What is the Book of Genesis About?

Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired 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 (2 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.

—Henrietta Mears

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, 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! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.

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.

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

Dictionary 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, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved. 

Tough Questions

We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?


The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Genesis.

The book of Genesis is no mere collection of myths and legends; it is the actual, factual record of real events and real people at the beginning of history. Neither is the book of Genesis merely a tedious scientific or theological treatise; it is an intimate diary of some of the greatest and most fascinating men and women who ever walked this earth. Furthermore, all of its scientific and theological inferences are profoundly important and literally true.

The book of Genesis thus is in reality the foundation of all true history, as well as of true science and true philosophy. It is above all else the foundation of God’s revelation, as given in the Bible. No other book of the Bible is quoted as copiously or referred to so frequently, in other books of the Bible, as is Genesis.  

—Henry Morris

Source: Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on The Book of Beginnings. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976. (p.xii, 21)

“Where do we come from?” Children’s questions can be both simple and profound, and our answer to this question affects the way we view the entire world. The answer is given in this opening section of Genesis. The primeval history of Genesis 1–11 provides a wide-lens, macrocosmic picture of God’s purposes for the world. This is followed by the narrow-lens, microcosmic drama in Genesis 12–50 of God’s promises passed down through the generations of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Martin Luther reminds us that these opening chapters are “certainly the foundation of the whole of Scripture.” Genesis 1 begins “In the beginning, God,” reminding us that it all starts with God, and thus Genesis sets the stage for everything that follows.  

—Mitchell M. Kim  

 Source: Content taken from Genesis: A 12-Week Study © 2013 by Mitchell M. Kim. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. 

There are basically two ways to read the Bible—as a book of law, or as a book of promise. Our natural religious psychology wants to read the Bible as law: “God is explaining here how I can win his favor.” A law-hermeneutic is the pre-understanding we naturally bring to our Bible reading, every page. But in Galatians 3 Paul explains that he reads the Bible as a book of promise, and he wants us to as well. He sees every page of the Bible as gracious promise from God to undeserving sinners. Is there law in the Bible? Yes. But it was “added” (v. 19). Law was inserted after the promises to Abraham were established. It is promise that comes first (Genesis 12), then law comes later (Exodus 20). It is promise, therefore, that defines the all-encompassing framework within which we are to read everything else in the Bible… Every page [in the Bible], most deeply understood, shines forth as a promise of grace to sinners in Christ. 

—Ray Ortlund  

Source: Ray Ortlund, quoted from his blog post, “How to Read the Bible,” published by The Gospel Coalition

Certain truths that the Bible tells us are absolute essentials if we are to understand ourselves and the world in which we live. So what does it have to tell us? Well, the whole case is put in the first three chapters of the book of Genesis. We have here the complete biblical view of history and of humanity. We need not go any further; it is all here.  

–Martyn Lloyd-Jones  

 Source: Content taken from The Gospel in Genesis © 2009 by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. 

What God planned and promised and prepared in Genesis, he accomplished and perfected in the coming of Christ, and is now, today, applying and fulfilling in the lives of those who believe his Word.  

—Henry Morris  

Source: Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on The Book of Beginnings. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976. (p.xii)

Genesis demonstrates how God can take all the evil we create and make something good, and he does so not because he has to, or even because he should, but because he made a gracious promise that he would. 

—Spoken Gospel

Source: Spoken Gospel, quoted from the video, “The Bible Explained: Genesis,” published at

The simple fact of the matter is that all the philosophical fruits of Darwinism have been negative, ignoble, and destructive to the very fabric of society. Not one of the major twentieth-century revolutions led by post-Darwinian philosophies ever improved or ennobled any society. Instead, the chief social and political legacy of Darwinian thought is a full spectrum of evil tyranny with Marx-inspired communism at one extreme and Nietzsche-inspired fascism at the other. And the moral catastrophe that has disfigured modern Western society is also directly traceable to Darwinism and the rejection of the early chapters of Genesis. 

At this moment in history, even though most of modern society is already fully committed to an evolutionary and naturalistic worldview, our society still benefits from the collective memory of a biblical worldview. People in general still believe human life is special. They still hold remnants of biblical morality, such as the notion that love is the greatest virtue (1 Corinthians 13:13); service to one another is better than fighting for personal dominion (Matthew 20:25-27); and humility and submission are superior to arrogance and rebellion (1 Peter 5:5).

—John MacArthur 

Source: John MacArthur. Copyright 2022, Grace to You. All rights reserved. Used by permission. This Grace to You article originally appeared here at

Genesis Playlist

Discover music inspired by the message and content of the book of Genesis.

All Things Bright and Beautiful
by Keith & Kristyn Getty | Children's
Lord of Patience
by Shai Linne feat. Melissa T. | Rap
Who But You
by Mark Hill & Megan Garrett | Pop
by The Worship Initiative feat. Trenton Bell, Dinah Wright | Praise & Worship
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