Before we begin our study of the specific difficulties found in Genesis, we need to examine a few introductory issues. We will consider how the book of Genesis received its name, the main divisions of the book, and, above all, the reason the book was written.
Where Did The Title Come From?
In ancient times a book was usually named after its first two or three words. Genesis was no exception. The Book of Genesis, like nearly the entire Old Testament, was written in Hebrew. The Hebrew title of the book is Bereshith
, which means in the beginning.
Greek Name Genesis
The Old Testament was eventually translated from Hebrew into Greek about 250 B.C. This translation, known as the Septuagint (meaning seventy and designated LXX), was made so that the people could have the Word of God in their native language-Greek. The Greek translators gave the book their own title, Genesis
. The name was derived from the heading of the book's ten divisions. The Greek word is identical to the English title. The word Genesis
can be translated as history of, origin, birth, generation, or genealogy.
Two Main Divisions
The Book of Genesis can be divided into two main sections- Genesis 1-11
and Genesis 12-50
. The first section can be described as primeval history. The major events covered include: the Creation of the universe and humanity, the Fall of Man, the Flood of Noah, and the confusion of the languages at the Tower of Babel.
The first eleven chapters, which cover a period of about two thousand years, are preparatory to the main part of the story - God's dealings with His covenant people Israel, those who descended from Abraham through his son Isaac.
Two Types Of Events
As we examine the Book of Genesis we find two basic types of events recorded. The first type concerns those events that happened on a global or universal scale. Included in these events would be the original creation of the universe and the Flood. Genesis also records local events that pertain to Abraham and his descendants (such as the visit of the three messengers in Genesis 18
). We could rightly designate these as family matters.
Why Was Genesis Written?
This brings us to why the book was written. As the Greek name implies, the purpose of the book is to trace the beginnings of history. The Old Testament documents the history of the Hebrew people. It relates the promises that God made to Abraham. Abraham's descendants would receive a land of promise that would be an everlasting possession for them. The Bible records the supernatural beginning of this nation with the birth of Isaac.
Down To Egypt
It then chronicles their history as eventually seventy of them went down to Egypt. The Scripture records their miraculous delivery from Egypt, some four hundred years later and their journey on the way to the Promised Land. As the nation was on their way to the Land of Promise certain questions would naturally arise among the people. Where did their nation come from? What promises were made to Abraham and his descendants? Where did they live? What was the nation's special relationship to God?
The Origin Of All Things
Further questions would arise. Where did the patriarchs come from? Where did humanity originate? How did the universe begin? Where did animal and plant life come from? Did God create the universe for a purpose? What was the origin of marriage and family? How did the world get to be so evil? Why is humanity now in an alienated relationship with God? All these questions are answered with the writing of the Book of Genesis.
From The Standpoint Of The Exodus
Genesis, therefore was written from the standpoint of the Exodus. It answered the questions of the people where they came from, how and why they got down to Egypt, and what was their heritage?
Genesis And Mt. Sinai
One of the purposes of the author of Genesis was to make a connection between God's original plan of blessing for humanity and His establishment of the covenant with the nation Israel at Mt. Sinai. The covenant at Mt. Sinai is God's plan to restore the blessing lost in the Garden of Eden when humanity rebelled against God. This lost blessing will be realized through the descendants of Abraham.
Blessing Not Restored
The covenant at Mt. Sinai did not restore God's blessing to humanity because Israel, the chosen people, failed to keep their part of the covenant. Hence God promised future blessings for the people that He Himself would bring. The Lord said there will come a day when God will give Israel a new heart to trust Him.
Promise Of Future Blessing
Though humanity failed in the Garden, and at Mt. Sinai, there is a promise of future blessing where God's promises will be fulfilled. The author of Genesis, therefore, is calling people to have faith in a faithful God who will ultimately succeed where humanity has failed.
The viewpoint of Genesis is not that of the modern historian who gathers his material and arranges it in a chronological order. The writer, or compiler, of the Book of Genesis was selective in the material that he used. The purpose of the author is to present a brief outline of the history of divine revelation up to the beginning of the national life of Israel. The creation account, for example, is not a complete account of all things that occurred in the beginning. The events recorded fit the author's purpose and set the stage for the momentous things that were to follow.
We can conclude the following regarding the reason for the composition of the Book of Genesis.
The title Genesis
comes from the Greek translation of the Hebrew text. The English translators kept the Greek title of the book.
Genesis has two main divisions. The first eleven chapters cover the Creation, Fall, Flood, and Tower of Babel while the great majority of the book involves God dealings with one man - Abraham and his descendants.
The book was written to explain to Abraham's descendants-Israel, why they were going to the Promised Land. The nation Israel on their way to the Promised Land, needed to know where they came from, where the world came from, how humanity had originally failed, and how God was going to fulfill the promises to redeem His fallen creatures from their sinful condition.
The author also links the events in Genesis to the covenant at Mt. Sinai. The descendants of Abraham had a chance to restore the original blessing lost by Adam's sin. Unhappily they also failed.
The author is selective in the events he records. They are written to chronicle the main events in the history of the Israelite people. There is no attempt at thoroughness or to give all the events in a strict chronological order.