Introduction to Genesis (Genesis 1:1-2:4)
The book of Genesis is the first of the five books that Moses wrote (known collectively as the Pentateuch or Torah), apparently during the 40 years that Israel wandered in the wilderness before being brought into Canaan, the Promised Land, under Joshua. The other four books of Moses are Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
But since Moses lived long after the events described in Genesis, where did he get his information? The book of Genesis shows evidence that it was compiled by Moses from earlier documents. In some cases the earlier documents he used are specifically named. One of the most obvious is noted in Genesis 5:1: "This is the book of the genealogy of Adam." Another intriguing example is found in Genesis 2:4: "This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created...." Some scholars point out that this apparently refers to a document, "the history of the heavens and the earth," that is the source for all the preceding material from Genesis 1:1 through 2:3.
The British scholar and Bible translator James Moffatt was firmly convinced that this is an editorial note giving the source of the information. In his translation he even transferred the first part of Genesis 2:4 to serve as the introduction to Genesis 1:1. Thus his Bible translation begins with Genesis 2:4, "This is the story of how the universe was formed...," before going into Genesis 1:1.
The Hebrew word translated "history" in Genesis 2:4 literally means "generations"-or, as the New King James Version translates it elsewhere , "genealogy." Bible scholars recognize at least eight other passages in Genesis where the same word is used in what appear to be a series of ancient documents that form much of the source material for the book.
Genesis 6:9, for example, informs us, "This is the genealogy of Noah." The narrative then recounts how God told Noah to build an ark in which he, his family and the many kinds of animals were spared from the flood. Genesis 10:1 then picks up the story from what appears to be a new document: "Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth." Genesis 11:10 continues with another narrative, telling us, "This is the genealogy of Shem." The same literary structure continues with the accounts of Abraham's father Terah (11:27), Ishmael (25:12), Isaac (verse 19), Esau (36:1, 9) and Jacob (37:2).
From the particular Hebrew wording used it appears that these passages are in fact family histories and genealogical records written either at or near the time of the events they describe. These records were then passed down from generation to generation and ultimately compiled in the book we know as Genesis.
The different writing styles in each of these sections provides further evidence that they were written by different authors at different times and in different cultures. Notice what The Expositor's Bible Commentary introduction to the book tells us: "Much like the writers of the NT [New Testament] Gospels and the later historical books of the OT [Old Testament] (e.g., Kings and Chronicles), the writer of the Book of Genesis appears to have composed his work from 'archival' records of God's great deeds in the past. We know from references with the early historical books that such records were maintained at an early stage in Israel's history (Exod. 17:14; Num. 21:14; Josh. 10:13); so it is not unlikely that similar records were kept at far earlier stages within the individual households of the patriarchs and their tribal ancestors.
"In any event, the narrative within the Book of Genesis appear to be largely made up of small, self-contained stories....If such is, in fact, the case, one should not expect to find absolute uniformity of style, etc., among all the individual narratives....Indeed, we would likely expect the writer, working under the direction of God, to have preserved his records just as he had received them, sacrificing uniformity for the sake of historical faithfulness....
"The picture of the narratives of Genesis that emerges from such observations is that of a carefully wrought account of Israel's early history fashioned from the narratives and genealogical tables of Israel's own ancestral archives" (1990, vol. 2, pp. 4-5). And Moses then compiled, edited and perhaps enhanced this material as he was guided by the inspiration of God's Spirit.
In the Hebrew editions of the Scriptures the book of Genesis receives its name from the first word of verse 1, Berishiyth, "In the Beginning." The name by which we know the book, Genesis, comes from the Greek translation of the Pentateuch known as the Septuagint (often abbreviated LXX); the word means "beginning" or "origin."
Truly Genesis is a book of beginnings. Its purpose is to chronicle origins. It records the origin of the universe, the earth, man, sin, gentile nations, the Israelite people, the covenants and social customs of the Israelites. While it is the first book of the portion of the Bible known as the Torah (often rendered as "the Law" in English), Genesis is not primarily a book of law per se-;that is, it is mostly a historical narrative. (It should be realized that Torah can more generally mean "teaching" or "instruction.") However, Genesis does issue some specific commands. Some examples: "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (2:17). "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife...;" (verse 24), which Christ later quoted as part of God's law (Matthew 19:4-6). "But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:4). This law is reiterated later in Leviticus (17:11-12). God also said in Genesis: "Walk before me and be blameless" (17:1). That is a definite command. Furthermore, Genesis also reveals the origins of many other laws, such as those dealing with the Sabbath, circumcision, proper foods and many other issues. This is important to understand, for some believe the laws of God codified in the other books of the Pentateuch had no prior existence and therefore are not intended for mankind in general but only for ancient Israel.
