The Book of Genesis (beginning) is the first of five books known collectively as the Pentateuch, which the many Scriptural references in the later books of the Old Testament as well as those of the New Testament compel us to ascribe to the authorship of Moses. In the Book of Genesis the inspired author presents a record of the origin of the world, of the human race, of the institution of marriage, of the beginning of sin, of the first judgment of God upon a sinful world, of the first preaching of the Gospel, and of the beginning of the chosen race as the bearers of the Messianic prophecies.
Moses, the author of the Book of Genesis, was the son of Amram, a member of the tribe of Levi, and his wife Jochebed, as recorded in Exodus, chaps. 2 and 6. He was born in Egypt, at the time when the rise of a new dynasty had caused the deeds of Joseph to be forgotten and the new Pharaoh had laid upon the children of Israel such intolerable burdens as ever a nation was obliged to bear. By God’s dispensation his own mother became his nurse after his parents had found it impossible to keep him at home any longer, Ex. 2, 8. 9. In this way Moses was instructed in the history and the religion of his people, and although he afterward, as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, he remained true to Jehovah, the God of his fathers. From the land of Midian, whither Moses had fled from the wrath of Pharaoh, the Lord called him to be the deliverer and the leader of the children of Israel, and he served in this capacity for somewhat more than forty years, until he had brought the people to the boundaries of Canaan, where he appointed Joshua as his successor, went up on Mount Nebo, where God showed him the entire country which his people were to possess, died there, and was buried by the Lord Himself. Moses probably wrote the Book of Genesis some time during the forty years’ sojourn in the wilderness, and God not only inspired him to write, but also revealed to him most of the matter that is contained in the account, since tradition would, at best, have been extremely unreliable and many events could not have been known but by the special revelation of the Lord.
The Book of Genesis may be divided according to various points of view. The simplest division is that into two parts, chaps. 1–11 recording the beginnings of all history to the confusion of tongues, and chaps. 12–50 showing how God paved the way for the establishment of the theocracy as it afterward existed for a number of centuries. Some commentators prefer the division into six chief parts, chaps. 1–5 dealing mainly with Adam, chaps. 6–11 with Noah, chaps. 12–24 with Abraham, chaps. 25–27 with Isaac, chaps. 28–36 with Jacob, and chaps. 37–50 with Joseph.
The period of which the Book of Genesis treats begins with the creation of man and ends with the Flood, comprising some 1,700 years. Though there is no valid reason for assuming that the art of writing had not been developed by the people of the world at that time, recent discoveries indicating, rather, that the art of writing was a common accomplishment in the East as early as the time of Abraham, in fact, that large libraries were then in existence, there was no urgent need of recording the Word of God at that time, since the patriarchs lived to a very great age and were able to pass on what God had revealed to them by word of mouth, from generation to generation. The record shows, for instance, that Adam lived for fifty-six years after Lamech, the father of Noah, had been born. This providential arrangement continued for some time after the Flood; for Abraham was born 150 years before the death of Shem and surely profited by his instruction. The period from the Flood till the death of Joseph is that of the patriarchs proper, and covers a space of some six hundred years. At its close the chosen family of Abraham had multiplied into a numerous people.
The modern student of the Bible will find in the Book of Genesis abundant evidence of the providential working of God in the destinies of mankind. Above all, however, the Christian will follow with the greatest interest the Messianic types and prophecies which appear even thus early in the Holy Scriptures; for just as the entire New Testament looks back to Christ, thus the entire Old Testament looks forward to Christ. Jesus is the center of all divine revelation.