{1}         Genesis: Introduction

The Name

Genesis is the first of the 5 books of the Laws (Torah) of the Jews called the Pentateuch. The title “Genesis” means “origin”. It came from the Greek Septuagint (geneseos). In Hebrew, the title is bereshith which is simply the first word of Gen 1.1 (“In the beginning”).


The book has 11 sections, demarcated the by the presence of the Hebrew formula elleh toledot, used 10 times in Genesis. The phrase can be translated either as “this is the story (or history) of X” or “these are the descendants (or generations) of X”. It occurs at 2:4 the heavens and the earth; 5:1 Adam; 6:9 Noah; 10:1 Noah’s sons; 11:10 Shem; 11:27 Terah; 25:12 Ishmael; 25:19 Isaac; 36:1 Esau; 37:2 Jacob.

The clearest division is between ch.1-11 and ch.12-50. The first 11 chapters about primeval history; the last 39 chapters about patriarchal history. The first part describes an increasing alienation from God; the second part describes the solution to this alienation through the obedience of Abraham and his descendants.

The book follows a sequence of generation (ch.1-2), to de-generation (ch.3-11), to re-generation (ch.12-50). The first 11 chapters can also be grouped into 3 cycles of sin—punishment—grace:






God’s grace







1st cycle

Adam & Eve









2nd cycle

human race









3rd cycle










Author and Date

Until the 18th century, hardly anyone questioned the unity of Genesis, whether rabbinical scholars of Judaism or ecclesiastical scholars of Christendom. The “traditional” view is that Genesis was a unified work of Moses writeen in the 15th century BC (around 1450-1410 BC). It was probably written slightly before or after the Israeli Exodus from Egypt (dated about 1446 BC).

The situation was completely reversed since mid-18th century. The new “critical” approach holds that Genesis is not a unified work and was not written by Moses. This position has dominated the academic world so much that anyone holding the traditional view was ridiculed. However, the traditional view has always been upheld in conservative evangelical churches. Moreover, recent academic research has found evidences that contradict the critical approach and support the traditional approach.

Today, after intense discussion in the last 200 years, the definitive answer to the authorship of Genesis remains unknown. It is appropriate to claim Moses as the author because it would be difficult to find a man in all the history of Israel’s life who was better qualified to write this book. The authorship of Moses does not preclude minor editing by subsequent generations, as demonstrated by the presence of the phrase “and to this day” (Gen 22:14; 25:33; 32:33; 35:20). Neither does it preclude the use of different earlier documents by Moses in his composition of Genesis.

It is even more important to point out that the authorship of Moses is supported by the rest of the Bible, including Jesus Himself. [1] In the Pentateuch, God commanded Moses to write down His words (Ex 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Nu 33:2; Dt 31:9,24; 33:2). [2] In the rest of the OT, many verses mention that the Torah was written by Moses (Jos 8:31; 23:6; Jdg 3:4; 1Ki 2:3; 2Ki 14:6; 21:8; Ezra 6:18, Neh 13:1). [3] In the NT, Moses was mentioned as the author of the Torah (Mt 19:8; Mk 1:44; 7:10; 12:26; Lk 5:14; 24:27,44; Jn 1:17,45; 5:46-47; 7:19; Ac 3:22; 13:39; 15:5-21; Ro 10:5,19; 1Co 9:9; 2Co 3:15; Rev 15:3).

Documentary Hypothesis

The doubt as to the authorship of Moses was first expressed in late 17th century because of the use of different names for God scattered through Genesis, sometimes “Yahweh” and sometimes “Elohim”. This led to the speculation that Moses was not the “author” of Genesis but only a “redactor” (editor), who copied passages from earlier documents.

This hypothesis was studied by various people (mostly German), culminated in the formulation of the documentary hypothesis (also called JEDP hypothesis) by Wellhausen who published it in 1878.

The hypothesis identifies 4 major literary strands behind the Pentateuch: [a] Yahwist (J source, Yahweh as the name of God, “J” in German) written around 950 BC; [b] Elohist (E source, Elohim as the name of God) written around 850 BC; [c] Deuteronomy (D source) written around 620 BC, confined to the writing of Deuteronomy; [d] Priestly Writer (P source) written after the Babylonian exile around 550-450 BC.

By analyzing the use of words and the style of writing, the document analysts cut up Genesis into about 170 small segments based on the hypothetical documents. For example, Gen 21:1-7 is broken up into: v.1a (J), 1b (P), 2a (J), 2b-5 (P), 6-7 (E). Based on this hypothesis, the book of Genesis could only be completed after the first Jews returned from Babylon (538 BC), perhaps as late as 400 BC.

Since they believed that the documents were written a long period after the recorded events (death of Joseph at the end of Genesis happened in about 1805 BC), they argued that the information presented in Genesis could not be authentic. Thus the documentary hypothesis led to direct attacks on the accuracy of the Bible.

Wellhausen’s hypothesis was followed by numerous studies from both sides of the argument, some supporting the traditional approach while others raising even more radical suggestions. Because of many recent studies by Jewish scholars and evangelical Protestants, the traditional view has gained much ground and Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch is again dominant in orthodox churches. Radday and Shore (1985) used the computer in a thorough word-level linguistic analysis of Genesis and concluded that the book is a unity, written by one author. Kitchen (1966) and Harrison (1969) collected evidence to support the authorship by Moses composed at about the time of the Exodus. With these works, they answered the two major questions about Genesis: unity and authorship.


        Objectives of the author:

[a] God the Creator is great; the role of man is decided with this perspective.

[b] We should praise God for His wisdom and His power.

[c] Beside God, nothing can be the object of our worship because they are all created.

        We can observe the attributes of God from Genesis and they are consistent through the whole Bible, unlike the gods in other religions. God is powerful, has infinite wisdom and is a God of peace and harmony. He is also a God of love and of perfection. He loves man and created man as a perfect being after His image. God created the paradise as a perfect environment. He instituted marriage as a perfect relationship.