Phil Congdon, New Braunfels Bible Church, February 2, 2017
From February through May this year, we’re exploring the first eleven chapters of Genesis, God’s revelation of Himself in creation and the events which followed. Today, many view Genesis 1-11 as myths – religious stories with little or no real historical truth. We do not. The text itself, and the way it is referred to by Jesus and other biblical writers, demonstrates that this is a record of the actual beginnings of human history.
Genesis 1-11 actually serves as something of a ‘prologue’ to the rest of the book of Genesis, revealing the sovereign power and holiness of God in creation and His reaction sin. But also, ‘woven throughout the tapestry of the story,’ we see the thread of His grace and mercy, leading to redemption. The ‘formless and void’ earth is redeemed, becoming a place of beauty and life. Following the Fall, God works to provide a restoration of the broken relationship. When sin becomes pervasive, God provides for a new beginning through Noah. When the Babel rebellion necessitates the confusing of languages, resulting in the creation of nations, God’s ultimate redemption plan for a sinful humanity is revealed as He singles out the line of Terah, and we are introduced to Abram, who God will subsequently call to become the father of His Chosen People. Through them the Redeemer of all mankind will come, bear the sins of the world, and finally and effectively rescue fallen creation. As such, these chapters form the ‘seed-bed’ for the entire biblical story, culminating in the redemption of fallen creation, in the new heavens and new earth.
To get the most out of these studies together, why not start reading Genesis 1-11 on your own? As you read, look for key words that describe God’s character, His passion, His holiness, and His power. Truly, the stories in these chapters are a revelation of our God, and His will for our lives. To prepare for this Sunday’s message, read Genesis 1.1-2.3.
Introductory Notes on Genesis:
As we begin our sermon series going through Genesis 1-11 this spring, these introductory notes provide a brief survey of four common ‘approaches’ to Genesis today, and my assessment of them. There is also an overview of the literary structure, and an introduction to the first eleven chapters, which form a ‘prologue’ to the rest of the book.
The study of Genesis has been burdened with more invasive approaches than any other genre in Scripture, almost always resulting in the virtual dissolution of its authority and veracity. Prophecy, for example, is often attacked, but the options are straightforward: Interpret what is written with a literal, historical, grammatical (‘normal’) hermeneutic, or treat it as figurative or spiritualize it.
But there are four approaches to Genesis which diminish its historicity and factuality. The literary-analytical approach (JEDP) sees Genesis as a collection of writings by different authors throughout Israel’s history, which were ‘edited’ into their final form in the fifth or sixth centuries B.C.
The form-critical approach examines the genre, structure, setting, and intention of each section to ‘reconstruct’ the original ‘tradition’ that is behind the text. Scripture is not ‘divine revelation,’ but a reflection of the ‘evolution’ of ideas that developed over time.
The traditio-historical approach analyzes the compositional, historical, ideological, and psychological elements of the text to determine how it arose from ‘preliterary’ traditions. Basically, old fables told around the campfire in prehistoric days evolved into biblical stories, with spiritual lessons thrown in.
The rhetorical-critical approach focuses on literary forms, key words, alliteration, and other devices which may signal what the writer sought to communicate. While this kind of study can be helpful in discovering narrative and theological emphases in the text, it is sometimes used to ‘humanize’ the text, to the extent it is no longer viewed as factual history – or divine revelation, but rather the artful creations of ancient writers.
To sum up, any approach to Genesis which sees it as anything other than divinely-sourced ‘inspired’ revelation from God to man, recording true events which happened in time and space, reduces it to the level of a fairy tale, and makes any objective basis for gaining knowledge of God and His program for mankind impossible. The creation story, the flood event, the tower of Babel, and essentially, the foundational history of Israel as God’s Chosen People, are all rendered ‘myth,’ having ‘religious value’ for those so inclined, but communicating no actual ‘true’ history, or ethical and moral revelation, which mankind is beholden to his Creator to heed.
Allen Ross concludes (and we agree):
Conservative scholarship rightly rejects the critical views that the stories were fabricated tales or idealized events told for some didactic purpose. The narratives themselves give the impression that the events happened, and the rest of the Bible confirms this view.
Structure/Outline of Genesis
The structure of the Genesis narrative is outlined by the key Hebrew word tôledôt (תֹּולֵדֹות), which is translated “account” in 2.4, but usually “generations” (5.1; 6.9; 10.1; 11.10; 11.27; etc.), as in the phrase, These are the generations of… In more common vernacular, we might read this phrase as something like, “This is what became of…” Each tôledôt section follows a ‘narrowing process’ – that is, the focus of revelation is honing in on an increasingly narrow subject. Following the creation account, the focus turns to the creation of man, then the descendants of Adam, then the family of Noah, then his sons, then one of his sons – Shem, then one specific descendant of Shem, Terah, and on and on.
There are ten of these tôledôt sections, preceded by the initial section on creation. A structural outline of Genesis is as follows:
- Creation (1.1-2.3)
- Tôledôt of the heavens and the earth (2.4-4.26)
- Tôledôt of Adam (5.1-6.8)
- Tôledôt of Noah (6.9-9.29)
- Tôledôt of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (10.1-11.9)
- Tôledôt of Shem (11.10-26)
- Tôledôt of Terah (11.27-25.11)
- Tôledôt of Ishmael (25.12-18)
- Tôledôt of Isaac (25.19-35.29)
- Tôledôt of Esau, the father of Edom (twice) (36.1-8; 36.9-37.1)
- Tôledôt of Jacob (37.2-50.26)
Introduction to Genesis 1-11
While this is the structure that ‘moves’ the progression of the narrative forward, it does not reflect the content of the developing story. Genesis 1-11 is the ‘prologue’ to the Book of Genesis, revealing the sovereign power and holiness of God in creation, His reaction to the fall and the spread of evil, culminating in the flood, His reaction to the rise of nations – a result of God’s division of mankind after their prideful rebellion against Him at Babel, and the singling out of Terah’s line, leading to the call of Abram. Everything which follows in Genesis, and in the entire Pentateuch (and thus to the whole Old Testament, and ultimately to the end of Revelation), flows directly from the ‘headwaters’ of Genesis 1-11.
In these chapters, along with the revelation of God’s sovereignty as creator, and His holiness in judging evil, we discover ‘woven throughout the tapestry of the story’ the thread of His grace and mercy, leading to redemption. The ‘formless and void’ earth is redeemed, becoming a place of beauty and life. Following the Fall, God works to provide a restoration of the broken relationship. When this fails and sin spreads, God destroys the world, but provides for a new beginning through Noah. When the Babel rebellion necessitates the confusing of languages, resulting in the creation of nations, God’s ultimate redemption plan for a sinful humanity is revealed as He singles out the line of Terah, and we are introduced to Abram, who God will subsequently call to become the father of His Chosen People. Through them the Redeemer of all mankind will come, bear the sins of the world, and finally and effectively rescue fallen creation. As such, these chapters form the ‘seed-bed’ for the entire biblical story, culminating in the redemption of fallen creation, in the new heavens and new earth.
 Amillenialism (often ‘Covenant Theology’), Preterism, and ‘Replacement Theology’ all do this. While they differ in the details of how biblical prophecy is fulfilled, they all treat future biblical prophecy as meaning something other than what the text literally says.
 See Allen P. Ross, Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), pp.23-36.
 Ross, 39. Also see his discussion in Chapter 3, “The Nature of Genesis,” pp. 50-64.
 Ross, 70.