Genesis deals with several themes. Like multicolored threads woven together into a fine tapestry, each of these themes is woven through the narrative of the entire book. The sovereignty of God, sin and its consequences, obedience and faith, redemption and forgiveness-all these and many other themes come through loud and clear in this marvelous book. We'll see many of these themes continue throughout the entire Bible as well.
Elohim (Genesis 1:1-2:4)
In the opening sentence of the Bible, we are introduced to the Creator, who in English is called God. In the Hebrew, the word translated "God" here is Elohim. Understanding this Hebrew word is vital to understanding the purpose of God and your destiny.
Elohim is the plural form of El or Eloah. Both El and Eloah derive from a root meaning "strong," and hence El and Eloah mean "the Strong One," referring to God. Thus, Elohim, a plural noun, literally means "the Strong Ones," and is used to identify God, who is all-powerful. Elohim is used to indicate both the true God and the false gods of human invention. However, when used to indicate the true God the word Elohim, plural in form, is often (but not always) paired with a singular verb, seemingly contrary to the rules of grammar. For example, in English we would say, "They run," which would correctly follow the grammatical rule that the plural they be paired with the plural run. But we would never say, "He run," for the rules of English grammar require that the singular pronoun he be paired with the singular verb runs. In just the same way we would expect the plural noun Elohim to be paired with a plural verb. But that is not always the case when referring to the true God. In Genesis 1:1 we read, "In the beginning God created..." While the word for God is Elohim, a plural noun, the word for "created," bara, is singular in form. Why?
We must remember that Elohim is often used as a name-viewed best as a family name. Another good illustration can be found in the national name, United States. In American English, this is a singular noun. Though plural in form, you would pair it with the singular verb "is." For instance, the United States is involved in the conflict-rather than the United States are involved in the conflict. Of course, the question might be asked, why is this name plural in form? The answer is that it does represent a true plurality-as multiple states make up the country. Just the same, why is the name Elohim, though often singular in usage, plural in form? The reason is that it too represents a true plurality-more than one Being making up the God family.
But why, if Elohim is plural in form, do we refer to it in English by the singular form "God"? The answer is that in most cases the inspired Greek of the New Testament translates the word as Theos, the singular form of the noun meaning God. And there definitely is a singular element to the God family. For the true God is a plurality in complete agreement and oneness of mind! Odd as it may sound, the Bible reveals that God is a family of Spirit Beings. Yet Jesus Christ Himself emphasized this truth when He continually spoke of the Father-a separate divine Being-and Himself as the Son of God. This divine family of God always acts, thinks and speaks in complete unity. And perhaps that is what the Greek Theos emphasizes. But that Elohim does in fact denote a plurality of divine Beings is proven quite clearly elsewhere in Scripture, including two other verses in Genesis.
Genesis 1:26 reads, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness..." The Hebrew is very clear, and the translation using "Us" and "Our" is precisely correct. God, Elohim, is a plurality! But some will point to verse 27 and note that it reads, "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them"-using this to argue that God was only a single individual Being. The simple scriptural explanation is that when it came to doing the creating, only one God Being acted-the One who became Christ (Ephesians 3:9). He created man in His own image as Genesis 1:27 states. But since the One who became Christ is the very image of the Father, the statement of verse 26 is entirely correct. There is no contradiction between verses 26 and 27.
But the clincher is Genesis 3:22-"Then the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of Us..." There can be absolutely no confusing of the matter here. The phrase "one of Us" can only mean that God is a plurality of Beings. While there is one God, that God is a spirit family of divine Beings, but a family without quarrel or schism, always acting in complete unison and harmony. (For a more complete explanation of this divine spirit family, request or download your free copy of our booklet Who Is God?)
The Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:4)
Chapter 1 of Genesis presents the story of the creation. Though the Genesis creation does bear some superficial similarities to the creation fables of Israel's Egyptian, Canaanite, Babylonian and Assyrian neighbors, a straightforward comparison of the creation stories reveals the Genesis story to be of a vastly different character-simple, majestic, inspiring and devoid of childish myth. In fact, the Genesis account of creation shows the true God in sovereign authority and unquestioned power over the very elements reputed to be gods by the pagan religions-light, water, earth, heavenly bodies, sea creatures, plants, animals and man.
