Introduction to the Book of Genesis
This page is an introduction and summary for the book of Genesis in the Christian Bible. (Genesis is also in the Jewish Bible, but I'll be covering it from a Christian perspective).
I'm doing several new pages on the first five books of the Bible (the books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch), and the "former prophets" which are the books of Joshua, Judges, 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings.
I'll be working on these new pages in parallel as I study for my Old Testament exam on the 10th of June, and adding to them as I study. I figured I might as well be writing my study notes up online as web pages, since now that this website is set up, it's not that much harder than just doing them in a Word document (or something like that).
Introduction to Genesis
Genesis is the first book of the Bible. (Pronounced JEN-ess-iss.) It's name in the Hebrew Bible is "In the Beginning". It's a long book, and probably has more famous Bible stories than any other book in the Bible (other than perhaps the Gospels, which tell the story of Jesus Christ).
It starts off with the Creation story, then the Garden of Eden and the Fall, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, the Tower of Babel, God's promise to Abram/Abraham, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, many more stories of Abraham and his descendants, the 12 patriarchs, and the story of Joseph and his adventures in Egypt.
So Genesis covers the Creation up to the death of Joseph. It can be thought of as being in two parts, before and after Abraham. Abraham (who was originally named Abram) had a son named Isaac, and Isaac had a son named Jacob (who was later also named Israel). Jacob/Israel's 12 sons were the founders of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Before Reading or Studying Genesis
Before reading or studying the Bible, it's a good idea to take a short break — to think about where the book of Genesis came from, and how it's relevant to your own modern life right now. Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. That is, the words in Genesis were recorded by people in the distant past, as given to them by God.
Also, the Bible is a living document — it's the living word of God. This is a foreign concept to most of our modern culture today, so it takes some time to think about, and get used to the idea of it. Many people think of God as not speaking directly to us. Yet as Christians, God does speak to us directly, in words — and the way God does this is through his words in the Bible. This means that it's directly relevant to us, personally, as we read it. As you read the words of Genesis (even if you don't really believe in this kind of stuff yet, you can still try doing this, as an experiment), imagine that God is speaking to you, personally, and directly.
Also, the Bible is an ancient document. It's very old — and the first few books of the Old Testament, especially so. A lot of things have changed since God's words were first recorded by humans. This means a lot of the Bible can be hard to understand in our modern world today. Which is why we're so lucky to have so much access to resources that can help us to understand it. As you read the words of Genesis, also imagine that you're back then, in the days when it was written. This can help a lot with understanding the meaning (of some parts of the Bible more so than others). Learning about what the words meant in their original setting is a really good place to begin trying to understand what they mean now. Keep this idea in mind as you read the rest of this web page, and as you read the Bible.
Also, the Bible is a precious document. Its true value is hard to imagine. It's probably fair to say that nearly everyone today underestimates its value — at least in the free and well-off countries, where it's very easy (and cheap) for anyone to obtain a copy of the Bible, or read it on the internet. To help get a better appreciation for the value of the Bible, think about how God's word has travelled down through the centuries, and been preserved by copyists, translators, printers, and other people. At times parts of it were lost, and then found again. In recent years, thousands of ancient copies of scrolls have been found, which were meticulously copied by hand over and over, for thousands of years. In some places and at some times, to own a copy of the Bible (or even to believe in it) would bring the death penalty. This included many of those who wrote parts of it, or were written about in it (such as the Apostles of Jesus).
Interesting Facts About Genesis
- Different Christians have widely varying opinions about the meaning of the start of the Book of Genesis. Some consider the days of creation (and other things mentioned) to be literal (as in meaning exactly what the English Bible text says in common understanding), like 24-Earth-hour Earth days, and so on. Other people think of the meaning as being looser than that, and the "days" as something less exact, like "time periods".
- There is some support for this second view from the original language, since the Hebrew word "yom" for "day" was sometimes used to mean a "time period", and not necessarily a 24-hour day. This usage would be similar to saying in English something like "The day of the horse and cart is over", where "day" here means a period of time, and not a 24-hour day.
- Translating literally from one language to another with 100% "word-for-word" accuracy is actually completely impossible. For example, how would you literally translate the British/Australian phrase "Bob's your uncle" into another language, word for word, yet retaining the same original meaning? To consider each word one at a time, and translate "literally", you would end up with something like "You have an uncle whose name is Bob", which is completely and totally different to the usual British/Australian meaning of the phrase. This kind of problem occurs a lot in translation — and is, no doubt, the source of much of the debates and things people don't agree on (or even fully understand) in the Bible.
- Many parts of the Bible are clearly not meant to be interpreted literally. Some actually say so, for example in the Book of Revelation it talks about stars and golden lampstands, and then shortly later says that the stars are in actual fact angels, and the lampstands are actually seven (actual historical) churches and not "golden lampstands" at all. Also Jesus talks about cutting of your hand or plucking out your eye if you sin — but he does not mean to actually do this. Yet, other parts of the Bible (in fact, most of it) is meant to be read literally. And so begins the process of trying to determine which is which, for any given part of the Bible.
- Some people consider that for God, time is completely different than it is to people, and is "non-linear", meaning that it's not a fixed sequence like we humans percieve it to be. This (at least in part) has been shown to be true by modern science and the Theory of Relativity as discovered by Albert Einstein.
- In the Garden of Eden story, the forbidden fruit (often pictured as an apple), grows on the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil". There has been much discussion over the centuries about the meaning of this. Some people consider that it was the act of people deciding that their own ideas of morality (i.e. the difference between what is good or evil, right or wrong) is their own idea, rather than an absolute fixed thing determined outside themselves (such as by God).
- In modern life (especially in the last few decades), the idea that anyone can choose for themself what they consider to be right or wrong, and there is no fixed set of morality that covers everyone, is increasingly popular.
- The section in Genesis 6 about the sons of God having children with the daughters of mankind has been the source of many wide and varied ideas, including that of aliens coming to Earth and mating with humans.
- Some people consider the Garden of Eden story (along with sinning and being cast out of it) to be the story of the beginning of civilisation. Which coincided with the beginning of farming and agriculture, keeping "domesticated" animals and planting and tending crops. Parts of the Bible story do seem to support this view, including that before the fall, people just picked and ate the fruits of the garden, as would have pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer type of societies. And after the fall, it says specifically that Adam was expelled from the garden to work the ground, and that from now on people would eat from the produce of their own work (in the sense of inputs of their own time and effort and labour), rather than just eating what was already there.