Date: c. 1400 B.C. or c. 1200 B.C.
The Book of Genesis is a theological explanation of the beginnings of our universe. It tells about the lower orders of creation, like plants and animals; the human race; the nations of humankind; the selection of Abraham and one nation, Israel, to be the historical vehicle of God’s redemption; the narrowing of God’s purposes within that nation; and God’s providential protection of one branch of that nation, the line of Joseph. There are other realities of our existence whose first appearance is noted in Genesis: evil, sin, rebellion, redemption, election, providence, and covenant. Other obvious realities that underlie the stories in Genesis, such as the creation of Satan or angels, are not described.
After a careful look at all this, it becomes clear that Genesis is a selective description of the origin of things. Moses, under the guidance of God, did not intend to discuss how everything came to be, but only things that contributed to a religious or theological understanding of history. This is not to say that Genesis is only “theological,” whatever that may mean, or is untrue in any factual sense. When Genesis speaks factually it may be assumed to be true. But the facts primarily convey theological significance, rather than scientific or historical explanations. So, from a modern point of view, much is left out that would be of great interest to scientists, sociologists, psychologists, linguists, and others, but that would be of less value to theologians.
Theological Themes in the Book of Genesis
Several underlying ideas in Genesis help us understand the diverse elements that otherwise might seem only distantly related. The first fundamental fact is that God exists. The world exists only because God is and because he chose to make it. The world does not have to be. If nothing else had ever been created, God would still have been, throughout all of eternity.
Second, everything depends on God and is his. Nothing can rightly claim to exist by its own power or purpose. God is in control and knows what he is doing.
Third, it is possible to reject God, but that is a very foolish and destructive thing to do. When God is effectively in control, all is well; when we choose to take charge ourselves, the result is evil, chaos, destruction, and pain. Sin is a tragic fact of human existence.
Fourth, in spite of our rejection of God, he has not rejected us. Even now, God is redeeming people on earth. Genesis shows that the essence of God is love and compassion for his lost creation.
Finally, God acts in history. His involvement does not begin when we die and go to heaven; it is happening now. In the midst of human history, with all its problems, struggles, and uncertainties, God’s presence is certain. It was known by the patriarchs of our faith and, as Genesis teaches us, it can be known by us, too.
Outline for the Book of Genesis
- The initial creation Genesis 1:1-2:25
- The fall of humankind and its tragic results Genesis 3:1-5:32
- Crime and punishment: the flood and after Genesis 6:1-10:32
- The diffusion of people throughout the earth Genesis 11:1-32
- The story of Abraham Genesis 12:1-25:11
- The story of Isaac and Ishmael Genesis 25:12-27:46
- The story of Esau and Jacob Genesis 28:1-36:43
- The story of Joseph and the last days of Jacob Genesis 37:1-50:26