Introduction to Genesis

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 humans, marriage, families, nations, industry, artistic expression, religious ritual, prophecy, sin, law, crime, conflict, punishment, and death.

Circumstances of Writing

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).The Holy Spirit guided other ancient scribes as they made minor additions to 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 (lit. “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.

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 the first 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 “genealogy” and refers more to a narrative account. This was a common practice in ancient Near Eastern 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 Inside 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 Babylon (10:1–11:26)
    1. Table of nations (10:1-32)
    2. Tower of Babylon (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 Paddanaram (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 his 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)

2200 BC 2000 BC
Job 2100?–1900? Abraham 2166-1991 Isaac 2066-1886 Jacob 2006-1859

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


1//GENESIS 1–2


A person’s worldview is defined by how they see or think about the world. The first two chapters of the Bible establish the biblical worldview all Christians should have when it comes to how they think about the natural world, human identity, and human relationships. These chapters affirm God as a sovereign, loving Creator, speaking the natural world into existence for his glory. He made humans in his image, linking our identity to his own. He also made male and female as partners who complement one another and model unity within the diversity that is found in the body of Christ.

As you read the Bible this week …

  1. HIGHLIGHT the verses that speak to you.
    1. Write out the name of the book:
    2. Which chapter and verse numbers stand out to you?
  2. EXPLAIN what this passage means.
    1. To whom was it originally written? Why?
    2. How does it fit with the verses before and after it?
    3. What is the Holy Spirit intending to communicate through this text?
  3. APPLY what God is saying in these verses to your life.
    1. What does this mean today?
    2. What is God saying to you personally?
    3. How can you apply this message to your life?
  4. RESPOND to what you’ve read.
    1. In what ways does this passage call you to action?
    2. How will you be different because of what you’ve learned?
    3. Write out a prayer to God in response to what you read today:

1:1 GOD ETERNAL—The first verse of the Bible simply presents us with God. The rest of the Bible is an expansion on the theme of who God is, what he is like, and what he is doing. God has no beginning—he is eternal; he is without beginning and without ending. He brings about the beginning of all else through his power as Creator. The eternity of God is difficult for the human mind to understand since we are so rooted in time and are accustomed to measuring life by the passage of time. Eternity is not simply unlimited time, forever extending backwards and forwards. Eternity is another dimension of existence and belongs solely to God. Time itself is a creation of God. Time is the experience of a succession of events and experiences for a created being. God existed in the dimension of eternity when he had not created time. As eternal, God stands above time just as he stands above matter and persons whom he also has created. But he may also choose to interact with persons or things within time. In this passage, we see the beginning of all things, but not the beginning of God, for he was already living when time came into being. If God had a beginning, he too would be a creature, and we would want to worship the one who brought him into existence. We human creatures cannot explain the existence of God. His existence will always be a mystery to the human mind.

1:1-2 HOLY SPIRIT, Creation—The Spirit of God participated in the creation of the world. The Hebrew word ruach may refer to God’s Spirit, the spirit of a person, breath, or wind. Scholars are divided about whether the reference here is to the Spirit of God creating or to God’s breath blowing across the waters. The eternal Spirit of God was certainly present at the creation. The Spirit is everywhere associated with power and life, both of which are important in creation. This reference to the Spirit should not conceal the metaphor used here. God’s breath-like Spirit moved or hovered over the waters that covered the earth. God’s Spirit thus kept the chaotic forces in check. Only a few verses associate the Spirit with creation. He is more often associated with individual persons. Other references to the Spirit creating include Jb 33:4; 34:14-15; Ps 33:6; 104:30.

1:1 CREATION, Personal Creator—The world came into being through the perfect will of a free, personal, self-existing Spirit (Jn 4:24). Creation included the entire material world we experience—the earth on which we live and all the space of the heavens with the heavenly bodies. God’s creative acts are introduced by a special verb (Hb bara’) of which God is always the subject. The verb separates God’s way of creating from all human experiences and comparisons. Creation is a uniquely divine act that humans cannot perfectly imitate. The verb never has an object naming material out of which God creates. He creates from nothing. Other verbs are used to describe God’s shaping preexistent materials into new forms. Creation is God’s sovereign act motivated only by his will and done with neither help nor hindrance from any other power or being. See note on Dt 32:6.

