Introduction to Genesis

In 1976, Alex Haley published “Roots, The Saga of an American Family,” a novel about his family’s journey to America aboard a slave ship. His story resonated with millions of readers, prompting many to investigate their respective ancestries. Today, online ancestry registries make it easy to learn about our origins. Knowing something about our roots is important because it gives context to our existence and reminds us that we are here because of those who came before us.

The book of Genesis addresses the roots or origin of all things except God. If you are curious about the first time things happened in our collective human history, then Genesis is the place to look. Among the many firsts recorded in Genesis are references to the first man and woman, the first sin, the first sabbath, the first sacrifice, the first murder, the first global catastrophe, the first cities, the first languages, and more.

An important first in the book of Genesis is the protoevangelium or the first mention of God’s plan to send a Messiah to redeem sinful humanity (see Gen. 3:15). The first eleven chapters of the book address the bigger picture happenings like creation, the fall, the flood, and the spread of the nations. However, the remaining chapters of the book address God’s dealings with a man named Abraham and his descendants. God used Abraham and his family to ultimately fulfill His promise in the protoevangelium.

BACKGROUND

Author — Moses is regarded as the human author of Genesis and the four books that follow. These first five books of the Bible are called the Pentateuch, a Greek term that means five scrolls. These books are also called the Torah, from a Hebrew term meaning law, teaching, or instruction. Although there are direct and indirect references to Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch throughout the Old and New Testaments, the name of the author is not explicitly stated in any of these books. Jesus, for example, said that Moses had written about Him (see John 5:46). He also used the expression “the Law of Moses” (Luke 24:44) to refer to the Pentateuch.

Theme — The theme of Genesis is God’s choice of Abraham — the man whose descendants became the nation through whom God would bless all other nations. Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, was a descendant of Abraham. The story of God’s plan to redeem fallen humanity begins in Genesis and unfolds through the remaining books of the Bible. Genesis provides the context and perspective for understanding the scope of God’s redemptive plan.

Date — A key word in the book of Genesis is “generations.” Genesis is, essentially, a book of biographies or a record of the roots of the human family. The phrase “these are the generations of” is used to introduce all of the major divisions of the book. The first eleven chapters of Genesis tell the story of God’s dealings with humanity in general. These chapters cover a time span of approximately 2,000 years, from 4000 to 2090 BC. Starting in the twelfth chapter, however, Genesis traces the story of God’s interaction with one family — Abraham and his descendants Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. These remaining chapters cover a time period of approximately 300 years, from 2090 to 1804 BC.

KEY MESSAGES/THEMES

As you study the book of Genesis, look for the following key themes.

God created humans in His image therefore all human life is sacred. From the start, the Bible affirms the dignity and worth of all human beings.

Sin is the most destructive force in the universe. Once sin entered into the world, everything changed and sin put mankind at enmity with God.

God judges sin and offers opportunities for a fresh start. God is holy and holds human beings responsible for their choices. God is also merciful and kind and offers people the opportunity to make new beginnings.

God established important covenants with humanity in general and one man in particular. God promised humanity that He would never again destroy the earth with flood waters and promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.

God is trustworthy, even when things look bleak. From an altar on a mountain in the land of Moriah to a man in search of a wife to a pit in the desert sands to a famine that threatened to destroy His people, God consistently proved Himself trustworthy.

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