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Introduction to Genesis 1-11

The position of Genesis as the first book in both the Hebrew Bible and our Bibles reminds us that it is of foundational importance to faith in God. It is known by a number of titles, Bereshith in Hebrew after its first word, The 1st Book of Moses in many languages, and Genesis (which means beginnings) in most English translations. This title is a fitting one as the book presents us with the beginnings of much that is significant in the story of Gods plan of salvation. Some of the themes which are introduced in the first eleven A knowledge of these chapters is fundamental to our chapters of Genesis and which understanding of the way in which God deals with humanity the rest of the Bible expands and reminds us that the primary purpose of Genesis, as with all scripture, is to reveal God to usanything else that we learn upon include: is, if you like, a bonus. Sin Genesis 3:4-7 Salvation Genesis 3:15 Covenant Genesis 9:8-17 Sovereignty Genesis 1:1 Creation Genesis 1-3 Grace Genesis 3:21-24 Sacrifice Genesis 4:3-5

The question of the authorship of Genesis is a hotly disputed one. In summary, there are three basic positions: Traditional Moses wrote it all, except for the account of his death (though I remember hearing one preacher arguing that Moses wrote this himself as a prophecy).

Documentary Hypothesis There is very little, if anything, that goes back to Moses. It is a compilation of various sources written and edited over a number of centuries, before being finalised sometime after the return from exile. Traditional Revised Most of the Pentateuch can be shown to go back to Moses time but is obviously a compilation of various sources oral as well as written and underwent revision over a period of time after the settlement of Canaan and into the monarchy. The second of these has been the dominant theory in biblical studies since the mid-19th century but has been losing ground in recent years. The third of these seems to be the most satisfactory of theories and is probably the one which is held by most evangelical scholars today.

There are ten sections in Genesis as a whole, and five in Genesis 1-11, which are marked by the recurring word, tle!": account or generations. There is debate as to whether these serve as the beginnings to a section or the ends of a section and what, if anything, they tell us about possible sources for the accounts. However, they do serve to give some structure and pattern to the book and for our purposes we will take them as introducing sections rather than concluding them. The five relevant generations are shown in the box below. The first eleven chapters, then, highlight the need for redemption, a need that comes about following creation and the first rebellion of the man and the woman in the garden. The rest of Genesis has another five sections which give the history of the patriarchs and which show how God planned to bring about redemption through the descendants of Abraham. One striking aspect of the structure of these chapters is
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2:4 5:1 6:9 10:1

The account of the heavens and the earth The account of Adam The account of Noah The account of the sons of Noah

11:10 The account of Shem

the alternation between narrative and genealogy.1 The interest in, and 1:1-4:16 importance of, genealogy is something with which we are generally 4:17-5:32 unfamiliar but continues throughout the Old Testament, and indeed 6:1-9:28 into the New. 10:1-32 If the book as a whole has a clear structure, then so do the individual 11:1-9 stories within it. One example will suffice as an example, that of the 11:10-32 flood.

Narrative Genealogy Narrative Genealogy Narrative Genealogy

There are a number of ways to see the structure of the Flood narrative but perhaps the most interesting and illuminating is in terms of what is known as chiasmus, or a mirroring of events and ideas either side of a central thought or sentence. In the story of the flood, this central statement is found in Gen 8:1 where we read, God remembered Noah.2 Transitional introduction - 6:9-10 a Violence in creation - 6:11-12 b First divine speech: resolve to destroy - 6:13-22 c Second divine speech: enter ark - 7:1-10 d Beginning of flood - 7:11-16 e The rising flood - 7:17-24 God remembers Noah e The receding flood - 8:1-5 d Drying of the earth - 8:6-14 c Third divine speech: leave ark - 8:15-19 b Gods resolve to preserve order - 8:20-22 a Fourth divine speech: covenant - 9:1-17 Transitional conclusion - 9:18-19

This mirror aspect of the story is found most strikingly in the use of the numbers of days. a b c d d c b a 7 days of waiting for flood - 7:4 7 days of waiting for the flood - 7:10 40 days of flood - 7:17a 150 days of water triumphing - 7:24 God remembers Noah 150 days of water waning - 8:3 40 days of waiting - 8:6 7 days of waiting - 8:10 7 days of waiting - 8:12

Recognising the carefully structured nature of individual narratives, and of the first eleven chapters as a whole, helps us in discovering and exploring the meaning of the text, as well as reminding us of one of the main messages of the first chapter of the book: that our God is a God of order not of chaos.

