Authorship and Division of Genesis

This second lesson will examine the various theories about the authorship of Genesis and it's natural and imposed divisions.
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In the last chapter I introduced our study of Genesis and made two basic points:

  1. Genesis is an inspired book. Jesus and all the writers of the New Testament refer to it in these terms.
  2. Genesis is important because it is the book that explains the origin of the key elements in our lives: the universe; evil; family; religion; society; culture, etc.

Now we will look at the author, manner of writing and division of Genesis.


The main problem here of course, is how does one write an account that describes things that happened not only before you were born but before anyone was born?

There are three main explanations as to the author of Genesis.

1. A group of writers after Moses

This is the most liberal view held by "higher critics" (a term to differentiate these theologians from "textual scholars" who try to determine the meaning of the text from studying only the old texts). Higher critics create their interpretation by studying the meaning in the context of the literature, religion and social customs of all the peoples that existed in that era. They believe that the Bible is a compilation or a reflection of the influences of the society it was originally written in (a type of literature).

For example, the flood was not the flood but the Jewish people's interpretation of a story or myth written about in other cultures at that time. Of course, they do not accept that maybe other cultures wrote about it because it really happened and the story in the Bible is the authentic account.

The point is that many higher critics say that Genesis is a compilation of old legends, stories, and traditions verbally handed down and compiled by different scribes between 700 and 400 BC. Moses lived around 1500 BC. They maintain that scribes put Moses' name on the book to give it some authority and authenticity.

This is called the "Documentary Hypothesis" and was originally formulated because they were convinced that Genesis could not have been written so early (1500 BC and before) because writing was unknown in his day. They were influenced by the idea of man's development according to an evolutionary timetable.

This theory was proven false by archeologists who demonstrated that writing was widely practiced in Moses' time and before.

Writing appears 5000-6000 years ago in Egypt, Mesopotamia and Indus Valley.
- R. Linton, Anthropologist

These critics also suggested that the idea of monotheism and high culture as was demonstrated by Moses was created by writers much later on because this development was non-existent 2000 years before Christ.

"Again, archeologists have confirmed every fact and detail that the Bible puts forth, especially for the times that Moses lived and wrote about."
- Dr. N. Glueck, Archeologist

So the first theory, the scribes who wrote it in the 7-4th century B.C. and put Moses' name on it, has largely been refuted by scholars today.

2. Moses as the Author

A more traditional view has been that Moses wrote Genesis, as well as the other books of the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible). Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy are easy to explain, he lived through those times. How did he get the info for a period before he lived? There are three possibilities:

  1. He received it by direct revelation from God and was directed by the Holy Spirit in recording it.
  2. He received the information from oral tradition (which was the manner history was transmitted in those days) and guided by the Holy Spirit, he recorded and organized these into a book.
  3. He collected actual written records of the past and organized them into a book under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

All of these methods are certainly possible without violating any principles of inspiration found in the Bible. However, the direct revelation method is to be questioned because visions from the Lord usually have to do with future prophecies, not recording the past. Also, the direct revelationary method is not normally used to give specific laws and instructions (the 10 Commandments). The book of Genesis is mostly a descriptive narrative of the past.

Although possible, the direct revelationary method is not the way God provided for other authors of other books in the Bible.

3. Moses as Compiler and Editor

The evidence suggests that although Moses himself wrote the books of Exodus to Deuteronomy, he compiled and edited earlier written records preserved from the patriarchs. This would mean that Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah, etc., each a patriarch in his own era recorded events in his time and handed them down to the next generation to be preserved and added to for historical purposes. Modern scholarship balks at this idea because it goes against the evolutionary idea that man developed from lower to higher forms and so did not record early history (monkeys cannot write).

Remember, however, that the Bible puts forth a completely opposite idea of history where man begins as an intelligent being and moves forward into a continuous cycle of decline and rescue until Jesus brings a complete salvation. In this model it is perfectly logical for early man to record and preserve his history and pass it on to future generations.

The patriarchal records were preserved and Moses collected these and edited them under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to produce the book of Genesis which contains the recorded history of early man. We can accept method two or three and respect the Bible's teaching on inspiration but I think method three is more in keeping with the way God worked in similar circumstances with other Bible writers.

Division of Genesis

The book itself is very long with 50 chapters and can be divided in a variety of ways.

1. Overview division

Chapters 1 to 11 – God and the world He made. Reviews the creation of the world and its destruction and the subsequent establishment of the nations. This gives us a basis for understanding where we came from and how we got to where we are.

Chapters 12 to 50 – God and the chosen people. Ignores the broad picture and focuses on one man and one nation as well as God's plan to save all mankind through them.

2. Generational division

I said before that Moses may have used the records from the patriarchs in order to compile this book. There is some evidence of this from the way Genesis is put together. It is possible to recognize the divisions of these original documents because each contains the key phrase, "These are the generations of…" The word generations comes from the same word that can be translated "origins" thus "...records of the origins of so and so."

If this is so, then Genesis is naturally divided by 10 generations given by Moses himself in the book:

  1. Generations of heaven and earth (1:1 – 2:4).
    • Written by Adam or given to Adam by God.
  2. The book of Generations of Adam (2:4b – 5:1).
    • Note the use of the word book which suggests these were recorded works and not just oral traditions
  3. Generations of Noah (5:1 – 6:9).
    • Noah had known all the patriarchs except Adam, Seth and Enoch and so writes about actual history he lived.
  4. Generations of the sons of Noah (6:9 – 10:1).
    • Noah's sons recorded the flood and its aftermath.
  5. Generations of Shem (10:1 – 11:10).
    • Shem, Noah's son, lived 500 years after the flood and continued recording this period of history.
  6. Generations of Terah (11:10 – 11:27).
    • Short but important because it gives the genealogy between Noah and Abraham. Where history turns from the world to specific Jewish history.
  7. Generations of Isaac (11:27 – 25:11).
    • Isaac records the life and times of his father Abraham.
  8. Generations of Ishmael (25:12 – 25:18).
    • Jacob records his half-brother's line (Arab tribes).
  9. Generations of Jacob (25:19 – 37:1).
    • Jacob records his father and his own life events here.
  10. Generations of the sons of Jacob (37:2 – Exodus 1:1).
    • These were recorded by unknown authors and compiled by Moses who wove them into a final chapter which smoothly led to the beginning of his own eyewitness record which begins, "Now these are the records of the children of Israel."

There is not hard and fast proof that this is the way the book of Genesis was put together but this explanation does not violate any Bible principle and follows the information given in Genesis as to how it came into being. (The only information we have is the information in Genesis.)

What confirms the idea that Genesis is an inspired work is that Jesus Himself refers to Moses as an authority and inspired writer (Luke 24:27;44) and He and other writers use Genesis as an inspired source. If Jesus says it is inspired, then that is the final proof for me. To deny Genesis is to deny Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  1. Explain the difference between "higher critics" and "textual scholars" and state why higher criticism is the weaker of the two methods for interpreting scripture.
  2. Summarize the three theories for the authorship of Genesis and defend why Moses is the author.
  3. Summarize the two overview divisions of Genesis: Chapters 1-11 and Chapters 12-50.
  4. Explain the generational division of Genesis.
  5. What is the key point from each of the following references of Genesis by Jesus and their significance?
  6. How can you use this lesson to grow spiritually and help others come into a relationship with Jesus?
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