Genesis, Exodus


Providing students, pastors and lay people with up-to-date, accessible evangelical scholarship on the Old and New Testaments. Designed to equip pastors and Christian lay leaders with exegetical and theological knowledge to better understand and apply God's word by presenting the message of each passage as well as an overview of other issues surrounding text. Includes the entire NLT text of Genesis and Exodus.
John N. Oswalt, Ph.D., Brandeis University, is Research Professor of ...

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Providing students, pastors and lay people with up-to-date, accessible evangelical scholarship on the Old and New Testaments. Designed to equip pastors and Christian lay leaders with exegetical and theological knowledge to better understand and apply God's word by presenting the message of each passage as well as an overview of other issues surrounding text. Includes the entire NLT text of Genesis and Exodus.
John N. Oswalt, Ph.D., Brandeis University, is Research Professor of Old Testament at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. He was the Old Testament editor of the Wesley Bible and also served as consulting editor for the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis. He has written six books, including a two-volume commentary on Isaiah in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament series and commentary on Isaiah in the New International Version Application Commentary series. He has been a member of the translation teams for the New International Version and the New Living Translation. Tyndale House Publishers

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780842334273
  • Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/1/2008
  • Series: Cornerstone Biblical Commentary Series , #1
  • Pages: 576
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

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By Allen Ross John N. Oswalt
Copyright © 2008 Allen Ross
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8423-3427-3

Chapter One INTRODUCTION TO Genesis

The title "Genesis" comes from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint), which uses the Greek word geneseos [[sup.TG]1078, [sup.ZG]1161] to render the key Hebrew word in the book, toledoth [[sup.TH]8435, [sup.ZH]9352] ("generations" in KJV; "account" in NLT). The Hebrew title of the book is the first word of the book, bere'shith [[sup.TH]871.2/ 7225, [sup.ZH]928/8040] (in the beginning).

Genesis is the book of beginnings, the beginning of mankind and his universe, the beginning of sin in the world and its catastrophic effects on the race, and the beginning of God's plan to restore blessing to the world through his chosen people. God's plan begins with the call of Abraham and the granting of a covenant to him. From this beginning of God's covenant program, the book of Genesis traces the promise of the blessings from generation to generation, up to the eve of the great redemption from Egypt.

Because Genesis lays the foundation for all of God's subsequent revelation and not just the law, it is no surprise that most of the other books of the Bible draw on the content of Genesis in one way or another. But beyond that, the subject matter of Genesis and the unembellished way in which it is written have captivated the minds of scholars and readers of the Bible for ages. As withall biblical truth in general, this book has been a stumbling block for those who approach it with biases that do not allow for the supernatural or for special revelation. But to those who accept that Genesis is part of the divinely inspired Word of God, the book is a source of comfort and edification.

As might be expected, different readers approach the questions and difficulties in Genesis differently. An overly skeptical approach to the material will exploit the difficulties and seek to explain them according to modern presuppositions that destroy the unity and integrity of the text; whereas an approach that accepts the integrity of the text, at the very least as good literature, will look for resolutions to the difficulties in a way that harmonizes the Scriptures. Along the way, there will be many questions that Genesis will simply leave unanswered. The believer must accept that and rather than spending the majority of his or her time trying to search those matters out, should spend the time trying to understand what God wants people to know. After all, the revelation did not come by the will of man-if it had, it would have been written very differently; it came by the will of God.


Given the fact that Genesis stands before us as a unified, fully developed theological treatise based on selected events and records (see discussion below), it is natural to ask, "Who wrote it?" The Bible does not say, other than to include it in the general description of "the law of Moses," which would cover the five books of the Pentateuch, or Torah. Both Scripture and tradition attribute the Pentateuch to Moses. This was sufficient to convince the vast majority of biblical scholars and readers down through the ages that Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch, could safely be ascribed to Moses, allowing for minor additions and clarifications by later writers.

For those who accept that there was a Moses who received the law at Sinai, there is no one better qualified to have written this book. Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22) so his literary skills would have enabled him to collect and edit Israel's traditions and records and to compose this theological treatise. His communion with God at Sinai and throughout his life would have given him the spiritual illumination and understanding that was needed to guide him into all truth-what we call inspiration. And the historical circumstances of the Israelites' bondage in Egypt, along with the task of delivering them and establishing a new nation in accordance with the promises made to the ancestors, provided a strong motivation to write this book: to establish the theological and historical foundation for the Exodus and the covenant at Sinai (Moberly 1992; Sailhamer 1992).

