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Genesis- Everyman's Bible Commentary

Genesis- Everyman's Bible Commentary

by Howard F. Vos

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Most of us are vitally interested in answers to the big questions of life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is the nature of man? How did we get here? What is our future? We consider any literature that deals with these questions relevant and timely.

Preeminent among literature about the big questions of life is the book of Genesis.


Most of us are vitally interested in answers to the big questions of life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is the nature of man? How did we get here? What is our future? We consider any literature that deals with these questions relevant and timely.

Preeminent among literature about the big questions of life is the book of Genesis. Genesis is known as the book of beginnings, the book of firsts. It tells of the beginning of the world by creation, the beginning of mankind, the beginning of sin in the race, the beginning of salvation.

Dr. Vos examines those and other beginnings in the book of Genesis. He explores the stories in this book, offering insightful and helpful comments and explanations that will aid you in comprehending the message and scope of Genesis.

As a book of beginnings, Genesis is the seed plot and springboard for the concepts and history of the rest of the Old Testament. Through this commentary you will have a basis for understanding history as it unfolds in the other Bible books. 

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By Howard F. Vos

Moody Press

Copyright © 1982 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57567-825-2



Most of us are vitally interested in answers to the big questions of life. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What makes us tick, or what is the nature of man? How did we get into the mess we are in? What is our future? Or what is the future of the world? We consider any literature that deals with those questions relevant and timely.

Preeminent among all literature about the big questions of life is the book of Genesis. Its name comes from a Greek word, geneseos, which was the title given it in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament). That title was derived from the heading of the various sections of the book, each of which begins with "the book of the geneseos" (meaning generation, origin, source; see 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2). In these sections Genesis depicts the beginning of the world by creation; the beginning of mankind and human languages; the beginning of sin in the race; the beginning of salvation; the beginning of God's chosen people, Israel; the beginning of the Arabs (descended from Ishmael, 25:12) and the other nations of the earth; the beginning of the Arab-Israelite conflict; and the beginning of the covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The latter in its fuller statement and with its supplements spells out conditions at the end time—Jews in control of the Promised Land and their Messiah ruling on the throne of David in Jerusalem.

As a book of beginnings, Genesis is of course a seed plot and springboard for the concepts and history of the rest of the Old Testament. But it is almost nearer in many ways to the New Testament than the rest of the Old Testament. As Derek Kidner has observed, the institution of marriage, the Fall of man, judgment by Flood, Esau's despising his birthright, and many of its other themes are hardly dealt with again until the New Testament. Moreover, whereas near the beginning of Genesis Satan is victorious and man is expelled from Eden, in a beautiful symmetry the New Testament ends with the serpent coming to his downfall and the redeemed walking again in Paradise.

Probably over no other part of Scripture have so many battles been fought as over the book of Genesis. Theologians, scientists, historians, and students of literature have subjected it to minute examination and criticism. But with all their attention, they have been able neither to exhaust its contents nor destroy its message. The measure of its greatness is seen in its continuing ability to command the attention of scholars and laymen alike throughout the world.


One of the battles fought over Genesis has concerned its authorship. But of course the authorship of Genesis is closely tied to that of the rest of the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). Eighteenth-century rationalism launched attacks against the Pentateuch along with the rest of the Bible. Denying any supernatural origin of Scripture, it completely humanized the Bible and viewed it as a record of human experience with God rather than a revelation of God to humanity. And as the teachings of evolution made an increasing impact during the nineteenth century, the concept of slow development was applied to Scripture. Thus it was taught that the Pentateuch developed gradually: Documents and sources were collected and edited until it finally came to its present form during the fifth century B.C. Mosaic authorship was denied.

Theories of literary development not employed in dealing with other literature were forced on the Scripture in a day when Near Eastern studies had not yet provided a basis for evaluating theories of biblical interpretation. In fact, construction of liberal theories did not even make commonsense allowance for variations in style and vocabulary with differences in subject matter and mood of the author, and highly subjective conclusions were reached.

Discussion of that highly technical subject is beyond the scope of this study. It is enough for present purposes to show that there is abundant support for the traditional view of Mosaic authorship. The Pentateuch itself claims that important parts were written by Moses (e.g., Exod. 24:4, 7; Deut. 31:9, 24–26). Internal evidence shows that the Pentateuch was written by an eyewitness. Those parts that involve Egypt contain many references that show the author's familiarity with Egypt and have information virtually impossible to obtain in Canaan several centuries after Moses' day, when liberals hold it was written. Egyptian names, Egyptian words borrowed by the writer, Egyptian customs and geography all indicate the author knew Egypt well.

Pentateuchal claims for Mosaic authorship are supported in the rest of the Old Testament, intertestamental literature, and the statements of Christ. As early as Joshua's day the Law of Moses was in written form (Josh. 1:7–8; 8:32, 34; 22:5). And the rest of the Old Testament follows Joshua's example (e.g., 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Chron. 23:18; 34:14; Ezra 3:2; 6:18; Neh. 8:1–8; Dan. 9:11).

