The Bible is not one book, but many. The word ‘Bible’ comes from the plural word biblia which means ‘library’ in Latin. It consists of 66 separate books and is different from any other book of history in that it starts earlier and finishes later. Its first book, Genesis, starts at the beginning of the universe and its last, Revelation, describes the end of the world and beyond. The Bible is also unique because it is history written from God’s point of view. A political history or a physical history of the universe has a focus determined by human interest, but in the Bible God selects what is important to him.
There are essentially two main themes in the Bible: what has gone wrong with our world and how it can be put right. Most agree that our world is not a good place to live in, that something has gone terribly wrong. The book of Genesis tells us exactly what the problem is, while the rest of the Bible tells us how God is going to put it right by rescuing sinful humanity from itself. The 66 books of the Bible form part of one great drama â€“ what we might call the drama of redemption. The book of Genesis is vital because it introduces us to the stage, the cast and the plot of this great drama. Moreover, without the first few chapters of Genesis, the rest of the Bible would make little sense.
The Hebrew title for this book is simply ‘In the Beginning’. The Hebrew Scriptures were in the form of rolled-up scrolls and the name of each book was the first word or phrase written at the top of the scroll, visible to anyone seeking to identify which book it was.
When the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek in about 250 BC, the translators changed the name of the first book to ‘Genesis’, which actually means ‘origins’ or ‘beginnings’. It is a very appropriate title as the book includes the origin of so much – our universe, the sun, moon and stars, planet earth. Here we have the origin of plants, birds, fish, animals, humans. We have too the beginning of sex, marriage and family life, the origin of civilization, government, culture (arts and sciences), sin, death, murder and war. We also have the first sacrifices, of both animals and humans. In short, we have a potted history of humanity. The first 11 chapters of Genesis could be called ‘the prologue to the Bible’.
THE NEED FOR REVELATION
Genesis not only deals with origins, it also deals with the ultimate questions of life. Where did our universe come from? Why are we here? Why do we have to die?
It is immediately obvious that these questions cannot be answered by any human being. Historians record what people have seen or experienced in the past. Scientists observe what is observable now and suggest how things may have begun. But neither group can tell us why it all began and whether the universe as it exists now has any meaning. Philosophers can only guess at the answers. They speculate about the origin of evil and why there is so much suffering in the world, but they do not actually know. The only person who could really answer these questions for us is God himself.
Who wrote it?
When we open the book of Genesis, therefore, we are immediately faced with the question: Are we reading the results of human imagination or a book of divine inspiration?
The question can be answered by adopting an approach similar to that used in scientific enquiry. Science is based on steps of faith: a hypothesis is produced and then tested to see if it fits the facts. So science progresses with a series of leaps of faith, as theories are posited and action is taken based on the theories. Similarly, in order to read Genesis properly we must take a step of faith before we even open the book. We must assume that it is a book of divine inspiration and then see if the answers it gives fit the facts of life and the universe as we see them.
There are two clear facts in particular which are perfectly explained by the answers in Genesis. Fact number 1 is that we live in a wonderful world of magnificent beauty and extraordinary variety. Fact number 2 is that the world has been ruined by those who live in it. We are told that 100 different species are becoming extinct every day, and we are becoming increasingly conscious of the damaging effects which modern production has on our environment. Genesis perfectly explains why these two facts can be true, as we will see later.
The place of Genesis
Genesis is not just the first book, it is the foundational book for the whole Bible. Most, if not all, biblical truths are included here, at least in embryo. This book is the key that unlocks the rest of the Bible. We learn that there is one God, the creator of the universe. We are also told that of all the nations, Israel were the people chosen for blessing. Scholars call this ‘the scandal of particularity’, that of all the nations, Israel should be especially selected. This is a theme which runs through the Bible to the very last page.
The importance of Genesis is confirmed if we ask ourselves what the Bible would be like if it began with Exodus instead. If that were the case, we would be left wondering why we should be interested in a bunch of Jewish slaves in Egypt. Only if we had a particular academic interest in the subject would we read any further. It is only by reading Genesis that we understand the significance of these slaves as descendants of Abraham. God had made a covenant with Abraham promising that all nations would be blessed through his line. Knowing this, we can appreciate why God’s preservation of these slaves is of interest as we see how his unfolding purposes are achieved.
What sort of literature is Genesis?
Many readers of Genesis are aware of the considerable debate about whether the book is God’s revelation. Some have suggested that it is a book of myths with little historical basis. I would like to make three preliminary points concerning this.
- The whole of the Old Testament is built on the book of Genesis, with many references throughout to characters such as Adam, Noah, Abraham and Jacob (known later as Israel). The New Testament also builds on the foundations which Genesis provides and quotes it far more than the Old Testament does. The first six chapters are all quoted in detail in the New Testament, and all eight major New Testament writers refer to the book of Genesis in some way.
- Jesus himself settles all questions concerning its historicity by his frequent references to the characters of Genesis as real people and the events as real history. Jesus regarded the account of Noah and the Flood as an historical event. He also claimed to be a personal acquaintance of Abraham. John’s Gospel records his words to the Jews: ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.’ Later he said, ‘…before Abraham was born I am.’ John also reminds us in his Gospel that Jesus was there at the beginning of time. When Jesus was asked about divorce and remarriage, he referred his questioners to Genesis 2 and told them they would find the answer there. If Jesus believed that Genesis was true we have no reason to do otherwise.
- The apostle Paul’s theological understanding assumes that Genesis is historically true. In Romans 5 he contrasts Christ’s obedience with Adam’s disobedience, explaining the results in life for the believer. This point would have no meaning if Adam had not been a real historical figure.
If Genesis is not true, neither is the rest of the Bible
Such considerations do not have implications for Genesis alone. If we do not accept that Genesis is true, it follows that we cannot rely on the rest of the Bible. As we have already noted, so much of the Bible builds on the foundational truth in Genesis. If Genesis is not true, then chance is our creator and the brute beasts are our ancestors. It is not surprising that this book has been more under attack than any other book in the entire Bible.
There are two prongs to the attack: one is scientific and the other spiritual. We will examine aspects of the scientific attack when we look at the contents of Genesis in more detail later. For now we merely need to note the claim that many of the details included in the early chapters do not square with modern science – details such as the age of the earth, the origin of man, the extent of the Flood and the age of people before and after the Flood.
Behind the scientific attack, however, it is possible to discern a satanic attack. The devil hates most the two books in the Bible which describe his entrance and his undignified exit: Genesis and Revelation. He therefore likes to keep people from believing the early chapters of Genesis and the later chapters of Revelation. If he can persuade us that Genesis is myth and Revelation is mystery, then he knows he can go a long way towards destroying many people’s faith.”