Since Genesis is the first book of the Pentateuch, or Torah, Jews and Christians throughout history have upheld Moses as the author. In recent years, many scholars have questioned the idea of one single author composing all of the first five books of the Bible; thus, the documentary hypothesis was born. Documentary hypothesists believe that the writings of the Pentateuch actually come from a variety of different authors that were compiled together around the time of the Exile. However, this view is exactly what its title says, a hypothesis. There is little proof to support this sort of thought. Yet in regards to Moses being the author, both the Old and New Testament give clear support to his authorship, including Jesus Himself (Mark 10:5; Luke 16:29, 24:27; John 5:46).
The overarching theme of Genesis 1-11 is to introduce humanity to the one true God through the lens of four events that shaped all of human existence: the creation of the world, the fall of humanity, the great flood, and the scattering at Babel. In addition to this primary theme of revealing the Most High, Genesis gives beginning to almost all major doctrines found throughout the Bible. It is here that the theme of redemption is first seen as God gives grace to the Adam and Eve after their blatant rebellion against Him. Also, the first explicit promise of Jesus is made in chapter three, promising salvation and a renewal of creation. Genesis is the beginning of all biblical themes.
The theme of the second part of Genesis (chapters 12-50) is to introduce humanity to the one true God who faithfully and graciously makes and maintains covenants with His chosen people. By grace, the LORD promises blessings to Abraham and his family, and Genesis shows repeatedly that God’s promises can be trusted.
Moses likely wrote Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch during the Israelites forty years of wandering in the wilderness. It is not clear how exactly Moses received the information found within Genesis, especially since the final events regarding Joseph occurred around four hundred years before Moses was born.
One possibility is that the accounts were passed down from generation to generation beginning with Adam telling Seth until Moses received them from his mother. Many scoff at such a thought, citing that even the passing of a simple message today can result in a completely different message by the time it reaches its source, and since there are many varying cultural traditions of creation and the great flood, they argue that this must have happened in those instances as well. Another thought is that God directly revealed to Moses the truth of these events. Though I lean toward the second one, either demands the work of God in the preservation of truth.
However, regardless of the method, recognizing that Moses wrote Genesis to the Israelites in the wilderness is crucial for interpreting this text correctly. We must understand that Moses is writing to a group of people who have been slaves in another land for four hundred years. The Israelites were all but completely removed from their own culture. Since Egypt was the cultural epicenter of the ancient world, the people of God saw a plethora of gods being worshipped and also heard various accounts of creation and the great flood from other people groups. Thus, the writing of Genesis served as a permanent reminder that there is only one true creation story, only one true account of the great flood, and, most importantly, only one true God who is deserving of all worship and glory.
The book of Genesis can be easily divided into two halves: chapters 1-11 and 12-50. In the words of Dr. Constable, Genesis 1-11 is essentially “a prologue to the prologue.” While chapters twelve through fifty give account of the lives of the patriarchs and remind the Israelites under Moses of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the first eleven chapters provide preface to the patriarchal narratives. Indeed, one of the largest differences between the two halves of Genesis is scope. The first eleven chapters paints in large, broad strokes the interaction between God and humanity. The latter portion, however, narrows its focus tremendously by focusing upon one family, beginning with Abraham.
Like any proper introduction, Genesis sets the ground for the remainder of the Bible. The events and thematic devices presented in Genesis are seen throughout the rest of Scripture. Crucial doctrines begin in this text, from the attributes of God to the depravity of man. This is the primary goal of Genesis: to set up themes in the Bible, which will ultimately culminate with Jesus Christ.
Since the overall purpose of Genesis is to provide a theological introduction to the Bible, we can also conclude that Genesis is not primarily scientific in nature. Though creation versus evolution debates are all the rage these days and some in the science community seem bent on disproving the Bible, Genesis was never intended to be used mainly for science. Moses, in his Spirit-inspired writing, was not concerned with the details of creation, but rather he seeks to make it abundantly clear that God created everything.
Moreover, even though Genesis 1-11 does provide us with our only God-breathed history of the pre-Abraham world, it is clearly a theologically focused history as it completely ignores many questions that we might love to have had answered. For instance, the Bible gives no statement on the existence of dinosaurs, and though we might wonder how they fit into history, we simply cannot expect such an answer from the theological focus of the text.
That being said, we must make every effort not to read ourselves and our thoughts into the Scripture. Though practicing exegesis instead of eisegesis is always a must in terms of biblical interpretation, the vast nature of Genesis provides an unusually fertile ground for idle speculations and unnecessary division over secondary matters. Though it may be interesting to discuss the possibilities found between the text, we must be especially vigilant in Genesis to avoid doing the very thing that Paul forbids in First Timothy chapter one. To avoid such vain talk, we must always remind ourselves to focus upon God throughout our exploration of Genesis.
If Genesis 1-11 is about setting up the large scope theology of the Bible, chapters 12-50 are about God bringing grace and mercy to His people. Abraham is the beginning of this process as God calls him to become the patriarch of God’s own nation, the Hebrews. His grandson Jacob will continue the story by having twelve sons that each become a patriarch of Israel’s twelve tribes. The account of Abraham’s great-grandson, Joseph, closes out Genesis by showing how God will continue to provide for and protect His people. Thus, Abraham is the foundation of Israel, Jacob is its formation, and Joseph displays its divine provision. For us today, we look to the establishment of Israel for two reasons. First, Christ came from the lineage of Abraham, and second, the New Testament church is the continuation and fulfillment of Israel in the Old Testament. Just as the Hebrew people were God’s own people, so all who are in Christ are His own. Therefore, the story of Abraham and his descendants is the story of us.