The testimony continues during the intertestamental period, notably in Ecclesiasticus 45:6 (written about 180 B.C.) and in Philo (Life of Moses 3:39), dating about the time of Christ's birth. Those are supported by the eminent Josephus (Antiquities IV.8.48), who wrote about A.D. 90. All three declare Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch.

Christ on numerous occasions spoke of the Law of Moses, sometimes of the "book of Moses" (Mark 12:26), and twice of "Moses and the prophets" (Luke 16:29, 31) or Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44), obviously making Moses author of the first part of the Old Testament on a par with the other major sections. The early church, the church of later centuries, and the Jews almost unanimously accepted that view until the rise of destructive higher criticism at the end of the nineteenth century. The position is too strongly supported to be dismissed easily by a group of rationalists.

Of course the claim that Moses wrote the Pentateuch in general or Genesis in particular does not assume that Moses wrote without the use of sources. Inspiration argues only for accuracy of the written record; it does not stipulate that the writer had a mind that functioned as a blank tablet to be written on by the Holy Spirit. Abraham came from a very sophisticated background in which all sorts of records were meticulously kept. Joseph rose to a place of leadership in a very literate society; if he himself did not write, he had plenty of scribes who did. Both of these men could have contributed to the written sources available to Moses; and of course many could have contributed oral sources.

Interesting confirmation of the traditional view of single authorship of Genesis has been provided by a five-year linguistic analysis of the book, just completed in Israel. The study was conducted at Technion, Israel's institute of technology in Haifa, under the direction of Professor Yehuda Radday. It reached the conclusion that there was an 82 percent probability that Genesis was written by one author.

Date of Composition

When Moses wrote Genesis will never be known, but the latest possible date is the time of his death, just before the Hebrews crossed the Jordan and attacked Jericho. The time of that event depends on the date one assigns to the Exodus. I subscribe to the early date of the Exodus (about 1440) and thus concludes that Genesis must have been written by about 1400 B.C., for Moses died at the end of the subsequent forty years of wilderness wandering.

Contents and Outline

The book of Genesis divides rather easily into two parts: the early history of mankind (chaps. 1–11), and the patriarchs (chaps. 12–50). The first part narrates the creation of the universe and mankind and quickly moves on through the story of the entrance of sin into the world, the extension of godless civilization, judgment on humanity by means of the Flood, and further judgment by means of proliferation of languages and scattering across the earth. Then in part two God makes a fresh beginning by calling out a new people as a witness to His name in the earth. That people, the Hebrews, are led by patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) during a 215-year period in Canaan; at the end of the book they go down into Egypt to escape a famine and are cared for there through the instrumentality of Joseph.


The Creation (1:1–2:3)
The Fall of Man and Extension of Civilization (2:4–5:32)
The Flood (6:1–9:29)
Historical Developments Afer the Flood (10:1–11:32)

Part 2: THE PATRIARCHS (12:1–50:26)
Abraham (12:1–25:18)
Isaac (25:19–26:35)
Jacob (27:1–36:43)
Joseph (37:1–50:26)




In simple, concise, nontechnical language Moses answers one of the big questions of life: "Where did the earth come from?" Says Moses, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth" (KJV). Then with broad strokes of the pen he proceeds to sketch out six creative days that culminate with a description of the origin of the first human couple, thus answering another of the big questions of life: "Where did humanity come from?" These verses are truly a masterpiece, suitable for the plain people of his day and all succeeding ages. Yet they do not close the door on scientific and philosophical investigation, for they state only that God created, and do not describe how. Nor does Moses say when creation took place. "In the beginning," at the outset of this phase of His creative work, God called into being the heaven and earth; at the end of the process He created human beings. If God left open the question of the date of origin, we may also.

The Prologue (1:1–2)

"In the beginning God." God is the subject of the first sentence of the book, and He dominates the entire chapter. Called by His name Elohim thirty-five times in the Creation narrative, He demonstrates infinite power and transcends all material existence, as indeed the majestic name Elohim signifies. "Beginning" refers to the commencement of time in our universe and demonstrates that the matter of the universe had a definite origin; it is not eternal and did not start itself. "Created" translates the Hebrew bärä', which Hebrew scholars commonly have understood to signify to bring into being ex nihilo, from nothing, without the use of preexisting material. But even some evangelical Old Testament scholars do not now believe that the case for such a position is impregnable. If it is not, support for ex nihilo creation may be found in the New Testament, as Hebrews 11:3 and Romans 4:17 demonstrate. "Heaven and earth" seems to mean the whole universe, not only planet Earth and its enveloping atmosphere.

Some commentators prefer to treat Genesis 1:1 as a dependent clause, and they produce translations such as "When God began to create the heavens and earth, the earth was without form and void." Such a translation implies that the condition of verse 2 already existed when God began to create. E. J. Young argues cogently against such a view and for the position that 1:1 is an independent clause, meant to be a "simple declaration of the fact of absolute creation."

