1. Title The Jews designate the book of Genesis according to its word in the Hebrew text, bereshith, “in the beginning.” The Jewish Talmud, however, calls it the “Book of Creation of the World.” The name Genesis, meaning “origin” or “source,” has been adopted by English translations from the LXX, where this term was first used to indicate the contents of the book. Its subtitle, “The First Book of Moses,” was not a part of the original Hebrew text, but was added centuries later.
2. Authorship Jews and Christians alike have considered Moses, the great lawgiver and leader of the Hebrews at the time of the Exodus, the author of the book of Genesis. This conviction was challenged by pagan opponents a few times in the early Christian period but was never seriously doubted by any Christian or Jew up to about middle of the 18th century. Beginning more than two centuries ago, traditional beliefs and opinions in every field of human thinking were questioned. Men were led to make discoveries in unknown realms and to create inventions which changed much of this world’s way of life. However, the same spirit of inquiry led men of a critical nature to question the authenticity of the Scriptures as the basis of the Christian belief. The book of Genesis was the first book subjected to a critical examination in this modern age, and that examination started the era of higher criticism of the Bible. In 1753, a French court physician, Jean Astruc, published a book, Conjectures, in which he contended that the different names of the Godhead occurring in Genesis show that the book is a collection of various source materials. Astruc retained Moses as the collector of these sources and compiler of the book, but his followers soon disposed of Moses as the editor of Genesis. Critical-minded theologians have worked for more than two centuries to separate the supposed sources of Genesis and assign them to different authors, or at least to periods in which they were supposedly composed, gathered, changed, edited, and finally put together in one book. Adhering to these critical views, the scholars agreed on one great principle; namely, that the book consists of many documents of different value, authorship, and time of origin. However, they differ widely in their opinions concerning which parts are to be attributed to a certain period and which to another. The great variance in views of the different critical schools shows how unsound the foundation of their hypotheses is. The fallacy of many critical arguments has been revealed by the archeological discoveries of the last hundred years. Critics have had to change their theories and statements continually. Nevertheless many of them retain their rejection of a Mosaic authorship of Genesis for various reasons, of which a few will be enumerated here. a. The use of three different names of God, with one name apparently preferred in a certain section and a different name in another, allegedly shows that more than one author is responsible for the composition of the book. Hence, some critical scholars have held that those sections where the name Yahweh (Heb. YHWH or JHWH), “Jehovah,” is frequently used were written by an author they call the Jahvist, abbreviated J; sections using principally the name ’Elohim, “God,” by a man they designate as the Elohist, abbreviated E. Other ancient authors who supposedly worked on Genesis were a priestly writer (P), an editor or redactor (R), and others. b. The many repetitions of stories contained in the book show, according to critical scholars, that parallel sources were used and crudely blended together into one narrative by a later editor, who was unable to hide the fact that he had used material of various origins. c. Conditions reflected in the stories of Genesis allegedly do not fit into the periods described, but into much later times. d. Place names of a much later period are given to localities when their earlier names had been different. e. The traditions about the Creation, the Flood, and the patriarchs as they existed in ancient Babylon are so similar to the Biblical record of them that most modern theologians assert the Hebrew writers borrowed these stories from the Babylonians during the Exile and edited them in a monotheistic style to make them inoffensive to their Hebrew readers. The conservative Christian cannot agree with these views for the following reasons: a. He sees that the sacred names for God, Lord, and Jehovah are used more or less indiscriminately throughout the Hebrew Bible and do not indicate different authors, as the critics maintain. The LXX and the most ancient Hebrew Bible manuscripts, including the recently discovered Isaiah scroll, show that the name “God” found in a certain passage in one copy is given in another manuscript as “Lord” or “Jehovah,” and vice versa. b. Repetitions frequently found in narratives are no sure indication of different sources for a given literary work. The defenders of the unity of the Mosaic books have shown by many non-Biblical examples that similar repetitions are found in various ancient literary works of one and the same author, and also in modern works. c. An increased knowledge of ancient history and conditions has revealed that the author of Genesis was well informed about the times he describes, and that the account of the patriarchs fits exactly into the setting of their time. d. Place names have been modernized in certain cases by copyists to enable their readers to follow the narrative. e. The fact that the Babylonians had traditions to some extent similar to the Hebrew records is no proof that one nation borrowed from the other, but finds its explanation in a common origin for both records. The inspired book of Genesis conveys divinely imparted information in an elevated and pure form, whereas the Babylonian records narrate the same events in a debased pagan setting. It is not the purpose of this introduction to refute the many claims of the higher critics made in support of their theories. It is more important to note the evidence for Mosaic authorship. The author of Exodus must have been the author of Genesis, because the second book of the Pentateuch is a continuation of the first, and evidently manifests the same spirit and intention. Inasmuch as the authorship of the book of Exodus is clearly attested by Christ Himself, who called it the “Book of Moses,” (Mark 12:26), the preceding volume, Genesis, must also have been written by Moses. The use of Egyptian words and expressions and the minute acquaintance with Egyptian life and manners displayed in the history of Joseph harmonize with the education and experience of Moses. Although the evidence in favor of a Mosaic origin of Genesis is less explicit and direct than that for the subsequent books of the Pentateuch, the linguistic peculiarities common to all five books of Moses mark it as work of one author, and the testimony of the New Testament indicates that he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The testimony of Jesus Christ, who quoted from several texts in the book of Genesis, is a clear indication that He considered the book as part of Holy Scripture. In quoting Gen. 1:27 and 2:24 Jesus used the introductory formula, “Have ye not read” (Matt. 19:4, 5), indicating that these quotations contained truth that was still binding and valid. The context of the narrative (Mark 10:2–9) relating Jesus’ dispute with the Pharisees about the divine sanction of divorce makes it clear that He attributed to Moses the quotations taken from Genesis. When His antagonists asked Him whether they had a right to divorce their wives, Jesus parried with the question, “What did Moses command you?” In their reply the Pharisees referred to a provision made by Moses, found in Deut. 24:1–4, a passage from the fifth book of the Pentateuch. To this Christ replied that Moses had given them this precept because of the hardness of their heart, but that the earlier provisions had been different, and supported His statement by two other quotations from Moses (Gen. 1:27; 2:24).
