{1}         Genesis: Introduction

The Book

Genesis is the first of the 5 books of the Laws (Torah) of the Jews called the Pentateuch. The word “Pentateuch” comes from Greek meaning fivefold volume (Gr. pente teuchos). The title “Genesis” comes from Latin Vulgate (Liber Genesis) which was borrowed from the Greek Septuagint (abbreviation: LXX). The Greek word geneseos (a form of genesis, meaning source, birth, generation, probably taken from Gen 2:4a) is a translation of the Hebrew word toledot. The best English for it is “origin”.

In Hebrew, the title is bereshith which is simply the first word of Gen 1:1 (“In the beginning”). This custom of using the first word(s) for the title of the book is followed for the Pentateuch or Torah: Exodus—we elleh semoth (“and these are the names of”); Leviticus—wayyiqra (“and he called”); Numbers—bemidbar (“in the wilderness of”); Deuteronomy—elleh haddebarim (“these are the words”). Genesis has also been called by Jews as “First Book”, “Book of the Creation of the World”, “Book of Formation”, “Book of the Righteous”.

It is a book concerned with origins—the origin

·         of Earth’s creation,

·         of mankind,

·         of institutions by which civilization is perpetuated, including marriage,

·         of sin and salvation,

·         of one special family chosen by God and designated as the medium of world blessing.

They constitute the foundation for the whole revelation of God.



The book is clearly demarcated into 11 sections by the presence of the formula elleh toledot, literally “begettings”, 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 sons of Noah; 11:10 Shem; 11:27 Terah; 25:12 Ishmael; 25:19 Isaac; 36:1 Esau; 37:2 Jacob. [The phrase is also used in 36:9 for Esau but is probably a duplication of 36:1 although it specifically points to the ancestors of Edom.]

There are 2 types of genealogies: [a] vertical genealogy: tracing one line of descent, e.g. 5:1-32; 11:10-32; [b] horizontal or segmented genealogy: tracing through several children, e.g. 10:1-32; 25:12-20; 36:1-43.

The clearest division of Genesis is between ch.111 and ch.1250. The first 11 chapters about primeval history; the last 39 chapters about patriarchal history. The first part is about individuals who had land, but were either losing it or being expelled from it; the second part is about individuals who did not have land, but were on the way toward it, either ending up losing it or expecting to gain it. 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.12), to de-generation (ch.311), to re-generation (ch.1250).

The first 11 chapters can also be summarized by a cycle of chaos (beginning)—order (creation)—chaos (Babel). The environmental chaos at the beginning is contrasted with the moral chaos at the end. It can also be grouped into 3 cycles of sin—punishment—grace:






God’s grace







1st cycle

Adam & Eve









2nd cycle

human race









3rd cycle











“Canon” means a group of authoritative documents accepted by a religious community as divinely inspired; their function is to shape their faith, practice, and doctrine. No Christian or Jewish source ever raised questions over the legitimacy of Genesis’ presence in the biblical canon.

o        The Jewish canon contains the 39 books of the OT, organized into 24 books. The Christian canon contains 39 books of the OT and 27 books of the NT, totalling 66 books. The Roman Catholic Church adds 14 books of the Apocrypha as part of the canon.

The Hebrew text of Genesis is based on the text of the Leningrad Public Library written (copied) in AD 1008. Unfortunately we do not have major finds from Qumran (2nd century BC to 1st century AD) on Genesis.


Author and Date

Until the 18th century, hardly anyone questioned the unity of Genesis, whether rabbinical scholars of Judaism or ecclesiastical scholars of Christendom. For all of them, Genesis was a unified work of Moses written 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). This approach to the authorship of Genesis is now labelled as the “traditional” or the “precritical” approach, with a slightly negative connotation.

The situation was gradually but completely turned around since mid-18th century. The academic world totally adopted the new “critical” approach which holds that Genesis is [a] not a unified work and [b] also not written by Moses. This position dominated the academic world so much that anyone holding the traditional view was labelled pejoratively “fundamentalist”. However, it should be noted that the traditional view has always been upheld in conservative evangelical churches. Moreover, recent academic research since the 1960s 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 likely that the argument will never be resolved. Hamilton (1990:38) says it well: “Theories about Genesis’ origin grow like the old pagan pantheons. New ideas are added; old ideas are never discarded. For some this boils down to an exercise in futility. For others this is the genius of scholarship, the endless (literally!) pursuit of empirical truth, ‘always searching, but never coming to a [consensus] knowledge of the truth.’ (2 Tim. 3:7)”

Despite all these academic arguments, 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). The discovery of the autograph copy of the Torah in the reign of Josiah (2Ki 22:8) proves the existence of the Torah well before captivity.

[3] In the NT, Moses was frequently 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).

