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 BC 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; 1Kg 2:3; 8:9; 2Kg 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; Dn 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 (Gn 36:31).
BACKGROUND: The Torah (a Hebrew term for “law” or “instruction”) was seen as one unit until at least the second century BC. 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 twelve 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.
CREATION: God is the sovereign Lord and Creator of all things. God created everything out of nothing. No preexistent 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, no person or class of humans is superior to others. Humanity was created to live in community. The most fundamental unit of community is the family: a husband (male) and wife (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.
|2200 BC||2000 BC|
|Job 2100?–1900?||Abraham 2166-1991||Isaac 2066-1886||Jacob 2006-1859|
|11TH DYNASTY OF EGYPT 102||3RD DYNASTY OF UR 102||12TH DYNASTY OF EGYPT 102|
Earliest pottery in South America 2200
Construction of Ziggurat at Ur in Sumer 2100
Abraham moves from Haran to Canaan. 2091
Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah 2085
God’s covenant with Abraham 2081?
Ishmael born 2080?
Contraceptives are 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 are developed in both China and Egypt. 2000
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” (Jr 32:38; cp. Gn 17:7-8; Ex 6:6-7; Lv 26:12; Dt 4:20; Jr 11:4; Ezk 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 that in turn would bless all nations (Gn 12:1-3). God repeats his oath in Genesis 22:18, adding further that it would be through Abraham’s offspring (Hb zera‘ “seed”) that all nations would someday be blessed. Paul applies the singular noun seed as a reference to Christ (Gl 3:16). It is through Christ, Abraham’s prophesied descendant, that the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant would come to every nation.
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 eleven 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.