In Hebrew the first words of a book are sometimes taken as the title, so Genesis is known as “In the beginning” (bere ̄’s ̆ît), a most appropriate name in light of the emphasis upon origins. A number of scholars prefer to translate these opening words as “When God began to create,” but such a rendering needlessly complicates the syntax of the first three verses and grammatically does not appear to be preferable. Besides, the gospel of John seems to pattern its prologue after the words of Genesis when it starts with “In the beginning was the Word,” and then notes all things were made through Him ( John 1:1, 3, 10).
The English title, “Genesis,” comes from the Greek word geneseo ̄s, “beginning” or “generations,” which was used in the Septuagint. As noted earlier, this was really a translation of the Hebrew term tôledôt, which occurs eleven times in the book and serves as a convenient outline indicator.
“Genesis was written as a prologue to the rest of the Bible, for it gives us an account of the origin of the universe, of the physical world, of human life and cultures, and of the nation of Israel.”
Genesis was written as a prologue to the rest of the Bible, for it gives us an account of the origin of the universe, of the physical world, of human life and cultures, and of the nation of Israel. Many of the great questions that have puzzled mankind through the ages are dealt with deftly and succinctly in the opening chapters. Not only are we given a brief and majestic account of creation, but we also learn how sin entered the world and how it ruined God’s original creation. After the judgment of the flood, Moses described the growth of the nations and how they were scattered in the wake of the sad attempt to build the Tower of Babel. Mankind wanted to build that tower to “make a name” for themselves (Gen. 11:4), but instead God chose Abram and promised to make his name great and to build him into a great nation (Gen. 12:2).
From chapter 12 onward, Moses concentrates upon Abram, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. He showed how this Hebrew nation grew and developed. Since Moses himself lived when Israel was liberated from its slavery in Egypt, it was important for the people to understand how they arrived in Egypt and why they had lived there for such a lengthy period. The role played by Joseph helped to explain the reason for the long sojourn in Egypt (also cf. 15:13–14).
The book of Genesis also supplied important information about the land of Canaan, which Moses and the Israelites were about to invade. In 9:25 we are told about the curse on Canaan, and chapters 18–19 describe the immorality and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That same destruction now lay ahead for all of Canaan, for the sins of the Amorites had “reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). Not far from Canaan were located the nations of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, and early in her history Israel battled the people of Amalek and Midian. What was the origin of these troublesome neighbors who became a thorn in Israel’s side? Again, Genesis provides the answers, for Lot was the father of Moab and Ammon (19:36–38), Edom and Amalek were descended from Esau (36:1, 12), and Midian was a son of Abraham through his wife Keturah (25:12). In spite of the close blood ties, however, these nations were often at each other’s throats (cf. Ex. 17:8–16).
by Herbert Wolf
The Pentateuch—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—are the vital first books in the Bible. Understanding their scope, meaning,...
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