Most critical scholarship, however, does not accept the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, and some do not accept the historicity of Moses or the Exodus. Doubts about Mosaic authorship are not necessarily recent. Early in the Christian era, theologians wondered if the work was written by Moses or Ezra. But the modern view that the Pentateuch was compiled from sources written by different groups of people over time seems to have developed as the product of rationalistic skepticism. Soon after the Reformation, writers like Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) were attributing the work to Ezra, who he said utilized a mass of traditions (including some by Moses). But the first attempt to arrange a documentary theory came about a century later: Jean Astruc (1684-1766) in 1753 proposed that Moses compiled Genesis using two major and several minor documents. Over the next 124 years scholars debated and developed the idea and its component features until Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918),a historian, restated the theory boldly and with exacting detail in 1877.

Wellhausen's theory, along with its development and application, has been well documented and analyzed in commentaries on Genesis and introductions to the Old Testament. There is neither the need nor the space to review it at length. S. R. Driver's Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament provides a formal presentation of the theory. The commentary by J. Skinner is a prime example of how it is worked out chapter by chapter. R. K. Harrison's Introduction to the Old Testament is a particularly thorough interaction with the theory from the conservative point of view. Umberto Cassuto's Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch also gives it a critical review. And Herman Wouk's This Is My God has a classic essay from a literary point of view.


* I. The Primeval Universal Events (1:1-11:26) A. The Creation of All Things (1:1-2:3) 1. The beginning (1:1-2)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.


1:1-2 All expositors have to deal with the relationship between v. 1 and v. 2. The Hebrew text begins v. 2 with a Waw disjunctive, indicating that the verse is not in sequence with v. 1 and so should not be translated "and then the earth became...." Rather, v. 2 provides a series of circumstantial clauses to describe the existing conditions when God said, "Let there be light." The NLT chose not to translate the Waw as "and" or "now"; and its marginal note attempts to capture the nature of the clauses as circumstantial, suggesting for v. 1 the translation "In the beginning when God created" or "When God began to create." This is probably too free, for it makes the first verse a temporal clause when the Hebrew is clearly an absolute statement. The Hebrew MT has a preposition "in" followed by the noun "beginning" in the absolute state (so, "in the beginning") and not in the construct state (which would mean "in the beginning of"). This is followed by the perfect tense and its subject, "God created," and then the compound direct object, "the heavens and the earth." In order to make the first verse a temporal clause, the noun "beginning" would properly be taken as a noun in construct, and the vowels of the verb changed to make an infinitive: "In the beginning of the creating of God," or "when God created." Most English translations have chosen the absolute as the preferred reading ("In the beginning God created"); some suggest in the margin that it could be taken as a temporal clause ("When God created/began to create"). But this suggestion does raise the question of the relationship between vv. 1 and 2. A number of commentators have taken v. 1 to be a report of the beginning of creation prior to the events of ch 1. Some of them take "waste," "void," "darkness," and "deep" in v. 2 to refer simply to the yet unformed nature of the universe, an initial stage of creation to be completed in the subsequent events of the chapter. The benefit of this view is that it makes 1:1 "the" beginning, and that fits nicely with the straightforward reading of the Bible. The difficulty is that it does not do justice to the meanings of the words in v. 2 and their connection to bara' [[sup.TH]1254, [sup.ZH]1343] (to create) in v. 1.

Older commentators had seen that the words in v. 2 are too strong to refer to unshaped matter, that they are corrected, not completed, in the rest of the chapter, and that bara', "to create," usually produces something perfect and pristine, not waste and void. They also sensed a need to fit Satan's fall from heaven into the order of things as well. This led to what has been known as the "gap theory," that Satan fell after v. 1 and brought darkness and chaos to the earth, so that God had to set about to correct it. This view had the value of keeping 1:1 as original creation, accounting for Satan, and keeping v. 2 as a chaos. But it required translating the beginning of v. 2 as "and the earth became," which is not how the Waw disjunctive clause with the perfect tense would be normally translated.

