Overview of the book of Genesis
The book of Genesis answers the question, “Where did all this come from?” Genesis is the first book of the Bible, and the first of the Penteteuch (the five books of Moses). Genesis is the story of how Israel began as a nation, but the author tells this story as a series of beginnings—starting with the creation of the universe (Gn 1:1) and narrowing down to one family: Israel’s.
Genesis opens with God creating the heavens and the earth, the stars, the plants, the animals, and humans: Adam and Eve. God places Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, but they rebel against God, introducing a curse of sin and death to the world.
Adam and Eve have children (including Cain and Abel), and those children have children. Eventually the human race becomes so violent that God sends a great flood to destroy the world, but He spares the only righteous man, Noah. (Genesis gives us some hints about what earth was like before the flood.)
Noah builds his famous ark to escape the floodwaters with his family (and many animals). After the waters recede, God promises to never again destroy the earth with a flood.
Hundreds of years later, God calls Noah’s descendant, Abram, to leave his family and journey to the land of Canaan. God promises to bless Abram with many descendants, and to bless all the nations of the world through him. Abram believes God’s promise, even though he is old and childless. God considers him to be righteous, and changes his name from Abram to Abraham. Later, Abraham has a son, Isaac.
Isaac dwells in the land of Canaan and has twin sons: Jacob and Esau.
Jacob grows up, tricks Esau into giving away his blessing, and then leaves town to live with his uncle Laban. He marries, has children, and lives with Laban for 20 years before God calls him back to Canaan. As Jacob returns to the land of Abraham and Isaac, his name is changed to Israel (35:9–12).
Israel has 12 sons, and young Joseph is his favorite. Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery, and he becomes a prisoner in Egypt. His God-given ability to interpret dreams becomes valuable to the Pharaoh, however, and so Joseph is released from prison and made second in command of all Egypt. Joseph warns Pharaoh that a terrible famine is coming, and stockpiles food for the coming years.
Joseph’s predictions are correct: the famine reaches Canaan, and his brothers come to Egypt to buy food. The brothers reconcile, and Joseph provides for all the children of Israel to move to Egypt until the famine is over. The book of Genesis ends with the death of Joseph, whose last prediction is that God will bring the children of Israel back to the promised land. God begins fulfilling this in the next movement of the story: the book of Exodus. Learn more about the main characters of Genesis.
Theme verse in Genesis
“I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you.” —God to Abraham, Gn 17:7
See Bible verse art for each of the other books of the Bible.
Genesis’ role in the Bible
The stories in Genesis set the backdrop for vital theological principles in the rest of the Bible. In Genesis, we see how sin began, how God judges sin, and the beginnings of His work to redeem mankind.
Genesis also introduces Abraham, the ancestor of Israel through whom the whole world will be blessed. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are the three chief patriarchs of the nation Israel (which gets its name from Jacob). Jacob’s sons and grandsons have their own families, which eventually become the 12 tribes of Israel.
Abraham believes God’s promises to him, and Abraham’s faith is reckoned to be righteousness (Gn 15:6)—that is, it satisfies God. The concept of righteousness by faith is repeated in the New Testament (Ro 10:10), and Paul states that all who share Abraham’s faith are the spiritual children on Abraham (Ga 3:6–9).
Genesis also sets forth several biblical themes that weave across the rest of the Bible:
- God’s authority. God is the maker of all things, and He is sovereign over nature and humanity. We see His creative work in the first two chapters of Genesis, but we also see His sovereignty in choosing Abraham, blessing the Hebrews, and protecting Egypt from famine.
- Man’s rebellion. Adam and Eve disobeyed God in Eden, but that’s only the beginning. Cain presents an unacceptable sacrifice, the world becomes violent in the days of Noah, people construct the tower of Babel, and so on and so forth.
- God’s judgment. God evicts Adam and Eve, He sends a flood to destroy the earth, and He rains fire on Sodom and Gomorrah (Gn 19). God is holy, and sin must be punished.
- God’s preservation of life. God promises a descendant to Eve (Gn 3:15), He saves Noah’s family in an ark, He delivers Jacob from Esau’s wrath, and He allows Egypt to survive a harsh famine through Joseph’s wisdom.
- Blood sacrifice. God skins animals to cover Adam and Eve after they sin (Gn 3:21), and He provides a ram for Abraham to take Isaac’s place (Gn 22). The blood sacrifice motif becomes far more prominent in the book of Leviticus.
It’s a grand book with many of the Bible’s most well-known stories, but it’s only the beginning.
Who wrote the book of Genesis?
Quick outline of Genesis
- The beginnings of all mankind (Gn 1:1–11:32)
- The beginnings of the world (Gn 1–2)
- The beginnings of sin, death, and judgment (Gn 3–9:17)
- The beginnings of the nations (Gn 9:18–11)
- The beginnings of Israel (Gn 12–50)
- Abraham (Gn 12–25:18)
- Isaac (Gn 25:19–26:35)
- Jacob/Israel (Gn 27–36)
- Joseph (Gn 37–50)
Key terms in the book of Genesis
- Covenant, promise, swear
- These are the records of . . .
- Land (especially the land of Canaan)
- Sin, evil, wickedness
Key characters in the book of Genesis
- Adam (Gn 2:4–4:1, 5:1–5)
- Eve (Gn 2:4–4:1)
- Noah (Gn 6:8–10:29)
- Abraham (Gn 12–25:11)
- Isaac (Gn 25:19–26:35)
- Jacob/Israel (Gn 27–36)
- Joseph, with the famous coat (Gn 37, 39–50)
Pages related to Genesis:
- Exodus (next book of the Bible)
- The Gospel of John (also begins with creation)
- Galatians (lots of discussion on Abraham)
- The Pentateuch