The germ of every department of theology lies in seminal form within this book of beginnings. The very multi-faceted character of this book makes the isolation of a central theme difficult. However, an examination of Genesis’ theological significance from the vantage of both its contemporary and canonical settings provides the Biblical theologian with a more workable approach to the theological message of this book.
I. Genesis’ Contemporary Theological Significance
To fifteenth century B.C. Israel, Genesis was not the first of 66 books; it was most likely written after Exodus and Leviticus during the years of their Wilderness Wanderings. The theological truths of Genesis were, therefore, of a secondary and reinforcing nature. They had already seen the mighty hand of God deliver from Egypt, heard the voice of God at Sinai, and experienced God’s wrath against sin. Genesis’ theological significance to its initial audience lay in its revelation of (1) the surety of the Abrahamic promise, (2) the significance of the Sinaitic Covenant, and (3) the righteousness that comes through faith.
A. The Surety of the Abrahamic Promise
God’s faithfulness to His promises is a major motif throughout the Genesis narratives. What God Almighty (El Shaddai) says He will do, He does. This is evident in God’s promise to destroy the earth (6:7), to give Abraham a son (15:3), to spare Sodom for ten righteous men (18:32), to bring Jacob back to his homeland (28:15), and to make of Jacob a great nation in Egypt (46:3). Of even greater pertinence to Israel was God’s promise to Abraham that his seed would serve a foreign nation for 400 years, and that in the fourth generation God would afflict that nation and bring Israel out with great substance (15:13-14). The literal fulfillment of this promise in every detail demonstrates God’s faithfulness to His promises. In view of God’s history of faithfulness to His word, the Israelites could be confident about the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring them into Canaan. Just as God had superintended circumstances to accomplish His word to their fathers, so He would again for them.
B. The Significance of the Sinaitic Covenant
When God met with Israel at Sinai, He proposed to them through Moses, “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exo. 19:5-6). Without an understanding of God’s redemptive program, the significance of being constituted a kingdom of priests would not have been clear to Israel. Genesis catalogs God’s gracious strivings with men to call them to salvation. Grace had been offered universally through Noah (6:3; 9:8-17), but it was rejected both before and after the Flood (6:9; 7:1; 11:1-4). God then chose Abram to be the father of a nation through which blessing would come to the whole world (12:1-3). As the heirs of the promises that God had made to their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Israelites were God’s chosen instrument through which all the nations of the earth would be blessed (18:18). As a kingdom of priests they were to function as mediators between God and the world – reconciling men to God.
C. The Righteousness That Comes Through Faith
The first written revelation given to Israel consisted of the Book of the Covenant, Exodus 19-23. This covenant made no provision for the regeneration of the individual Israelite. It was in essence a national constitution. With the subsequent revelation of the Levitical material (Exo. 24 – Leviticus), Israel was confronted with the demands of God’s holiness and the inevitable realization that they could not meet those demands. Although the sacrificial system implicitly required faith, it nowhere stated explicitly that acceptance before God is only through faith. The record of Abraham’s justification by faith (15:6) provides the balance to the external righteousness required by the law. Beyond how to be justified before God, Genesis reveals that God is willing to come into personal fellowship with men. In the midst of a highly technical ceremonialism in which the people could only come to God officially through the Levitical priests, the accounts of Enoch (5:24), Noah (6:8-9), Abraham (18:17), Isaac (31:42), and Jacob (46:3) revealed that one could have a personal relationship with God.
II. Genesis’ Canonical Theological Significance
To its continuing audience, Genesis reveals, among other truths, the nature of God, the origin of sin, and the beginnings of God’s sovereign plan for restoring fallen man to his original purpose by grace through faith.
- Unique — The unflinching monotheism of the creation account stands in marked contrast to the polytheistic creation epics (Atrahasis, The Gilgamesh Epic) that were common throughout the ANE. It reveals both Yahweh’s existence before any of the created order, and the secondary and subordinate nature of the gods of the nations. The very order of creation itself (light before the sun) testifies against the pagan worship of the heavenly hosts. Though no gods are mentioned by name in Genesis, the ignominious treatment of Laban’s teraphim (stolen, sat on, buried) reveals the powerlessness of such idols (31:19, 30, 34; 35:4) (Kidner, 32).
