Jason L. Kortering is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan.
The title of the first book of the Bible, Genesis, is derived from the opening word, Bereshith, which translated means, beginning. Hence, it sets forth the keynote of the whole book, the beginning of all things. This is further expanded by the Septuagint Bible which uses the Latin word, geneseos, origin, generations, and applies it to the generations mentioned in subsequent chapters.
The Significance of the Book
In a real sense, the approach we take to this first book of the Bible will determine how we read the entire Bible. Recent controversy in the churches, the Reformed churches included, on the subject of what the Bible says about the origin of the universe is significant. Too many people are willing to cast aside the teaching of the Bible for evolution, even a so-called Theistic evolution or progressive creationism, by simply saying, “What’s the difference? Everyone is entitled to his opinion. The Bible doesn’t tell us howGod created, it only tells us that fact of creation.” If we concede this point, such differences will be tolerated in our dealing with the rest of the Bible. We can interpret all the miracles in different ways, even the virgin birth of the Lord. The crucial point is this: method of interpreting Genesis will affect our method of interpreting the whole Bible and will greatly affect our belief in all that God says in His Word.
We accept the account of Genesis as the revelation of God written by Moses. We must be careful to distinguish God’s revelation that was given to Adam and Noah and others from that given to Moses. Certainly there was revelation given by God long before Moses wrote it down. The difference is that, prior to this, all revelation was oral and became tradition by word of mouth. Here for the first time it took on written form. Hence, the truth of creation was well known to Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, etc. Through Moses, this knowledge assumed a permanent record which became the basis for subsequent copies which were preserved in various forms until our present day. Through the wonder of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we have today the record of God’s Word revealed to Moses concerning creation and subsequent history.
We conclude from this, that the content of Genesis is historical revelation. The details of the creation days are recorded by Moses under divine direction as events that took place on successive days. The narrative of the fall, including the speaking serpent, is a record of an event that took place in the Garden of Eden. This is true of the flood, the call of Abraham, the journey of Egypt, and all the rest.
By doing this, we follow the example of others who took this approach under God’s guidance. Paul referred to the creation of Eve as taking place after the creation of Adam, the significance being important for the headship of the husband over the wife (I Tim. 2:13). Jude referred to Enoch as being the seventh from Adam (Jude 1:14). Christ called those who promoted the true faith, “sons of Abraham” (Luke 19:6). He also mentioned that the flood was a pre-figuration of the end of the world when the wicked would be complacent in their sins (Matt. 24:38, 39). Surely, we are in good company when we accept the historicity of the Old Testament events from creation to Malachi.
The real importance of doing this is that we also bow before the message that God is bringing to us through sacred history. Acceptance of the wonder work of God in creation as a historical fact, brings us face to face with a wonderful God! Even creation itself testifies of God (Romans 1:20). By faith we accept the wonder of it all (Heb. 11:3). Our Reformed fathers explain it as bowing before our Heavenly Father, Who by His power made all things and upholds it all by His power, and thereby is qualified to care for us (Lord’s Day 9 of the Heidelberg Catechism). Through the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, death reigned from Adam to Moses (Romans 5:14). The only hope for man is the promise of Christ Who will come as the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). Christ Jesus is the golden thread woven throughout the fabric of the Old Testament. By name and by prophetic type He appears upon every page, and we do well to read these pages looking for His presence. Even then, God is a discriminating God. His salvation is not available for all, nor intended for all. God’s sovereign purpose of election and reprobation shows itself immediately upon the pages of Holy Writ. The hearts of Adam and Eve are saddened by the murder of Abel by Cain. In the flood, God reveals both salvation and judgment. Jacob is distinguished from Esau. The nation of Israel is set apart from the other nations of the earth as God’s special people. God is a God of the antithesis, of spiritual separation, and of particular salvation. This becomes clear to us as we consider the contents of Genesis in outline form.
A Brief Outline
Besides the detail of the creation, Genesis mentions ten distinct generations (beginnings) and we will follow them in our outline. 1. The narrative of the creation (Gen. 1:1-2:3). The great summary statement begins it all, “In the beginning, God created . . .” (Gen. 1:1). Then follows a description of the chaos which God created (Gen. 1:2), the creation of the first day—light (Gen. 1:3-5), the second day—firmament (Gen. 1:6-8), the third day—dry land and herbs (Gen. 1:9-13), the fourth day—heavenly bodies (Gen. 1:14-19), fifth day—fowls and fish (Gen. 1:20-23), sixth day—animals and Adam and Eve including the instruction to be fruitful. God gave His evaluation of the entire creation: it was all very good (Gen. 1:24-31). The seventh day—rest (Gen. 2:1-3).