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. Trained in the “wisdom of the Egyptians” (Ac 7:22), Moses was providentially prepared to understand available records and manuscripts in the Egyptian palace. The authorship of Moses does not preclude minor editing by subsequent generations, as demonstrated by: [a] the presence of the phrase “and to this day” (Gen 22:14; 25:33; 32:33; 35:20) or [b] by the altered names of places (probably made by Ezra who revised and corrected the version of the ancient Scriptures). Neither does it preclude the use of different earlier documents by Moses in his composition of Genesis. Nevertheless, Moses was under the guidance of God and would not use any erroneous information from those documents.


Documentary Hypothesis: Attack on Genesis

The first people to attack Genesis for “internal inconsistency” were English priest Richard Simon in 1678 and Dutch theologian Campegius Vitringa in 1707. Their arguments at first were not taken seriously. Later in 1753, the doubt as to the authorship of Moses was expressed by French physician Jean Astruc. He observed the puzzling distribution of different names for God scattered through Genesis, sometimes “Yahweh” and sometimes “Elohim”. He concluded that Moses was not the “author” of Genesis but only a “redactor” (editor), who put Genesis together by copying verbatim from two earlier documents.

His idea was picked up by German historian J.G. Eichhorn (1780) who established other criteria for multiple sources in Genesis (and the Pentateuch), such as phraseology and literary style. Later academics (mostly German) pushed this view in the 19th century, culminated in the formulation of the documentary hypothesis (also called JEDP hypothesis) by Julius Wellhausen (1878).

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

They raised a number of reasons for positing the existence of a multi-traditional Genesis, in fact for the whole Pentateuch:

[a]  the different names of God, e.g. “Elohim” in 1:1—2:3, “Yahweh Elohim” in 2:4—3:24, both “Elohim” and “Yahweh” in ch.69.

[b] the presence of duplications, the same story told in different accounts which are perhaps irreconcilable, e.g. the Creation accounts (1:1—2:3 and 2:4ff.), the Flood accounts (meshed in ch.69), the accounts of God’s covenant with Abraham (ch.15 and ch.17), accounts of Hagar’s banishment (ch.16 and ch.21), accounts of Jacob’s name change to Israel (ch.32 and ch.35), accounts of Joseph’s sale to merchants (37:25-27,28b and 37:28a,36), 3 accounts of wife abduction (ch.12, ch.20 and ch.26).

[c]  the presence of anachronism, which must be dated much later than the time of Moses, e.g. Abraham’s “Ur of the Chaldeans” (15:7) as Chaldeans appeared only later; also, the list of Edomite kings in ch.36 as Edomites did not settle in Transjordan before the 13th century BC.

[d] the detection of distinctive literary styles or religious ideology, e.g. P’s style is reckoned to be more formal and repetitious; J’s is more simple but with anthropomorphic tendencies describing direct contact of God with the patriarchs; E’s tends to dilute the contact with God by introducing dreams and angels as intermediate factors. (D source is only found in Deuteronomy and therefore not in Genesis.)

By applying their criteria, the document analysts cut up the book of Genesis into about 170 small segments based on the 3 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 have only been completed after the first Jews returned from Babylon in 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 work was followed by many academics, notably Hermann Gunkel (1901), and Martin Noth (1948). However, since the 1960s, the documentary hypothesis has been attacked by both sides of Biblical scholarship. From the radical side, John Van Seters (1975) and H.H. Schmid (1976) simply dated the whole Abraham traditions to the 6th century BC and believed there was actually no historical Abraham. However, this position is full of major unanswerable problems and lacks credibility. From the traditional side, J.H. Tigay (1975), Isaac Kikawada (1974), and Arthur Quinn (1985) refuted the documentary hypothesis by quoting persuasive examples from ancient writings showing the homogeneity of Genesis. With attacks from both sides, many writers now believe that the documentary hypothesis is untenable and should be discarded.

Y.T. Radday and H. 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. K.A. Kitchen (1966) and R.K. Harrison (1969) collected convincing evidence to support the authorship of Moses composing at about the time of the Exodus. With these works, they satisfactorily answered the two main attacks on Genesis: unity and authorship.

In the first half of the 20th century, the documentary hypothesis was so dominant in the academic circle that to argue for the Mosaic authorship of Genesis was akin to argue for the flatness of the Earth. However, because of many recent studies by Jewish scholars and evangelical Protestants, the traditional view has gained much ground and Mosaic authorship is again dominant in orthodox churches.

NOTE: This section is mostly based on Hamilton (1990), supplemented by information from other references listed in the bibliography.


Theology of Chapter 1-11

[1] Name of the one God: The belief of one true God was unique and different from the cultures in the Middle East at the time of Moses. The two names of God show the nature of God. The first name “El” or “Elohim” means the strong or mighty one and was a common name for God in that region. With this name, God was described as the Creator, the Lord, and the Judge. The second name “Yahweh” (“Jehovah”, appearing 164 times in Genesis, 6,823 times in the OT) means “I AM”, expressing God’s eternal presence. It is a name used in the covenant with Israel.

[2] Attributes of God: God is characterized as a powerful God who completed the creation of the universe and continued with His providence over the universe. He has infinite wisdom and He created a universe that is “good”. He is a God of peace and harmony.

God 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 (Eden) as a perfect environment. He instituted marriage as a perfect relationship.

