Genesis or Bereishis(“In the beginning”) is the first book of the Bible. It tells the story of creation and God’s covenants with the first men (1-11) and the patriarchs (12-50). It ends with the death of Joseph, who had brought to Egypt both his brothers and his father, Jacob. Many of the stories related in Genesis are amongst the most memorable ones in the Bible. They also constitute many of the most fundamental episodes in salvation history. St. Jerome’s dictum that knowing Scripture is essential for knowing Christ is particularly applicable to Genesis. Understanding Genesis is indispensable for understanding who Jesus is and what he has accomplished.
In this interview, Steve Ray discusses some of the books that can help us understand Genesis.
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Who wrote Genesis? There is a big debate about that. According to Jesus, Moses wrote it. Throughout the Bible, the view is that Moses was the author not just of Genesis but of all five books of the Law of Moses or the Pentateuch (penta means five, and teuch means scrolls). They have always been viewed as the work of Moses the prophet and the lawgiver.
However, over the last hundred years or so, there has been a movement that disputes this view. It believes that the Pentateuch was written by various authors around 400 or 500 BC, and then redacted or knit together into the story that we have now. It divides these authors up and says that those who use the name Yahweh or Elohim wrote this part, whereas the priest wrote this part. This becomes confusing and distracting. It causes scepticism in people. There is no good reason to conclude that Moses did not write it. Currently, many scholars, such as Scott Hahn, defend the traditional view of its Mosaic authorship. In my book, I go through these various views on the authorship, though not too pedantically. You do not want to bog the reader down. I conclude that Moses is the author but Genesis may have been redacted subsequently. For example, the end of Deuteronomy talks about the death of Moses. He did not write that part. That was redacted and added by a future author. In general, however, Genesis has Moses as its author yet may have been put together by later editors.
What is the central theme of Genesis? Genesis is probably the most important book of the Bible. It lays the foundation for everything else. Each of the following seventy-two books depends on Genesis. It tells us where we came from, what existed before the beginning, why there are abnormal problems in the world, or as C.S. Lewis puts it, a bentness. It tells us about our purpose and why we are here. It also tells us that there is a creator, artist, or poet. Romans says that we can see a lot about God by looking at what he has made (poema in Greek). So, God is a poet. He has made something, and we can learn about him through it.
The main objective of Genesis is to lay the foundation for everything else in the Bible. It pulls back the curtain and tells us things that we could never know with our five senses or through science.
That is the main theme. There are some sub-themes too. You see that God’s plan seems to have been thwarted by the serpent right away. One of the themes in Genesis, then, is that God can turn evil into good. He can fulfil his purposes and plans even when there is opposition to them. He can draw straight with crooked lines. He can use sinful men and actions to bring about his purposes, even though, from a human point of view, everything seems to have become messed up. The serpent came in. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden. God's plan was thwarted. Nevertheless, God ends up turning that into something even better for us. As it says in the Easter Vigil, “Oh, happy fault of Adam, which brought us such a great Redeemer!”
Another sub-theme is that God winnows people out. He takes two and from those he chooses one. There is Esau and Jacob. Even though Esau was the firstborn, God chooses Jacob and, through his sovereign choices, he carries the line to bring about a people, the land of Israel, and the Jewish people, so that when his plan is brought to fulfilment by Jesus Christ, there is a people prepared for him and who will recognise him, or should have recognised him. So, Genesis is the foundation of the rest of the Bible. There is always a remnant, no matter how sinful people get. He always preserves a remnant, winnows people out, and keeps that line to bring his plan to fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
"Genesis is probably the most important book of the Bible. It lays the foundation for everything else."
What is the general structure of Genesis? The general structure is so simple that people can put it in their shirt pocket. Memorise this simple outline, and you have the whole of Genesis in a nutshell.
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