Genesis Introduction

The words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” have evoked considerable debate; but without apology, that is how this book begins. In the words of one of the historic creeds: “I believe in God the Father almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” These words are only the beginning of this book of beginnings-a prologue to a prologue. Genesis gives more than an account of creation. It also describes other beginnings-humanity’s Fall into sin and the start of God’s elaborate rescue mission for all peoples. It tells what happened first in many important respects (creation, sin, judgment, languages, races, marriage); but at the center of Genesis lies God’s sovereign call to Abram and Sarai, a couple of idol worshipers in the Middle East.

Author and Background

The Book of Genesis was written and compiled by Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai. Biblical and extrabiblical evidence points to this fact. Jesus clearly assumes Mosaic authorship of Genesis in the statement, “Moses therefore gave you circumcision” (compare also Acts 15:1). Since the reason for circumcision is mentioned only in Genesis 17, Jesus had to be referring to Moses’ compilation of the story. Second, both Jewish and Christian tradition unanimously agree with this biblical testimony: Moses compiled and wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, in the Wilderness of Sinai. This would place his authorship of Genesis around the fifteenth century B.C.

Many scholars since the nineteenth century have denied Moses’ authorship of Genesis. Instead, some of these scholars have suggested that the Pentateuch, including Genesis, was compiled at a later date, perhaps in the sixth century B.C.. According to this analysis, anonymous editors used at least four documents to piece together the Pentateuch. These four documents were identified by tracing the divine names, such as Elohim and Yahweh, through the Pentateuch, and by tracing certain variations in phraseology and word choice. The four documents are called: the J document, which uses Yahweh for God; the E document, which uses Elohim for God; the P or Priestly document; and the D or Deuteronomic document. More recently, this dissection of the Pentateuch has been challenged, and no real consensus has emerged from the ensuing scholarly debate.

By appreciating the unified structure of Genesis, Moses’ guiding hand in the compilation and authorship of Genesis can be discerned. Certainly, Moses used other literary sources to piece together his narrative. Sometimes these sources are identified (see Gen. 5:1). Moses presumably edited these older documents to make them understandable to his readers-the second Israelite generation after the Exodus. And later prophets updated the language for the ensuing generations of Israelite readers.

But after all the analysis, it is clear that Moses wrote and compiled Genesis to encourage the early Israelites while they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, the Promised Land. The content of Genesis would have been especially significant to them. It explains why their ancestors went to Egypt in the first place, why their nation was destined for another Promised Land, and why God had revealed Himself so dramatically to them in the wilderness.

Principal Message

Genesis, the book of beginnings, has two parts. The first part (chs. 1-11) serves as a prologue to the second part (chs. 12-50), the book’s main event-God’s sovereign work in Abraham’s family to accomplish His good will for all nations. This prologue (chs. 1-11) provides keys that unlock the rest of the book and the rest of the Bible as well.

Four key concepts presented in Genesis 1-11 are crucial for comprehending the rest of the Bible. First, the God who entered the lives of Abram and Sarai is the same God who created the entire universe. He is the only true and living God-Yahweh, the Creator and the Savior of the world. Second, all people have rebelled against God, their benevolent Creator, and His good will for them. Humanity has inherited a state of sinfulness from Adam and Eve’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden. Third, God judges and will judge the actions of all people. God, by sending the Flood, made it clear to Noah and to everyone that human wickedness is entirely unacceptable. God cannot let evil reign free in His creation. Fourth, sin continues to plague all of humanity-even after the Flood. Although the Flood did not wash away sin, God, as the second half of Genesis (chs. 12-50) reveals, has a plan to save humanity from its own evil deeds.

The first part of Genesis provides the setting for the story of Abram and Sarai (chs. 12-50). Their world is populated by a broad spectrum of people groups, each with its own language, customs, values, and beliefs, and all have adopted their own imaginary gods.