1:1-3 EVIL AND SUFFERING, Divine Origin—God created a good world. God did not create any part of the world to be intrinsically evil but left evil as a possibility, since he wanted humans to be free to love and serve him. Such freedom required the possibility of sin and its evil consequences. As Creator, God is responsible for the world in which evil occurs. He allows evil; but being good, he does not act in an evil way. Evil is whatever or whoever disrupts the goodness of God’s world. The direct cause of evil and suffering may be human beings, Satan, or demons. These are all created beings who can cause evil and suffering. Evil and suffering were not part of the original creation but are a perversion of that created order. Evil is not an eternal power or person equal to God.

1:2 CREATION, Earth—The world was at first formless and empty. The deep (Hb tehom), the frightening chaotic waters covered in darkness, posed no threat to God as chaotic elements did to the creator gods in the myths of Israel’s neighbors. His Spirit hovered over them in complete control. The Hebrew text involves a wordplay. Spirit (Hb ruach) also means breath and wind. God’s Spirit is pictured as God blowing the wind over the troubled waters. The deep, dark elements of life that humans fear have been under God’s control since creation began.

1:2 REVELATION, Author of Creation—The Maker of life disclosed in the acts of creation his very nature. He is a God of order and purpose who moves in all the created order to direct what he makes. As Author of all that is made, he is like an inventor hovering over his creation, shaping it to conform to his designs. The beauty, order, and majesty of the created world show God is a God of order, power, and design.

1:3–2:25 GOD, Creator—This extended passage is the Bible’s primary account of God’s work as Creator of the universe. God has both the sovereign power and the purposeful intelligence to bring forth creation in an orderly, designed fashion, so that it is pleasing to him. When God created, he got what he wanted. Nothing is said in this passage about how God created the world and all of its creatures. Genesis only says that God spoke and it happened. The word of God was the effective tool or instrument of God for creating, blessing, or chastising. This passage gives us a religious truth, that God created through his word. In creating, God brought things into existence out of nothingness. He did not take previously existing matter and transform it into new kinds of material objects. He began with nothing and ended with the whole of existence brought into being out of his powerful word.

1:3–2:1 CREATION, Progressive—God moved from the general to the specific and from the lower to the higher in his creative process. He was active for six days and rested on the seventh. Many contend the “day” (Hb yom) should be understood as meaning an unspecified period of time rather than a twenty-four hour period. The sun and the moon, which mark the change from evening to morning, were not created until the fourth day. Day means hours of light contrasted to night’s hours of darkness (1:5). In the Hebrew Bible, day (yom) can refer to a longer, unspecified period (2:4; 35:3; Lv 14:57; 2Sm 22:1; Ps 137:7; Jr 18:17; Hs 10:14; Nah 3:17). Differences of opinion here often turn on the reference to “evening and morning” as well as on yom. Taking these words figuratively, the account can more easily be harmonized with theories of a vast age for the earth. Taken literally, the account would point to a much younger universe and a more rapid origin of life. In either view the creation of the universe and of life is a miraculous act of love by the sovereign God. God as an orderly, purposeful Creator is the central emphasis.

1:12,18,21,25,31 CREATION, Good—The recurring phrase “it was good” stands in contrast with accounts of creation from pagan cultures that picture the world as a dangerous place to be escaped. The biblical record portrays a world that can be enjoyed because of the many wonderful things God has provided for his creatures. Anything that might threaten humans stands directly under God’s control (vv. 2,21). God did not create an evil world. Human rebellion led to the introduction of hardship and pain.

1:22,28 SALVATION, Blessing—God’s salvation is his blessing. God blessed the creatures of the sea, the birds of the air, and the man and woman whom he had created. He told them to be fruitful and multiply. An added blessing to the man and woman was to fill the earth and subdue it. They were given stewardship over the rest of God’s creation. Compare 5:2. Saved persons are stewards of God’s blessings.

1:26-29 HUMANITY, Image of God—Human beings are created to be like God. Some degree of physical likeness is implied by the use of identical terms to describe likeness between Adam and his son Seth. See 5:3. The divine image is of far more significance than this, however. It clearly includes authority and responsibility insofar as the natural world is concerned. The image of God may also be revealed in the male-female relationship of love and commitment. God is revealed through the loving commitment of one human being for another.

1:26-28 REVELATION, Author of Life—The creation of human beings was God’s crowning work. He bestowed upon them the unique characteristics of God, by making them “in his own tselem” (likeness, image). Thus man and woman reflect and reveal the Creator’s characteristics. God took control of creation (from void to order and form, v. 2). Likewise he created humans to take an unfinished and untamed creation and direct and subdue it as God would.

