1800

Multiplication tables, Mesopotamia 1800

Babylonians develop catalog of stars and
planets. 1800

Book of the Dead, Egypt 1800

Horses introduced in Egypt 1800

Wooden plows, Scandinavia 1800

Genesis 1

1:1 This opening verse of the Bible, seven words in the Hebrew, establishes seven key truths upon which the rest of the Bible is based.

First, God exists. The essential first step in pleasing God is recognizing His existence (Heb 11:6). Second, God existed before there was a universe and will exist after the universe perishes (Heb 1:10-12). Third, God is the main character in the Bible. He is the subject of the first verb in the Bible (in fact, He is the subject of more verbs than any other character) and performs a wider variety of activities than any other being in the Bible. Fourth, as Creator God has done what no human being could ever do; in its active form the Hebrew verb bara', meaning "to create," never has a human subject. Thus bara' signifies a work that is uniquely God's. Fifth, God is mysterious; though the Hebrew word for God is plural, the verb form of which "God" is the subject is singular. This is perhaps a subtle allusion to God's Trinitarian nature: He is three divine persons in one divine essence. Sixth, God is the Creator of heaven and earth. He doesn't just modify pre-existing matter but calls matter into being out of nothing (Ps 33:6,9; Heb 11:3). Seventh, God is not dependent on the universe, but the universe is totally dependent on God (Heb 1:3).

1:2 Bible translations since the time of the Septuagint, the translation of the OT into Greek (ca 175 b.c.), have rendered the first Hebrew verb in this verse as was. However, in an effort to explain the origins of evil and/or find biblical evidence for an old earth, some Bible scholars have suggested that this verb should be translated as "became." Citing evidence in Isa 14:12-21 and Ezek 28:12-19, they believe a time gap, possibly a vast one, exists between the first two verses of the Bible, during which Satan led a rebellion in heaven against God. This allows interpreters to suggest that the early earth was formless and empty because Satan's rebellion marred God's good creation. However, the construction of this sentence in the original Hebrew favors the traditional translation ("was" rather than "became").

The sense of verse 2 is that God created the earth "formless and empty" as an unfinished and unfilled state. Working through an orderly process over a period of six days, God formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6) His created handiwork. The "forming" was accomplished by means of three acts of separating or sorting various elements of creation from one another. The "filling" was carried out through five acts of populating the newly created domains. Watery depths, a single word in Hebrew, suggests an original state of creation that was shapeless as liquid water. The Hebrew verb translated was hovering, used also in Dt 32:11, suggests that the Spirit of God was watching over His creation just as a bird watches over its young.

1:3 A foundational teaching of the Bible is that God speaks and does so with universe-changing authority. The command in this verse is just two words in Hebrew.

1:4 Another basic truth of the Bible is that God saw; this means He is fully aware of His creation. Later writers directly declared that God is aware of events occurring throughout the earth (2Ch 16:9; Zech 4:10). The term good, used here for the first of seven times in this chapter to evaluate God's creative work, can be used to express both high quality and moral excellence. The physical universe is a good place because God made it. God found satisfaction in His labor. This first instance where God separated created the twin realms of light and darkness, day and night. God's activity in the material world parallels the role He also performs in the moral universe, that of the righteous Judge distinguishing between those who live in moral light and those who do not (1Th 5:5).

1:5 In ancient Israel, the act of naming an object, place, or person indicated that you held control over it (35:10; 41:45; Num 32:42; Dt 3:14; Jos 19:47; 2Ki 23:34; 24:17). When God named the light and the darkness, He asserted His lordship and control over all of time. Evening came. In ancient Israelite and modern Jewish tradition, sundown is the transition point from one day to the next.

