What is the Book of Genesis About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and inspire you to read Genesis!


Historical Context

Traditionally, Moses is considered to have been the author of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch (see Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 31:24; John 5:46).

From Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (1 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Genesis for your good and to lead you into joy.

Moses lived much later than the events of Genesis. Presumably, stories were passed down about those earlier events, and Moses brought them all together. 

The Near East at the Time of Genesis

c. 2000 BC

The book of Genesis describes events in the ancient Near East from the beginnings of civilization to the relocation of Jacob’s (Israel’s) family in Egypt. The stories of Genesis are set among some of the oldest nations in the world, including Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, and Elam. 

The period of the patriarchs is the groundwork and basis of all history. It covers the time from Adam to Moses. In consequence of the failures on the part of people during this early period, God called out an individual. He put aside the nations and called a man, Abraham, who was to become the father of the Hebrew nation. We enter into this period in Genesis 12.

There are five patriarchal fathers: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and Job. (The book of Job must be put after the book of Genesis and before the book of Exodus. Job certainly lived before Moses, and we read of Moses in Exodus 2.)

God called Abraham and with him made a covenant, known as the Abrahamic Covenant. Become familiar with this covenant (Genesis 12:1-3). If you are not, the whole study of the Chosen People (in fact, the whole Old Testament) will have little meaning. God repeated that covenant to Abraham’s son Isaac and again to his grandson Jacob (see Genesis 26:1-5; 28:13-15). He repeated it to no one else.

These three, therefore, are the covenant fathers, and that is why you read in Scripture, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Acts 7:32). He never adds anyone else. God gave His covenant to these three and it is for them to communicate it to others. What is the covenant? Read Genesis 12:1-3, 26:1-5 and 28:13-15.

Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Message Series

Themes in Genesis by R.C. Sproul

Check out this phenomenal 12-part message series by R.C. Sproul. In short 30-minute messages, R.C. Sproul compares the biblical worldview to the secularist worldview, helping us understand the foundational importance of Genesis to biblical faith.

Genesis Dictionary

As you read through Genesis, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know!

A place where sacrifices were made to worship God. An altar could be a pile of dirt or stones, or a raised platform of wood, marble, metal or other materials. The bronze or brazen altar was used for burnt offerings in the Tabernacle’s courtyard. It was a large box, eight feet square and four-and-a-half feet high, made of wood covered with bronze. A much larger altar replaced it when Solomon built the Temple. The altar of incense (also called the golden altar) was smaller, covered with gold, and placed just in front of the veil to the holy of holies. Every day, both morning and evening, incense was burned here, symbolizing the prayers of the people.

To pour oil on a person or thing. A person was anointed to show that God had chosen him or her to do a special job. Samuel anointed David to show that God had chosen him to be king.

Unproductive. A woman who could not have children was barren. Fields that do not produce crops, or fruit trees that do not grow fruit, are barren.

The special rights the oldest son in a Hebrew family enjoyed. When his father died, the oldest son received a double share of all that his father owned. He also received the right to make decisions for the entire family. Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.

To praise or make holy. The word bless is used in different ways in the Bible: (1) When God blesses, He brings salvation and prosperity and shows mercy and kindness to people. (2) When people bless, they (a) bring salvation and prosperity to other persons or groups; (b) they praise and worship and thank God; (c) they give good things or show kindness to others.

A sacrifice, or gift, to God that was burned on an altar. The offering was a perfect animal, such as a goat, sheep, lamb or ram. Burnt offerings were always given for cleansing, or atonement, for sins.

A group of people who traveled together, usually for protection from robbers and wild animals. When families moved, they often traveled in a caravan. Traders also traveled in caravans.

Heavenly beings, described as having multiple wings and both human and animal form. They are presented in Scripture as directly serving God. Carved representations of cherubim were placed on the Ark of the Covenant, and they were embroidered on the tabernacle’s curtains. Solomon’s Temple contained huge figures of cherubim.

A hole dug in the earth or a rock to collect and store water. Empty cisterns were sometimes used to store grain or as prisons.

An agreement. In the ancient Near East, sometimes covenants were made between two people or groups of people. Both sides decided what the agreement would be. However, in the Bible, the word usually refers to agreements between God and people, when God decides what will be done and the people agree to live by the covenant. The Old Covenant of law set standards of behavior in order to please God. The New Covenant of grace presents God’s forgiveness based on faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

(1) A request that harm come to someone; (2) blaspheme. In the Bible, curse does not mean to swear or to use bad language. When a person cursed something, he or she wished evil or harm to come to it. When God cursed something, He declared judgment on something.

A time when there is not enough food to keep people and animals alive. Famines can be caused by lack of rain, wars, insects that eat crops, and bad storms.

The first child born into a family. During Bible times, the firstborn son received special rights and power. He became head of the family after his father died, and he received twice as much money and property as his brothers.

A serious promise that what a person says is true. In Bible times, people often made an oath by saying “God is my witness.” The oath often asked for God’s punishment if what was said was not true. Jesus taught that people who love and obey Him do not need to make oaths, because they should be known for saying only what is true.

A title given to the rulers of ancient Egypt. Pharaoh was the top official of Egypt just as the president is the top official of the United States today.

A person who takes care of sheep. Shepherds find grass and water for their sheep, protect them from bad weather and wild animals, bring them safely into a sheepfold (or some other sheltered area) at night, and care for sick or hurt sheep.

Any act or thought that is against the way God wants us to act or think. The Bible says that all people have sinned. Sin separates us from God. God sent Jesus to die to take the punishment for our sins. Because Jesus died, our sins can be forgiven and the separation between God and us can be removed.

A major cultural and commercial city in ancient Mesopotamia. Ur was the original home of Abraham.

This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions