Genesis 1-11, Cultural Context

Genesis is thousands of years before our present. The first major sections (chapters 1-11) has next to no information of their culture. From the passages we can gleam that they had a civilization, society, art, and metal work (Genesis 4:21-22). Apart from what the Bible tells us we know nothing of how their day-to-day life was before the flood.

“The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5, ESV).

How is this an aspect of culture? Culture is the worldview of a people group: how they think, what they believe, and how they behave is respect to the world around them. The culture is the primeval world was filled with evil. To be honest it was not that different than later biblical periods or even compared to our age. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” Judges 21:25b. The original audience of the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) knew all too well how rebellious people can be, even when they had the blessing of seeing God at work before their eyes. Half of the kings of Judah and all of the kings of Israel had led their people into evil.

The cultural context here is one that repeats throughout human history: sin and judgement.

When we get to Exodus we will look at the cultural context of the original audience as we study the contexts of their own stories found in Exodus through Deuteronomy.



Genesis 1-11, Historical Context

The beginning of the Bible (creation) is difficult to pinpoint the exact years of the events. Finding a timeline that will lay this out is difficult to find. Most scholars (biblical or secular) label Genesis 1-11 as primeval history or pre-history. Some study Bibles and academic textbooks do not dare to place a year for this portion of the Bible.

When did God create “the heavens and the earth”? The simple answer is “in the beginning”. This will be the starting point of our biblical timeline, which will be represented by the abbreviation AC (after creation).

We will be going along with the BC-AD tradition of there being no year zero. With that in mind Genesis 1:1-2:25 occurs in the year 1 AC. Genesis 5 and 10 cover hundreds of years between major events in God’s redemptive story. When we study those chapters we will be looking at the AC timeline in more detail.

Whether Genesis was written or compiled is beside the point. At some point in history the book came about and was passed down through the generations until it reached us today. There is evidence that Genesis was edited sometime after the conquest of the Promise Land (more on this later).

Putting that aside for now, let us look at who tradition claims is the human author of Genesis and the rest of the Pentateuch. Moses, the lawgiver, was given the task of recording God’s message to the Israelites. Tradition holds that Genesis was part of the message that God wanted to give to His people. This also answers the questions of where (location), when (general date), to whom (original audience), and why (reason) Genesis was written.

With Moses as the author the location was Mount Sinai, the year was 1446 or 1445 BC[1], and the original audience was the twelve tribes of Israel. The reason for the composition of Genesis was to tell the Israelite their history of where they came from, how they got to be in Egypt and why Yahweh had chosen them and why He brought them out of slavery and into the Promise Land.

(The above information goes for entire book of Genesis.)

There is another reason for Genesis 1 and 2, and that is God. In fact it answers the question “Who do you worship?” or “What type of god is God?” He is different than all the gods around the Israelites, a God who does not need to do battle with monsters or slay other gods in order to create the world, this is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He speaks and it is so. Genesis 1 demonstrates the unimaginable power that Yahweh holds.

The purpose of Genesis is to begin telling the story of God and His interactions with His creation, especially humanity. A story of love and redemption that “may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7b, HCSB).


[1] Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook, 2012. Page 29.

Part 5a: Intro to Genesis

Interpreting Genesis

(The New American Commentary, vol. 1a, Genesis 1:1-11:26, pages 63-68)

There are many ways we can read the book of Genesis. Whether as fables, myths or stories of morality, we all see the tales differently if we approach Genesis with our preconceived notions. Genesis is a story of people interacting with the created world and its Creator. Interpreting any ancient text has its difficulty and the Old Testament is not exempt from this. Today we will look at several methods of interpretation. This includes how Jews and Christians have looked at it in the past and how scholars look at it today.

Many times we hear a story and we take its perceived understanding for granted, or we tend to disagree with it. Looking at Genesis 1-11 (creation to the flood and to Abraham’s father, Terah) we may not all agree on the deeper meaning of the text. Let this not hinder us from going In God’s Holy Word together. Let the Holy Spirit open our eyes and minds as we study “Interpreting Genesis”.

Next time we will be looking at the “Pentateuchal Criticism”.

Questions on the readings are coming soon.

Part 3: Intro to Genesis

Genesis and Canon

(The New American Commentary, vol. 1a, Genesis 1:1-11:26, pages 41-54) [Edited: I fixed the page numbers.]

Genesis 1-11 is the first truly universal book. It tells the story not only of the beginnings of the world and the human race, but also contains eschatological promises for the reconciliation of God and the entirety of humanity, not only the Israelites.

Being the first book is both the Jewish and Christian Bibles, it holds a significant place in our theology and understanding of God and sin. (We will more at the theology of Genesis in our next session.) As a community of believers, and in light of the Gospel message, we can take away a lot of interesting information from these first eleven chapters.

Click here to go to the questions on the readings.

Part 2: Intro to Genesis

Literary Genesis

(The New American Commentary, vol. 1a, Genesis 1:1-11:26, pages 25-41)

When we break it down, the literary composition of Genesis is interesting . Like the name “Genesis” suggests, it is all about genealogies. (We will look more at the name of Genesis in part 3). The importance of these genealogies (tōlĕdōt) is at the core of the purpose of the book.

With a simple overview we can see it can be broken down with the use of genealogies and accounts. The use of the Hebrew phrase tōlĕdōt (transliterated) divides Genesis into twelve distinct units that “form an unmistakably coherent, unified story line.”

Click here to go to the questions on the readings.

Part 1: Intro to Genesis

We begin our study “In God’s Holy Word” looking at the “Introduction” to The New American Commentary on (vol 1a) Genesis 1-11:26, by Kenneth Mathews.

With nearly 100 pages of material (pages 21-112), divided into seven sections, we will look at the reasons and methods used by the commenters in compiling the commentary. After we read and work through the introduction we will dive into Genesis 1 through Genesis 11.

I encourage you to borrow a copy (from a library) or buy your own copy of this commentary, so you can follow along and work through the commentary with us.

Introduction & Commenting on Genesis

(The New American Commentary, vol. 1a, Genesis 1:1-11:26, pages 22-24)

The Book of Genesis is filled with all sorts of stories: from creation of the world to the annihilation of civilizations—from the destruction of two cities to saving the ancient Middle East from famine. We read not only of early mankind and their struggles and triumphs but, more importantly, we read of how God has worked throughout history and His plan for our future.

These stories are amongst the most well known from the entire Old Testament. They seem to be so far removed from us today that most of us do not give them a second thought. They are good or interesting to read, but they also have theological, philosophical and moral truths.

Click here to go to the questions on the readings.