Epic Origins: An Overview of Genesis

I always like looking up the origin of something; seeing how it all started, experiencing the progression, understanding the development. To learn about the creation and history of something is so fascinating. Why? Because it creates a much richer understanding and deeper appreciation for things when you know where they come from and how they got to where they are today.

It’s one of the reasons comic book origin stories are so popular. Films like Batman Begins, Iron Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, and X-Men: First Class tell us how the fantastic journeys of these iconic characters began. It’s also why people love biopics like Walk the Line, Ray, Selma, Theory of Everything, and Jobs. In these types of stories, you find answers, discover who characters are, learn significant lessons, and uncover powerful truths through the unfolding of someone else’s journey.

Genesis is the story of how the entire universe began. In this book, we learn where we came from, why we were created, how our civilization and its many constructs and institutions were established, and how it all went wrong. Most importantly, though, we learn about the Almighty God of the universe, who created us in His image and loves us deeply. We learn about His character and His glorious plans.

As you get ready to study through Genesis, this article will provide you with some context for the first book of the Bible. Why was it written? Who wrote it? What are some of the key themes in the book? These are all questions we’ll address here to help you get a full picture of Genesis. So, let’s dive right in!

AUTHOR AND DATE

This is an interesting question. Genesis is, for all intents and purposes, considered an anonymous work. Nowhere in its 50 chapters is any author credited; there is no indication as to who compiled this exhaustive volume of the creation of the world and the history of Abraham’s family. However, historical tradition, as well as biblical attestation (Mark 12:26; Luke 24:27; John 1:45; Romans 10:5; 2 Corinthians 3:15), credit the authorship of Genesis—and the rest of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible—to Moses.

Here’s the thing, though . . . Moses’ authorship or compilation of the books does not require him to have written it in its entirety. In fact, the whole book of Genesis—unlike the Gospels, the epistles, and many of the major and minor prophets—took place well before Moses was born, indicating that he used a combination of God’s direct and supernatural communication as well as the oral traditions of Abraham’s descendants, the Hebrews. So, you may be more accurate in describing Moses as the curator of Genesis, the editor and historian who through divine guidance, collected the record of the creation and history of God’s people.

So, we can safely establish that Moses was the historian who compiled Genesis. But when did he compile/write it? He must have done it during the 40-year exodus wandering period in which the Israelites were in the desert. This would put the curation of Genesis somewhere between 1440 and 1400 B.C.

AUDIENCE

Genesis is the origin story of us all. Here, we find the creation of the universe, the fall into sin, the first family feud and subsequent murder, the flood, the population of the entire earth, and the establishment of Abraham’s family, the Israelites. This was the original audience for which this amazing work was compiled.

PURPOSE

Scholars believe that these stories were conveyed through oral tradition during the 400 years in Egypt, reminding them of their familial and spiritual heritage and explaining how they got to where they were at that point in history. These stories, such as the epic journey of Joseph or the detail given to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), provided hope for the people of Israel in their time of great affliction under the oppressive rule of the Egyptians.

Later, the Israelites who were involved in the exodus, as well as their descendants, no doubt wanted to be able to pass down the story of God’s creation and faithfulness as well as the promise He made their father, Abraham, so Moses put it all together through divine inspiration and the compiling of oral tradition.

CULTURAL FACTS AND INTERESTING TIDBITS

Genesis chronicles the creation and early history of humanity. Not only did God create the physical universe, but He also formed man and woman in His image and likeness, and He endowed them with the amazing gift of free will. Over time, changes occurred as a result of humanity’s fall into sin, the flood, and the Tower of Babel incident.

From there, tribes, cities, and civilizations began to develop, going through ebbs and flows in power; the rising and falling of empires became a regular rhythm that has continued throughout all of history, including today.

This book also records the establishment of God’s people centuries after the creation, fall, and flood. Here, we’ll see the cultural development of the Israelites as God chose one ordinary man from an idol-worshiping family to build His nation and through whom He would bring His deliverer into the world. That man was Abraham, who believed God and was declared righteous and a friend of God. From these unimpressive roots the Lord began the triumphant saga of redemption. Genesis is the foundation for that saga!

