Genesis: means literally, “a book of beginnings.” The Hebrew text begins, “in the beginning”—a description of the first book of the Bible’s content.
Authorship: Historically both Jews and Christians have ascribed the authorship of the first five books of the Bible to Moses. These books are called collectively the Pentateuch. During the last three centuries, some Bible scholars believe they can detect four different strands of material that have contributed to the final product: a strand called J for Yahwist; a strand called E for Elohim (another Hebrew name for God); a strand called D for Deuteronomist; and a strand called P for Priestly material. According to this theory, the books are a compilation of these strands that were woven together during the 10th to 5th centuries BC to make the Pentateuch in the form we have it today. It should be noted that there is no conclusive evidence that supports this opinion, and intensive archeological and literary research has tended to undercut many of the arguments advanced to undermine Mosaic authorship. Moreover, both the rest of the Old Testament and Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament refer to the Pentateuch as the work of Moses (for example Joshua 8:31; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezra 3:2; Luke 2:22; John 1:17; Acts 13:39).
Since the manuscripts have come to us in the form that we have them as one document—intact—we shall proceed in seeking to understand the text as we have it—and in learning the lessons that the Lord would teach us in this opening book (Genesis) and major section of the Bible (Genesis – Deuteronomy). We believe it too “was written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4) and provides the beginning and backdrop against which the entire story of salvation plays out. With a reverent spirit, we shall study the material Jesus calls “Moses” (Luke 16:29; 24:27,44), for without this book of beginnings, the rest of the Scripture would not make much sense. This book makes clear that God has created the world; we are his creatures who were designed for fellowship with him and therefore are accountable to him. The comforting emphasis is that God did not abandon his creation after we people (Adam and Eve and all of us since then) rebelled against our Creator. Fortunately, God put into place a plan to rescue his fallen creation and restore it to fellowship with himself again. Let us look for this blessed beginning as we study Genesis.
Structure of the book: The book of Genesis can be easily divided into two parts: Primeval History (1:1-11:26) and Patriarchal History (11:27 -50:26). Throughout both parts we have eleven markers denoted by the word “account” (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1; 36:9, and 37:2), which highlight descendants of key people. When added to the opening section of Genesis (1:1–2:3), this makes twelve sections, corresponding to the twelve sons of Jacob, the people of Israel. Thus, the very structure of Genesis points to God’s choice of the people of Israel as the nation bearing the promise of the Savior for all people.
Several patterns can be detected in the presentation of the material. In the opening section, after God created a perfect world, we see the pattern of sin, judgment, and grace, a pattern to which we were introduced in See Through the Scriptures. A second pattern to note is how frequently God in his grace ignores the usual order of the younger serving the elder: Seth over Cain, Shem over Japheth, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, Judah and Joseph over their brothers, and Ephraim over Manasseh. This is further evidence of God’s grace ruling in human history.
An Outline to assist you in your reading:
- Primeval History (1:1 – 11:26)
- Creation (1:12 -2:3)
- Adam and Eve in Eden (2:4 -25)
- The Fall Into Sin and Its Consequences (3:1-24)
- Cain and Abel and Seth (4:1 – 5:32)
- The Great Flood, Its Cause and Aftermath (6:1-9:29)
- The Spread of the Nations (10:1 – 11:26)
- The Patriarchal History (11:27 – 50:26)
- The Call and Life of Abraham, including Isaac (11:27 – 25:11)
- The Descendants of Ishmael (25:12-18)
- The Life of Jacob (25:19 -35:29)
- The Descendants of Esau (36:1 – 37:1)
- The Life of Joseph (37:2 – 50:26)
(Please note that for the above comments, we have drawn on the insights provided in the introductory notes to Genesis in the Concordia Self-Study Bible, copyright, 1986.)
