The Hebrew name is Bereeshit, from its opening word "in the beginning." Septuagint Genesis means generation, i.e. creation and birth of the universe, man, and history. It is a religious history, therefore it omits accounts in detail of other nations, and concentrates attention on the origin of that one from whom the promised Redeemer of man from the deadly consequences of the fall (which is detailed at the beginning) sprang. While a bare catalogue is given of whole genealogies of nations, minute details are given of the godly patriarchs in the line of the promised Savior, for these details are of more everlasting moment to us than the rise and fall of the mightiest empires. Again, the details in the patriarchs' history selected for narration are not the merely personal facts, but those illustrating religious principles and furthering God's gracious purpose of redemption.
Thus Adam's history before and in the fall is minutely given, as affecting the whole race whom he represented; but after the fall only a few brief notices, but these of important bearing on mankind's spiritual prospects (Genesis 3:20-24; Genesis 4:1; Genesis 5:1-5). So the early development of the enmity between the serpent's seed and the seed of the woman, and the separation of the church from the world (Genesis 4:1-16; Genesis 4:25-26). The divine prophetic germs in Genesis are the foundation of all the subsequent prophecies throughout the Bible, and receive their consummation in the restored tree of life, waters of life, communion with God face to face in the world delivered from the curse, at the close of Revelation. Astruc, a Belgian physician (A.D. 1753), inferred from the varying use of the names of God, Elohim (E) and Jehovah (J), the existence of 12 documents or memoirs used by Moses in compiling Genesis.
Probably Moses under inspiration used such ancient memoirs, e.g. genealogies; but he certainly has composed no loosely joined chronicle, but a history with unity of plan throughout, and using the names of God not arbitrarily but with the most accurate propriety. The oldest part of the Hindu Vedas is hardly as old as the time of Moses, and his work embodies genealogical and other memoirs, probably handed down from the earliest period of man's history. Genesis is the first of the five parts of the Pentateuch, the grand subject of which is the setting up of the theocratic kingdom, Israel, amidst the nations as the repository of the divine promise until its fulfillment in Messiah, who should be a "light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel." Genesis begins with creation, then proceeds to show that the Elohim of creation is the Jehovah in covenant with His people in redemption.
So in Colossians 1:16-17, Christ the Head of creation, BY whom and IN whom as the divine Word carrying in Himself the arche-type of all existence, and FOR whom the universe of things have their being, is also the Head and Originator of the new creation. Appropriately therefore Elohim (the name for Divine Might, from alah "mighty") occurs throughout the first general account of creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3); but Jehovah (Yahweh), the faithful covenant keeping I AM, in the special account of creation affecting His covenant with man. The organic unity of Genesis appears from its structure: (1) introduction (Genesis 1:1-2:3), wherein the moral superiority of the Bible cosmogony stands preeminent. Pagan cosmogonies abound in crude poetical and philosophical speculations, either representing God and matter as co-eternal, or pantheistically confounding God and matter, making Him its pervading spirit.
Genesis alone recognizes God's personality and God's unity. Another marked distinction between the oldest pagan compositions and Genesis is they are palpably mythical in substance and poetical in form, history not arising until a later stage of national development. But Genesis is thoroughly historical in matter and prose in its form; Hebrew developed poetry not appearing until a later age, when the mythical element could have no place; a powerful confirmation of the historical trustworthiness of Scripture. Its sublime simplicity stamps Genesis as history, not poetical myth or subtle speculation. Moreover, Genesis alone describes creation out of nothing, as distinguished from creation out of preexisting materials. Genesis alone recognizes the law of progress in creation: first light, then order, then life, vegetable, grass, herb, fruit tree; then animal life. Again
(1) the waters,
(2) the dry land,
(3) the heavenly bodies.
Also progressive advance in life:
(1) aquatic animals and fish;
(3) terrestrial animals;
(4) man, the apex of creation.
The advance is orderly, from the lower to the higher organizations. Genesis is distinguished from the world's cosmogonies in connecting the Creator with His work in a relation of love; God contemplating "everything that He had. made, and behold it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). Traditions of widely separated nations over the earth retain fragments of the account of the fall, the tree, the serpent, the first pair, the flood. The Bible version of the story is simplest, purest, and the one that presents the only common ground from which all the others are likely to have emanated; it represents the facts in a universal worldwide aspect, and the groans of suffering creation and the sighing of every heart confirm its literal truth. The universality of the deluge over the area, then occupied by man is attested by the traditions of widely scattered nations, preserved from the times when as yet the forefathers of mankind were undispersed.