In the past many have conjectured that a great catastrophe occurred between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. They could not conceive of God's creating a chaos, and therefore supposed that something happened to spoil the original, beautiful, and perfect creation and to necessitate God's re-creation in six creative days. Some would place here the fall of Satan and the entrance of sin into the universe to deface what God had made. In setting forth that concept, they were able to introduce a vast time span between original creation and re-creation and thus to find a way to bring about some meeting of minds between the claims of scientists about the age of the universe and the beliefs of many Bible students.

In dealing with such a view, it should be noted first that verse 2 only describes the world as "desolate and uninhabitable," at a stage not yet ready for man. It does not portray chaos as such. Presumably God did not determine to bring the creation to a completed state all at once, though He could have done so. Second, there is no direct or specific statement anywhere in Scripture of divine judgment between those verses. Third, there is no justification for translating, "and the earth became desolate." The verb normally is rendered "was" throughout the Old Testament; Harold G. Stigers argues that the Hebrew construction does not warrant the translation "became" here.

Darkness enveloped the primeval ocean, but the Spirit of God began to move "upon the face of the waters." God's creative and sustaining energy in the form of the Holy Spirit began to work on the creation in process. Thus the entire Trinity participated in the Creation. It would appear that the Father was the designer and issued the decree to create; the Son effected the design (John 1:3; Col. 1:16); and the Spirit was involved in some capacity. Matter apart from God is inert and has no ability to produce a world of order and beauty, but the omnipotent and intelligent Holy Spirit imparts capacity to matter and produces an ordered world.

The Creative Process (1:3–2:3)

Having accounted for the origin of the universe, Moses now concentrates on a geocentric or earth-centered view of Creation. What he comments on primarily concerns the development of the earth and making it a proper habitation for humanity. Nothing is said about numerous other creative activities of God (e.g., angels, other solar systems). This process is described as taking place on six creative days.

Length of Creative Days

But immediately a question arises concerning the length of the creative days. Various answers have been given.

1. Literalists down through the millennia have assumed that they were approximately twenty-four hours in length and have supported their conclusions with an appeal to an apparent twenty-four hour cycle in the passage (day and night, evening and morning). Such references as Exodus 20:11 also have been used to uphold that position. Such views are maintained even though the sun is not mentioned until the fourth day.

2. Especially as a result of geological studies and acceptance of a belief in the great age of the earth, many have espoused a day-age theory: that the days were extended periods of time. It is argued that even in the Genesis narrative "day" may be variously construed: (a) daylight as opposed to night (1:5, 14–16),(b) a solar day of twenty-four hours (1:14), (c) or the entire six-day creative period (2:4).

A position similar to the day-age concept is that held by Davis A. Young. He argues that the Sabbath of Creation week has not yet ended and therefore is to be viewed as a figurative day, a long indeterminate period. He concludes that the seventh day is the key to understanding Creation week and that all the other six days also are figurative days. By this he does not mean that the Creation narrative is unhistorical but that the days are not literal, consecutive twenty-four hour segments of time. Other scholars have come to a similar conclusion.

3. Literal days with gaps. This theory preserves the Creation days as twenty-four hour periods but holds that the days need not be stacked one against the other. Between the creative intervention of God extended periods of time may have elapsed.

4. The Revelatory Day theory, or Days of Dramatic Vision, holds that God over a period of six days revealed His creative work in a series of visions; the account is not a record of what He performed in six days. Few have espoused this position. What appears in Genesis 1 is not in the language of vision but historical narration.

Historicity of the Creation Account

Evolutionary and humanistic influences have encouraged a tendency to view the early chapters of Genesis as allegorical and poetic. That approach especially has been taken toward chapter 1. But it should be noted that the poetic parallelism of Hebrew poetry is missing from chapter 1 (except for vv. 26–27), and the rest of the early part of Genesis for that matter. And Genesis 2:4a connects the first verses of the book with the later genealogical orientation and presupposes the contents of chapter 1. As the reader proceeds through the early chapters of Genesis, he does not sense a change of pace or literary structure that would give any hint that he was passing from allegory or poetry or myth to history. Moreover, the New Testament treats the Creation as a historical process. Paul taught that God created the world (Acts 17:24) and that man was made in the image of God (1 Cor. 11:7); Hebrews attributed creation to the "word of God" (Heb. 11:3).


Excerpted from Genesis by Howard F. Vos. Copyright © 1982 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

HOWARD F. VOS ( B.A., Wheaton College; M.A. and Ph.D., Northwestern University; Th.M. and Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) is Professor Emeritus of History and Archaeology at The King¿s College, Tuxedo, New York, and Adjunct Professor at the King¿s campus in the Empire State Building, New York. He is the author of twenty-five books including Beginnings in Bible Geography, Can I Trust The Bible, Genesis and Galatians in the Everyman¿s Bible Commentary Series, and co-author of the Wycliffe Encyclopedia. He writes from his vast knowledge of Bible geography, archeology and church history for Christians seeking to increase their understanding of Scripture. Additionally, he has traveled extensively in the Bible lands and excavated many sites in Israel. Dr. Vos is retired and currently resides in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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