R. Catchpole, London
This book has been rightly called ‘The seed plot of the Bible’. Here we have recorded the origin of the universe, the creation of man, the institution of marriage, the entrance of sin, the first promise of a Redeemer, the first murder, the confounding of language, the resultant division of mankind into nations, and the calling out of a man through whom God would carry forward His counsel and purpose.
Not only is Genesis important as the opening book of the Bible, it is equally significant as the first of that distinct section of the Old Testament, known to the Jews as the Torah or ‘The law of Moses’, embracing the first five books of the Bible, ‘The Pentateuch’, Genesis to Deuteronomy. The five books form a literary unit in subject matter and historical sequence, each commencing at the point the preceding one concluded, and tracing the history and movements of God’s people from the call of Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees to the arrival of the children of Israel at Kadesh Barnea, prior to their entrance into the promised land of Canaan.
Being the first book of the Bible an understanding of Genesis is essential to a right understanding of the remainder of the scriptures. Since it is foundational in the unfolding of Divine truth, it is surely no surprise that, over the years, the historicity and reliability of the book has been a particular subject of attack by both atheists and modernists. But every attempt to dismiss the historical veracity of Genesis is refuted by the way the Lord Jesus Himself referred to key events and people in Genesis.1 To these few references we could add many others, as well as the testimony of the apostles.2
The title of the book
The Hebrew title is Bereshith and it is taken from the opening words of the book ‘In the beginning’. The name ‘Genesis’ is derived from its title in the Septuagint (LXX) version of the Old Testament, the transliteration of a Greek word meaning ‘origin, lineage, birth’. The two titles indicate the content and character of the book, Genesis being a book of beginnings and generations.
The purpose of the book
- To record the origin of all things.
- To reveal the glory and sovereignty of God, His power manifest in the act of creation, His providence seen in His control of and intervention in world events, and His purpose in redemption.
- To reveal the position of man in creation, his responsibility before God, his subsequent fall and total depravity.
- To record the origin of the nation of Israel and their place in divine purpose.
The book readily divides into two major sections.
Chapters 1 to 11 concern primeval history
- The beginning of human history
- The key person is Adam
- The chapters focus attention upon four major events: Creation, The Fall, The Flood, The Tower of Babel.
Chapters 12 to 50 concern patriarchal history
- The beginning of Hebrew history
- The key person is Abraham
- The section focuses attention upon four major persons: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
Being a book of ‘beginnings’ a particular feature of Genesis is the references to ten distinct ‘generations’:
- Five in chapters 1 to 11: ‘the generations of the heavens and of the earth’, 2. 4; ‘the generations of Adam’, 5. 1; ‘the generations of Noah’, 6. 9; ‘the generations of the sons of Noah’, 10. 1, and ‘the generations of Shem’, 11. 10.
- Five in chapters 12 to 50: ‘the generations of Terah’, 11. 27; ‘the generations of Ishmael’, 25. 12; ‘the generations of Isaac’, 25. 19; ‘the generations of Esau’, 36. 1; ‘the generations of Jacob’, 37. 1.
A reminder, that our God is the God of all generations, Ps. 90. 1.
The author and date of the book
‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God’, 2 Tim. 3. 16, but as to the human instrument used to write Genesis, the book itself gives no indication. There are, however, several verses in the Pentateuch that refer to Moses ‘writing’.3 In both the Old and New Testaments, Moses’ authorship of the Pentateuch is clearly asserted.4 In John chapter 5 verse 46 the Lord Jesus said, ‘Moses . . . wrote of me’, and when the Lord in Luke chapter 24 verse 27, ‘beginning at Moses and all the prophets . . . expounded . . . in all the scriptures the things concerning himself’ would we really think the reference to ‘Moses’ did not include the book of Genesis?
Some feel that the mention in Genesis chapter 5 verse 1 of the ‘book of the generations of Adam’ indicates that Adam himself wrote a book regarding the earliest events, a record that was handed down to Moses, and embraced in the opening chapters of Genesis.
As to when Moses wrote Genesis, it could have been during the forty years he spent in Midian, or equally during the thirty-eight years of the children of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness.
Some important themes in the book
1. Key Bible doctrines:
- The doctrine of God. Within Genesis, God is revealed to be the Creator God, 1. 1; the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, 14. 18; the Almighty God, 17. 1; the Judge of all the earth, 18. 25; the everlasting God, 21. 33; the God of heaven and the God of the earth, 24. 3.
- The doctrine of man. His origin, as created by God, and his nature, as made in the image and likeness of God, 1. 26-27; his fall and alienation from God, ch. 3; his danger of the judgement of God, ch. 6; his justification by faith in God, 15. 6; and the blessing of walking with God, 5. 21-24.