[3] Themes in Genesis: One constant theme throughout the whole book is a process with 3 phases: [a] intimacy, [b] rupture by strife, and [c] reconciliation (this last phase sometimes missing).

The first 2 chapters of Genesis introduce the paradisiacal world where there was only blessing. The last 2 chapters of Revelation introduce the new paradisiacal world, again only with blessing. The world of Gen 3 to Rev 20 is a combat zone between God and the devil.

In Gen 12, man is living in complete harmony with God, with other human, and with the created order. Gen 3 introduces the theme of God’s judgment, which is the withdrawal of His blessing as a result of man’s disobedience. This disobedience came from discontent with what God gave man. God gave man the power over nature. Being discontent, man wants to extend his power over things, including the power to be morally autonomous (from God), power over somebody else’s life, power over the determination of one’s own future.

This desire for power alienated man from God. The results were expulsion from paradise, shortening of life span, death from the Flood, confusion of language and dispersion. Yet, throughout the judgments, the voice of grace and promise is not muted. Adam and Eve were clothed. Cain was divinely protected. God announced a covenant never to flood the Earth again. Yet the ultimate grace is the election of Abraham and his family by which everyone on Earth may be reconciled to God.

[4] Genesis as Myth: People who have doubts whether Genesis can stand up to the challenge of archaeology or science try to regard stories recorded in the book as non-historical. They attach only theological and kerygmatic value to the book but not historical value. They regard the book as myth.

The word “myth”, found in the later books of NT, always has a negative connotation. [a] Paul urges Timothy not to pay attention to myths (1Ti 1:4). [b] Paul predicts that the time is coming when people will find myths more attractive than the truth (2Ti 4:4). [c] Paul instructs Titus to reprove those who are absorbed with Jewish myths, an aberration which detracts from sound faith (Titus 1:4). [d] Peter declares that the basis of certainty behind his message is that he was “an eyewitness of His majesty,” and not cleverly devised myths (2Pe 1:6).

Based on these verses, what is myth is not true. What is true is not mythical. Myths are fictitious narratives, invented stories. Myth is not only a figurative expression of truth, but a false expression of truth as well. As Genesis provides the foundation of all that we believe in about God, regarding the book as a myth will undercut all our beliefs. More importantly, the author recorded what he perceived as facts and there is never a hint that anything in Genesis is mythical.


Comments on Commentaries

The following expresses my dissatisfaction with certain Bible commentaries on Genesis, including some written by evangelical Bible scholars. I believe that they have the following deficiencies:

[1] Apparent subscription to the documentary hypothesis: Some fall back on documentary hypothesis when they had even slight difficulties explaining the Biblical text. The problem is: they assume that the author of Genesis had copied from those documents (which are, in the first place, of doubtful existence) and that he had made a mistake in accepting some incorrect information. As evangelical Christians, we hold to the position that the Bible is the Word of God and God would not allow the original manuscripts to contain incorrect information. Such assumption about the Biblical text is therefore not acceptable. (Rare errors made by the copyists are of course an entirely different issue.)

[2] Apparent subscription to ancient legends: A similar problem to the previous point is the common reference to ancient legends and myths in the Middle East, such as the Babylonians, Egyptians. The commentaries are assuming that the stories in Genesis came from those legends. They then proceed to analyze whether the “original” information from the legends was correct or not. This kind of analysis is a common method in academic studies but the problem is the assumption that the author of Genesis could use wrong information in writing the Biblical manuscript. Evangelical Christians should begin from the acceptance that stories in the Bible are true facts and real occurrences. They are not duplicated copies of pagan legends. We should avoid making apparent subscription to ancient legends and myths, except when there is a necessity to show the Bible’s independence from those legends. [It is sufficient to affirm that Genesis is distinctive from ancient legends and actually rejects pagan ideas. The foremost are monotheism and consistent moral element.]

[3] Conjecture on the author’s intention: Occasionally, some commentaries assume that the author of Genesis used his writing to promote a certain viewpoint. For example, in explaining why Canaan was cursed because of Ham’s sin in Gen 9:25, one author writes: “Perhaps the author wished to imply that Israelites could invade (the land of) Canaan because people living in that land were cursed by God. These people were cursed because of their ancestor Canaan, just like Canaan was cursed because of his father.” However, the problem is: if this explanation is correct, then the author of Genesis was putting words into God’s mouth to express his own viewpoint. This must not be accepted.

There are similar problems in various commentaries. I believe that these are misguided explanations. These should not be included in their commentaries. If there is an academic necessity for those information (such as to demonstrate that the author of the commentaries are knowledgeable and therefore academically well qualified), the most they could do is to include it in the footnotes, and to add a disclaimer that they do not accept those explanations.



        From Genesis, we learn that:

[a] God the Creator is great; man is insignificant. Man must be humble before God and accept that we are His creation.

[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. Sometimes, however, we may unknowingly make people and things as objects of our worship.

        We can observe the attributes of God from Genesis and they are consistent throughout the 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.