Word Study: yom


Hebrew Pronunciation[YOHM]
HCSB Translationday, time
Uses in Genesis152
Uses in the OT2,301
Focus passageGenesis 1:5,8,13-14,16,18-19,23,31

Yom means day, the Hebrew day lasting from one evening to the next (Gen 1:5). Yom describes a working day (Ex 20:9) or day of the month (Zech 1:7). It indicates a time (Pr 24:10) or occasion (Num 10:10). In the day often appears as when (Zech 8:9). The plural can represent age (Job 32:7), lifetime (Jos 24:31), or reign (Isa 1:1). The plural denotes a number of days (Neh 1:4), a time period (Lv 25:8), some time (Gen 40:4), a year (Lv 25:29), or years (Ex 2:11). With the definite article yom suggests today (Dt 4:39), now (Neh 1:6), whenever (1Sam 1:4), one day (Job 1:6), or by day (Neh 4:22). Yom could characterize a particular event such as the day of Jezreel (Hos 1:11). Similarly, the Day/day of Yahweh, or the Lord, is a time or day that belongs to the Lord in a special way (Zeph 1:14).

1:6 Based on a verb that can refer to covering something with a thin sheet of metal (Num 16:39; Isa 40:19), the noun expanse always refers to the vast spread of the open sky.

1:7 God's second act of separation was to divide atmospheric water from terrestrial water. Thus He began the process of giving form to the material world. The clause it was so, found six times in this chapter, emphasizes God's absolute power over creation.

1:8 Sky can refer to the earth's atmospheric envelope (v. 20), outer space (v. 15), or "heaven," the spiritual realm where God lives (Ps 11:4).

1:9 God's third and final act of separation created oceans and continents.

1:10 In His third and final act of naming, God demonstrated His authority over all of the earth. This contrasts with what Israel's polytheistic neighbors believed about the range of divine powers. Their gods were not all-powerful, but instead exercised authority over a limited territory. The God of Genesis 1 holds dominion over everything at all times and in all places.

1:11 In preparation for the rise of animal and human life, God provided an abundant supply of food. The consistent biblical teaching is that "like begets like" (Lk 6:44; Jms 3:12); Gen 1:11-12 establish that principle for plant life. While five of the six days contain at least one act of creation evaluated as good, only the third and sixth days have this statement more than once.

1:14-15 The events of day four complement those of day one, filling the day and night with finished forms of light. The various lights, or "light-giving objects," were worshiped as gods in the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel. In Genesis, however, the sun, moon, and stars are portrayed as servants of God that would fulfill three roles: separating the newly created realms of day and night; marking time so that those who worshiped the Creator could keep their appointed festivals (cp. Lv 23:4,44); and providing light on the earth.

1:20 The fifth day's events complement those of day two, filling the newly formed heavenly domains above and the watery regions below.

1:21 The reuse of the verb created (Hb bara'; cp. v. 1) emphasizes God's authority over the large sea-creatures. This point was especially significant to the ancient Israelites, whose neighbors worshiped Rahab, a mythical sea monster.

1:22 The first of three blessings God pronounced in the creation narrative occurred when God blessed the water animals and birds. This blessing is similar to the one for persons, but lacks the commands to "subdue" and "rule" (v. 28).

1:26 God's use of plural pronouns (Us... Our... Our) to refer to Himself has raised many questions (3:22; 11:7; Isa 6:8). At least five different suggestions have been put forward to explain them: they may be references to (1) the Trinity, (2) God and His angels, (3) God and creation, (4) God's majesty as expressed by a literary device known as the "plural of majesty," or (5) a polytheistic view of God. Since the Bible teaches elsewhere that there is only one God (Dt 6:4; Mk 12:29; 1Co 8:4), the fifth option is not tenable.

The two Hebrew words translated as image and likeness are often understood as having the same meaning. But some interpreters suggest that "image" refers to the ability to reason, with "likeness" referring to the spiritual dimension. What exactly is the "image" of God? Since the Bible teaches that God is Spirit (Jn 4:24), many commentators believe it refers to the non-material aspects of a person—our moral sensibilities, intellectual abilities, will, and emotions. Based on God's commands in Gen 1:28, others have suggested that it consists of the role humans are to play on earth—their rulership over the planet and its resources, and secondarily the physical, mental, and spiritual abilities that enable them to fulfill that role. The NT teaches that Christians will someday bear the image of Christ (1Co 15:49; 1Jn 3:2).

