The Law

The first of the three major divisions of the Hebrew Bible is called Torah in Hebrew; this is normally translated with the English word "Law". The Law is made up of the five books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

Moses is traditionally assumed to be the author of the book of the Pentateuch, though he is nowhere in scripture specifically identified as its author. However the New Testament repeatedly speaks about "Moses" in the sense of the author of the Torah (the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Bible).

Another explanation for the authorship of the books of the Law has developed over the last hundred fifty years. It is widely held by those who do not believe that the Bible is the word of God. Called the Documentary Hypothesis, it was developed by a German scholar named Wellhausen and assumes the five books of Moses were composed over a period of several hundred years, not reaching their final form until the time of Ezra (c. 500 B.C.). It supposes four major documents used in the composition, labeled J, E, P, and D.

J (from the divine name Yahweh -- in German, Jahweh); it is said to originate in Judah between 950 and 850 B.C. and pieces of it are scattered in sections from Genesis through Numbers.
E (the Elohistic source, from the prevalence of the word Elohim); it is said to originate in the northern kingdom of Israel between 850 and 750 BC. It too, is scattered from Genesis through Numbers.
P (the Priestly source, so called because it seems most concerned with aspects of the formal worship in the temple); it is said to come from the exile or shortly thereafter -- sixth to fifth centuries B.C. It is made up of the genealogies and priestly ritual described in Genesis through Numbers.
Finally, D, (the Deuteronomic source, so called because it includes mostly just the book of Deuteronomy); the author or editor of this section is assumed to be responsible for the framework of the historical account that runs from Joshua through 2 Kings. D is regarded as having reached its final form during the reign of Josiah, when the priests "found" the book of the law (2 Kings 22:3-23:25).

While the Documentary Hypothesis is widely accepted by biblical scholars (and is the theory to be found in popular literature such as Encyclopedias and even magazines and newspapers), most evangelical scholars reject it. The reason for their rejection is twofold: the documentary hypothesis makes the Pentateuch a lying fraud, and secondly, there is no objective evidence for any of the supposed source documents. In fact, supposing such a complex method of composition runs counter to what is known about how all other Ancient Near Eastern documents were composed.

In recent years the documentary hypothesis was been severely criticized for its subjectivity -- a serious failure on the part of a system that aims for scientific objectivity; moreover, there is strong evidence which supports the traditional view of mostly a single author for the Pentateuch. For more information check the book by Kikawada and Quinn, Before Abraham Was, published by Abingdon in 1985.

The Book of Genesis

I. Title

The English title comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint). In Hebrew, the book's title is taken from the first word in the book, bereshit -- which means "in the beginning".

II. Author

Moses is traditionally assumed to be the author of the book of Genesis, though he is nowhere in scripture specifically identified as its author. However the New Testament repeatedly speaks about "Moses" in the sense of the author of the Torah (the Pentateuch -- the first five books of the Bible), which would of course include the book of Genesis. For more discussion of the authorship question, please see the introduction to the Law.

III. An Outline of Genesis

I. The Primeval History 1:1 - 11:26

A. Creation of the Universe 1:1-2:4a
B. Early Humanity 2:4b-4:26
C. Antediluvian Age 5:1-6:8
D. Noah 6:9-9:29
E. The Nations 10:1-11:9
F. Shem's Genealogy 11:10-26

II. The Patriarchal History 11:27-50:26

A. Terah: Abraham and Isaac 11:27-25:11
B. Genealogy of Ishmael 25:12-18
C. Jacob 25:19-35:29
D. Esau Summary 36:1-36:8
E. Esau Genealogy 36:9-37:1
F. Joseph 37:2-50:26

IV. Summary of the Most Common Interpretations of the Creation Narrative:

A. Creationism

Takes the approach that the six days of Genesis 1 are to be understood as actual twenty-four hour days. Holds to a basically chronological approach to the creation narrative, and believes that the universe as a whole came into being about six thousand years ago. Believes that all the fossils were formed at the time of the Great Flood of Noah.

B. Gap Theory

Places a gap in the narrative either before Genesis 1:1 or between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2; believes the universe was created approximately twenty billion years ago, then suffered a cataclysmic destruction at the time of Satan's rebellion, necessitating the reconstruction of the Earth about six thousand years ago. The fossil records illustrate the life forms prior to the reconstruction recorded from Genesis 1:2 and following. In common with the Creationist perspective, it holds that the six days are to be understood as ordinary twenty-four hour days.

C. Theistic Evolution

Believes that the six days of Genesis should be understood as long periods of time, rather than twenty-four hour days. Believes that God brought the universe into existence about twenty billion years ago, and then made use of the evolutionary process to bring forth life over an extended period. Does not view the creation narrative as a chronological description of events.

V. Thematic Arrangement of the Six Days

1. Light=day/dark=night 4. Sun for day/moon, stars for night
2. water below/above 5. fish below/birds above
3. dry ground, plants 6. land animals, people

Notice that on days 1-3, empty places are made, while on days 4-6 the inhabitants to fill those empty places are made.

For additonal information, check out the article "Notes on Genesis," which appeared in Quartz Hill Journal of Theology.

VI. Topical Expansion in Hebrew Poetry and Narrative

Not uncommonly in the Old Testament, you'll find the structure of the text is similar to what you'd find in a newspaper article, where the first line or paragraph summarizes the rest of the story. Look at the following examples to get a sense of how this works in the Bible.

1. Genesis 1:1-3:25

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

1:2-2:4a How God created the heavens and the earth.
2:4b-3:25 How God created man and woman.

2. Jonah 3:5-9

3:5 Summary of the response of the city to Jonah's
3:6-9 Specific details of what happened and how.

3. Proverbs 1:10-19

1:10 My son, if sinners entice you

do not go.

1:11-14 How sinners entice.
1:15-19 Do not go with them.

4. Ecclesiastes 2:1-26

2:1 I spoke in my heart, "Come now, I will test pleasure

and examine good."

Behold: all of it is also meaningless.

2:2-10 Testing with pleasure to discover what's good.
2:11-26 Everything is meaningless.

For additional information check the article "The Thematic Arrangement of Biblical Texts," which appeared in Quartz Hill Journal of Theology.

Questions on Genesis

1. What is a myth?

2. Why is Genesis not a myth?

3. What is the purpose of the genealogies in Genesis?

4. Should the flood be viewed as a universal catastrophe or a local incident? Explain.

5. Who are the "sons of God" of Genesis 6? Give the three major proposals and the arguments for each.

6. Explain the Abrahamic covenant. What is it, to whom does it apply, what does it promise, and what is its significance?

7. What was circumcision?

8. Discuss the authorship of the book of Genesis and the Pentateuch in general.

9. Discuss Joseph's life. What does it teach about God's sovereignty?

10. Identify each of the following individuals and be able to write a brief biography of each, and the family relationships.

a. Tamar
b. Abraham (Abram)
c. Noah
d. Shem
e. Joseph
f. Eve
g. Sarah (Sarai)
h. Isaac
i. Jacob (Israel)
j. Laban
k. Judah
l. Rachel
m. Leah
n. Bilhah
o. Zilpah
p. Hagar
q. Enoch
r. Ishmael
s. Abel
t. Cain
u. Melchizedek
v. Lot
w. Rebekkah
x. Seth
y. Esau (Edom)
z. Adam