1:26-31 STEWARDSHIP, Management—All of creation is God’s work and reflects his character. Therefore, it is good. All people are special, for he made us in his image to represent him in the world. As humans, we hold a special place of importance and service in God’s perfect plan. God placed humans in charge of his material world to manage and care for it. Under God’s authority we must fulfill his purpose in our lives. Being a manager for God is the foundation of stewardship. See note on 39:2-6. Sin, however, corrupts God’s perfect order. It distorts our likeness to God. It causes us to try to take over God’s primary ownership and authority. See note on Ps 24:1. Material possessions are neither good nor bad in themselves. Selfish misuse of possessions is sinful (Mt 25:4).

1:27 FAMILY, Personhood—The image of God is the basis for defining human personhood. We are created with the capacity for relationship with God as Creator and with each other as fellow humans. This makes family life possible. The divine image makes human beings different from all God’s other earthly creations.

1:27-28 FAMILY, Sexual Nature—In God’s creative purpose, human life is inherently gendered, since maleness and femaleness define the physical nature of humans. Sexuality is ideally expressed in the marriage of one man and one woman for the purposes of procreation and mutual support. Sexuality also refers to the various ways—right and wrong—in which sexual desires are expressed in human relationships. Numerous Bible passages celebrate the gift of sexuality as a blessing to human life. Other passages illustrate how one’s sexual nature can be expressed in perverted, exploitative, and sinful ways. Doctrinally, sex ought not to be considered evil based on God’s judgment on the wrong uses of it. Human sexual nature is God’s sacred gift and is to be used in accordance with his design and purposes for it. See note on 4:1-2.

2:4 HISTORY, Linear—Biblical history is an account of the created world and its generations. “Records” (Hb toledoth) gives the literary and theological pattern to Genesis (5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10,27; 25:12,19; 36:1,9; 37:2). Toledoth means both an account of a people’s history and the generations of people who participate in the history. The Bible focuses on earthly activities rather than heavenly ones as did many of Israel’s neighbors. The Bible points to God’s new acts to relate to new generations of people, whereas other religions focused on repeated acts in the divine world that determined the fate of the human world. Thus creation is not a mythical fight among the gods but an earthly action by the one God to prepare a place for the human creatures with whom he wished to relate in freedom and love.

2:4-17 FAMILY, Environment—The first chapters of Genesis introduce the theme of appreciation for the physical environment. Contrary to later philosophies that taught that matter was evil, the Bible positively identifies God as the Creator of the earth and all that is within it. Human life has been given an environment conducive to growth and entrusted with responsibility for using it well. This stewardship of the land and its resources is even more essential today for families to be able to survive materially and economically. See 1:28-31.

2:7 HUMANITY, Physical Nature—People are distinguished from the rest of God’s animal kingdom in that they are in his image. See note on 1:26-29. The terms used here to describe humanity, however, are the same words used in 1:20,24 to describe other forms of animal life. Furthermore, since God formed his people from dust, any basis for human pride in creation is eliminated. What makes human dust live is God’s breath. Life comes as his gift and not as our right.

2:8-24 GOD, Grace—God placed the newly created man in a garden especially created and designed as a comfortable home for him. God created woman to be his companion, to share life with him in a complementary, mutually-fulfilling relationship. The grace of God and the righteousness of God are both seen in 2:16-17 where God instructed Adam and Eve concerning what was considered right and wrong. On the one hand, God desired for them a rich and full life. On the other hand, God expected them to live in the ways of righteousness that he set forth. God’s requirements for people are more than arbitrary rules by which we must live. God’s requirements are designed to bring the greatest good to us. Doing what is declared right by God is always in our own best interest. That is God’s gracious intent.

2:9 LAST THINGS, Believers’ Resurrection—The tree of life apparently represents the availability of eternal life for the couple in the garden. From the beginning God’s purpose for humans was life, not death. He created humans with the freedom to sin and choose death.

2:10-14 HISTORY, Linear—The Bible locates all God’s actions in time and space. Human history is the arena of divine action even with the first people. The first couple did not lose a place in heaven and have to settle for earth. They were made from and belonged to earth. They lost intimacy with God and cooperation with one another and the environment, but God’s intention was always an earthly history with his creatures.

2:15 HUMANITY, Work—Human work was a part of God’s original intent for his people. It is a divine gift and is not to be viewed as a punishment. In human work God was sharing a part of his responsibility to care for the world he created. Labor is a normal part of the responsibility of God’s people.