What Is the Purpose of the Book of Genesis

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Genesis, like the rest of the Pentateuch, is both a sophisticated piece of literature as well as a thematically and theologically multilayered revelation. It therefore has not just one but several purposes.

As expressed by Christ, quoting from Dt 6:5, the greatest commandment requires a person’s all-consuming love for God (Mt 22:37). Fulfilling this commandment occurs when one loves other humans, those who are made in God’s image. Jesus then quoted from Lv 19:18 the complementary commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These commandments are really two sides of the same coin, and in fulfilling the first, a person fulfills the other. And in effect he is fulfilling “the whole Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:40), a first-century Jewish way of referring to the entire Scriptures. Thus, the purpose of Scripture (including Genesis) is to direct people toward worshiping and loving God.

The secondary purposes of Genesis are reflected in (1) 1:1–11:9, a record not simply of early human history, but more specifically of humanity’s overarching depravity and therefore their need for a saving Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth according to the NT writers; and in (2) 11:1050:26, which is a record not simply of Israel’s patriarchal history, but specifically of the path through which humanity’s need for the Messiah can be met.

Other purposes show humanity’s need for the Messiah by (1) establishing that humanity was not meant for sin (1:1–2:25); (2) showing how sin entered the world; (3) highlighting the negative consequences of sin; and (4) emphasizing that sin is an ongoing problem endemic to human nature, which people are incapable of resolving apart from God. In the larger part of Genesis, the path by which this need would be met becomes the focus—specifically, God’s work in laying the foundation for that nation through which Jesus would come. The Abrahamic covenant (12:1-3) consists of three essential elements: a defined location (the land of Israel 12:1); a distinct people (12:2); and an authoritative moral standard (12:3). The rest of Genesis shows how these three elements were realized and refined, so that “in the fullness of time” (Gl 4:4) would come the one through whom man’s need is fully met, “Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1).

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