Genesis (Study 1)— Introduction

02/12/2019 10:02

Genesis truly is a book of beginnings. It presents to us the beginnings of the earth and universe; of humankind; and of relationship with God, each other, and the rest of God’s creation. It reveals truths about initial covenants, how image bearers broke relationship with God, and the great embrace of the heart of God in wanting and implementing a plan of rescue from our cursed condition. And, I think importantly, it sets the stage as to how God throughout his Word reveals all that to us—through narrative, through story. When we open the Bible, we do not open a reference book to find an article providing only definition and analysis of sin’s entrance to the world. Rather, we walk along with Adam and Eve as they approach the tree, struggle with deception and their own lusts, ultimately falling to the darkness in misguided desire. We also experience by imagining the intended glory, not from mere thesis development, but from the expression of Adam’s overwhelmed soul as he cries out in the joy of sudden relational satisfaction when seeing and embracing Eve for the first time. These stories teach truths in vivid outbursts that reach both head and heart—the intended result of God’s magnificent revelation.

Narrative of this sort (nonfictional) weaves story, chronology, and history in its telling. Yet, its emphasis is not on the chronology or history, not even on the story itself, as much as it is in the thematic truths being conveyed. And that often puzzles us. While didactive narrative provides richer substance, those thematic truths are not always so easily discerned. The easy approach (which is ultimately the wrong approach) is to insist on taking everything presented at literal face value as if its purpose were merely a record of history or its format, a lecture transcript. To avoid that error, biblical statements must constantly be weighed in light of the surrounding passage, which in turn must be interpreted based on broader contexts of passage movement and whole books. And all of that must fit in cohesively and coherently in the overall plans and intent of God within the Bible as a whole.

Of course, coherence in the broader sweeping of plan and purpose has its own dangers of eisegetical Scripture twisting for extra-biblical points of view. But nobody said it would be easy. (Well, actually many people may say it, and that’s why we have so many books of differing opinions.) We simply cannot (for purposes of easy application) reclassify the narrative to myth, parable, and old cultural idiosyncrasies at whim in order to justify current opinion and fashion. And so, we must study, and we must study well. We all know of people who have fled the extremes of one end of the pendulum to wrap themselves in the extremes of the other end. Extremes almost always take much less thought. And so now everyone has a blog, and facebook has made it easy to ensure people will hear the pendulum swings of a multitude. 

It is not that blogs and fb posts are bad and shouldn’t appear. I have on more than one occasion had my own thought patterns arrested by a perspective I hadn’t considered. And I also am part of a new church (or expanded Bible study), posting my own thoughts on a website. But I urge those who listen (or read) my own thoughts to consider them carefully, just as they should any of what they hear or read in other forums. Take time to examine them. Don’t accept them simply because they sound reasonable at first blush. Ensure they match up with everything so that your whole biblical outlook is firm, reasonable, practical, and consistent.

And that’s what we must do with Genesis. Portions of Genesis are tousled in controversy today even among more conservative Christians. In the first two chapters alone we are met with two of those issues: the creation path of this universe and God’s image bearers and the intended relationship construct of males and females. Concluding on those issues before determining what Genesis tells us is a backward approach. Genesis, from the start, provides the necessary foundation for understanding relationships—those of God with his creation, those between and among image bearers, and those between image bearers (in their spirits) and the physical creation. It is by understanding all three relationships, both in their God-intended designs and their fall-corrupted results, that we will be able to determine the course God would have us follow.

Who wrote Genesis? Tradition tells us Moses wrote Genesis as well as the other four books of the Pentateuch. Those of more liberal-minded scholarship have cited differences of style, terms, and subject matter throughout the five-book set as support for not only multiple authors but for dates that are much more recent and cover a broader span of time than during Moses’s life. In the 1800s, a scholar named Julius Welhausen organized what became to be known as the documentary hypothesis for the origination of the Pentateuch (or Torah). The documentary hypothesis is also known as JEDP for the four proposed sources of the Pentateuch’s formation: J=Jehovist, E=Elohist, D=Deuteronomist, and P=Priestly.

The Jehovist source gets its name from those portions of the Pentateuch that speak of God using the name Yahweh(German J is equivalent to our Y). It is set in contrast to the Elohist source whose name derives from those portions that speak of God using the name Elohim. In fact, this difference of name is probably largely responsible for the initial speculation that more than one author was involved. The Deuteronomist source is pretty much confined to the book of Deuteronomy (as far as the Pentateuch goes). And the Priestly material is generally any technical record keeping and legal traditions related to the temple and associated activities and festivals. J was supposedly written during Solomon’s reign, E during the divided kingdom and in the northern tribes, D around the time of Josiah, and P after the Babylonian captivity when Israel (or Judah) no longer had a king.