- Self-Revealing — The Creation, theophanies, and the titles of God constitute the most prominent method of God’s self-revelation. God revealed His perfections, power, and glory through the Creation (Psa. 19:1). He spoke and the cosmos came into existence. God revealed Himself through theophanies (Abram – 12:7; 17:1; 18:1; Isaac – 26:2, 24; Jacob – 35:7, 9; 48:3), through dreams (Abimelech – 20:3-6; Jacob – 28:12; 31:10-13; Laban – 31:24), and through visions (Abram – 15:1; Jacob – 46:2). The degree to which God revealed himself to men appears to have depended upon their spiritual status. He appeared in dreams to those who were unregenerate or spiritually immature (Abimelech, Jacob, Laban, young Joseph). Visions were given to the more spiritually mature (Abraham, Jacob in later life). The identification of the “angel of the Lord” or the “angel of God” with Yahweh gives these appearances revelational significance (22:11-16; 31:11-13).Beyond the generic term God and the personal name Yahweh, God’s self-revelation also involves the titles of God. Kidner, 33, categorizes these as “propositional, historical, and personal.” The propositional titles reveal some facet of God’s character: El Elyon – the Most High God (14:18-22), El Shaddai – the Almighty God (17:1, 28:3, 35:11, 43:14, 48:3, 49:25), El Olam – the Everlasting God (21:33). The historical titles commemorate some divine action: El Roi – The-God-Seeing-Me was Hagar’s name for Yahweh when He stopped her from fleeing from Sarah and promised her that Ishmael would become a great nation (16:13), El Bethel – the God of Bethel was Jacob’s designation for Yahweh after his meeting at Bethel (35:7). The personal titles reflect God’s personal relationship with His people: God of Abraham (28:13), Fear of Isaac (31:42, 53), Mighty One of Jacob (49:24).
- Sovereign — The untrammeled sovereignty of God is apparent in the divine imperative of Creation, “let there be,” in His judgment upon sin (3:14-19; 4:11-12; 6-9; 18), in His control over conception (20:18; 21:1; 25:21; 30:22), in His election of men (12:1; 25:23), in His dealings with the nations (11:9; 15:14-15; 35:5), and in his power over death (5:24). He is the Judge of all the earth (18:25). God’s sovereignty is frequently displayed through his providential ordering of human affairs to accomplish his purposes: Abraham’s servant finding Rebekah (24:15-27), Jacob’s meeting Rachel (29:1-12), the selling of Joseph in Egypt, his imprisonment, and rise to power (37-47). Perhaps more revelatory of God’s sovereignty than any of these is His ability to take what men meant for evil and turn it to good (50:20).
- His significance — As God’s creative finale, man is the crown of God’s labor. In contrast to His former decretive creation of the cosmos, God personally formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life (2:7). Man’s significance derives first from his relation to God. The Lord made Man in (as?) His image and likeness (1:26-27; cp. 1 Cor. 11:7), and as such man bears a resemblance to his Maker that no other element of the creation bears. It is because murder is a violation of the divine image that it receives so grave a penalty (9:5-6).The unique privilege of fellowship between God and man likewise distinguishes man from other created beings (3:8).The responsibilities given man add to his significance. In blessing man, God gave the mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (1:28). Man was created to have dominion over the earth and all that was upon it. Additionally, man was given the specific task of cultivating and keeping the Garden of Eden (2:15). As a result manual work receives special sanction as a divine ordinance.
- His sin — Man’s relationship with God was in some sense a probationary one (2:17), and with Adam’s willful disobedience humanity was plunged into the night of sin (3:1-8). Immediate alienation from God, a sense of guilt, and the awareness of shameful nakedness were sin’s immediate consequences (3:7-8). The open fellowship with God that had been man’s privilege was replaced by fearful hiding (3:10). Sin affected every dimension of man’s existence. Pain in childbirth and disruption of harmonious marital relations came upon the woman (3:16). A curse upon the ground added toil to the task of bringing food from the ground (3:17-18), and the pall of death and dissolution descended on all living creatures (3:19; cp. Rom. 5:12). The resulting depravity of heart is apparent in the precipitous spiral of mankind into murder (4:8, 23), polygamy (4:19), unabated wickedness (6:5), and rebellion against God (11:4), and in the lingering sin problems in the lives of the Patriarchs (20:2; 26:7; 27:19; 38:15ff; etc.).
The solution to man’s sin is presented in the midst of God’s judgment of that sin (3:15). In this promise God reveals that Satan will ultimately be crushed through a man, born of woman, who himself suffers in that victory. The universal application of salvation appears explicitly in the Abrahamic promise that all nations of the earth will be blessed in him. Yet it is particular in its source – it will come through the recipients of the Abrahamic promise: Isaac, Jacob, and Judah. The kingly nature of this redeemer is faintly hinted at in the promise to Abraham that kings will come from his line (17:16) and in Jacob’s prophetic statement that the scepter will never depart from Judah (49:10).
