What do Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz both have in common? Well, besides the fact that Alice and Dorothy are both storybook characters, they both received the same good advice- the best place to start is at the beginning.
Why is it important to start at the beginning? Well, have you ever started to watch a movie that was already in progress? If so, then you know that it can sometimes be difficult to understand what’s happening within the movie if you weren’t around to see the beginning. That’s because the beginning of a book or movie is important for understanding everything else that follows.
This “begin at the beginning” approach also holds true when reading the Scriptures as well. You see, the first book of the Bible is important for understanding the rest of the Scriptures that follow. This book also answers some important questions that every thinking person must eventually ask, including, How did the world get started? How did we get here? and Why are things the way that they are?
The first book of the Bible is known as “Genesis,” a word that means “origin.” (1) In the original language used to write the book of Genesis, it’s title is Bereshith, a word that literally means “the beginning.” (2) This is certainly an appropriate title because the book of Genesis gives us with some important information about the origins of such things as:
- The universe and everything within it
- The variety of plant and animal life on this planet
- The human race
- The various language groups that exist
Perhaps most importantly, the book of Genesis also tells us who or what God is by answering questions such as…
- What is God like?
- Is “god” some kind of force or consciousness?
- Are there many gods?
- Is God interested in what happens here on this planet?
- Can we even know anything about God?
It could be argued that the book of Genesis is the single most important book ever written and has probably had a greater influence on history than any other book ever produced. As a result, no other book is quoted more often or referred to more frequently than the book of Genesis within the Bible.
For example, there are at least 165 passages in Genesis that are either directly quoted or clearly referred to in the New Testament. Over one hundred of these are taken from the first eleven chapters of Genesis. (3)
The book of Genesis is part of a larger body of work called the “Pentateuch,” which is also known as the “Law” or Torah. The word Pentateuch is a word that means “five volumes” and those five volumes consist of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers- the first five books of the Bible. Genesis is the part of this set that covers the time period beginning with the creation of the world up until about 1800 years before Jesus’ birth.
(1) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
(2) The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, Copyright © 1993, Woodside Bible Fellowship, Ontario, Canada. Licensed from the Institute for Creation Research.
(3) Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record pg. 21
According to the Scriptures, the human author of the Pentateuch was a man named Moses but believe it or not, Moses is never actually mentioned in the book of Genesis.
Now there are many people who believe that Genesis and the rest of the books of the Law were not written by Moses but were actually written by different people at different times. This is known as the Documentary Hypothesis and it tries to explain why there are different styles of writing and different names for God used throughout the first five books of the Bible.
This theory teaches that the book of Genesis and the other four books of the Law are split up into four sections that were each written by different authors at various times. While this theory may represent an honest attempt to explain why those differences exist, the problem is that it goes against what’s actually said within the books and what Jesus Himself said about them.
You see, when you read the first five books of the Bible, you’ll find that it specifically tells us that Moses was the person that God used to write the the books of the Law. For example, Exodus 24:4,7 tells us that, “Moses then wrote down everything the LORD had said… Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people.” (1)
Later on, Exodus 34:27-28 goes on to say that “the LORD said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant–the Ten Commandments” (NIV). It’s tough to get more specific than that.
Jesus also made some important statements about the authorship of Genesis and the other books of the Law. For example, Jesus was once involved in a discussion with some people who accused Him of breaking one of the Old Testament laws. In responding to that accusation, Jesus said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5:46-47, see also Luke 24:25-27).
If that wasn’t enough, there are details and information about customs and geography that would have been very difficult for someone to make up at a much later date. For example, Genesis 13:10 tells us that “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar” which sounds an awful lot like a description that was taken from an eyewitness account. Besides, Acts 7:22 says that “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” so he certainly had the brainpower to be used by God to write whatever God wanted to say.
(1) Except as indicated, all Scriptural references taken from HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
This is not to say that there aren’t any questions about the authorship of Genesis. For example, Moses was born about 300 years after the last events written about in the book of Genesis occurred. If Moses really produced the book of Genesis, then where did he get his information?
After all, the very first verse of Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Moses certainly wasn’t around for that so how did he know?
Then there’s Deuteronomy 34:5-6 which says, “…Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is.” It’s not likely that Moses wrote about his death before it happened, so how do we explain that?
We also have to account for those differences in style and word usage that were mentioned earlier. If the books of the Law were all written by one person, then we should expect them all to maintain the author’s particular writing style from beginning to end. But there are stylistic differences in the way that the books of the Law are written and the way that words are used within them. So how can we account for these things?
Well, there are a couple of ways that we can look at these questions. First, we can say that Moses received at least some of the things that he wrote in the book of Genesis directly from God. In other words, God gave Moses what He wanted him to write and Moses wrote those things down in the way that they were given to him. We saw an example of this earlier in Exodus 24:4 where we read that “Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said…” (NIV). If God said different things in different ways, than Moses wrote those things down in exactly the same way that he received them.
Another possibility is that Moses used some or all of the spoken histories that had been passed down from generation to generation up to his time and arranged them under the direction of the Holy Spirit to help produce the book of Genesis. In other words, God guided Moses in writing down some or all of the verbal histories that were available in a manner that was similar to the way that the Gospel of Luke was later produced (see Luke 1:14).
Now a reasonable objection to this theory is the fact that messages can easily get messed up when passed along from person to person. It’s easy to imagine how verbal information like this could get lost or misunderstood in passing from person to person and one generation to another. If verbal histories were used by Moses in authoring the book of Genesis, then how do we know they were accurate?