The documentary hypothesis fell out of favor in the late 20thcentury, replaced by a primarily two-fold construct of Deuteronomy (still thought to be written during King Josiah’s reign) and the Priestly portion at a much later date (somewhere around the 2ndto 3rdcentury BC). 

The textual differences driving more liberal scholars to presume multiple authors at later dates are not so compelling to more conservative scholars. Speculation regarding style and terms simply cannot disprove that documents available to Moses were used in his compiling/writing effort bringing together the five books. Furthermore, intent and genre even among writings of one author can result in the differences noted, especially when considering the limited and nuanced language of Hebrew. 

Still, as support for the later dates, critics point to hints in the texts that Moses would seemingly know nothing about. The most common example is the recording of Moses’s death at the end of Deuteronomy. Of course, having Joshua finish off a book that Moses wrote is no real breach of the single author idea—especially for this last book of the Pentateuch, which Moses wrote with the intention of encouraging those who would actually enter the Promised Land—those who had grown up in the desert, not having been a part of their parents escape to freedom from Egypt.

Another problem passage is in Genesis 14:14 in which Moses mentions that Abraham’s pursuit to rescue Lot took him “as far as Dan.” How could Moses have known about the region of Dan since it was well after Moses’s death that the children of Israel entered the promised land and allotted the portions to the tribes, including Dan. The troubling passage is really no trouble at all. The naming of a source spring of the Jordan as Dan predates even the family’s initial journey to Egypt, as noted by Josephus. It may even have been that the spring’s name (meaning source or judge) was what inspired Rachel to name her (handmaid’s) son Dan.

Genesis 36:31 also offers some difficulty. In that passage kings of Edom are named with the side note that their reign was “before any king ruled over the Israelites.” How did Moses know about any kings ruling over Israel? The kingdom would not come about for several generations after Moses. Yet, Deuteronomy 17 14–15 reveals that Moses did anticipate kings to rule in Israel. In that passage, Moses says, “When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations around me,’ you are to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses.”

Similarly, in Genesis 12:6, Moses mentions Abram’s movement through the land, saying, “At that time the Canaanites were in the land.” The statement implies that the author knew the Canaanites would be removed. How could Moses have known that fact since the removal of the Canaanites wouldn’t occur until years after his death? Moses knew God had promised this land to Abraham (Genesis 15:18–21). So he anticipated the driving out of the Canaanites, based on God’s revelation as stated in Exodus 23:30–31: “I will drive them out little by little ahead of you until you have become numerous and take possession of the land.”

In all this we see no compelling reason to reject Moses’s authorship either from literary or logical difficulties of the text. What is more, we actually have several passages that give support to Moses as author. Although none of these can be regarded as proofs, they at least show indication. 

1.    Commands to Moses to write: Exodus 17:14: “The Lord then said to Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a reminder. . . .” Numbers 33:2: “At the Lord’s command, Moses wrote down the starting points for the stages of their journey.”

2.    Old Testament references to Moses as author: Joshua 1:7–8, 8:31, 23:6; I Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 14:6; Ezra 6:18; Nehemiah 13:1

3.    Multiple New Testament references by Jesus and Paul to the Pentateuch simply as “Moses”

4.    Multiple New Testament references by Jesus and Paul that it was Moses who commanded or wrote

Does this all prove Moses wrote Genesis? No. But Moses authoring the book is not only possible but seems to be the most reasonable understanding to assume (as Jesus apparently did).

However, if scholarship or archaeology ever actually produced definitive proof that Moses did not write Genesis, it certainly would not prove to shake our faith. Moses’s authorship is not of ultimate concern. God’s authorship is. The point is, then, that the book is divinely inspired, divinely intended by God for the teaching purposes of his relational gathering. And that point is the one on which we stand firm to claim what we read in it as authoritative instruction.

Our overall outline of Genesis divides the book into four sections:

Section 1: The Story of Adam (1:1–11:26)

Section 2: The Story of Abraham (11:27–25:18)

Section 3: The Story of Jacob (25:19–36:43)

Section 4: The Story of Joseph (37:1–50:26)

The Story of Adam covers the basis for the Covenant of Life. That section highlights God’s truth, goodness, and beauty as the basis. The Story of Abraham covers the basis for redemption and restoration made necessary because of the fall. That section highlights Faith as the basis. The Story of Jacob covers the basis for continuing the struggle even though embracing God. That basis is Hope. Finally, the Story of Joseph covers the basis for our interaction with each other as we continue the struggle. That basis is love.

Our first section (the Story of Adam) is divided into five parts:

Part 1: Creation (1:1–2:25)

Part 2: The Fall (3:1–5:32)

Part 3: The Flood (6:1–8:14)

Part 4: The Noahic Covenant (8:15–9:17)

 

Part 5: Continued Consequence of the Fall (9:18–11:26)

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