Bible Study Guide: Genesis

What makes Genesis special?

The word Genesis comes from a Greek word meaning "beginning." And this is a book about beginnings, and it moves from a universal view to a very specific one" the beginning of the world, the beginning of humans, and the beginning of the people of Israel that comes from a call to an individual, Abraham. Genesis is also a book of faith, which means that it is mainly concerned with who God is and how God has been involved in the lives of people from the time of creation.

Why was Genesis written?

The earliest ancestors of the Israelites did not write down their family history, but they told stories. These stories were passed on for generations. Eventually, they were written down so that the people of Israel would have a record of how God created the world and how they became God's people. The book also describes how the first human beings broke the perfect relationship they had with God in the Garden of Eden. But God did not give up on human beings, and eventually chose Abram and Sarai (later called Abraham and Sarah) to leave their home in Northern Mesopotamia and go to Canaan, a land God promised to give to Abram and his descendants. God also promised Abram that his descendants would be a great people who would bring God's blessings to all the other nations of the world (12:1-3).

Genesis includes a number of family lists (genealogies) to explain how the Israelite people are related to each other and to other peoples and nations in the ancient Near East, Middle East, and northeastern Africa.

What's the story behind the scene?

According to tradition, Moses was considered the author and collector of the first five books of the Bible, including Genesis. It is difficult to say for certain when Moses lived, but the Bible (1 Kings 6:1) and other ancient documents seem to point to some time between 1400 and 1250 B.C. That would make Genesis over 3300 years old! However, in the past two centuries, some Bible scholars have suggested that Genesis actually reached its final form much later than the time of Moses, perhaps as late as the time of Israel's exile in Babylon (587-538 B.C.). They noted that the two descriptions of God's creation of the earth (Genesis 1:1-2:4 and 2:4-25) differ slightly, and each uses a different name for God. They began to wonder if the book may be a collection of the writings of different authors, each having important stories and history to contribute to this "family album" of Israel's earliest ancestors. But no matter who wrote the book, its main message is clear: The God of Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants (the people of Israel) is the creator of the world and acts in history to save all people.

How is Genesis constructed?

Genesis can be divided into two main parts: (1) Chapters 1-11 cover the creation of the world and the earliest human families, as well as the Great Flood and the creation of different languages. (2) Chapters 12-50 tell the story of the ancestors of the people of Israel, beginning with the adventures of Abraham and Sarah and ending with their grandson Jacob's family living in Egypt. A broad outline of the book follows these two main parts:

  • The beginning of human history (1:1-11:25)
  • God creates the universe and all living things (1:1-2:25)
  • Sin in Eden (3:1-4:16)
  • The first generations of human beings (4:17-5:32)
  • Noah and his descendants (6:1-11:25)
  • The beginning of God's people, Israel (11:26-50:26)
  • Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac (11:26-23:20)
  • Isaac and his family (24:1-28:9)
  • Jacob and Esau and their families (28:10-36:43)
  • The story of Jacob's son, Joseph (37:1-50:26)