RSS Feed

Genesis Overview

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

So, tonight I start my study of the Pentateuch, or first five books of the Bible. Naturally, I'm going to start with the first three chapters together as the story of creation and fall. That'll probably span several posts just by itself.

People place a whole lot of emphasis on Gen 1-2 as the origin of humanity. Indeed, the name Genesis means "beginning" or "birth." But out of 50 chapters, only 2 are given to the beginning of the universe. It's not the primary focus of the book at all.

The simplest outline we could give this book is:
I. Primeval history (chs. 1-11)
-A. The Creation (chs. 1-2)
-B. The Fall (chs. 3-11)
--1. The cause (ch. 3)
--2. The effects (chs. 4-11)
II. Patriarchal history (chs. 12-50)
-A. Abraham (chs. 12-25)
-B. Jacob (chs. 26-36)
-C. Joseph (chs. 37-50)

This is very simple and while it reflects the content of the book, it doesn't indicate any relationship between sections. Outlined above is a topical outline that we could force onto the text. This outline shouldn't be completely ignored, but it's not the only one to look to. Instead of looking at this as if it needs one definitive outline, let us say that the above outline is good from a topical perspective.

On the other hand, we can also outline the book structurally. This means that we look at the natural contours of the book from how the book divides itself.

0. The story of creation (1:1-2:3)
1. The generations of the heavens and the earth (2:4-4:26)
2. The generations of Adam (5:1-6:8)
3. The generations of Noah (6:9-9:29)
4. The generations of the sons of Noah (10:1-11:9)
5. The generations of Shem (11:10-26)
6. The generations of Terah (11:27-25:11)
7. The generations of Ishmael (25:12-18)
8. The generations of Isaac (25:19-35:29)
9. The generations of Esau (36:1-37:1)
10. The generations of Jacob (37:2-50:26)

With this structural outline, the story of creation is an introduction to the book as a whole, while the main body contains ten sections. Each section is begun by the phrase "these are the generations of...," or alternately translated, "this is the account of..." Personally I prefer that alternate translation because it makes more sense. However, it is actually an account of the generations, like a genealogy. What each section does is this: it tells you what happened after that main character. So, "the generations/account of Adam" tells you about the progeny of Adam, who was the main character of the previous section.

The first five of these sections occur within the "Primeval history" of the topical outline, while the last five divide the Patriarchal history. So, both of these outlines have the same midpoint. The midpoint of these outlines is the character of Abraham. Although he does not get a "generations of Abraham," he is the hinge around which the book turns, and he is the main human character of the book. He is the firstborn of the last person mentioned in the genealogy at the end of section 5 and then he plays the main human role in section 6. Abraham is the character who bridges between primeval history (origin of nations and the earth) and patriarchal history (origin of God's chosen nation).

The ten sections of the main body move through time like a stream, from cause to effect and from ancestor to progeny. Sometimes this is accomplished by a narrative that focuses on the children/effects of the main character (2, 4, 7, 9, 11) and sometimes by simply a quick genealogy to move things along (3, 5, 6, 8, 10). This arrangement in the text itself indicates that it is a chronicle of something ongoing. It's not about Adam or Abraham or Jacob or Joseph. It's about Someone Else, and how this Somebody affected Adam and Abraham and Jacob and Joseph. Genesis doesn't chronicle humanity, but rather it chronicles God and His promises given to Abraham. Just like a gem with many facets, Genesis can be seen through both of these outlines.

*My thanks to Hamilton for both outlines.
Genesis 1: A Wonderful Campfire Story
Genesis 2: The Finishing Touch
Genesis 1-2: Reflections on God
Genesis 3: The Day the Harmony Died
Genesis 4a: The Deathblow
Genesis 4b-5: Humanity Chooses Two Ways
Genesis 12: A(nother) New Hope
Genesis 13: Separation Anxiety
Genesis 14: The Empire Strikes Back
Genesis 15: Covenant (Part I)
Genesis 16: Covenant (Interlude with Hagar)