On several other occasions Christ alluded to events described only in the book of Genesis, revealing that he considered it an accurate historical record (see Luke 17:26–29; John 8:37; etc.).
In view of this evidence the Christian may confidently believe that Moses was the author of the book of Genesis. Ellen G. White says of Moses’ sojourn in Midian: “Here, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote the book of Genesis” (PP 251).
3. Historical Setting. The book of Genesis was written about 1,500 years before Christ (GC v), while the Hebrews were in bondage in Egypt. It contains a sketch of this world’s history covering many centuries. The early chapters of Genesis cannot be placed in a historical setting, as we ordinarily think of history. We have no history of the antediluvian world, except that written by Moses. We have no archeological records, only the mute and often obscure testimony of the fossils. After the Flood the case is different. The archeologist’s spade has brought to light many records of the people, their customs, and forms of government during the period covered in the later chapters of Genesis. The times of Abraham, for example, can now be known fairly well; and the history of Egypt during the period of Israel’s bondage can be reconstructed rather accurately. During this era, from Abraham to the Exodus, high civilizations flourished, particularly in the Mesopotamian valley and along the banks of the Nile. To the north the Hittites were growing in power. In Palestine dwelt warlike peoples under the leadership of petty kings. Gross customs reflected the dark paganism of all these peoples. Strong racial ties connected the patriarchs of Genesis with the Semitic tribes of Lower and Upper Mesopotamia. The role of the patriarchs in some of the great events of that early time, such as the battle of the kings in the vale of Siddim (ch. 14), the destruction of the cities of the plain (chs. 18, 19), and the preservation of the Egyptian population during an extraordinary famine (ch. 41) are described in detail. The men of Genesis are met as shepherds and warriors, as city dwellers and nomads, as statesmen and fugitives. The stories about their experiences bring the readers of the book in contact with some of the great nations of hoary antiquity as well as with some of the less prominent peoples with whom the Hebrews had contact from time to time.
The great civilizations that had risen in Egypt as well as in Mesopotamia are not described in Genesis, but their existence is strongly felt in the experiences of the patriarchs. The people of God did not live in splendid isolation in a political or social vacuum. They were part of a society of nations, and their civilization and culture did not differ markedly from those of the surrounding peoples, except as their religion created a difference. Being the most important remnants of the true worshipers of Jehovah, they were therefore the men who formed the center of the inspired author’s world. This obvious observation leads naturally to the question: What was Moses’ main purpose in writing the book?
4. Theme Every attentive student of Genesis is aware of the main theme of the book, first, the narration of God’s dealings with the faithful few who loved and served Him, and, second, the depth of depravity into which those who had left God and His precepts fell. The book of Genesis is the first permanently recorded divine revelation accorded men. The book also has doctrinal importance. It records the creation of this world and all its living creatures, the entrance of sin, and God’s promise of salvation. It teaches that man is a free moral agent, the possessor of a free will, and that the transgression of the law of God is the source of all human woe. It gives instruction concerning the observance of the holy Sabbath as a day of rest and worship, the sanctity of marriage and the establishment of the home, the reward for obedience, and the punishment for sin. The book is written in an interesting style and appeals to the imagination of the young. Its elevated moral themes are food for the mature, and its teachings are instructive for all. This is the book of Genesis, whose study no Christian can afford to neglect and whose shining heroes every child of God may imitate.
I. From the Creation of the World to Abraham, 1:1 to 11:26. A. The creation of heaven and earth, 1:1 to 2:25. 1. The six days of creation, 1:1–31.