These first eleven chapters include some of the best known stories in the Bible and some of the most difficult to understand. They also include some which cause more controversy than almost

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See Hamilton VP, 1990, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 249 For these two structures, see Wenham GJ, 1987, 156, 157
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any others in scripture. In a recent book3, the five different ways that evangelical scholars interpret the first two chapters of Genesis are debated and might be described in this way:# A literary reading An analogical reading

A theological reading

A literal reading#

An ancient cosmological reading We do not have time to look at these in any details but it does go to show that when attempting to interpret and preach from these chapters we need to approach the text with humility, recognising that fellow brothers and sisters in Christ may well read them very differently. There are certain principles we do need to bear in mind, though. Firstly, the text was written to people with a very different understanding of the cosmos to ours, and the text was written so that it would be understood by them. Secondly, the text aims at revealing God and his dealings with humanity rather than anything else. Thirdly, if we are to understand and interpret the text sensibly and meaningfully, we need to attempt (as An Egyptian view of the cosmos showing the earth and far as is possible) to understand the firmament as a god and goddess and the boats carrying the world behind the text (the worldview gods of the sun and the moon. of those it was written to) as well as the world of the text (what is actually said) before we try to apply it to the world in front of the text (the world we live in). This is what we do in all reading of the Bible, it is just in Genesis 1-11 the gulf we have to cross from their world to us is, perhaps, larger than in some other books. The interpretative task is to ensure we ask the right questions of the text so that the answers we get are relevant to us while not divorcing them from their social, historical and theological context. Of the readings mentioned above, a mixture of the first three seems to be the most sensible, where we recognise the cultural background (seeing similarities and differences between Genesis and other Ancient Near Eastern texts), the theological background (where we see the lengths the writer of Genesis goes to show how different the God of Abraham is from other gods around), and the literary genre and structure of the stories. When read in this way, Genesis 1:1-2:3 becomes, not a scientific treatise on the beginnings of the cosmos, but a theological statement about the nature of God as creatora God who brings order out of chaos and creates all that the cosmos contains. Within the creation account there is a distinct polemic against the religions and gods of the time. For example, on Day Four, God creates two great lights (1:16). We understand these as the sun and the moon, but this is not stated. Perhaps this is because both of these were worshipped as gods. The Genesis account not only strips them of all divinity, it even strips them of their names; as though it were saying see, your gods are nothing.

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Charles JD, 2013, Reading Genesis 1-2 An Evangelical Conversation, Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers
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The importance of the bringing of order out of chaos is shown not only directly but also indirectly though the structure of the account and the clear correspondence between the first three days of creation and the second three. This correspondence is highlighted through the emphasis which is given to Day Three and Day Six. 1. They occur as the climax of each section of the account dealing with either the environment or the inhabitants. 2. Both days record Gods speaking, And God said on two separate occasions:4

Creation of Cosmos Creation of Environment Day 1 - Light Day 2 - Expanse Day 3 - Land, plants Creation of Inhabitants Sun, moon, stars - Day 4 Birds, fish - Day 5 Animals, man - Day 6

1. Verses 9 and 11 2. Verses 24 and 26 3. Both days record Gods approval on two occasions 1. Verses 10 and 12 2. Verses 25 and 31

Day 7 - Sabbath, rest

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the pattern for day seven is different from the other six days. God does not speak or act on this day and there is no reference to evening and morning. Here there is no activity, no noise, no speaking,5 the atmosphere is the one of the opening sentences, taking us back to the prologue with its reference to the heavens and the earth (2:1) and thus concludes the creation account.

The theme of chaos and order reoccurs throughout these chapters. It is seen in the account of the Fall; the murder of Abel; the situation before the flood; in the flood itself, where the waters of chaos cover the world again and where God restores order following the deluge; and in the story of the confusion of the languages at Babel. Interpreting these chapters necessarily involves a recognition of the depth and complexity of the structure of the biblical text, as well as an awareness of the theological depth the narratives portray, and an attempt to come to terms with the context into which they were written. As Gordon Wenham says, The opening chapters of Genesis provide us with the spectacles to read the rest of Scripture with the right presuppositions.6

There are many books that are worth reading on Genesis. These are just a few of the ones I have found most helpful. Dillard RB & Longman T III, 1995, An Introduction to the Old Testament, Leicester: Apollos Hamilton VP, 1990, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1-17, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co Walton JH, 2001, The NIV Application Commentary Genesis, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Walton JH, 2007, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, Nottingham: Apollos Wenham GJ, 1987, Genesis 1-15, Waco: Word Books Wenham GJ, 2008, Genesis in Vanhoozer KJ, Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament, London: SPCK, 29-41

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see Wenham GJ, 1987, 6-7 Hamilton VP, 1990, 141 Wenham GJ, 2010, Preaching from Difficult Texts in Kent JR et al (eds), He Began with Moses, Nottingham: IVP
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