Ever look up at a starlit sky and ask, “How did we get here?” Since the dawn of time, people have been speculating about the origin of the universe. Have we always been here? Are we the result of a cosmic accident? Did God create the world? While there are many theories about the origin of the universe, the Bible has always stood out with its audacious claim that the universe is the purposeful creation of a personal God: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1, italics added). The scientific consensus now supports the biblical view—the universe did indeed have a beginning.
Not only did the universe have a beginning, but so did everything else. In fact the word Genesis actually means “beginning.” In Genesis we get a front-row seat to the beginning of the world, animals, humans, language, marriage, the family, the Sabbath, and much more. And of all things God created, humans stand out uniquely as made in the image of God (1:26-27). While all creation has value, it is this fact that makes each human being particularly special.
In the book of Genesis, you will also see the beginning of a nation chosen and shaped by God: the people of Israel. You’ll also learn how individual choice brought about the fall of humanity and the need for a Savior (chap. 3). Through the interactions of the Creator God with the people he created, you’ll see the rescue plan of God begin to unfold as he works through each generation of the tiny nation of Israel to fulfill a promise made to Adam and Eve (3:15).
The stories of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph play a huge part in the interwoven stories of beginnings. They are the patriarchs—leaders through whom God made covenants or special agreements on a certain course of action. For example, after bringing about a great flood, God promised Noah that he would never again destroy the earth by a flood (9:12-17). God also promised Abraham that he would build a nation out of Abraham’s offspring (15:1-5). The rest of Genesis focuses on the beginnings of that family—their ups and downs—until the sons of Jacob (who eventually became the twelve tribes of Israel) enter Egypt for protection from a famine with the help of a special brother named Joseph. God protected his people, for he had a special plan for them.
As with other books of the Bible, Genesis is meant to help us understand God’s work in the world and what it means for how we are to live. It will begin to unfold the story of how we got here, why we need a Savior, and what God would do about that need. Genesis offers some amazing insights about life that profoundly influence those who read it with an open heart and with an open mind. Are you ready?
Date: Most likely written during Israel’s wandering in the wilderness (ca 1445–1406 BC)
What in the world is going on?
|3300 BC||The beginning date of the Mayan calendar|
|3300–3200 BC||Dates on clay tablets from the tomb of an Egyptian king named Scorpion|
|3200 BC||The Sumerians develop pictographic writing about this time|
|3100 BC||The first phase of Stonehenge begins|
|3000–1100 BC||The Minoan civilization flourishes on the island of Crete|
|2900 BC||First Egyptian hieroglyphs|
|ca 2575–2465 BC||The Great Pyramid in Giza is built during the Fourth Dynasty|
|ca 2500–1700 BC||—Harappa and Mohenjo-daro—flourished about this time|
|2166 BC||Abram (later Abraham) is born|
|2156 BC||Sarai (later Sarah) is born|
|ca 2130–1970 BC||During the Ninth and Tenth Dynasties of Egypt, some food shortages occur, as well as boundary conflicts|
|2091 BC||Abram moves to Canaan|
|ca 2085 BC||Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah|
|ca 2046 BC||Isaac is born|
|ca 2006 BC||Jacob and Esau born|
|ca 2000 BC||Egyptians domesticated the cat in order to catch snakes|
|ca 1991 BC||Abraham dies|
|ca 1915 BC||Joseph is born|
|1908–1875 BC||Sesostris I rules Egypt|
|1900 BC||Bronze Age in Britain|
|ca 1885 BC||Joseph rules Egypt|
|ca 1805 BC||Joseph dies|
How Old Is the Earth?
There are two main views among Christians. Old earth creationists (OEC), also known as progressive creationists, believe God created the universe and all life forms in stages separated by long periods of time. They believe the geologic record accurately portrays a very long earth history. Young earth creationists (YEC) believe the universe and all life forms were created in six successive twenty-four-hour days, meaning earth is only thousands of years old. Major arguments for each view include the following:
Despite these differences, Christians in both groups are committed to God’s supernatural creation of all things. Similarly, both are committed to the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Also, it is important to note that even if earth is many millions of years old, this still is not enough time for life to arise naturally and then evolve into the complex species we have today.
Though Christians sometimes passionately disagree about the age of earth, we should not break fellowship about issues of peripheral importance (Rm 14:1). Both parties can work together, support common ground (such as Intelligent Design), and work “in one accord contending together for the faith of the gospel” (Php 1:27). We can have friendly “in-house” debates, graciously discussing our viewpoints in a spirit of love while standing united against the world’s deceitful philosophies (Col 2:8).
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 pairing of a singular adjective (Ps 7:9) or verb (Gn 20:6) with Elohim shows that the one God is intended. 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.”
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).
1:26-27 “Let us make . . .” (3:22; 11:7; Is 6:8) does not indicate multiple gods. Such a view would be inconsistent with the singular “his own image” (Gn 1:27; see 5:1-2). Ancient theories of the universe’s origin typically explained creation as the outcome of sexual cohabitation between male and female deities or of a battle between a deity and a 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 deities. Gn 1 was written in part to show that the view of the physical world current at that time (i.e., that physical objects represented the work of 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 (see “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; see 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 non-material. Humans were created to serve as God’s representative to govern the earth.
CHALLENGE AND TACTICS
CHALLENGE: “Evolution is a scientific fact that makes God’s existence unnecessary.”
TACTIC EMPLOYED: Google It
Ask, “What do you mean by ‘evolution’?” Even scientists use the word to refer to different ideas at different times. Therefore, until we define it, we cannot determine whether evolution is incompatible with a Creator. Sometimes evolution simply refers to change over time; if that’s what someone means when using the word, no problem. Change is not incompatible with a Creator. Another possible definition is the process by which small-scale genetic changes occur within an organism to modify existing characteristics; we might call this microevolution. Again, this kind of evolution is not incompatible with a Creator who designed life to adapt. However, if evolution refers to the process by which large-scale genetic change produces entirely new kinds of organisms—we might call this macroevolution—then we question the claim and examine the evidence for this so-called fact of science.
FAST FACTS: Faith and Technology
God promised Adam and Eve that they would surely die if they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Because they did not physically die right after they ate, some skeptics like to say this is a contradiction. Yet the majority of Jewish and Christian commentators agree that, while both Adam and Eve eventually died physically, this passage refers primarily to a spiritual death. Paul explained in Romans 5:12-21 how all humans were declared guilty through Adam’s sin, which resulted in judgment and condemnation (v. 16). Fortunately, a remedy was made available through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, “as through one trespass there is condemnation for everyone, so also through one righteous act there is justification” for believers (v. 18). Despite the horrific penalty caused by the original sin, there is a provision for eternal life by way of the cross and faith in Jesus Christ.
2:2-3 “Rested” (Hb shabat) does not imply fatigue but means only “ceased.” God stopped because his work of creation was complete.