1:27 The creation of humanity is the crowning event of chapter 1, as shown by the fact that created is repeated three times. The verb "created" (Hb bara') is the same one used in 1:1, referring to a kind of creative activity that only God can do. The term "man" (Hb 'adam) is used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible to refer to humanity in general, not just males (7:21); all people, both male and female, are created in the image of God (cp. Jms 3:9). People are the only beings that are created in the image of God (Gen 9:3-6). The Bible never lumps people into the category of animals. Instead, it separates the creation of people from all other beings and attributes the most privileged roles in creation to humans alone.

1:28 In this the longest of the five blessings found in the account of creation, God gave humanity five different commands. Implicit in the first three commands is God's blessing on the institutions of marriage and the family. The final two commands, to subdue the earth and rule the animal kingdom, express God's blessing on the use of the planet's renewable and nonrenewable natural resources. Of course, only the wise use of these resources permits people to fulfill God's command to fill the earth. A similar command to the survivors of the flood is shorter, having only the first three verbs in it (9:1).

1:29 After the flood in Noah's day, God issued additional dietary guidelines that expanded humanity's permitted food sources beyond plants and trees to include meats (9:3).

1:30 The Bible does not address the issue of diet for carnivorous and insect-eating animals.

1:31 This is the seventh, final, and most elaborate use of the word good in the account of the seven days of creation.

ESSAY: The Uniqueness of the Genesis Creation Story

The Uniqueness of the Genesis Creation Story

Kenneth Mathews

While there are many similarities between parts of Genesis and ancient Near Eastern (ANE) myths, there are also fundamental differences. These are seen especially in the significantly different views of the Creator and creation. Five features in particular distinguish the biblical creation account and perspective. So distinctive theologically is the biblical teaching from that of Israel's neighbors that it is best explained as the result of divine revelation, not the imagination or "religious genius" of the biblical author.

The Identity of God

The basic identity of God as revealed in Genesis is distinct from all other ANE conceptions. The Lord God did not have an origin and did not have a female counterpart. In fact, Genesis does not present any kind of theogony (origin of the gods). God simply always existed. The concept of fertility was a common explanation among the ancients for how the world was created. It was believed that gods and goddesses joined in sexual union and thus produced the world, just as man and woman can come together to create a child. Israel's God, however, was revealed to be asexual, neither male nor female. According to other ANE religions the world (or parts of it, like the sun) was a divine "Thou," whereas in Genesis the world was revealed to be an "it," a non-supernatural reality brought into existence by a supernatural God.

No Rival Gods

While polytheistic views dominated the ANE, Genesis revealed that God has no divine rivals. A common explanation for creation among the ancients was that an epic battle had raged between creator gods and anti-creation deities. Ultimately, the creator god overcame the anti-creation forces/gods, in some cases using the slain bodies of their enemies to make the stuff of the world. In Genesis there is no rival opposing the Creator. All creation obeyed the voice of God, as expressed in the recurring phrase, "and it was so" (1:7).

Creation out of Nothing

In Genesis the Creator by inherent authority as Sovereign Lord spoke creation into a functional, well-ordered existence. There was no eternal pre-created matter, such as was believed in the ancient myths. Genesis says God spoke all things into origination. This does not mean He uttered words that possessed inherent magical powers. Rather, the irrevocable power of God's creation words was grounded in the authority of God Himself. Unlike the nature deities whose existence was limited to the world system, God existed before creation and above creation. Also, creation was not the emanation of divine person or power. It was separate from Him, a new reality subject to His will.

