Genesis, often viewed as an epic drama, is the first of the five books called the Pentateuch. The Jews considered it as one book. The book derives its name from the Hebrew word bereshith (pronounced ba ra sheeth). In English, we translate it “in the beginning.” The name Genesis comes from the Septuagint (LXX). The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the OT Hebrew made in the Intertestamental Period.
Significant parts of the Pentateuch are credited to Moses (Exodus 17.14; 24.3-7; Deuteronomy 31.24f.). Moses, most likely, was responsible for the choice of the material which appears in these five books without actually writing every word within them. While there are several views about how Genesis (and the other four books of the Pentateuch) came together, it seems wise to understand that the choice and arrangement of these books are the work of Moses.
The book of Genesis is comprised of two parts. The first eleven chapters provide the reader with a general history of primeval times. The exact period of time that occurred in these eleven chapters cannot be determined. At Genesis 11.27 a shift in the story occurs. Abraham and his family become the focus.
The date of the life of Moses is often fixed at ca. 1370 BC, while some scholars choose 1250 BC. Moses may have first told these stories in this format the eve of the entry of Israel into the Promised Land. Within the land, which God had promised them through his word to Abraham, they would face many temptations. The prominent temptation was being drawn once again into worshipping other gods, not unlike their parents experienced in the wilderness.
At the core of the beginning stories in Genesis 1.1-11.26 is the focus on worshiping God and not straying into the worship of other gods. Within the land that God had promised Israel, through his word to Abraham, the second generation would face many temptations of which the prominent one would be worshipping other gods, not unlike their parents experienced in the wilderness. Worshiping God and not other gods is a key to understanding the stories in Genesis.
Four Specific Events: Genesis 1.1-11.26
Creation: Genesis 1.1-2.25
These two chapters provide the account of the creation. This is not a scientific account of creation, but a theological one. Understanding these two chapters will help you comprehend the value that God placed on his creation of which humankind is the crown.
Fall: Genesis: Genesis 3.1-5.32
The story of humankind’s temptation and fall prepares the reader to understand that the world in its fallen condition could not be laid at the feet of God. God judges Eve, Adam, and the serpent, and expels Adam and Eve from the Garden. The idea of paradise and a return to it by God’s creation is the ultimate story of the rest of Scripture.
Flood: Genesis 6.1-9.29
The horror stories in today’s world do not compare with the ultimate horror story of the flood. Humankind in rebellion to God is destroyed because sin had infiltrated into every aspect of their lives. In the midst of turmoil, Noah finds grace in God’s eyes and follows instructions to build an ark in order to escape the judgment of God by a flood. God gives Noah a promise about the world and judgment. The stories of his children are told with all their warts.
Nations: Genesis 10.1-11.26
At Babel, sin finds its pinnacle. God confuses the languages of humankind so that humankind does not become like God. This is the conclusion of the stories of primeval history. The story of Salvation History now begins.
Four Special People: Genesis 11.27-50.26
Abraham: Genesis 11.27-23.20
Genesis now tells the story of the beginning of the children of God through his fulfilled promises to Abraham. From Ur, Abraham moves to Haran along the trade routes of the ancient world. God takes Abraham on a journey into Canaan where he is shown that he will become the father of a great nation and that God would provide the land for this nation to settle into and own. There are three sets of stories: Abraham’s separation from Lot; the birth of his son Ishmael through Hagar; and the story of the birth of Isaac, the true heir which God promised to Abraham.
Isaac: Genesis 24.1-26.35
The story of God’s dealings with Isaac and his sons Esau and Jacob.
Jacob: Genesis 27.1-36.43
This section tells the story of Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright from him and fleeing. During the separation, God provides safety to Jacob. Finally, Jacob and Esau are reunited.
Joseph: Genesis 37.1-50.26
Joseph was a young arrogant individual whom God visited in dreams, which were shared with him about his destiny in life. In the haste to become what he had dreamed about, he shares his dreams with his father and brothers. His brothers respond by selling him into slavery to Egypt. Through many temptations and trials, Joseph allows God’s guidance to prevail in his life. From the pit of the prison to the pinnacle of position, God works things out for good in the life of Joseph.
Ways To Read Genesis
According to its focus on generations:
- Introduction: The Story of Creation: Genesis 1.1-2.3
- The Generations of the Heavens and the Earth: Genesis 2.4-4.26
- The Generations of Adam: Genesis 5.1-6.8
- The Generations of Noah: Genesis 6.9-9.29
- The Generations of the Sons of Noah: Genesis 10.1-11.9
- The Generations of Shem: Genesis 11.10-26
- The Generations of Terah: Genesis 11.27-25.11
- The Generations of Ishmael: Genesis 25.12-18
- The Generations of Isaac: Genesis 25.19-35.29
- The Generations of Esau: Genesis 36.1-13
- The Generations of Jacob: Genesis 37.1-50.26
According to its focus on beginnings:
- The beginning of the world: Genesis 1.1-2.25 is a denial of Atheism, Polytheism, Fatalism, Evolution, Pantheism, and Materialism.
- The beginning of sin: Genesis 3.1-24 is the model the enemy uses: tempting (Genesis 6.1-6), yielding, and the results (Genesis 6.7-24).
- The beginning family: Genesis 4.1-26 is the heritage, ancestry, and origin of our family roots.
- The beginning of God’s work to restore mankind begins at Genesis 11.27ff. The faithfulness of God to his promises.
According to its focus on special people:
- Abraham: His Call
- Isaac: His Birth
- Jacob: His Care
- Joseph: His Control
Bible Dictionary Articles to Read
The following is a list of Bible Dictionary articles that can provide you with background information that can enlighten you as a reader of Scripture. You might find some of these articles online in Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
Genesis 1.1-11.26. Creation, God, Adam, Eve, Temptation, Sin, Death, Cain, Abel, Genealogy, Flood, Noah, Sacrifice, Rainbow, Naked, Babel
Genesis 11.27-50.56. Canaan, Sarah, Lot, Melchizedek, Covenant, Faith, Concubine, Ishmael, Circumcision, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac, Obey, Faith, Rebekah, Jacob, Esau, Birthright, Firstborn, Dreams, Laban, Idol, Israel, Joseph, Egypt, Levirate Marriage, Pharoah, Famine, Canaan
Thoughts To Contemplate
- The world exists because there is a God and because he chose to create the world.
- Because God created the world, everything belongs to him. He is in control and knows what he is doing at all times.
- When God is in control, things go well. When we are in control, things don’t go well.
- Even when we reject God and commit sin, he does not reject us.
- God acts in history. His involvement occurs now in our lives.
- Daily life is to be lived out as the person that God created us to be. While we live in a fallen world, we are the light through which others lost in the darkness find real meaning and a new beginning in life. We who accepted God’s call to be a part of his family are the truly human ones, now but not yet.
- God is a God of beginnings. Where would you like for him to make a new beginning in your life? Let him!
Community Discussion Questions
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- Why is it important to view the first part of Genesis as theology and not science?
- How does God’s idea of paradise influence the way you think and act today?
- In what way does the story of Noah cause you to be alert to the infiltration of sin into your life?
- Why is the idea of Salvation History important to the understanding of the First Testament?