The Book of Genesis is aptly named. It’s a transliteration from the Greek of the Septuagint (the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew) that means “source origin.” The Hebrew name, Bereshit, comes from the book’s first words, “In the beginning.” Both names are appropriate as Genesis sets the stage for a deep, full understanding of the universe, faith, and most importantly, the Lord, the One true God of the universe.

STRUCTURE AND OUTLINE 

The Book of Genesis essentially breaks up into three main sections. These sections are the primeval history (chapters 1–11), the lives of the patriarchs (12–36), and the epic journey of Joseph (37–50).

The first part, Genesis 1–11, acts as a preface to salvation history, outlining the creation of the universe, the arrival of mankind, the entrance of sin into the world, and the origin of God’s redemptive story. The second part, Genesis 12–36, is where we see the plan of redemption take shape through God’s promise to Abraham and the establishment of his family. Part three, Genesis 37–50, shows us how the Israelites ended up in Egypt, setting the stage for exodus, the story of Moses, and the entry into the Promised Land.

I.    Part One: The Beginning (Primeval History)
      a.    The Creation of the Universe; Adam and Eve (Genesis 1–2)
      b.    The Fall and the Results of Sin (Genesis 3–5)
      c.    The Flood (Genesis 6–9)
      d.    The Scattering of Mankind (Genesis 10–11)
II.    Part Two: The Promise (Patriarchal History)
      a.    Abraham (11:27–24)
      b.    Isaac (21–26)  
III.    Part Three: The Dreamers (The Epic Journeys of Jacob and Joseph)
      a.    Jacob (27–37:1)
      b.    The Dreams (Genesis 37:1–10)
      c.    Slavery and Prison (Genesis 37:11–40)
      d.    Joseph’s Ascent and Family Reunion (Genesis 41–48)
      e.    Jacob’s Final Blessings (Genesis 49–50)

KEY THEMES

Creation: God created the universe, and all of His creation was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). There was a true wholeness and harmony between God and humanity, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and nature. Everything was perfect. Everything was paradise.

Sin: In the Garden of Eden, sin entered the world. It entered through one man, Adam (Genesis 3:1–19; Romans 5:12). As a result, unbelief, human conflict, sickness, environmental and moral decay, and death entered the world.

The Imago Dei (Image of God): All human beings are created in the image of God Almighty. Each person bears the Lord’s likeness as a personal, rational, creative being within whom the basic understanding of the absolute laws of morality have been instilled—whether one believes in absolute truths or not. Men and women were also created equal, both bearing His image, both unique, complementing one another.

God’s Plan of Redemption: From the moment sin entered the world, we see God’s plan of redemption for all of mankind established (Genesis 3:15, 21). This plan really begins to unfold through the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:2, 17:4, 18:18–19, 22:17). And although God chose to work through one ethnic group in the Old Testament, His divine intention was that all nations, all the children of Adam, would come to know Him through Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:1–3). Abraham was chosen because of his faith, making him the father of all who come to God on the same basis (Romans 4; Galatians 3).

God’s Sovereignty: Romans 8:28, one of the most important and powerful verses in all of Scripture, declares that God weaves everything together for the good those who love Him. In His sovereignty and infinite wisdom, He allows circumstances and situations to enter into our live—even trials, tribulations, and trouble—in order to bring about the greatest good in our lives and the lives of others. The “good” in this context does not refer to earthly comfort or prosperity but conformity to Christ (Romans 8:29), closer fellowship with God, bearing good fruit for the kingdom, and final glorification (Romans 8:30). As Christians, we can be assured that all things work together for good, that God has always been doing good for us and drawing us to Him. And there are few clearer examples of this in all of history than Joseph, who, as he looked back at his life was able to proclaim to his brothers who had sold him into slavery, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20 NIV). 

THINGS TO CONSIDER

“Joseph had a dream . . .”—Genesis 37:5 (NIV)

Sometimes, in the midst of the daily grind, it can be easy to overlook, get distracted from, put off, or even forget the dreams that the Lord has put on your heart. Throughout the Bible, whenever the Israelites would get off course or forget what God called them to do, we see God remind them of what He’s already done for them! So, as we study this final part of Genesis this summer, let’s do just that!

Let’s remember and relive what God has done and what He’s calling us do so we can move ahead in faith in the coming season. Let's consider the dream(s) has the Lord put on your heart and what steps of obedience you can take right now to walk in the dreams God has given you for your life.
 

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.