Before We Begin

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2 ESV

The book of beginnings. That is how this first book of the Bible is often described, and that moniker is well deserved. The first three words of the opening chapter form a rather short and succinct thesis statement that establishes the author’s intentions. This lengthy historical narrative was intended to provide a divinely inspired explanation for the existence of the universe. Within its pages, is found the creation story, describing God’s sovereign act of forming the stars and planets, the earth, and all its inhabitants, with special emphasis placed upon one particular people group – the nation of Israel.

Genesis is both a book of history and theology. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, theology is “the study of God and of God’s relation to the world” (“Theology.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2021.). And because Genesis opens with the words, “In the beginning, God…,” it reveals itself to be an unapologetically God-focused book. He serves as its primary protagonist, appearing on virtually every page and spanning its vast historical scope with sovereign authority and power.

The 50 chapters that comprise the book of Genesis cover a period of at least 2500 years – from the moment of creation to the death of the patriarch, Joseph. Of course, dating a book like Genesis is difficult, if not, impossible. As will become apparent in our exposition of the book, there has been much debate about the historicity of Genesis. Some regard it as nothing more than a collection of myths or fables. Others, who defend its authenticity, question its reliability when it comes to the accuracy of its dating and descriptions. The rise of the Enlightenment in the 18th-Century, with its emphasis on science and logic, reason and rationalism, led many Christians to question the accuracy of God’s Word. In the late 18th-Century, a new form of biblical study emerged from Germany that encouraged a more scientific approach to biblical interpretation. By the mid-nineteenth century, this historical-critical method of examining the biblical text had come to be known as higher criticism. Its influence was far-reaching, impacting seminaries and theological institutions across the world. With its emphasis on reason and rationalism, higher criticism tends to reject the supernatural aspect of the biblical text. Of course, to a proponent of higher criticism, the book of Genesis provides a treasure trove of evidence against the Bible’s reliability as a historical narrative.

There are many within evangelicalism today who remain influenced by this rationalistic approach to biblical interpretation. They reject the validity of a six-day creation narrative because it seems to contradict the scientific validation of the theory of evolution. They question the veracity of the many supernatural stories found on its pages, declaring them to be nothing more than oral traditions passed down from one unenlightened generation to another.

Whether they realize it or not, most modern Christians have been heavily influenced by this higher-critical method of biblical interpretation. Armed with science and reason, they approach the Bible with a pervading sense of skepticism and doubt. What cannot be reasonably explained is conveniently reinterpreted or simply rejected altogether. This hyper-critical and reductionistic approach to biblical interpretation renders the text devoid of the Spirit’s inspiration and turns the content of the Bible into little more than a collection of moralistic tales and man-made myths.

While no intelligent Christian should reject the advances in human knowledge achieved through scientific research and exploration, there is a danger in allowing human reason to trump divine intervention. The God of the Bible is not the byproduct of man’s fertile imagination. Man did not create God. According to the book of Genesis, it was the other way around. A Christian must approach the Bible in faith, understanding that what is contained within its pages is divinely inspired. It is not a collection of man-made myths or humanly concocted stories, but a Spirit-empowered book that provides us with a reliable retelling of mankind’s past and a prophetic glimpse into our future. It is a book that provides insights into the unknown and unexplained. It contains divine guidance for navigating the vicissitudes of life. More than just another book, the Bible is the word of God to humanity. As the apostle Paul so clearly states:

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. – 2 Timothy 3:16 NLT

And because it is divinely inspired and beyond the reach of human reason, there is much about the Bible that remains inexplicable. God has clearly communicated the transcendent nature of His wisdom and His ways.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. – Isaiah  55:8-9 ESV

And the apostle Paul provides us with a much-needed reminder of just ill-equipped we are to understand the unfathomable ways of God.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! – Romans 11:33 NLT

So, as we approach this remarkable book, we need to do so with reverence and humility. If we attempt to use our highly limited resources of human reasoning and rationalism to explain the ways of God, we will only end up diminishing His glory and displaying our own hubris and arrogance. When we attempt to use our insufficient intelligence to explain the ways of God, we will soon find ourselves on the receiving end of God’s divine disfavor and having to endure a well-deserved lecture on His superiority and sovereignty. Like Job, who dared to question the ways of God, we will have to answer to the only One who has all the answers.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom
    with such ignorant words?
Brace yourself like a man,
    because I have some questions for you,
    and you must answer them.

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know so much.
Who determined its dimensions
    and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports its foundations,
    and who laid its cornerstone
as the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels shouted for joy?” – Job 38:2-7 NLT

Job, a mere man, dared to question God. The created questioned the Creator. And God was not amused by Job’s arrogant attitude. The all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe repeatedly confronted the fist-shaking, fulminating Job, sarcastically exposing the ridiculous nature of his resentment and anger.

“Where does light come from,
    and where does darkness go?
Can you take each to its home?
    Do you know how to get there?
But of course you know all this!
For you were born before it was all created,
    and you are so very experienced! – Job 38:19-21 NLT

As we begin this study of the book of Genesis, may we do so with a sense of humility, freely confessing the limited nature of our knowledge and willingly accepting the greatness of our God. There will be much we will never understand and even more that we will never be able to explain. This is going to be a journey of discovery, one that will require equal amounts of faith and faithfulness. We must trust God as we walk the pages of Genesis. Like the characters whose lives we will encounter, we too will have questions along the way. We will have doubts. But we must not allow the inexplicable and unexplainable to deter us from the path of discovery.

If we remain faithful, we will grow to know God better. He will not answer all our questions or solve all the conundrums of life. But He will reveal Himself to us along the way. We will see His power and sovereign will at work in the creation of all things. We will discover the incredible nature of His unrelenting love. His holiness and justice will be displayed alongside His wrath and judgment. Along the way, God will reveal to us His grace, goodness, glory, and greatness, alongside His grand redemptive plan. The goal of the journey is to know God. After all, the entire Bible is the revelation of God to man. It is His gracious message of self-revelation that allows us to comprehend not only His identity but our own as well. Jesus stated that the objective of eternal life was not our escape from condemnation and death, but our knowledge of Him and His Heavenly Father.

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” – John 17:3 ESV

It is my prayer that we may read the book of Genesis with the goal to know God better.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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