First we should remember that there was a much greater emphasis placed on memorization in earlier cultures than there is today. Back then, someone had to rely on his or her memory because people didn’t have easy access to writing implements or the benefits of 21st century technology as we do today.
Because there were very few options for storing important information at that time, people had to memorize and hold on to valuable facts or data because they really had no other choice.
The second important thing to remember is that it was God Himself who was ultimately responsible for maintaining the accuracy of any verbal histories that Moses may have used in writing the book of Genesis (take a look over here for more on that).
Finally, it’s thought that Moses may have also had access to ancient historical documents and built those documents into the book of Genesis as guided by the Holy Spirit. One clue that indicates this possibility is found in the way that the book of Genesis is structured.
You see, there are ten sections within the book of Genesis that are each divided by the same language: “This is the book of the genealogy of…” or “This is the book of the generations of…” You see this kind of phrasing used in the following passages:
- “The Book of the Generations of Adam” (5:1)
- “The Generations of Noah” (6:9)
- “The Generations of the Sons of Noah” (10:1)
- “The Generations of Shem” (11:10)
- “The Generations of Terah” (11:27)
- “The Generations of Ishmael” (25:12)
- “The Generations of Isaac” (25:19)
- “The Generations of Esau” (36:1)
- “The Generations of Esau ” (36: 9)
- “The Generations of Jacob” (37:2)
Since the Hebrew word for “generation” refers to “a genealogical list of one’s descendants, one’s contemporaries or the course of history,“ (1) it’s thought that Moses may have taken actual written documentation (perhaps going as far back as Adam) and used that information in putting together the book of Genesis. In this case, the phrase, “These are the generations of…” indicates the place where one written history ends and another begins. (2)
In fact, we could even take this theory one step further because Genesis 2:4 says, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” The only one who could have personally lived that history -or at least dictated it- is God Himself. Whatever the case, God had to be directly involved in the original authorship of that section at a minimum.
There’s one other interesting thing that involves something that God said in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” In the original language, that word “commands” is synonymous with the word “Torah,” the very same word that is used to identify the five books of Moses today. (3) This tells us that God’s Word must have been in existence (either in written or verbal form) long before Moses actually produced the book of Genesis.
So this would help to explain the differences in style and type of words that are used within the books of the Law. The differences within each written history were carried over as Moses put them together and organized them into the form that we know today.
The books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are certainly not light reading. These books take time to read and they certainly must have taken a long time to write. If Moses really was the human author of these books, then when did he find the time to produce them all?
Well, the most likely answer would be during the time of Israel’s exodus from the nation of Egypt. You can read the history of Israel’s exodus beginning in Exodus 12 and if you are familiar with the story, then you know that the nation of Israel had to spend forty years walking around in the wilderness before they were allowed to reach the land that God had promised to give them.
While this certainly wasn’t an ideal way to get to the promised land, it would have allowed plenty of time for Moses to write the books of the Law with the exception of the last part of Deuteronomy 34 which must have been added on after his death.
So a basic summary of the book of Genesis would look something like this:
As was mentioned earlier, there are some basic questions about life that every thinking person must eventually face. Two of those questions are ones that people often seem to try and ignore or push away: “Why is there “something” instead of nothing?” and “What does that answer mean for me?” The direction of your life will greatly depend on the way that you face these basic questions about life and you’ll find their answers right here in the book of Genesis.
Now you may remember that the beginning of this study mentioned Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. There’s no doubt that many people believe that the book of Genesis should also be placed in the same category as these storybook characters.
There’s certainly no shortage of people who believe that the book of Genesis is nothing more than a big collection of myths, fables, stories, legends, and fairy tales. The idea of a “God” who created the universe and humanity sounds crazy to some people, just as the accounts of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Great Flood and the other people and events found in the book of Genesis do as well.
However, it’s important to realize that human beings don’t have all the facts when it comes to events that have occurred in the distant past. There’s a lot that we don’t know about things that have happened in the past and to reject the book of Genesis just because it may challenge some preconceptions is a big mistake.
We also need to remember that Jesus accepted the people and events written about in the book Genesis as people who actually lived and events that actually happened. For example, Jesus accepted the reality of the following Biblical people and events mentioned in the book of Genesis…
- Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4)
- Abraham (John 8:56-58)
- Noah and the Great Flood (Luke 17:26-27)
- Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:29)
Jesus certainly didn’t consider these people and events to be myths or legends or fairy tales; He considered these accounts from the book of Genesis to be truthful and accurate and He used them in His teachings.
Finally, there’s a story about the well known scientist Albert Einstein that illustrates how important it is to take the ancient book of Genesis seriously. As the story goes, a group of Einstein’s students got together one day and told Einstein that they had decided that God did not exist. Einstein considered this decision for a moment and then asked the group a question.
Einstein asked his students to estimate how much of the world’s knowledge they had among themselves as a group. The students discussed this question for a few minutes and finally decided that their group possessed 5% of all the knowledge that existed in the world. While Einstein thought that even this small percentage was probably too much, he agreed to accept their estimate. He then replied, “Is it possible that God exists in the other 95% that you don’t know?” (1)
The book of Genesis will provide that information about God’s existence for anyone who is willing to read it with an open mind.
(1) This story is probably not true, but why should that wreck a good illustration?