The First Book of Moses
The English title is based on the name given by the Greek translators of this book in the second century b.c. The name could be translated "source" or "generation." The original Hebrew title is simply the first word of the book, Bereshith, "In the Beginning."
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."
"I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you."
This book tells the beginning of many things: the creation of the world, the origin of the human race and marriage, the rise of sin and death. The book also shows the beginning of God's glorious plan to build a kingdom of redeemed people.
The God who created mankind and punished disobedience with death began His great plan of redemption with His covenant to Abraham, whose descendants arrived in Egypt as God's cherished people.
Genesis lays the historical and theological foundation for the rest of the Bible. If the Bible is the story of God's redemption of His people, Genesis 1-11 tells why redemption is necessary: humans are rebels, unable to redeem themselves. Further, Genesis 12-50 shows the steps God initiated to establish a redeemed people and to make a way for the Redeemer to come. He did this through His unconditional covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and with His providential care through Joseph's life. God's people who study Genesis today should view it with this original purpose in mind.
Genesis deals particularly with the worldview categories of God; creation; humanity; rebellion and sin; and covenant and redemption. No Bible book more fully teaches God as Creator and humanity as sinners who cannot save themselves.
Genesis reveals God first as Creator. He is righteous in His commands, and He judges when mankind disobeys Him. Genesis further reveals God as the One who makes His covenant with undeserving people (see chap. 15). The first promise of Christ is given in Genesis 3:15; the Spirit of God is mentioned in Genesis 1:2 and 6:3.
Genesis shows the glory of humanity by emphasizing that mankind alone of all creation was made "in the image of God." On the other hand Genesis shows the shame of humanity by recounting three incidents involving the whole race: the fall, the flood, and Babel. All three events portray humans as sinners in need of a Savior.
Genesis introduces critical truths about salvation developed in later parts of Scripture. In particular, the incident of the death of a ram instead of Isaac points to a substitutionary understanding of sacrifice. Further, the New Testament makes much of Abraham as a pattern of salvation for all the redeemed: "Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness" (Gn 15:6). Genesis 12-50 shows the beginning of His covenant people.
Creation is the first theme of Genesis and Christ is the agent of creation. "By Him everything was created" (Col 1:16). Christ as Redeemer is first promised in Genesis 3:15. When God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, He provided a substitute for Isaac (22:8) in the same way He provided Christ as our substitute through His sacrificial death. Through Abraham's seed, Jesus Christ, all families of the earth will be blessed.
From creation until Joseph's death (about 1805 b.c.)
There is insufficient information to date the events of Genesis 1-11. Using the traditional early date for the exodus, Abraham's birth in Ur was around 2166 b.c. and Joseph's death in Egypt was about 1805 b.c., an amazing total of some 360 years for four generations. (This was the time of the First Dynasty of Babylon in Mesopotamia and of the Middle Kingdom in Egypt. The Bronze Age had developed by the end of Genesis.)
Genesis shows why redemption is needed and presents the first steps in God's bringing a people into right relationship with Him. The beginning of God's plan is to bless all nations through the covenant He began with Abraham. Initially, that plan focused on Abraham's biological descendants, reaching its geographical zenith during the kingdom of David and Solomon. The greatest descendant of Abraham is Jesus, who inaugurated the kingdom of God at His first coming and will consummate it at His second coming.
Moses, perhaps around 1445 b.c.
The book is technically anonymous. On the other hand, according to uniform Jewish and early Christian belief, the first five books of the Bible were written by Moses. Collectively these five books are called the Torah (Hebrew), the Pentateuch (Greek), or the Law (English). Both Jesus and Paul affirmed that Moses wrote the Law (Jn 7:19; Rm 10:19). Scholars who accept the testimony of Scripture at face value continue to affirm that Moses wrote Genesis.
During the 1800s most critical scholars abandoned the belief that Moses wrote these books. The influential German scholar Julius Wellhausen presented evidence for a documentary theory (often called "JEDP") for the composition of the Law. This theory argued that the Torah evolved over several centuries and was finally compiled during the time of Israel's kings. Although Wellhausen's theory has been modified over the years, it still dominates scholarly discussions of the origin of the Pentateuch.
The time of Moses' life has been interpreted two ways. Because 1 Kings 6:1 notes the time between the exodus and Solomon, the exodus has been dated traditionally around 1446 b.c.
Others, however, date the exodus about 1290 b.c., based on the word "Rameses" in Exodus 1:11 and the first known occurrence of that name applied to a pharaoh. (See Exodus for more information.) Assuming an early date for the exodus and that Moses wrote while Israel camped at Mount Sinai, Genesis was written in the middle of the fifteenth century b.c.
The Israelites at Mount Sinai
The original hearers and destination are not stated but are believed from tradition. The first audience was the Israelite nation in the wilderness on their way to Canaan.
Genesis does not tell what prompted it to be written. Its events occurred centuries before the writer's birth. Although some historical records from the dawn of humanity may have survived for Moses to use as sources, this does not appear likely. If one believes that Moses received the Ten Commandments by divine revelation, then one can just as readily believe that God also revealed to Moses the content of Genesis.
A historical narrative written in excellent Hebrew
Although Genesis was "The First Book of the Law," it recorded relatively few divine commands (but see 2:16-25; 9:6-7). Genesis has preserved two historical narratives. Chapters 1-11 contain a selective history of the entire human race. (Other religions have their stories about creation and beginnings, with which Genesis shares certain features. The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, for example, contains parallels to the flood narrative.) Chapters 12-50 tell the story of the direct ancestors of the Israelites. Genesis also contains a few passages of poetry (see 3:14-19) and important genealogies (see chap. 5). The Hebrew style of Genesis is like that of the rest of the Pentateuch. The writer composed his account carefully.
Creation, death, flood, covenant, providence
The account of the creation of the world and of mankind in God's image provides the theological basis for the Bible's insistence on human accountability to the Creator. The words "then he died," repeated with depressing regularity, show that the fall indeed had the effect God warned about. The flood narrative shows how God judged the race He had created. In God's covenants with Noah and then with Abraham He reached out in mercy to His fallen human creatures. The last half of the book, notably the story of Joseph, emphasizes God's providential care over His covenant people (see 50:20).
Genesis introduces themes that the rest of Scripture develops. Genesis is necessary to make sense of the rest of the Bible. The author organized chapters 1-11 around four great events: creation, fall, flood, and Babel. Genesis 12-50 has preserved the story of four great men: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
The geographical focus shifts from section to section. Chapters 1-11 happened generally in the Fertile Crescent. The action for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob shifts between Haran and Canaan, while the Joseph story alternates between Canaan and Egypt. Ten times the author used the phrase "these are the family records." Many scholars use this as a clue to organize the book into sections.