- The doctrine of redemption. The promise of God, 3. 15; the provision of God, 3. 21; the ground of approach and acceptance with God by way of a sacrifice, 8. 20.
2. The dispensations:
There are seven dispensations in the Bible, each relating to God’s way with men and each one introducing a new principle on which God tests men. Four dispensations are embraced in Genesis:
- The dispensation of ‘Innocence’, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The dispensation ended with the fall of man and their expulsion from the garden, chs. 1-3.
- The dispensation of ‘Conscience’, man responsible to govern himself in light of the knowledge he had now acquired of good and evil. The dispensation ended with the earth ‘corrupt before God’ and divine intervention in the Flood, chs. 4-8.
- The dispensation of ‘Civil Government’, men invested with the authority to execute judgement. The dispensation ended with the Tower of Babel, and God intervening to confound their language, chs. 9-11.
- The dispensation of ‘Promise’, which began with the call of Abraham but concluded with Israel in bondage in Egypt, and God’s intervention to judge the Egyptians and to deliver the children of Israel, Gen. 12 – Exod. 18.
The remaining three dispensations are ‘Law’, ‘Grace’ and ‘The (Millennial) Kingdom’.
3. The covenants
There are several different kinds of covenant mentioned in the Bible, but our primary concern here is with ‘Divine Covenants’. While ‘dispensations’ describe the various ways in which God deals with and tests men through the ages, ‘as He progressively works out His purpose for world history’,5 ‘covenants’ describe the terms on which men can continue in fellowship with God. The first time the word ‘covenant’ is found in the Bible is in Genesis chapter 6 verse 18. There are basically two kinds of covenants in the Bible, conditional and unconditional. In a conditional covenant, all parties to the covenant are responsible to fulfil their side of the promises when entering into the covenant. In human affairs, the covenant of marriage, or covenants between nations are of this character. In an unconditional covenant, its fulfilment rests on one party alone fulfilling all the promises, the other becoming the recipient of the benefits. In human affairs, an unconditional covenant is more akin to a will. There are primarily five ‘Divine Covenants’, the first two are found in Genesis, and both are unconditional. First, there is the covenant with Noah, 9. 1-17, and, second, the covenant with Abraham, introduced in chapter 12, ratified by blood in chapter 15, and confirmed with an oath in chapter 22. The remaining three covenants are the Mosaic, the Davidic, and the New Covenant.
4. Examples of typical teaching
Within the book, a number of men can be viewed as foreshadowing aspects of the person and work of Christ, amongst the most notable are Adam, Melchizedec, Isaac, and Joseph, whilst Eve, in her relationship to Adam, can be viewed as a type of the church in its relationship to Christ. Amongst others that have a ‘typical significance’ in regard to coming events are Enoch, Noah, and Nimrod.
5. Links to the book of Revelation
The comparisons between the first and last books of the Bible are too numerous to fully mention, but here are a few simple examples:
- The creation of the heavens and earth, Gen. 1. 1.
John saw a new heaven and a new earth, Rev. 21. 1.
- A river went out of Eden to water the garden, Gen. 2. 10.
A river, ‘proceeding out of the throne of God’, Rev. 22. 1.
- The first divine ‘I will’ concerns a bride, Gen. 2. 18.
The last divine ‘I will’ also concerns a bride, Rev. 21. 9.
- The tree of life and access denied, Gen. 2. 9; 3. 22-24.
The tree of life and access granted, Rev. 2. 7; 22. 2, 14.
- The curse pronounced, Gen. 3. 14, 17-19.
The curse removed, Rev. 22. 3
[Extracted from Beginnings, volume 1 of the Old Testament Overview series to be published by Precious Seed Publications later in 2016 DV.]
1 See, for example, the creation of Adam and Eve, Matt. 19. 4-6; the Devil being a murderer from the beginning, John 8. 11; the days of Noah, Matt. 24. 7-38; the days of Lot, Luke 17. 28-32; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Matt. 8. 11.
2 For example: 1 Cor. 11. 8-9; 2 Cor. 11. 3; 1 Tim. 2. 13-14.
3 See Exod. 17. 14; 24. 4; 34. 27; Num. 33. 2; Deut. 31. 19, 24–26.
4 See Josh. 1. 7; 1 Kgs. 2. 3; Luke 16. 29, 31; 24. 44; 1 Cor. 9. 9.
5 R. E. Showers, There is a difference, Friends of Israel Gospel Ministries, 1990, p. 30.