Philology and ethnology remarkably confirm the oldest extant genealogy of races in Genesis 10. Egyptology similarly confirms the abundant notices of Egypt in Genesis and Exodus. After the introduction, Genesis consists of successive genealogical histories (toledot) (See GENEALOGY). The larger sections have subdivisions carefully marked (the Jewish perashiym or sections of the Pentateuch, as our chapters, often obscure the true divisions). In each successive genealogical portion the history is carried down to the close of the period, and generally at the commencement of the succeeding one the previous account is, so far as necessary, summarily repeated with a note of time.
Thus Genesis 2:4 refers back summarily to the previous record of creation: so Genesis 5:1; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 11:10; Genesis 11:27; Genesis 25:12; Genesis 25:19; Genesis 36:1; Genesis 37:1-2; Genesis 37:3, where Jacob's position is stated and we are taken back to the time, 12 years before Isaac's death previously recorded, when Joseph was 17 years old, that so a new starting point for the history might be presented.
The names of God occurring are: EL, the shortened form of ELOHIM; ELION, "Most High" (only in Genesis 14:18 EL ELION, but in Psalms found alone, and with ELOHIM and JEHOVAH Yahweh); and SHADDAI "Almighty," in the Pentateuch generally with EL, The plural is that of excellence and majesty; Elohim combining in Himself the several attributes assigned to distinct gods by the pagan false gods as well as to the true God; and is the word used where pagan people, as the Egyptians, or foreigners, as Hagar, Eliezer of Damascus, the Egyptians, etc., are introduced. But Jehovah is a proper name restricted to the one God in covenant with His people, and therefore is the predominant name in those sections which concern them. From Exodus 6:2-3, "I am JEHOVAH; I appeared unto Abraham, by the name of God Almighty (El Shaday), but by My name Jehovah was I not known to them," rationalists infer that the passages in Genesis (e.g. Genesis 2) containing" JEHOVAH" were a later insertion.
But the Jah Yah occurs in the composition of "Jochebed," "Joshua," "Moriah." Moreover, JEHOVAH is from haawah, the form of "to be" existing only in the oldest Hebrew previous to its separation from Syriac and Chaldee; for after the separation these two dialects have it, but the Hebrew has haayah not haawah. The sense of Exodus 6:2-3 must be, "I was manifested to Abraham ... as the almighty One, able to do all I promised; but in My character of Jehovah, the unchanging I AM (Exodus 3:14), the fulfiller of My covenanted promises, I was not in act made known, as I am now about to make Myself known to My people." In Genesis 2:4 to the end of Genesis 3 JEHOVAH ELOHIM are combined, marking that the mighty Creator is the same JEHOVAH who revealed Himself to Adam as subsequently to Moses.
The tone of deliberation, "Let us make man" (Genesis 1:26, in the so-called Elohistic portion) accords with that of Genesis 3:22, "behold the man is become as one of us" (in the so-called Jehovistic portion); also Genesis 11:6. Eve's exclamation (Genesis 4:1), "I have gotten a man by the help of (Gesenius) JEHOVAH," marks her hope of her firstborn proving one link toward the birth of the Messiah covenanted by God to His people. Again, in Genesis 5:29, a so-called Elohistic portion, JEHOVAH occurs in connection with Noah, marking him as a second depository of the covenanted promise. Again, in Genesis 14 Melchizedek, the king-priest of the Canaanite Salem, worships EL ELION, "God must high," and Abram identifies Him with JEHOVAH the Hebrew' God of the covenant, "I have lift up my hand to JEHOVAH, EL ELION, possessor of heaven and earth."
H. Browne truly says, "it is doubtful whether an author in the time of Samuel could have written the history of the forefathers of his race with all the truthfulness, simplicity, and accuracy of detail to be found in the book called the first book of Moses." The objections drawn from man's antiquity are met by the consideration that Genesis gives no sure data for fixing the time of his first appearance. The genealogies probably present us only with the names of representative men; links probably have been omitted; and the text in respect to numbers and genealogies was open to transcribers' errors in the transmission. Moreover the conclusions of science are hardly yet fixed. We can afford to wait in faith; God in His own time will show the perfect harmony between true science and revelation.
Fausset, Andrew Robert M.A., D.D., "Definition for 'genesis, the book of' Fausset's Bible Dictionary".