First book of the Bible, providing a universal setting for God's revelation and introducing basic biblical teachings. Genesis moves in two parts: (1) universal creation, rebellion, punishment, and restoration; (2) God's choice of a particular family through whom He promises to bless the nations.
Contents The first eleven chapters of Genesis provide the universal setting for Israel's story. Taking up themes and motifs prominent in the literature of their neighbors, the inspired writer showed how only one God participated in creation of the whole world and in directing the fortunes of all its nations. The focus narrows from creation of the universe to creation of the first family (Genesis 1:1-2:25). Trust in a wily serpent rather than in God brings sin into the world and shows God's judgment on sin. Thus human life is lived out in the suffering, pain, and frustration of the world we know (Genesis 3:1). In that world God continues to condemn sin, bless faithfulness, and yet show grace to sinners (Genesis 4:1-15). From the human perspective, great cultural achievements appear, but so does overwhelming human pride (Genesis 4:16-24). Thus humans multiply their race as God commanded; they also look for a better life than that of pain and toil (Genesis 4:25-5:32). Help comes, but only after further punishment. Through the flood, God eliminates all humanity except the family of Noah, then makes a covenant with that family never again to bring such punishment (Genesis 6:1-9:17), but human sin continues on the individual and the societal levels, bringing necessary
divine punishment of the nations at the tower of Babel (Genesis 9:18-11:9). God thus establishes a plan to redeem and bless the humanity that persists in sin. He calls one man of faith—Abraham—and leads him to a new beginning in a new land. He gives His promises of land, nation, fame, and a mission of blessing for the nations. This works itself out in blessing nations that help Abraham and punishing those who do not. It climaxes in God's covenant with Abraham in which Abraham shows faithfulness in the sign of circumcision and God renews His promises.
New generations led by Isaac and Jacob find God continuing to lead them, to call them to be His people, and to renew His promises to them. Human trickery and deception personified in Jacob do not alter God's determination to carry out His redemptive plan. Even when crafty Jacob appears to meet his match while returning to Abraham's homeland, God leads him back to the Promised Land and back to safety. Reconciliation with his brother Esau is followed by deception on the part of his sons. They sell favored brother Joseph into slavery in Egypt. There God mysteriously works even in a prison cell to raise Joseph to power, demonstrating His authority over the highest political authority of the world. Finally, the family is reunited in Egypt and look forward to God's deliverance so they can return to the land of promise.
Thus is established the heritage of God's people in the triad of patriarchal fathers—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God's promises and revelation to them became the foundation of Israel's religious experience and hope. See Creation; Flood; Sin; Humanity; Anthropology; Earth; Image of God; Abraham; Isaac; Jacob; Joseph; Adam and Eve; Noah; Names of God; God of the Fathers.
Critical Problems Critical scholars have raised many questions as they have sought reverently to study and understand the Book of Genesis. Comparison with other creation and flood stories, especially those coming from Sumeria, Babylon, and Assyria, have shown striking similarities to the biblical narrative. Why does the biblical account follow the same basic outline of other creation and flood narratives? Has one copied the other? Does God inspire a writer to react to other literature and write the authentic version? What role does oral tradition play in one nation learning of the literature of another nation? The least that can be said is that Israel's creation and flood narratives present a consistent picture of a sovereign God concerned with and in control of all nations. It shows a realistic picture of humanity in their great strengths and weaknesses. It has proven itself true through the centuries and millennia, whereas the other stories have become relics of a past civilization, recovered only by the accident of the archaeologists' spadework. See Creation; Flood.
Genesis has given rise to theories of the origin and compilation of the book and of the Pentateuch or first five books of the Bible. Do use of later names such as land of the Philistines (Genesis 21:32), closely resembling, almost duplicate stories (Genesis 12:10-20;
Genesis 26:1-11), the use of different names for God (Yahweh in
Genesis 15:1; Elohim in
Genesis 17:1), the use of different facts (man made with woman in
Genesis 1:27 but man made, then the animals, then woman in
Genesis 2:1) point to different authors of parts of the book, sources used by an author, or literary and theological techniques used to deliver the divine message?
In the 1960s many scholars thought they had reached agreement on the answers. The 1980s opened the questions anew with widely differing theories. The theories each try to explain how God produced and provided this book. The constant fact is that Genesis is both a classic piece of literature and the word of God inspired to teach His people about Him, His plan of redemption, and the nature of the world and people He created. See Pentateuch.