The Value of Humanity

In Genesis the Creator bestowed special value on humanity. Human beings in the ANE view were not indispensable to the operation of the world, whereas in Genesis they were essential as its chief caretakers. The Lord blessed humanity, assigning man and woman the responsibility to propagate and to rule over the earth (1:26-28). ANE myths explained the purpose of humanity as servants who met the servile interests of the gods. The Bible elevates the person and role of humans who were "crowned... with glory and honor" (Ps 8:5), made in the divine image. God prepared the resplendent Garden of Eden for humanity, giving humanity meaningful work and purpose (Gen 2:8-18). Also, Genesis presents the first humanity as individuals who were the progenitors of the human race.

The Sabbath

In Genesis the Creator provided the seventh day as a holy day of rest and celebration (2:1-3), which was later memorialized in Israel's Sabbath (Ex 20:8-11). The Sabbath was unique to Israel, not tied to the movement of the stars, such as in the ancient preoccupation with astrology. The Lord was revealed as Master of the material universe and of time. All creation was invited to join in the knowledge of God and in the worship of Him as Creator and Sustainer of all things.

Genesis 2

2:1 This verse serves as a complement to 1:1. Together, the two set the first six days of creation apart from the sacred seventh day.

2:2 This is the first use of the number seven in the Bible, a number that will play an especially significant role in the religious and social life of ancient Israel (4:15; 7:2-4,10; 21:28-31; 29:18-20). On the seventh day God rested, thus setting an example for people—who are made in His image—to follow (Ex 20:8-11; Dt 5:12-14). Though God rested from all His work that He had done, this is not to say that God has abandoned the universe. In the NT Jesus affirmed that God is still at work in the world, even on the Sabbath (Jn 5:16-17).

2:3 This is the only instance during the creation process when God blessed a unit of time. The term holy is applied in the Bible to something set aside for service to God.

2:4 The Hebrew word toledoth, translated here as records, is used 11 times in the book of Genesis to introduce new units of material (5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12,19; 36:1,9; 37:2). Here it introduces a detailed elaboration of some key aspects of the creation account that opens the book of Genesis (1:1-2:3). Special emphasis is placed on the events of day six. Verse 4 includes the first use of God's personal name, rendered in English as the Lord, the most commonly used noun in the OT. The Hebrew spelling is transliterated as "YHWH," a word Jews considered so sacred that they would not permit themselves to pronounce it. Its accurate pronunciation is thus unknown, though common suggestions include "Jehovah" and "Yahweh."

2:6 This source of water, a bountiful blessing that provided moisture for the entire surface of the land in the time of human innocence, later became a source of judgment on humanity's sin (7:11).

2:7 The Hebrew verb translated here as formed is used elsewhere in the Bible to describe the potter's profession (Jer 18:4; Zech 11:13); God acts here as the divine potter, skillfully fashioning man out of the dust from the ground. But the Bible makes it very clear that people are more than just material beings. It was only when God breathed into the man's nostrils the breath of life that Adam became alive. God is Spirit (Jn 4:24); thus, when God breathed into him, Adam and all later human beings became a unique mix of the physical and the spiritual. The Hebrew phrase translated as living being is used elsewhere in Genesis to describe other types of living beings (1:20,24,30; 9:12,15-16). Nevertheless, humans are considered to be in a class by themselves since they alone are made in God's image.

2:8 The location of Eden is unknown; suggestions include Armenia, Iraq, Africa, and Arabia. Changes in geography caused by the flood in Noah's day (7:11) make it unlikely that Eden will ever be discovered. The Hebrew word "Eden" literally means "pleasantness."

2:9 God's concern for beauty is seen in the fact that the trees He caused to grow were pleasing in appearance. The Lord's love of beauty will later be extended to Israel's religion, which will make use of furnishings fashioned by expert craftsmen using expensive materials (Ex 25-40). Of course, God's beautiful created works were also practical, being good for food.

2:10 The abundance of the waters supplied in the garden of Eden is indicated by the fact that it served as the headwaters for four rivers.

2:11 The location of the Pishon river is unknown. A land known as Havilah existed in the region of the Arabian peninsula at a later point in time (1Sam 15:7), but the preflood land may have represented a different locale.

