Authorship and Audience

According to tradition (both Jewish and Christian), Moses wrote the books in the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Thus, Moses is likely the author as I see no reason to diverge from the traditional position. If Moses wrote the book, the most direct audience would have been the people of Israel. Genesis serves as an introduction to how the people of Israel came to be and what God plans to do through her. Given the universal importance of creation and the promise of redemption (Genesis 3:15) however, all of humanity is the indirect audience of this book.

Date and Historical Context

Assuming Moses wrote the book, Genesis would have been written during his lifetime, many have suggested during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. In order to nail down a date for Moses life, it is helpful to identify the date of the exodus from Egypt. This is the subject of significant debate as some hold to an "Early Exodus" claiming that the exodus occurred around 1446 B.C., while others hold to a "Late Exodus" claiming that the exodus occurred in the later half of the 1200s BC. The details of this debate are beyond the scope of this discussion, but I hold to an "early exodus" which would put the date of this book likely between 1445 and 1400 BC. Assuming the book was written during the wilderness wandering, the book would have been written during a time of spiritual formation in Israel's history. Israel was still trying to figure out who she was as well as how she ought to follow God.

Theological Theme(s)

  • Beginnings. Genesis, which itself is a word that is transliterated from the Greek for "coming into being", is all about beginnings. Within the first three chapters of Genesis, we see God create the universe and make a promise to redeem. If you think of the Bible as a play, in Genesis 1-2, we have the setting and cast introduced. In Genesis 3, the plot is introduced. The plot of God's salvation of mankind is the central theme of the Bible and human history... and it all starts in the Garden in Genesis. The book of Genesis begins when the universe was not and ends with an earth full of rebellious men to whom God has made promises. Genesis is all about beginnings. And not just beginnings that occur out of thin air. The beginnings in the book of Genesis start with God (see the point below for more on this).
  • God's Action in the Universe. The worldview presented by the book of Genesis is that God is intimately involved in and in control over His creation. He did not create the universe and then step back. He is not just one of many participants with relatively equal power in the universe. Throughout the book of Genesis, God is, by far, the most active and powerful character. He creates the universe, makes a garden, makes man, makes woman, makes marriage, reveals the coming flood to Noah, shuts the door of the ark, calls Abraham, changes Abram's and Sarai's names, makes a unilateral covenant with Abraham, names Ishmael and Isaac, reiterates Abrahamic covenant to Isaac, chooses Jacob over Esau, changes Jacob's name, reiterates Abrahamic covenant to Jacob, and works through the treachery of Joseph's brothers to save them (among many other things). In short, the main character of the book of Genesis is God and not Noah, Abraham, Isaac, nor anyone else.
  • How Will God Deal with and Relate to Evil? This is one of the essential questions we must ask when reading Genesis. The story starts with a fall and through out the book we find that some of the primary characters are sinful and fallen. One of the major questions is: Can God still bring about His promises and plan even though man is sinful? The great hope of the book of Genesis is that God shows Himself to be bring about His will even while facing opposition from sinful man. This hope is summarized by Joseph in Genesis 45:5 and 50:20 where he points out that the treachery his brothers meant for evil has been used by God for good. In a sense, this is the hope of the book of Genesis: that God can and will use even evil for His good purpose and plan.
  • God's Choice of Israel. The two themes mentioned above become focused together in the book of Genesis to describe how God is at work in choosing and forming the beginnings of a new nation: Israel. We watch as the seed of Adam and Eve, promised to one day crush the head of Satan (Genesis 3:15), grows and expands. We watch as God makes covenants and promises to those he chooses. God miraculously gives Abraham and Sarah a child. God chooses to exalt Jacob above Esau. God uses the treachery of Joseph's brothers to send him into slavery in Egypt where he will ultimately save his people from famine. Through the book of Genesis, we are watching the formation of a nation by God's design.


The outline below is based around the phrase that is usually translated into English as "These are the generations of ..." or "This is the account of ...". This phrase occurs ten times throughout the book of Genesis and is, I believe, the best way to structure the book. The Hebrew word used for "generations" that is used in each of these instances is transliterated as "Toledot".