2. The generation of the heaven and earth (Gen. 2:4-4:26). God formed the plants and watered them by a mist (Gen. 2:4, 5). God formed Adam out of the dust and breathed into him the breath of life (Gen. 2:6, 7). Details are given of the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:8-14). Adam is placed in the midst of the garden and instructed to care for it and not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:15-17). Eve is created from the rib of Adam and partakes of his own nature (Gen. 2:18-23). Instruction is given concerning marriage (Gen. 2:24, 25). The history of the fall follows: the serpent approaches Eve (Gen. 3:1-5), Eve eats the forbidden fruit and gives to Adam (Gen. 3:6, 7); God calls them to account and they make excuses Gen. 3:8-13); God speaks to the serpent, including the promise of Christ’s coming (Gen. 3:14, 15); God declares the consequence for Eve and all women (Gen. 3:16) as well as for Adam and all men (Gen. 3:17-19); Adam names his wife Eve; and God clothes them with the skin of an animal (Gen. 3:20, 21). God drove them from the garden and placed a cherubim with flaming sword (Gen. 3:22-24). Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:1, 2); they bring offerings to God and God receives Abel’s lamb, but not Cain’s produce; Cain rises up and kills Abel (Gen. 4:3-8). God pronounces His curse upon Cain and places a mark upon him (Gen. 4:9-15). The family of Cain is described: son Enoch built a city and in his generations Lamech is born who had two wives and three sons, all inventors, but evil men (Gen. 4:16-24). Seth is born to Adam and Eve (Gen. 4:25, 26).
3. The generations of Adam (Gen. 5:1-6:8). God created Adam in His likeness (Gen. 5:1, 2); Adam lived 930 years and begat Seth and others (Gen. 5:3-5); Seth lived 912 years and begat Enos and others (Gen. 5:6-8); Enos lived 905 years and begat Cainan and others (Gen. 5:9-11); Cainan lived 910 years and begat Mahalaleel and others (Gen. 5:12-14); Mahalaleel lived 895 years and begat Jared and others (Gen. 5:15-17); Jared lived 962 years and begat Enoch and others (Gen. 5:18-20); Enoch lived 365 years and begat Methuselah and others; Enoch walked with God and did not die, but was translated (Gen. 5:21-24); Methuselah lived 969 years and begat Lamech and others (Gen. 5:25-27); Lamech lived 777 years and begat Noah and others (Gen. 5:28-31); Noah was 500 years and begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 5:32). The sons of God intermarried with the daughters of men and God became displeased with them. Giants were born to them and they became very wicked (Gen. 6:1-4). God resolved to destroy all flesh except Noah who found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:5-8).
4. The generations of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:21). Noah was a just man and walked with God in the midst of a corrupt people who even resorted to violence. God informed Noah of the impending flood (Gen. 6:9-13). He instructed Noah to build the ark (Gen. 6:14-16). He told him the waters of the flood would destroy all life whose breath was in its nostrils. His covenant is with Noah and his family (Gen. 6:17, 18). Noah is to bring two, a male and female, of each species of animal and fowl into the ark and also food for all (Gen. 6:19-21). He is to take seven of all the clean animals, three pair and one extra (Gen. 7:1-3). He told him, that in seven days the water would come and continue for 40 days and nights and destroy all life on earth (Gen. 7:4). Noah was 600 years old at this time. He and his family were in the ark and all the animals came unto them, by twos and sevens, so that on the seventh day all was ready and the Lord shut them in (Gen. 7:5-10). The waters of the flood were great. The fountains of the deep were broken and the windows of heaven were opened. All in the ark were safe as the waters lifted them up, even above the highest mountain (Gen. 7:11-20). All flesh was destroyed as the waters prevailed 150 days (Gen. 7:21-24). God remembered Noah and his family and all the animals in the ark. The rain stopped and the waters receded (Gen. 8:1-3). The ark rested on the mountains of Ararat. Noah used a raven and dove to determine whether the waters were dried up. The raven did not return; the dove did. A week later he released the dove again and she returned with an olive branch. A week later it did not return at all. After 375 days, they came forth from the ark (Gen. 8:4-14). God instructed them to go forth and breed abundantly (Gen. 8:15-19). Noah offered a sacrifice to God, the extra one of the clean animals, and God received it (Gen. 8:20-22). God instructed Noah that wild animals would endanger them. He could now eat meat as well as herbs, only they had to drain the blood first. They were not to kill their fellow human beings (Gen. 9:1-7). God renewed His covenant with Noah and all flesh and gave the rainbow for a sign of that covenant (Gen. 9:8-19). Even though God destroyed the world by a flood, sin was not destroyed; it still lurked within the heart of man. The sad history of Noah’s drunkenness tells us of this (Gen. 9:20, 21), as well as the mockery of Noah by Ham and evidently by his son Canaan (Gen. 9:22, 23). Noah pronounces a curse upon Canaan and blesses Shem and Japheth for their act of covering him up (Gen. 9:24-27). Noah lived a total of 950 years and he died (Gen. 9:28, 29).