2:13 The locations of the Gihon river and Cush are unknown. A later Cush was located in the region of modern Ethiopia and Sudan (Est 1:1).

2:14 The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, as well as Assyria, probably correspond to geographical features associated with modern Iraq.

2:15 The Hebrew word translated as placed literally means, "caused to rest"; this pre-sin state of rest anticipates the "rest" ("relief"; 5:29) that would again come to humanity because of righteous Noah, as well as the rest that God would again give Israel following its episode of calf worship (Ex 32:1-21; 33:14). As a being created in God's image, Adam, like God, was to be a worker. Without the taint of sin, work was an undiluted blessing. The verb translated here as "work" literally means "serve." Adam's second task in the garden was to watch over it. The verb is used elsewhere to refer to the action of God toward His people (Ps 121:3-4) or the work of a military guard (Sg 5:7).

2:16 The seriousness of God's order is reflected in the fact that it is introduced by a two-verb phrase in Hebrew, rendered simply as commanded in the HCSB. This formula was used frequently to express royal decrees (1Sam 18:22; 2Sam 18:5). God gave Adam both freedom and limits. The God-given freedoms vastly outnumbered the limitations. After all, Adam was free to eat from any tree of the garden except one.

2:17 The only limit God placed on Adam was eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which apparently imparted divine wisdom (3:22). Eating the forbidden fruit represented Adam's rejection of God as the source of divine wisdom and his choice to pursue wisdom apart from God. God's penalty for disobedience was stated especially forcefully in the original language, with a two-verb construction, "dying you shall die" (you will certainly die). Death would certainly come to Adam and all humanity after him; but the death that God warned about would be more than physical (3:19). Besides severing the cord of life, sin would shatter the harmonious relationship that existed between Adam and his environment (3:17-18), his wife (3:16), and God.

2:18 The theme of God providing for Adam's needs (see note at v. 8) is picked up again here, as God declared that Adam's being alone is not good. God created the man with a need to relate to one as his complement, and now God will meet that need.

2:19 Like man, animals were formed out of the ground, but they did not receive the breath of life from God (v. 7) nor the image of God. By giving names to the animals, Adam showed that he ruled the animals and that he perceived the nature of each animal (see note at 1:5).

2:20 Adam's understanding of the nature of the animals he named only highlighted the differences that existed between him and the rest of God's creatures: no helper was found as his complement.

2:21 At what must have been a moment of loneliness in Adam's life, God stepped in to create one who would perfectly meet Adam's need. Because God took one of his ribs to use as His raw material, the woman would correspond perfectly—though not identically—to Adam. Like Adam, the woman possessed God's image. The fact that she was not taken either from the man's head or his foot may suggest that the woman was not to rule over the man (1Co 11:3), nor the man to oppress the woman (1Pe 3:7).

Word Study: 'ishshah


Hebrew Pronunciation[eesh SHAH]
HCSB Translationwoman
Uses in Genesis152
Uses in the OT781
Focus passageGenesis 2:22-25

'Ishshah may not be related to a Hebrew word for man in Gen 2:22-25 that looks and sounds like it ('iysh). 'Ishshah resembles a word for woman in several Semitic languages, and may derive from a verb meaning "be weak" that could also lie behind 'enosh, "man" (2 Sm 12:15). The phrase born of woman (Job 14:1) points to mankind's weaknesses. 'Ishshah has two basic meanings, woman and wife. Both ideas are present in the word's first occurrences (Gen 2:22-25). 'Ishshah connotes fiancée or bride (Dt 22:24; 24:5). It signifies woman without implying marriage (Ec 7:28). "The way of women" is a euphemism for menstruation (Gen 31:35). Sometimes 'ishshah describes a kind of woman, like a prophetess (Jdg 4:4). Fearful soldiers are compared to women (Nah 3:13). 'Ishshah functions as a feminine distributive meaning each, referring to women (Ru 1:8), animals, or even things. "Each to each" appears as together (Ex 26:5).

