The Theology of Genesis: An Introduction

Genesis is a very interesting book, maybe the most interesting in the Old Testament. But it is also a very confusing book and is filled with controversy. Or, it might be better to say, the interpretations and differing understandings of the Genesis stories are filled with controversy. Everyone who reads Genesis, especially the first eleven chapters, has an opinion about what they read. And generally that opinion is grounded in the community of believers they come out of.

It seems like most of the controversy over Genesis comes from arguments as to whether to take it literally or not. Does chapter one describe a 144 hour creation event, or something else. Was there a literal Adam and Eve in a garden in the land of Eden. Or were they something other than the founders of the human race. Was there a literal global flood? Did people really live nearly a thousand years? And on and on.

And it seems to me that when we get hung up over those questions that we may miss out on what Genesis is really trying to teach us. In this article, and the ones that will follow, I want to sidestep those questions and attempt to look at the theology of Genesis, what it actually has to say to us, regardless how literal it may or may not be.

My Position

I believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired word of God and is truthful in all it teaches. I typically will not use the word inerrant, because it has often been hijacked to refer to a specific human interpretation of the beginnings of Genesis. And I am unwilling to identify any human interpretation as inerrant.

I have some specific opinions as to the literalness of Genesis, especially the first eleven chapters. But I have no intention to share them in this series of articles. Instead, I want to look at the theology of Genesis. What God intended for us to learn about himself, his creation, and humanity in these chapters. And I believe those lessons are the same regardless the way one understands the physical mechanisms at work.

There are many people who are much more qualified than I am to teach about the theology of Genesis. But it is a topic that I am very interested in. And one that helps me to make more sense of some of the other issues concerning Genesis. What I share here is what I hold to be true. Some of it I hold to very tightly. And other parts much more loosely. I am indebted to many others that I have read and listened to, who have helped to shape my beliefs here. And my prayer is that this meager offering may be helpful to you as well.

Some Background on Genesis

Genesis is an ancient text. Regardless who you see the human author as being, it reflects an Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture, specifically that of the Jewish people. The people who produced and consumed this text had a vastly different culture from most of us who read it today. And they had a dramatically different view of the world around them. I believe an understanding of those things is important to completely understand Genesis. But I also believe that the primary message of this text can be known and understood without that extensive knowledge.

Genesis can be roughly divided into two distinct parts, both dealing with origins. The first eleven chapters deal with the origin of the creation, especially humanity. And it gives some background as to the sin condition that plagues humanity. The second part of Genesis, covering chapters 12-50, deals with the origins of the Jewish people. It starts with Abraham’s call and continues through his son Isaac, his grandson Jacob, and great-grandson Joseph. Genesis closes with Abraham’s extended family in Egypt, in spite of a promise that the land of Canaan would be theirs.

For everyone who read these words, this was ancient history. By the time Moses led Israel out of Egypt, the accounts in Genesis are 400 or more years old. And the accounts in the first few chapters were ancient indeed, thousands of years in the past. Were these records preserved legends passed down orally through vast spans of time. Were they a record that God revealed directly to the author of Genesis. Or are they non-literal accounts that God gave to provide background to the people of Israel. Again, I will not express my opinion, other than to say what we have is what God wanted us to have.

Outline

My plan, subject to change, is to start with Genesis 1:1-2:4 and look at creation. Eden and the fall will be covered in Genesis 2:5-3:24. Genesis 4:1-6:8 will look at the downward spiral of humanity. The flood and God’s judgement on humanity will be covered in Genesis 6:9-9:17. Genesis 9:18-11:32 will focus on the scattering of humanity. And the last part will take a quick look at the remainder of Genesis and what God is doing with Abraham and his family.

To repeat myself again, this study is about the theology of Genesis. If you are looking for a discussion on how long creation took, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the global nature of the flood, you will not find what you are looking for here. In these posts I am much more concerned with what we can learn about God, humanity, sin, and God’s purpose in creation and for humanity. I have shared my understanding on some of these topics elsewhere on this blog and you can look there if you are interested in my opinion.

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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4 thoughts on “The Theology of Genesis: An Introduction”

  1. Sounds very interesting. I agree that the theology of Genesis is of great interest, critical importance, and rarely explored. However, theology springs from text, and text springs from events transacted between God and his creation.
    Unlike pagan myths, Genesis is deeply connected to events. It is a ‘concrete realist’ document, because what really happened tells us what really is. If something other than the accounts in Genesis happened, then that something else defines what is really real and who we are before God.
    Nevertheless, I applaud your project and will follow it with interest.

    Reply
    • My goal here is to not get caught up in the debate over the historicity of Genesis. Clearly it is presented as a historical record. But it is much more than history. And that is really what I want to focus on.

      Reply
      • Ed, agreed. One thing we have as a challenge is to break from the pagan view of ‘story’ as somehow separate from reality. Genesis binds the two together. That is the point and how it makes sense in our ‘life-world’, because this is where it is set. Indeed it has much to teach with the fundamental di-pole of creation very good, then fallen. As Peter Jones has pointed out. The rest of the Bible is a footnote to this, with Genesis from 12 on showing us how God moves from fall to resurrection. The most dramatic story of all, and we are in it! That’s the exciting bit.
        I will read your work with great interest.

        Reply
        • I have listened to, and started reading a book, that express the same idea. That the early chapters of Genesis, especially 1-3, mirror the rest of the Bible, or at least the Old Testament. Not sure that I agree with all of it. But clearly it does model much of hat comes later.

          Reply

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