An aspect of the LISA #103 course is not only to provide a brief overview of each of the Old Testament books, but also to read certain sections of the Scripture to gain a firsthand experience of the material. Chosen for your study of Genesis are the following passages, in view of the limited amount of time available. Some comments and questions are provided to stimulate your study and assist you in the interpretative task. If you have more time, additional texts that will be worth your time and give you a flavor of the book include:
- Genesis 22:1-19 the sacrifice of Isaac
- Genesis 24:1-66 securing a wife for Isaac
- Genesis 27:1-40 Jacob secures the blessing rather than Esau
- Genesis 28:1-22 Jacob flees from Esau and sees an encouraging vision at Bethel
- Genesis 32:22-32 Jacob wrestles with God and secures his blessing
- Genesis 45:1-15; 50:15-21 Joseph reaches out to his brothers with forgiveness
Passages from Genesis for us to read and study:
Genesis 1:1 – 2:3. The Creation. Note how God is the Actor and how he calls the world into being through his Word, “And God said, ‘Let there be . . . .’” (1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26). What is his evaluation of everything he made? Note, too, that only humankind (male and female) was made in God’s image, a reality that calls people to reflect God in their attitudes, speech, and actions. They have a privileged position in the created order and are made for fellowship with God, but are still accountable to him.
Genesis 2:4 – 3:24. The Creation of Man and Woman and their Fall into Sin. The first half of this unit delineates the relationship the first people have with one another (see especially 2:18-24.)—and how they are given much freedom, but are still not autonomous. They are to take care of the Garden. They enjoy a special relationship with their Creator. Nevertheless, they are accountable to God, called not to usurp his authority by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (2:17), for if they do, they will die. What happened when they did? What led them to do it? What were the consequences of their disobedience? Was there any reason for hope?
Genesis 12:1-8. The Call of Abram, which is what we understand as the beginning of God’s working out of his plan of salvation for the world. Does the text tell you why God called Abram? What promise did God give with the call? How did Abram respond to God’s call? When you think of what Abram was doing when he responded to God’s call, leaving his familiar surroundings to go to an unknown land, what do you think we should call his response?
Genesis 15:1-21. God’s Covenant with Abram. In vv. 1-6, the Word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision to reassure him of his promises. What concern did Abram have? God had given him the promise of being a great nation (12:2), but Abram and Sarai did not have any descendants. What did Abram think the solution was? (15:2,3 for the solution that was practiced in the Ancient Near East in those days, when a couple was childless.) How did God respond? (vv. 4,5) What did Abram do? How did God assess Abram’s response? What was it? (v. 6)
Genesis 15:7-21. The Lord appears again to Abram and instructs him to prepare animals for a covenant ceremony. In such a ceremony, the animals are cut in two with the parts being laid out opposite each other, with a path in between the parts. The person making the covenant (The Hebrew expression is literally, “cutting a covenant.”) would pass through between the parts. The message he was making by this action was, “Do to me what we have done to these animals, if I do not keep my covenant commitment.” The smoking fire pot passed through the parts in the vision, the smoking fire pot being a symbol for God. What was God saying except that he was in dead earnest about the covenant he was making with Abram?!
In his words to Abram, God foretells the fact that Abram’s descendants will be in Egypt for 400 years, before God would lead them out to bring them back to inherit this land. The reason: God was being patient with the Amorites who dwelt in that land. Their idolatry, child sacrifices, and religious prostitution had “not yet reach its full measure.” (15:16) At the right time, the promise would be kept—and the ten tribes (vv. 19-21, ten being the number of fullness) would be driven out and Abram’s descendants would inherit the land.
In the above notes, we see how information from the social and cultural context is most helpful for understanding these verses in Genesis 15. From other Ancient Near Eastern literature, we learn how covenant ceremonies took place. Your See Through the Scriptures manual, pp. 20-21 , explains and illustrates the practice of covenant making. Archeological information from this time period in Canaan reveals some of the gross practices of the Amorites who lived in that land: their idolatry, child sacrifice, and cult prostitution was rampant at that time. Again see illustration 14 in your STS manual for how cult prostitution played into their religion.