Genesis: Introduction創世記導論 The Book

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Genesis 1—11: Indepth Study
  1. Genesis: Introduction創世記導論

The Book

Genesis is the first of the 5 books of the Laws (Torah) of the Jews called the Pentateuch. The word “Pentateuch” comes from Greek meaning fivefold volume (Gr. pente teuchos). The title “Genesis” comes from Latin Vulgate (Liber Genesis) which was borrowed from the Greek Septuagint (abbreviation: LXX). The Greek word geneseos (a form of genesis, meaning source, birth, generation, probably taken from Gen 2:4a) is a translation of the Hebrew word toledot. The best English for it is “origin”.

In Hebrew, the title is bereshith which is simply the first word of Gen 1:1 (“In the beginning”). This custom of using the first word(s) for the title of the book is followed for the Pentateuch or Torah: Exodus—we elleh semoth (“and these are the names of”); Leviticus—wayyiqra (“and he called”); Numbers—bemidbar (“in the wilderness of”); Deuteronomy—elleh haddebarim (“these are the words”). Genesis has also been called by Jews as “First Book”, “Book of the Creation of the World”, “Book of Formation”, “Book of the Righteous”.

It is a book concerned with origins—the origin

  • of Earth’s creation,

  • of mankind,

  • of institutions by which civilization is perpetuated, including marriage,

  • of sin and salvation,

  • of one special family chosen by God and designated as the medium of world blessing.

They constitute the foundation for the whole revelation of God.


The book is clearly demarcated into 11 sections by the presence of the formula elleh toledot, literally “begettings”, used 10 times in Genesis. The phrase can be translated either as “this is the story (or history) of X” or “these are the descendants (or generations) of X”. It occurs at 2:4 the heavens and the earth; 5:1 Adam; 6:9 Noah; 10:1 sons of Noah; 11:10 Shem; 11:27 Terah; 25:12 Ishmael; 25:19 Isaac; 36:1 Esau; 37:2 Jacob. [The phrase is also used in 36:9 for Esau but is probably a duplication of 36:1 although it specifically points to the ancestors of Edom.]

There are 2 types of genealogies: [a] vertical genealogy: tracing one line of descent, e.g. 5:1-32; 11:10-32; [b] horizontal or segmented genealogy: tracing through several children, e.g. 10:1-32; 25:12-20; 36:1-43.

The clearest division of Genesis is between ch.1—11 and ch.12—50. The first 11 chapters were about primeval history; the last 39 chapters about patriarchal history. The first part is about individuals who had land, but were either losing it or being expelled from it; the second part is about individuals who did not have land, but were on the way toward it, either ending up losing it or expecting to gain it. The first part describes an increasing alienation from God; the second part describes the solution to this alienation through the obedience of Abraham and his descendants.

The book follows a sequence of generation (ch.1—2), to de-generation (ch.3—11), to re-generation (ch.12—50).

The first 11 chapters can also be summarized by a cycle of chaos (beginning)—order (creation)—chaos (Babel). The environmental chaos at the beginning is contrasted with the moral chaos at the end. It can also be grouped into 3 cycles of sin—punishment—grace:



God’s grace




1st cycle

Adam & Eve






2nd cycle

human race






3rd cycle







“Canon” means a group of authoritative documents accepted by a religious community as divinely inspired; their function is to shape their faith, practice, and doctrine. No Christian or Jewish source ever raised questions over the legitimacy of Genesis’ presence in the biblical canon.

  • The Jewish canon contains the OT, organized into 24 books. The Christian canon contains 39 books of the OT and 27 books of the NT, totalling 66 books. The Roman Catholic Church adds 14 books of the Apocrypha as part of the canon.

The Hebrew text of Genesis is based on the text of the Leningrad Public Library written (copied) in AD 1008. Unfortunately we do not have major finds from Qumran (2nd century BC to 1st century AD) on Genesis.

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