2:23 Adam's first recorded words express his delight with God's handiwork and his recognition of the unique suitability of God's last recorded creation in the creation accounts. As with no other piece of divine craftsmanship, this one was singularly suited for the man, being bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Adam expresses dominion by choosing a name for God's final created being, but the name he chose suggests that he viewed her as his equal. The Hebrew term 'ishshah, woman, identifies her as the feminine complement to 'ish, the man.

2:24 God's timeless design for marriage is declared here. The one flesh relationship certainly involves sexual union, but also includes a husband and wife coming together in spiritual, mental, and emotional harmony.

2:25 Because the devastating effects of sin had not yet ravaged nature or humanity, there was no need for clothing. Adam and Eve could live without the barriers needed to shield them from their environment and each other without a sense of shame. Later, in the time of the patriarchs and kings, clothing was associated with dignity. Accordingly, prisoners of war were not permitted to wear any clothing, slaves wore very little clothing, and higher social classes wore more clothing than anyone else in society.

Genesis 3

3:3 The woman's claim that God said, You must not... touch the tree, or you will die, goes beyond anything recorded in God's instructions to Adam. Therefore it seems that Adam had given his wife an additional command beyond what God said, or else Eve herself exaggerated the command as Satan tempted her to view God as selfish and overly restrictive. If Adam added to God's command, he almost certainly had a good motive—after all, if Eve never touched the tree, she certainly wouldn't eat its fruit. However, the sad truth is that when people add to the word of God, they create confusion and trouble.

Word Study: nachash


Hebrew Pronunciation[nah KHASH]
HCSB Translationserpent, snake
Uses in Genesis6
Uses in the OT31
Focus passageGenesis 3:1-2,4,13-14

Although nachash is the most prevalent of eight OT terms for snake (Num 21:6), the usage is broader than that. The nachash in Gen 3:1,14 was the shrewdest animal and did not crawl on its belly before the curse. The nachash Leviathan was a sea monster (Isa 27:1), and there were other sea serpents (Am 9:3). Associated with nachash are slithering motion (Pr 30:19), flying (Isa 14:29), sudden attack (Gen 49:17), poisonous venom (Ps 58:4), sharp bite (Ps 140:3), hissing (Jer 46:22), eggs (Isa 14:29), and licking of dust (Gen 3:14; Mic 7:17). Five times nachash occurs with words meaning "viper." The Middle East has large desert areas that are habitats for serpents. The serpent of Genesis 3, an enemy of man linked with evil, is particularly identified with Satan in Rev 12:9, where he is also called a "dragon," based on the Greek drakon, which can mean "serpent."

3:4-5 The serpent, recognizing the woman's confusion, found a point of attack. Knowing that the woman would not die by merely touching the fruit, he boldly contradicted what she had reported to be God's command. He then skillfully lied (Jn 8:44) by distorting God's word (Mt 4:6), implying that God had prohibited people from eating the fruit only to keep them from becoming as knowledgeable as He. The woman was now fully deceived (1Tim 2:14).

3:6 Since the woman did not die when she touched the fruit—in contradiction to what she had thought God said (v. 3.)—she ate it. Though Adam was with her at the time, he did nothing to stop her. Perhaps he wanted to eat of it as much as the woman did, but fearing the consequences, used his wife as a "guinea pig" to make sure it would not cause instant death.

3:7 As the serpent had indicated, the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew, but instead of producing godlike power, the knowledge brought only a sense of human inadequacy, fear, and shame.

3:9 God took the initiative in reaching out to sinful humanity. This pattern—humanity sinning, then God seeking out sinners—becomes the primary theme of the rest of the Bible. Its ultimate expression is found in Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save people alienated from God because of their sin (Lk 19:10); in Him God once again walked on the earth in search of sinners. The all-knowing God asked Adam, Where are you? for Adam's benefit, to encourage Adam to face his sin.