Verse 1 records the creation of the heavens (the plural heavens here perhaps indicating the three kinds of heaven mentioned in the Bible: God's spiritual dwelling place, outer space and our planet's atmosphere) and the earth-which does not imply that all of these came into being at the same time. The account of creation in Genesis 1 has been the focus of ridicule by scientists, atheists and unbelievers since the mid-1800s. Central to the assertion that Genesis 1 is unscientific is the notion that biblical chronology only allows about 6,000 years since the universe was created. But a correct understanding of the first two verses reveals that the Bible allows for a much older universe, even an age commensurate with the estimates of many scientists. Verse 1 tells us that God created the heavens and the earth at some indefinite time in the past. Verse 2, then says that the earth "was without form and void." First notice the word "was," translated from the Hebrew hayah. It can also be rendered "became." It is the same word used in Genesis 4:2, which says that Able "was" a shepherd. He clearly wasn't born as one, but became one in time. Moreover, the words "came to pass" in the next verse are translated from the same Hebrew word. So the language of Genesis 1:2 could be understood to mean not that the earth was originally "without form and void" but, rather, became that way. And, indeed, this is what happened, as we will see.The Hebrew for "without form and void" here, tohu va bohu, could also be rendered "waste and chaos." That this was not the state of God's initial creation can be seen from Isaiah 45:18, which states, "For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain, who formed it to be inhabited." The word rendered "vain" here is tohu-the same word from Genesis 1:2 signifying a wasted condition. God, therefore, did not create the earth in a state of waste and confusion. It became that way-evidently in the wake of the angelic revolt led by Satan (compare Revelation 12:4; Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-15; Luke 10:18). Thus, the creation account that then follows is actually the account of the renovation of the earth in preparation for the creation of man (compare Psalm 104:29-30).
Throughout Genesis 1, the creation is seen as the product of the deliberate, reasoned and purposeful act of a supreme Creator God. This stands in sharp contrast to the creation fables of Israel's neighboring nations mentioned above. Those nations manufactured creation epics that had gods ruling the universe yet not having created it. In their epics, the universe had always existed, but in a chaotic state-the job of the gods being to bring some degree of order to the primeval chaos. In some pagan creation epics, the gods did create the universe but only after falling into a drunken state-hence creating by accident! In other pagan creation epics the universe emanated from the gods, growing out of their bodies. Clearly the Genesis creation account stands apart from the creation epics of pagan religions and can in no way be said to be derived from or based on them.
The Genesis creation is presented in a very logical format. Key to rightly comprehending the narrative is to understand that the story is told from the perspective of one standing on the surface of the earth, not one looking down on the earth from some stellar vantage point. It is as if God wanted to put the reader right in the middle of the creative act, watching the process of creation occur all around him. From this terrestrial position, the reader watches the creative act unfold in apparently two stages, each stage occupying three days of activity, the corresponding days of each stage dealing with the same elements. It appears that the first stage comprises days one through three while the second stage comprises days four through six. Days one and four both deal with the heavens; days two and five both deal with the waters; days three and six both deal with the land.
From the pattern of creation shown in Genesis 1 we can learn about God. First, God is the living, active, sovereign Creator who exercises complete control over everything. Second, God is a logical God who creates with design and purpose. Third, God creates in stages-the first stage laying the foundation, the second stage providing the completion and beautification. With this understanding, consider how God is dealing with mankind. The first stage in mankind's creation was physical, when mankind was created according to the physical and intellectual image and likeness of God, receiving dominion over the earth. The second stage in human creation is spiritual, wherein mankind is being created in the spiritual character image of God through Jesus Christ, and is ultimately to receive dominion over all things. In the first stage, God gave the codified law, known from the time of Adam and Eve and eventually redelivered and written on tablets of stone; in the second, He gives His Spirit, which writes the law on our hearts. In the first stage, God dealt with a physical people descended from one man; in the second stage, He deals with a spiritual people begotten by Himself. Clearly the Creator God is still creating, still following His pattern of creation!
The Sabbath (Genesis 1:1-2:4)
God accomplished the final act of creation week by resting from the work He'd been doing. Genesis 2:1 tells us that the heavens and the earth, and all their host, were completed on the sixth day. Verse 2 reads, "And on the seventh day God ended His work which he had done"-or, as some Bible versions better translate it, "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing..." (New International Version). In other words, when the seventh day of creation week began, God had already ceased His work of creating. Instead of creating on the seventh day, God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it-set it apart-from all other days.
The first three verses of Genesis 2 narrate the origin of the seventh-day Sabbath, the weekly day of rest later reintroduced to the Israelites upon their deliverance from Egypt in the days of Moses. Though the word "Sabbath" does not actually appear in Genesis 2 directly, it appears indirectly. The word Shabbath (i.e., Sabbath) is a noun form of the Hebrew verb shabath, which means to cease and desist, to rest from doing a thing. This word shabath is translated "rested" in verses 2 and 3 of Genesis 2. God "shabath-ed" on the seventh day, the Shabbath day! Moreover, the same verb shabath is used in God's instructions in Exodus 23:12, 31:17 and 34:21 to rest and keep the Sabbath day holy. So indeed the seventh day of Genesis 2 was the first Sabbath day, and this is the origin of the weekly Sabbath. (For a more complete explanation of God's purpose for creating the Sabbath and commanding its observance, be sure to request or download your free copy of our booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest.)
Supplementary Reading: "Earth's Age: Does Genesis 1 Indicate a Time Interval" and "Genesis 1 and the Days of Creation," Creation or Evolution, pp. 29-30.