0. Primeval History [1 - 11:26]

A. Prologue: Creation of Heavens and Earth [1 - 2:3]

B. Toledot of Heavens and Earth [2:4 - 4]

C. Toledot of Adam [5 - 6:8]

D. Toledot of Noah [6:9 - 9]

E. Toledot of Shem, Ham, and Japheth [10 - 11:9]

F. Toledot of Shem [11:10-26]

I. Patriarchal History [11:27 - 50]

A. Toledot of Terah [11:27 - 25:11]

B. Toledot of Ishmael [25:12-18]

C. Toledot of Isaac [25:19 - 35]

D. Toledot of Esau [36 - 37:1]

E. Toledot of Jacob [37:2 - 50]



  • Notice that members of the God-head (often called the Trinity) are involved in Creation. The spirit of God hovers over the unformed earth (Genesis 1:2) and God is recorded as referring to Himself in the plural (1:26).
  • In today's culture, the debate between naturalism (often represented by evolution) and super-naturalism has put a lot of focus on the creation account (and this is not a bad thing). If we just look at the text, however, and consider the fact that the original audience in the Ancient Near-East would have been familiar with other creation stories, we notice that the creation account recorded in Genesis 1 is actually very short and concise. We do not get a lot of details regarding why or how God creates. And I believe this is intentional as it God is the one with the prerogative to do as He pleases by nature of the fact that He is the pre-existent creator.
  • On the note of the cursory nature of the creation account, notice that the sun and moon are not even mentioned by name (see Genesis 1:14-16) and the creation of the stars is described in three words (as it is translated into English in the NASB) ("the stars also": 1:16).

The Fall

  • When we, as Christians, think of the Fall, we often think of Satan and his role in the whole fiasco, but we often forget that something was also going on in Eve's heart and mind (the critical verse in Genesis 3:6).
  • Notice how Eve's lust in Genesis 3:6 parallels the description of all the other trees in the Garden (see 2:9). To Eve, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, from which they were prohibited from eating, was "good for food", "a delight to the eyes", and "desirable to make one wise" (3:6). The rest of the trees in the garden, however, were described by God in a similar way as being "good for food" and "pleasing to the sight" (2:9). It wasn't as though the trees in the Garden were a bit ugly and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a rare beauty... all of the trees were "pleasing to the sight" (2:9). In the same way, it is not as though Adam and Eve did not have enough food or good enough food. The trees of the garden are described by God as being "good for food" (2:9). Eve's observation that the forbidden tree was a "desirable to make one wise" is also interesting if, as I presume they did (based on Genesis 3:8), Adam and Eve had personal interaction with God Himself. They had access to the source of all wisdom but instead rejected that wisdom to seek another. Thus, we see that the nature of sin is not only disobedience to God, but is also a willful rejection or twisting of God's gifts and plans.
  • Genesis 3:15 is God's promise of redemption after the fall. It is often called the "protevangelium" (meaning 'first gospel' or 'early gospel'). It is worth noting that this promise of salvation through the seed and Satan's defeat comes before God has called any specific nation. That is to say, this promise is in play for all of descendants of Adam and Eve and not just Israel. God will bring His seed (singular; that is, Jesus Christ) will come from Israel, but the defeat of Satan will liberate the seed (plural; that is, some of the descendants of Adam and Eve).


  • The covenant with Abraham, ratified with the ceremony described in Genesis 15:7-21, is very interesting for two reasons. First, it takes the form of a standard covenant ceremony in the Ancient Near East. In that time, a covenant between two parties was ratified by killing animals, cutting them in half, and splitting up each half, thus forming a path between the animals. Each party involved in the covenant would then walk through the path between the dead animals signifying their commitment to the covenant on pain of death. The idea is that if one party breaks the covenant, they acknowledge that they can be killed as the animals. A covenant in that day (as today), was a serious thing. Second, the ceremony described in Genesis 15:7-21 is interesting because it breaks the normal pattern of covenants. In this passage, a deep sleep falls of Abram (15:12) and only God walks between the animals. Thus, God is making a unilateral and unconditional covenant with Abram. It is entirely up to God to fulfill that which he promised.


  • Notice that God is the one naming things throughout the book. God names the various constructs of His creation like light, dark, day, night, and man (Genesis 1). God changes the names of Abram (to Abraham in Genesis 17:5) and Sarai (to Sarah in 17;15) as well as changing Jacob's name to Israel in 32:28-29. God provides the names for both Ishmael (Genesis 16:11) and Isaac (17:19). From the very beginning of the Bible, the name of a thing is very important as well as the one from whom the name was derived.
  • Building off of the last observation, numerous names of God are used in the text. In Genesis one, the word used for God is "Elohim". In Genesis two, "Yahweh Elohim" is used. God reveals His name to Abram as "Yahweh" (Genesis 15:7). In my estimation, there are two things particularly worthy of note in this observation:
    1. First, God takes it upon Himself to reveal Himself. There is no way for humans to know Him personally without His intervention. God revealed His name to Abraham and through inspiring the book of Genesis itself, He is revealing more of Himself.
    2. Second, while the human characters in Genesis only have one name (although that name is sometimes changed), God has many names which is a testament to His complex and infinite nature.

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