3:10 When Adam heard God, he was afraid. Rather than walking with God as righteous men of later generations would do (Enoch, 5:22; Noah, 6:9), Adam hid from Him.

3:11 Through the use of two direct questions God brought Adam to accountability for his sin. God does not overlook sin, but He can be gently firm in confronting it.

3:12 Adam answered neither of God's questions. Instead he sought to shift the blame for his sin first to the woman, and then to God.

3:13 The woman passed the blame to the serpent and admitted that prior to eating, she was deceived (1Tim 2:14).

3:14 Though accountability began with God's confrontation of Adam, judgment began with the serpent. Because of the serpent's key role (being used of Satan) in bringing sin into the human experience, it would be permanently consigned to the position of ultimate shame, under the foot. Just as conquered kings were made to lie on the ground under the foot of their conquerors (Jos 10:24), so now the serpent would live under the feet of humanity.

3:15 Hostility between the first woman and the serpent would be passed on to future generations. This verse is known in Christendom as the protoevangelium, or "first good news," because it is the first foretelling of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Using an emphatic Hebrew construction, God announced here that a male descendant—He—would someday deal the serpent (meaning Satan) a fatal blow. The NT writers understood Jesus Christ to have fulfilled this prophecy (Heb 2:14; 1Jn 3:8). In an extended sense, the NT also indicates that God would work through the church—those indwelt by the Spirit of Christ—to destroy the works of the devil (Rm 16:20). The assertion that the snake would only strike his opponent's heel (as opposed to head) suggests that the devil will be defeated in the ensuing struggle (Rev 2:2,7-10).

3:16 Even though the woman had been deceived into eating the forbidden fruit, she was still held accountable for her act. Notably, however, the word "cursed" is not contained in God's words to her (vv. 14,16). Two penalties were imposed; both struck at the heart of a woman's roles in life. More than would have been the case had sin not entered creation, bearing children would add to the sum of anguish in the universe (God said he would intensify, not originate, woman's labor pains). Marriage would also be marred; though the woman's desire would be for her husband, sin would mar God's plan for marriage and create tormenting inequality and subjugation. The latter is a description of the ravaging effect of sin on a husband-wife relationship, not a prescription for abusing one's wife. The NT teaches that marriage should reflect the relationship of Christ with the church (Eph 5:24-25) and be characterized by a husband's understanding of and respect for his wife (1Pe 3:7).

3:17 Because Adam listened to and obeyed his wife's voice in preference to what God commanded (2:17), a curse would strike at the heart of a fundamental relationship in his life as well. Adam's relationship with the ground would now be forever damaged by sin. All the days of his life he would experience painful labor (cp. the woman's labor pains, v. 16) as he worked to bring forth the fruit of the earth.

3:18 Prior to the first couple's sins God is only recorded as having put trees in the garden (2:8-9); now there would also be thorns and thistles. Prior to sin, humanity had only to reach up to get food; now they would have to bend their backs to gather plants of the field.

3:19 The simple plucking of fruit in order to eat food (lit "bread") would now be replaced by backbreaking labor and the sweat of the brow. Working daily in the soil, Adam would be continually reminded that he was dust and that he would return to dust.

3:20 The new name Adam gave his wife emphasizes the woman's life-giving role that counteracts the curse of sin, which is death. Yet the divine order calls for a reciprocity exhibited in male servant leadership and female submission, both of which are modeled in Jesus Himself.

3:21 By making clothing out of skins, the Lord God graciously provided for humanity's need in a way superior to what Adam and Eve had done with fig leaves. The use of animal skins anticipates the OT system of animal sacrifices (Lv 1; 3-7; Num 15:1-31). In the NT, the apostle Paul spoke of a day when God would clothe His people with immortality (1Co 15:53-54; 2Co 5:4), thus providing the complete undoing of the curse of humanity's sin.

3:22 Because of sin, people now knew good and evil experientially. Since the gift of life was directly tied to obedience, man's sin meant that the penalty of death must be enforced.

