Genesis is the first Book in the Bible, hence and obviously first of the Old Testament and the Torah.

It is the narrative account of beginnings: of the world, of the community of Israel, of faith. The beginnings concern the theological ground of the created world and the origin of Israel among the people of the world.

Literary Content 

The content of the Book can be summarized in 2 parts

  • The prehistorical period (Gen 1-11) and
  • The Historical period (Gen 12-50)

Gen Ch 1-11 is a collection of material presenting a particular notion of the character of the cosmos. It is evidently clear that while Israel borrows and utilizes the common deposits of the ancient Near Eastern Traditions in this material, Israel has shaped these appropriated materials to make a particular statement about the character of the world in relation to God.

Gen Ch 12-50 deals with the traditions of the Patriarchs and ends with the Joseph story.

The two sections are wisely connected and this forms the intent of the book. Gen 12:1-4 is the key that looks back at the created world under sin and looks forward to Israel as a source of blessing among the nations. Further, the goodness of the world indicated in 1:31 and Josephs providence in 50:20 provide a way of holding together both origins under God’s promise.

Literary Forms: 

To interpret the book of Genesis we need to pay attention to the form of writing, the time and limitation of language.

  1. A fairy tale – starts with once upon a time
  2. Narrative – is a simple story but with theological significance. The primary literary form of Genesis is “Narrative”. Israel tells the story of God’s acts in its life as a nation.
  3. Saga – This is the dominant form of Narrative in Genesis. They have a basics in fact, but expanded by non-factual elements. They originate at oral level and combine Tradition and imagination. Saga explains
  • Why something is the way it is
  • Why something / someone has a particular name
  • Why tribes relate as they do
  • Why certain places or actions are considered holy

Theological Content

Gen Ch 1 -11 asserts that the world is formed by, accountable to, and destined for Yahweh’s purpose but is recalcitrant refusing to be God’s obedient creature. This narrative concerns the theological issues of fidelity and disobedience.

Gen Ch 12-50 claims that Israel is formed by Yahweh’s summoning, promising purpose to become a vehicle for God’s way in the world. Israel becomes the arena in which God’s remarkable deeds of fidelity are enacted.

Overall, the Book of Genesis asserts that the world and Israel belong to God, exist because of God’s intention and are called to live towards God’s Hope.

  1. For Jews, the Book of Genesis asserts the decisive vocation of Israel among the nations as a people under promise.
  2. For Christians, the Book of Genesis is understood as the source of a promissory process that leads from this community to the community gathered around Jesus.
  3. For both Jews and Christians, the Book of Genesis functions to keep the world open for God’s hope against every ideological and technological effort to close the world and end the historical process.

Composition and Source

After nearly 200 years of hard work, scripture scholars have developed a theory, which has now gained general acceptance by almost all Catholic, Protestant and Jewish students of the Bible. This theory dates the Book of Genesis as we now have it somewhere between 550 and 450 BC, and posts that Genesis is actually a compilation of three earlier works. These three main sources of Genesis each recorded certain events concerning the world’s and Israel’s beginnings; a later editor, with the help of the Holy Spirit, joined them into a continuous narrative that we now call the Book of Genesis. On the basis of language and content, therefore, scripture scholars have distinguished three main traditions (sources) in Genesis:

  1. The oldest source is called the Yahwist (abbreviated as J), because he generally refers to God by the name YHWH (LORD). The writer records the traditions centered around Judah and is hence believed to have lived in the Southern section of Judah or the Promised Land. The language and theology in the writings claim that the same is written around 950 BC. This source relates material spanning from creation to the death of Jacob in Egypt and forms the basic framework for the whole book of Genesis. The main feature of J tradition is that God is visible and walks with man.
  2. A second source is called the Elohist (abbreviated as E). He is so named because he often calls God “Elohim”. Situated in the North and dating somewhere in the 9th or 8th centuries BC, this source records material from Abraham onwards. It appears to have been joined to the J tradition rather early. The main feature of E tradition is that God is invisible and communicates in the midst of fire or storm or acts through angels.
  3. The third main source is called the Priestly tradition (abbreviated as P). It is so named because it emphasizes many details which would be of interest in priestly circles: the role of mediators, ritual, dates, calendars, etc. Perhaps the work of a group of authors, the Priestly tradition is usually dated during or shortly after the Babylonian Exile (c.550 BC).

All the aforesaid sources contain ancient material, which has been handed on to them in both oral and written form. The dates given above suggest when the traditions as we now have them were finally written down.

Sometime between 550 and 450 BC, a final editor gathered these traditions together into the Book of Genesis as we now have it.

Christian Perspective

Christianity sees the mystery of salvation prophesied and prefigured in multiple ways in Genesis.

  1. The first man Adam, is a type of the divine man, Jesus Christ, who assumes headship over the human race to repair the damage done by Adam’s rebellion (chaps 2-3; Rom 5:12-21).
  2. The blessings of Eden, with its flowing rivers and tree of life, point to the blessings of eternal life that await us in heaven (2:8-14; Rev 22:1-50
  3. The vanquishing of the serpent is realized when Christ reigns victorious in the lives of his disciples (3:15; Rom 16:20).
  4. The raging waters of the flood prefigure the saving waters of Baptism (chap 6-8; 1 Pet 3:2021).
  5. Melchizedek the priest king who offers bread and wine is a type of Christ the King and his priestly offering of the Eucharist under the same visible signs (14:17-2; Mt. 26:26-29. Heb 7:1-19)
  6. Abraham is the archetype of the believer, and his faith in the power and goodness of God is the same faith that animates the lives of the Christian faithful (15:1-6; Rom 4:1-12; Gal 3:6-9)
  7. The offering and return of Isaac not spared by his anguished father, fore shadow the dying and rising of Jesus, the beloved Son who was not spared by his Father but was handed over for the world’s salvation (22:1-14; Rom 8:32; Heb 11:17-19)
  8. The expectation of an international ruler from the royal line of Judah is realized in Christ who reigns over all nations as the Lion of the tribe of Judah (49:9-11; Rev 5:5)

Kindly keep me in your prayers.

In Christ,

Steven Pais