Although the author of Genesis is not identified in the book, its integral part in the Pentateuch (Genesis—Deuteronomy) suggests that the author of these five books was the same person. The books of the Pentateuch give evidence of unity through their common plot, theme (divine promises), central figure (Moses), and literary interconnections. Jewish and Christian traditions attribute the Pentateuch to Moses, whose life paralleled the events of Exodus—Deuteronomy (see 2Ch 23:18; Lk 16:29,31; Ac 28:23).
Passages in Exodus—Deuteronomy testify that Moses authored diverse materials (Ex 17:14; 24:4-8; Nm 33:2; Dt 31:9,22). Although we cannot be certain about the contents of the “book of the law [of Moses]” (Jos 1:7-8; 8:31; 23:6; 2Kg 14:6), its association with Moses established a “psychology of canonicity” that set the pattern of divinely authoritative writings (Nm 12:6-8; Dt 18:15; 34:10). Scholars have usually recognized that minor post-Mosaic contributions must exist in the Pentateuch, such as the report of Moses’s death (Dt 34). Some have contended that the first-person (“I”) sections were written by Moses and that another author set them in a third-person (“Moses”) narrative frame. Prior to the nineteenth century, the consensus remained that Moses wrote the essential whole, probably during the wilderness sojourn.
Since the events of Genesis preceded Moses, this raises the question of where he got his information. For most of the Christian era, the principal explanation was divine revelation coupled with the availability of written records, such as genealogies and stories.
Gradually, though, by the nineteenth century, a new consensus arose among “critical” scholars. They believed 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 in the Bible’s first five books as 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 BC. The structure and contents of chapters 1–11 generally parallel the Babylonian epic Atrahasis (ca. 1600 BC). Social and religious practices among the patriarchs correlate better with the earlier period than with the first millennium BC. For example, Abraham’s marriage to his half-sister Sarah was prohibited under the Mosaic law (20:12; Lv 18:9). It is unlikely that the Jews of the exilic period would have fabricated offensive events or preserved such stories unless these were already well-entrenched traditions. Also the prevalent use of the El compounds for the name of God (e.g., God Almighty–El Shaddai, 17:1) in Genesis contrasts with their virtual absence in first-millennium BC 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 remembers 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, these principles should be kept in mind. First, not all parallels are equally significant, since minor ones can be attributed to common content. Second, the identity of who is borrowing from whom cannot be definitively concluded. Often it is best to assume a universal memory as the source. 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, by contrast, 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 the Bible’s dependence on sources from other cultures. The author of Genesis was aware of the cultural context 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.
Some religions of the world believe God formed the world from pre-existent matter rather than creating it from nothing. Some also believe there to be a gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. These verses however indicate God created the world from nothing, ex nihilo. Belief in creation from nothing is the historic Christian understanding of Genesis 1:1-2 and has the full weight of the text behind it. Similarly, there is no textual reason to believe in a gap of time between 1:1 and 1:2. In similar fashion, this passage also speaks against any type of evolutionary understanding of the origins of the universe.
ARE THE DAYS OF GENESIS TO BE INTERPRETED LITERALLY?
by Ted Cabal
This question has stoked controversy among conservative Christians in recent times, but it has proved to be of little interest to theistic evolutionists (those who accept evolution as God’s mechanism in creation) and those rejecting Genesis as God’s inerrant Word. The debate has been primarily between young- and old-earth creationists, who believe that God literally created the various kinds of living things (as opposed to the common descent of Darwinism). Both sides hold that humans have not descended from other species, and both reject the atheism and macroevolutionary theory of neo-Darwinism.
The two creationist camps, however, differ in interpreting the creation days of Genesis. If the days were consecutive 24-hour periods, and if the earth was created on the first day, then calculations based on biblical genealogies reveal that the earth was created only thousands of years ago. If the days were either of indeterminate length or nonconsecutive, then the Bible does not reveal when the earth was created. Interestingly, both sides agree that the genealogies reveal that Adam and Eve were specially created only thousands of years ago.
Young earth creationists (YCs) interpret the days as 24-hour, consecutive periods for reasons such as the following: (1) The days in Gn 1 are consecutively numbered and comprised of an “evening and morning.” (2) Exodus 20:8-11 commands a literal week of six days of work and one day of rest based on God’s original creation/rest week. The two weeks would seem, then, to be of equal duration. (3) According to Rm 5:12, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,” but old-earth creationism would have animal death entering the world before the sin of Adam and Eve.
Old earth creationists (OCs) argue against 24-hour creation days for reasons such as these: (1) The Hebrew word for “day” (yom) is used in different ways in the creation account. For instance, Gn 1:5 refers yom only to daytime (daylight), not nighttime. Also, Gn 2:4, literally translated, speaks of “the yom that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (2) God’s rest on the seventh “day” has no evening and morning (Gn 2:2-3), and Heb 4:3-11 portrays this same Sabbath as continuing to the present time. (3) Adam could not have named all the birds and animals in 24 hours according to Gn 2.
Both sides believe they have strong arguments favoring their interpretation and rebutting the other side. And historically, debate regarding biblical interpretation has often led to a clearer understanding of God’s Word. But it is also highly debatable whether this issue merits the rancor and division often attending it. Some YCs accuse OCs of compromising the Bible with evolutionary science. Some OCs charge YCs with undermining biblical credibility by generating a false conflict between science and the Scriptures.
Happily, one thing is not debatable among those who believe the Bible: even if the correct interpretation of the creation days is not readily apparent in the present generation, the Bible can be trusted in every way. Debates about biblical interpretations should not be interpreted as the failure of Holy Scripture.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormons, believe these verses teach the physical nature of God, that he exists in a physical form. Historically, the Christian church has believed God to be a spiritual being, not a physical one. Genesis 1:26-27 are commonly interpreted by biblical scholars and theologians as God giving human beings reasoning ability, emotions, communication skills, relational ability, etc. Texts like John 4:24 clearly teach God is a spiritual being.
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.
According to modern-day psychics, this “breath of life” enables humans to exhibit supernatural abilities. Most people, however, do not know how to tap into this power. Such a bizarre conclusion cannot be derived from the text. A better interpretation is that the “breath of life” is simply the animating force of the body.