Genesis, along with the rest of the Torah (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) are traditionally said to be written by Moses. It is, however, much more likely that these books are a collection of Israelite stories that have been edited together throughout their history. Some scholars argue that the final version, as we have it now, was finished as late as the 5th Century BC.
An exact structure of Genesis is hard to pin down. The book often goes back and forth between characters, to compare and contrast their stories. Below is a simplified structure. Genesis 1 sets the scene, Genesis 4-11 introduces the problem, Genesis 12-50 is God’s answer to the problem. A family.
Genesis 1 - Creation of heaven and earth
Genesis 2-3 - Creation and fall of Adam and Eve
Genesis 4-11 - Humanity continues to implode
Genesis 12-50 - God chooses a family to restore humanity
Genesis 12-23 - Abraham’s story
Genesis 24-26 - Isaac’s story
Genesis 25:19-36 - Jacob’s story
Genesis 37-50 - Joseph’s story
There are many themes in this book. Too many to name here. Some key ones are God’s order and purpose for the world, people seeing what they think is good and taking it into their own hands, and God taking what humans mess up and turning it back into good. Let’s jump in.
These first 3 chapters have so much in them you could spend an entire lifetime unpacking them. So here are a few key beats.
In the beginning, the earth was disordered. It was like a lump of clay that had yet to be shaped. So God begins to bring order and beauty out of the disorder. First he divides the day into a period of light (day) and a period of dark (night). Then he divides the earth into sky, land, and sea. He is bringing order to his creation.
Then God begins to populate his creation. He begins with plants and trees, and then populates the sky with the sun, moon and stars. This bring an extra level of order to creation by giving us seasons. This is followed by birds, fish, and animals to populate the sky, seas, and land. Finally he creates a place that is perfectly ordered and beautiful, a garden and places human in it.
He makes these humans in his image, to be like him. Their mission is to use the garden as a model and to expand this order and beauty outwards. To take the whole earth and make it ordered and beautiful. Genesis 1:1-2:3 are to be read as one story. One series of events. It begins with the declaration that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. proceeds to tell us how he made the heavens and earth, and finishes declaring that "the heavens and the earth were finished” and so God rested.
Having given us this broad overview, the writer now zooms in on the creation story to focus specifically on what happened with the creation of humanity. God creates the man from dust and his own Spirit. We are empowered by God’s very Spirit. God then gives the man a decision in the form of a tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The man can journey with God and learn from him what order and beauty look like. Or they can ‘take the fruit’ and decide for themselves what is ‘good’ and beautiful. If they do this however, they will ultimately die because they are stepping out of God’s protection and life giving support. Then realising that man needed a partner in his work, God created the woman.
Unfortunately, as we continue in to Genesis 3 we see the man and woman choose to do things their way rather than God’s way. The impact was a separation from God and a mortal life that would end in death.
This is often called the fall, but what isn’t as commonly known is that the fall doesn’t stop there. As we’re going to see the fall really stretches out from chapters 3-11. In some early Jewish writings (the bits written in-between the Old Testament and New Testament) we see that the people during that time saw the fall as a 3-part drop. We’ll have a look at this over the next few days.
While Psalm 1 has no author attributed to it, it falls into the category of Wisdom Psalm (see also Psalms 25; 34; 37; 49; 73; 111; 112; 128). These psalms focus primarily on sharing wisdom with the reader and often preference the Torah or God’s law (the scriptures). The structure of this psalm is interesting, and is known as a chiasm. This is where a passage mirrors itself. This psalm then ends with a comparison between the two. See below.
(a) Psalm 1:1-2 - A blessed man should not stand in these contexts
(b) Psalm 1:3 - A blessed man is like a well-watered tree
(b) Psalm 1:4 - A wicked man is like chaff
(a) Psalm 1:5 - A wicked man can not stand in these contexts
(c) Psalm 1:6 - The comparison between the righteous and the wicked
The focus of the psalm is to layout the key difference between those who are blessed or happy, and those who are wicked. Those who are blessed avoid anything wicked and take delight in God’s law. They meditate on it. The wicked do not.
As a result, the blessed will be sustained by God’s law and prosper, while the wicked will dry out and perish. Here right at the start of the book of Psalms, the psalmist is laying two paths before you. Are you going to join with many before you as they have meditated on God’s law to write these psalms, or are you going to ignore or reject them? One leads to life and prospering with God. The other to death.
Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.
Part of BibleProject's new visual commentary series, the guys unpack all that happens in Genesis 1.
A reflection on the first 11 chapters of Genesis, looking at why God chose to allow humanity the ability to make their own choices.
This book will help reframe the role of Genesis 1 in your mind. To look at it as an ancient Israelite would have.
Picking up from 'The Lost World of Genesis 1' John H. Walton continues to place the story of Adam and Eve in an Ancient Near Eastern context, allowing you to understand these story as the ancient Israelites would have.
Understanding the context of your passage is always important. BibleProject always do an incredible job of breaking down each book so you can see how your passage fits into the wider story.
For a slightly different overview of where we are so far, BibleProject have done an animated recap of Genesis 1-11 to help you fit today's passage into the overarching story of Genesis.
Spoken Gospel outlines the book of Genesis and point out some of the key themes, all in the medium of spoken word.
This video explores this idea we find started in Genesis 1:26-27, that all humanity is made in God's image.
Spoken Gospel explore the story of creation in the Bible and compare it to the creation stories of other religions and cultures.
Spoken Gospel explore the fall and the impact that event had on the relationship between God and man.
In this class, over the course of 14.5 hours of content, BibleProject study Genesis 2-5. They take a close look at the stories of Adam and Eve, the snake in the garden, Cain and Abel, and more, to see how these early stories prepare readers for the rest of the biblical narrative. You will need to login (accounts are free) to access.
In this class, over the course of 14.5 hours of content, BibleProject focus on Genesis 1-11, the Psalms, and the Wisdom literature to see how these texts portray the architecture of the heavens and the earth. You will need to login (accounts are free) to access.
Why does the author of Genesis make a point to name God’s Spirit in Genesis 1 and 2? Tim, Jon, and Carissa embark on a new journey for the BibleProject podcast—reading the Bible in thematic movements, starting with a close look at the Holy Spirit’s role in the book of Genesis.