Teachings A brief article can merely list a few of the important teachings of Genesis. Human reflection upon the book from the point of its origin onward has not completely understood its theological richness and its call to covenant faithfulness and hope. God is Creator and Redeemer. He provided the best of all possible worlds for the best of all possible creatures, humanity created in His image. Human sin, inspired by a tempting part of the creation, brought divine judgment, resulting in the world of pain, labor, and frustration we now experience.
God is Judge and Savior. He takes human sin seriously but works constantly to form permanent relationships with people of faith. He calls people to follow and serve Him, promising them blessings suited for their needs and His purposes. God's judgment is limited by His covenant promises. God's salvation is limited only by human refusal to trust and believe. People of faith are not perfect. They deceive and connive, but they leave themselves open to God's leadership and become instruments of His plan.
God is universal sovereign and individual God. He created and directs the nations, blessing and cursing according to His purposes. He reveals Himself to, calls, enters into covenant with, and promises to bless individual people. Such work with individuals is part of His plan to bless nations.
I. The Nature of Human Life (Genesis 1:1-11:9)
A. Humans are made in His image and are the climax of His creation (Genesis 1:1-2:4).
B. Human nature has needs and limits (Genesis 2:2-25).
C. Human sin brings alienation and punishment (Genesis 3:1-24).
D. God punishes human pride and irresponsibility, yet His grace protects the sinner (Genesis 4:1-15).
E. Human nature produces astonishing cultural achievements and deadly pride (Genesis 4:16-24).
F. Humans respond to God, develop into a large society, but seek relief from their burdens (Genesis 4:25-5:32).
G. God punishes sinful society but preserves a faithful remnant (Genesis 6:1-8:22).
H. God renews His commission to the creature made in His image and makes a covenant not to repeat the disastrous punishment of the flood (Genesis 9:1-17).
I. Sin and disrespect set the pattern for international relations (Genesis 9:18-10:32).
J. Pride and failure to trust God and other people bring separation and loss of communication (Genesis 11:1-9).
II. The Mission and Nature of God's Family (Genesis 11:10-50:26)
A. The Lord has a redemptive plan for His world (Genesis 11:10-25:18).
1. God's family originated in a foreign land (Genesis 11:10-32).
2. The Lord calls people to Himself (Genesis 12:1-9).
3. God plagues the nations which misuse God's people (Genesis 12:10-20).
4. God renews His promises and blessings when His family blesses the nations (Genesis 13:1-15:21).
5. The promises depend on God's grace, not human cunning (Genesis 16:1-17:27).
6. God's faithful servant intercedes with God for the wicked nations (Genesis 18:1-19:38).
7. Even deception by God's servant can result in blessing to God-fearing nations (Genesis 20:1-18).
8. God fulfills His promises both to His family and to the nations (Genesis 21:1-21).
9. God's obedient servant wins recognition from the nations (Genesis 21:22-34).
10. God tests His servant and renews His promises to the faithful servant (Genesis 22:1-24).
11. God's people begin to own the land (Genesis 23:1-20).
12. God proves His faithfulness for the next generation (Genesis 24:1-67).
13. God cares for the Arabian tribes (Genesis 25:1-18).
B. God works through human conflicts to protect His people and His land (Genesis 25:19-36:43).
1. God works His purpose even in family conflicts (Genesis 25:19-34).
2. God renews His promises because of obedience of the old generations (Genesis 26:1-5).
3. God works through international conflict to preserve His people (Genesis 26:6-35).
4. God directs and blesses His people and the nations despite their family disputes (Genesis 27:1-33:20).
5. Human revenge and trickery accomplish nothing (Genesis 34:1-31; compare
6. Recommitment to God brings renewal of His covenant promises (Genesis 35:1-15).
7. Death and sin do not mean the end of God's covenant people (Genesis 35:16-29).
8. God's leadership is evident even in the history of neighboring nations (Genesis 36:1-43).
C. God brings reconciliation even in exile in an enemy land (Genesis 37:1-50:26).
1. Human jealousy brings hatred, separation, and grief (Genesis 37:1-36).
2. God works out His purposes despite human sin, injustice, and conniving
3. God's presence is the only blessing His servant needs (Genesis 39:1-23).
4. God leads through hardship to blessing and responsibility (Genesis 40:1-41:52).
5. God brings reconciliation through trial, confession, acceptance of responsibility, and forgiveness (41:53lb—Genesis 45:28).
6. God leads and rules even in a foreign kingdom (Genesis 46:1-47:31).
7. The patriarchal blessings belong to the tribes of Israel (Genesis 48:1-49:33).
8. Israel must responsibly fulfill the charges of the patriarchs (Genesis 50:1-14).
9. God renews His promises to a forgiving, faithful people (Genesis 50:15-26).
Trent C. Butler