Genesis functions as the cornerstone for all subsequent revelation. Without it sin, the cross, salvation, and human existence would all be meaningless. To its contemporaries, it revealed the gospel in living illustrations. To all subsequent generation it provides the theological and philosophical framework for understanding God, man, the world, and the interrelations between them.
|OT Passage||NT Parallel|
|Genesis 1:27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.||Matthew 19:4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,
Mark 10:6 “But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.
|Genesis 2:2 By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.||Hebrews 4:4 For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS”;|
|Genesis 2:7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.||1 Corinthians 15:45 So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.|
|Genesis 2:24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.||Matthew 19:5 and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’?
Mark 10:7 “FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, 8 AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.
1 Corinthians 6:16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”
Ephesians 5:31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.
|Genesis 5:2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.||Matthew 19:4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE,
Mark 10:6 “But from the beginning of creation, God MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE.
|Genesis 5:24 Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
LXE Genesis 5:24 And Enoch was well-pleasing to God, and was not found, because God translated him.
|Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.|
|Genesis 12:1 Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you;||Acts 7:3 and said to him, ‘LEAVE YOUR COUNTRY AND YOUR RELATIVES, AND COME INTO THE LAND THAT I WILL SHOW YOU.’|
|Genesis 12:3 And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”||Galatians 3:8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”|
|Genesis 12:7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.||Galatians 3:16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.|
|Genesis 14:17 Then after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. 19 He blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; 20 And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” He gave him a tenth of all.||Hebrews 7:1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part of all the spoils, was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace.|
|Genesis 15:5 And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”||Romans 4:18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.”|
|Genesis 15:6 Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.||Romans 4:3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Romans 4:9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
Romans 4:22 Therefore IT WAS also CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Galatians 3:6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.
James 2:23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS,” and he was called the friend of God.
|Genesis 15:13 God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. 14 “But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.||Acts 7:6 “But God spoke to this effect, that his DESCENDANTS WOULD BE ALIENS IN A FOREIGN LAND, AND THAT THEY WOULD BE ENSLAVED AND MISTREATED FOR FOUR HUNDRED YEARS. 7 “‘AND WHATEVER NATION TO WHICH THEY WILL BE IN BONDAGE I MYSELF WILL JUDGE,’ said God, ‘AND AFTER THAT THEY WILL COME OUT AND SERVE ME IN THIS PLACE.’|
|Genesis 17:5 “No longer shall your name be called Abram, But your name shall be Abraham; For I will make you the father of a multitude of nations.||Romans 4:17 (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist. 18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.”|
|Genesis 17:8 “I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”||Acts 7:5 “But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM AS A POSSESSION, AND TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM.|
|Genesis 18:10 He said, “I will surely return to you at this time next year; and behold, Sarah your wife will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him.||Romans 9:9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”|
|Genesis 18:14 “Is anything too difficult for the LORD? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”||Romans 9:9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”|
|Genesis 18:18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed?||Galatians 3:8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”|
|Genesis 21:10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.”
|Galatians 4:30 But what does the Scripture say? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.”
|Genesis 21:12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named.||Romans 9:7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.”
Hebrews 11:18 it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED.”
|Genesis 22:16 and said, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this thing and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 indeed I will greatly bless you, and I will greatly multiply your seed as the stars of the heavens and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your seed shall possess the gate of their enemies.||Hebrews 6:13 For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “I WILL SURELY BLESS YOU AND I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOU.”|
|Genesis 22:18 “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”||Acts 3:25 “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.’|
|Genesis 25:23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger.”||Romans 9:12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.”|
|Genesis 26:4 “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;||Acts 3:25 “It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.’|
|LXE Genesis 47:31 And he said, Swear to me; and he swore to him. And Israel did reverence, leaning on the top of his staff.
Genesis 47:31 He said, “Swear to me.” So he swore to him. Then Israel bowed in worship at the head of the bed.
|Hebrews 11:21 By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.|
|Genesis 48:4 and He said to me, ‘Behold, I will make you fruitful and numerous, and I will make you a company of peoples, and will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession.’||Acts 7:5 “But He gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot of ground, and yet, even when he had no child, He promised that HE WOULD GIVE IT TO HIM AS A POSSESSION, AND TO HIS DESCENDANTS AFTER HIM.|
God’s Providence in Genesis
- Israelites serve to fulfill God’s curse on Canaan (9:25; 15:16)
- Rebekah provided for Isaac by exact timing (24:15,16)
- Jacob’s receipt of Isaac’s blessing (27:19) & Joseph’s preservation of the family in Egypt (45:7-8; 50:20)
Republished by permission from apbrown2.net.