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Genesis tells a number of stories of ‘beginning’. The name itself means 'origin' or 'source'. It begins by telling the story of the beginning of the world, before continuing with the beginning of the breakdown of relationship between God and humanity. From chapter 12 onwards Genesis tells another story of beginning: the start of a new relationship between God and a particular family – Abraham, Sarah and their descendants. It ends with their great-grandson Joseph in Egypt.

Reading time: About three-and-a-half hours
Short of time? Just read Genesis 1–3; 6–9 (but miss out the lists of names); 12; 18; 25.21–34; 37; 42–45

Often called ‘antiquarian history’ – stories of the ancient past.

The story of Genesis is a story about relationship between God and humanity. As you read, think about that relationship – what made it go wrong time and time again? How did God respond? Is there anything to learn from this about our relationship with God today?

1In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2The 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. 3And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light.  (Genesis 1.1–3)

Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.' (Genesis 1.26)

I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. (Genesis 22.17)

There are a number of issues you might find tricky. 

Some of these include

  • the question of the historicity of the creation and flood accounts
  • the account of the births of Ishmael and Isaac and the subsequent conflict between their descendants 

You might also have questions about

  • why a serpent could talk
  • who Cain and Abel married 
  • who the Nephilim were (to name but a few)

Genesis throws up a number of complex questions about what 'history' is and about what kinds of texts we think Genesis contains, not to mention the modern political implications of the rift between Ishmael and Isaac. You will need to come to your own view about how you read Genesis and how you make sense of it.

Traditionally Moses was regarded as the author of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis to Deuteronomy), known in Judaism as the Torah and in Christianity often as the Pentateuch (or 'five teachings').

Today many scholars would argue that Moses was not the author of the Pentateuch but that these five books grew up over a long period of time and were written down and edited from oral tradition. 

Some features that suggest a book – particularly Genesis – emerged from a variety of different sources are where stories are told more than once and where there is an uneven join, and you find yourself surprised by a change of subject. You might like to look out for these as you read and see what you think.

Genesis begins at the dawn of time. The first 11 chapters tell the story of the origins of the world and are often called ‘primeval history’ (i.e. stories from the earliest ages).

From the time of Abraham (chapter 12 onwards), we enter more recognisable history that we can try to date. There is much discussion about when to date Abraham but most scholars would suggest some time around 1800 BC (during the Middle Bronze Age, a few hundred years after the building of Stonehenge).

Other books set around this time

None really.

This is probably the most controversial question you can ask of Genesis. Some will argue Genesis is a historical account throughout, others that parts of it at least are poetic, theological or imaginative reflections. 

Genesis is often described as being ‘classic narrative’ in that it tells epic stories about its characters.

1.1–11.26 From creation to Babel
11.27–25.18 The story of Abraham and Sarah
25.19–36.43 The story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel
37.1–50.26 The story of Jacob’s sons, including Joseph

There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.


Ai, Aram, Assyria, Babel, Beer-sheba, Bethel, Canaan, Cush, Damascus, Dan, Dead Sea, Edom, Ephraim, Eshcol, Euphrates, Gaza, Gomorrah, Haran, Hebron, Israel, Midian, Mizpah, Moab, Mount Negeb, Paran, Philistia, Sea, Seir, Ur, Salem, Sheba, Shechem, Sidon, Sodom, Tigris

The names of people and peoples

Amalekites, Ammonites. Amorites, Asher, Benjamin, Cain, Canaanites, Chaldeans, Edomites, EnochEnoch, Gomer, Hittites, Hivites, Isaac, Issachar, Jebusites, Judah, Korah, Levi, Levites, Manasseh, Melchizedek, Midianites, Moabites, Nephilim, Philistines, Rephaim

Other words

Altar, burnt offering, Cherubim, cubit, Feast of unleavened bread, Hebrew, Pentateuch, priest, Sheol, threshing floor, Torah 

Genesis tells a number of stories of beginnings: the beginning of the world and what happened next (chapters 1-11), and the beginning of God’s people (12–50). That story starts as a family history of Abraham and his descendants and only later (in the book of Exodus) turns into the history of a whole people. As you read, notice the family history element. Genesis 12–50 can feel like a family photo album in which you have lots of snaps of some events and then large gaps before the next collection of pictures.

There are some huge theological ideas introduced in Genesis. As you read, look out for blessing, covenant, election (i.e. God’s choosing of a people), goodness and sinfulness, righteousness and faith, to name but a few.

  • Were there any parts of the book that you particularly liked or that inspired you? If you were to pick out a verse that inspired you which one would you choose?
  • Were there any parts of the book that you disliked or that troubled you? 
  • What did you think the book was about? There are lots of characters in Genesis – were there any you related to more than the others? Why?
  • Do you think that any character was depicted unfairly? For example, Jacob is made out to be unreliable and untrustworthy, whereas Joseph can apparently do no wrong. Why do you think these characters were portrayed like this?
  • What is your view about the story of creation and the flood? If you were talking to a sceptic, what would you say about how Genesis tells the story?
  • The theme of blessing is often identified as important in the book of Genesis. Did you notice anything about how it was used throughout the book?
  • Did you read anything in the book that touched you, expanded your faith or made you think more deeply about your life and how you live it? 

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