3:23 As the Hebrew text ironically expresses it, the Lord God sent Adam from the garden so that he would not send forth ("reach out"; v. 22) his hand for the garden's fruit.

3:24 Following their sin, the first couple went east, a direction associated with departure from God in numerous biblical examples. Other instances of eastward movement in Genesis include Cain's journeys after judgment (4:16), humanity's migration toward Babylon (11:2), and the migration of Keturah's sons (25:6). Cherubim are used as an artistic motif in the tabernacle (Ex 25:18-22; 26:1) and are also mentioned in Ezekiel 10 and 11. The ironies continue as the man who was once commanded to "watch over" the garden (Gen 2:15) is now guarded from the garden.

Genesis 4

4:1 Adam and Eve now begin to fulfill God's original command to them, to "be fruitful" and "multiply" (1:28). Eve, whose name means "Life," now becomes the life-giver. Eve knew that the child was more than the result of her and her husband's love; it came into being with the Lord's help. A wordplay in the Hebrew suggests that the name Cain (qayin) came from the verb "had" (qaniti) in Eve's comment, I have had a male child.

4:2 The name Abel means "Breath"; the term is used elsewhere in the OT to refer to that which passes away quickly and is unsubstantial (Ps 62:10; Ec 1:2).

4:3 Cain's sacrifice marks the first mention of an offering to the Lord in the Bible. The Hebrew term used here suggests a freewill gift given to an authority.

4:5 Ironically, the first recorded offering given to God was also the first one rejected by Him. Since cereal offerings were authorized in the law of Moses, the fact that Cain's offering was of vegetation rather than an animal is not why God did not have regard for it. Cain's furious reaction suggests that the offering was rejected because of sin in his heart, not the nature of his offering. See note at verse 7.

4:7 The Bible makes it clear that God had rejected Cain's offering because of Cain's wicked lifestyle (1Jn 3:12). The animal-like description of sin as crouching is reused in 49:9 to describe a lion. The parallel use of desire in this verse and 3:16 suggests that sin wishes to be as intimate with humanity as a woman is with her husband. The only way to avoid this is to be its master, not its companion.

4:8 In a move that demonstrates premeditation, Cain led Abel to the field and attacked him in a place where there were no human witnesses. Though the blood of animals had been shed prior to this (v. 4), Cain's killing of his brother brought about the first death of a human being. The curse of human death pronounced against Adam (2:17; 3:19) had now been realized.

4:9 God's use of questions with guilty sinners continues here (v. 6; cp. 3:9-13). By claiming he did not know where his brother was, Cain added lying to his sin of murder. God once made Adam a guardian (Hb shamar) of the garden (2:15). Cain now asked if he was to be his brother's guardian (Hb shamar). The Bible's answer to Cain's question is yes (Lv 19:18; Mt 22:39; Gal 5:14).

4:10 Unlike his father Adam (3:12), Cain never confessed his guilt, even though God directly confronted him with his sin. Though Abel never spoke in the preceding narrative, his blood now cried out from the ground.

4:11 God's judgment began with a curse whose wording in the Hebrew parallels the curse placed on the snake. This is particularly fitting since both were liars and murderers (Jn 8:44). It is possible to translate God's statement here as "You are more cursed than the ground." The curse against a murderer is repeated in the law of Moses (Dt 27:24).

4:12 Cain's punishment destroyed his livelihood as a farmer and turned him into a restless wanderer.

4:13 Cain's response has several possible English renderings. The HCSB—which reflects the unrepentant attitude Cain showed earlier—expresses Cain's anguish, but no remorse. The Septuagint and Martin Luther translated it as, "My sin is too great to be forgiven," while early rabbis took it as a question: "Is my sin too great to forgive?" In view of Cain's previous and later actions, the HCSB's translation (my punishment is too great to bear!) seems best.

4:14 Just as his father Adam had been driven out (Hb garash) of the garden, Cain noted that God was banishing (Hb garash) him from the soil. Since he would hide