The main story of Genesis-God’s plan to bless all nations through Abraham’s descendants-starts in chapter 12. It begins with God’s call to Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah) to become the parents of a new people-a new nation. This new nation would become God’s tool for blessing all peoples. Even though Abram and Sarai were merely an elderly couple with the means to travel, God chose to begin His plan of redemption for the entire world with them. The description of their experiences demonstrates the irruption (the breaking into from without) of God’s blessing into their lives. Central to God’s blessing was His covenant with Abraham-the Abrahamic covenant (see 12:1-3; 15:1-21). God, the awesome Creator of the entire universe, freely chose to make everlasting promises to Abraham and his descendants. These promises in the Abrahamic covenant were the foundation for all of God’s subsequent promises and covenants in the Bible. Genesis is not merely a beginning; it provides the foundation for the rest of the biblical narrative.

Christ in the Scriptures

According to the New Testament, Adam is “a type of Him who was to come” (Rom. 5:14). In other words, Adam’s life in some ways points vividly to Jesus. Consider that both individuals entered the world through a special act of God, as sinless men. But while Adam is the head of the old creation, Christ is the head of a new creation.

Melchizedek (whose name literally means “king of righteousness”) is a strange and shadowy figure who suddenly appears in Genesis 14. He is the king of Salem (which means “peace”); the Bible calls him “the priest of God Most High.” Some scholars believe that this one who was, in the words of Hebrews 7:3, “made like the Son of God,” was in fact Christ Himself. Christ, after all, is known as the Prince of Peace (Is. 9:6).

Joseph’s character and experiences (chs. 39-50) foreshadow the coming of the Messiah in that both Joseph and Christ are objects of special love by their fathers, hated by their brothers, rejected as rulers over their brothers, conspired against and sold for silver, condemned though innocent, and raised from humiliation to glory by the power of God.


Creation, the Flood, the Tower of Babel

2167 B.C.

Abraham is born in Ur of the Chaldeans

2091 B.C.

Abraham is called to set out for Canaan

2066 B.C.

Isaac is born to Abraham and Sarah

2006 B.C.

Jacob is born to Isaac and Rebekah

1991 B.C.

Abraham dies in Canaan

1915 B.C.

Joseph is born to Jacob and Rachel

1886 B.C.

Isaac dies in Canaan

1876 B.C.

Jacob and his family move to Egypt

1859 B.C.

Jacob dies in Egypt

1805 B.C.

Joseph dies in Egypt

Genesis Outline


I. The stories of Creation and the Fall 1:1-3:24

A. Creation: the seven days 1:1-2:3

B. Creation: the making of man and woman 2:4-25

C. The fall of humankind and God’s judgment on Adam and Eve 3:1-24

II. The family of Adam and Eve 4:1-5:32

A. Cain and Abel 4:1-26

B. The family history of Adam and Eve 5:1-32

III. The Flood 6:1-9:29

A. The sons of God and the daughters of men 6:1-4

B. The choosing of Noah 6:5-22

C. The arrival of the Flood 7:1-24

D. The abating of the waters 8:1-22

E. The aftermath 9:1-29

IV. The early nations and the Tower of Babel 10:1-11:32

Main Section

I. Abram and Sarai (Abraham and Sarah) 12:1-25:34

A. Abram and Sarai and their early experiences in the land of Canaan 12:1-15:21

B. Abram and Sarai’s search for a son 16:1-22:24

C. Abraham and Sarah’s last days 23:1-25:34

II. Isaac and Rebekah 26:1-27:45

A. Isaac and Abimelech 26:1-33

B. Isaac’s blessing on his two sons Jacob and Esau 27:1-45

III. Jacob and Esau 27:46-36:43

A. The sending of Jacob to Laban 27:46-28:5

B. Esau’s marriage to a daughter of Ishmael 28:6-9

C. God’s self-revelation to Jacob at Bethel 28:10-22

D. Jacob’s family 29:1-30:24

E. Jacob’s dealings with Laban in Padan Aram 30:25-31:55

F. The reconciliation of Jacob and Esau 32:1-33:20

G. Dinah and her brothers 34:1-31

H. The last days of Isaac 35:1-29

I. The family records of Esau 36:1-43

IV. Joseph (with two interludes) 37:1-50:26

A. Joseph’s dreams and a family nightmare 37:1-36

B. Interlude 1: Judah and Tamar 38:1-30

C. Joseph’s humiliation in Egypt 39:1-40:23

D. Joseph’s exaltation in Egypt 41:1-57

E. Joseph’s reunion with his family 42:1-47:31

F. Interlude 2: Jacob’s last days 48:1-50:14

G. Joseph’s last days 50:15-26