Other scholars, however, have concluded that v. 1 serves well as a brief introductory statement of the message of 1:1-2:3, with the particulars to follow. This view makes the most sense of the grammar, syntax, and philology of the beginning verses. Moreover, this arrangement is paralleled by 2:4-7, which begins with the introductory statement, followed by three circumstantial clauses (the first two of which are also causal) and then the Waw consecutive form to begin the narrative proper. For 1:1-3, this view does justice to the terms and the syntax, but its potential difficulty is theological: It would mean that Genesis is describing the beginning of the creation as we know it, but not the original creation of matter, with the story assuming the earth was already there when God said "Let there be light." The Bible clearly affirms that God created everything out of nothing, including the angels who were already there when God laid the foundations of the earth (Job 38:4-7). This "re-creation" view would account for the creation of everything we know, but not the actual beginning of matter. Other statements in Scripture would embrace all of that. It would also allow for a greater age for the planets and the stars, even though life on our planet would be recent. (For more detailed discussions on the issue, see Waltke 1975; NIDOTTE 1.606-609; Tsumura 1994.)

1:2 the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. It was by his Spirit that God sovereignly created everything. The Gospel of John clarifies that the God of creation is the living Word, the second person of the Trinity (John 1:3-4). In the darkness of the deep the Spirit hovered, preparing for the effectual, creative word of God. This is the pattern that fits all of God's works: The Spirit is at work when the word is given.


The first two verses of the Bible have received a good deal of attention over the years. The traditional understanding is that they refer to the actual beginning of matter, creation out of nothing (i.e., creatio ex nihilo), and are both therefore part of day one. That would mean that the first step involved making matter that at first was "formless and empty," and then a second step involved shaping it and filling it to make the world as we know it. But many biblical scholars have concluded that the vocabulary and grammar of the two verses pose difficulties for this interpretation. The language of the second verse with its "waste and void" seems to describe more of a ruined or dismantled state than merely a formless and empty mass; and the rest of the chapter provides the correction of the conditions in verse 2. That the universe is God's creation is perfectly expressed by the statement "God created the heavens and the earth" (1:1). This took place "in the beginning," not the beginning of God for there is none, but the beginning of our universe. The Bible is clear on this point. There is no room for atheistic alternative explanations. The sovereign work of creation is established by the verb that is used here-God "created." The word is bara' [[sup.TH]1254, [sup.ZH]1343] (to create); it can be used in sentences that declare creation that is made out of nothing; but it can also be used to indicate a refashioning or a renovation (e.g., God "created" the man from the dust; 1:27-28 and 2:7). This verb does not go well with the following statement in 1:2, in that bara' would not likely be said to produce formlessness and emptiness and darkness (cf. Isa 45:18). The point is that what God creates is perfect, new, and fresh.

How then do we relate these verses? If the expressions of verse 2 do describe a chaos and not simply unformed matter, then verse 1 should be interpreted as a general summary statement of what the entire chapter will tell about the creation of the heavens and the earth (an expression for the whole universe) as we know it. This would mean that verse 1 is not part of day one, that the account in Genesis begins with the state of things recorded in verse 2 and not with the original creation of matter, and that the earth specifically and the universe in general could be very old. Genesis does not explain how these conditions came about, only that they were there. The second verse is set off by the grammar (with a Waw disjunctive) to form three circumstantial clauses: "[1] The earth was formless and empty, [2] and darkness covered the deep waters. [3] And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters." These clauses are circumstantial, explaining the condition of things when God said, "Let there be light" (1:3). They would not normally be the product of divine creation, but would describe a chaos that happened to the creation. Moreover, the chapter does not call them good, but sets about to correct them. First God corrects the darkness with light. Then the formlessness is corrected in the first three days, and the emptiness in the last three days. And all these things that God did were good.

Where did the chaos come from if the second verse is not an early stage of the creative process? An earlier theory posited that between verses 1 and 2 there is a gap of time, allowing for the fall of Satan and the entrance of evil into God's creation. The theory was put forward with the understanding that verse 1 was part of the first day; so God created the heaven and the earth, then the earth became waste and void, and then God created light. The conditions of waste and void and darkness may be the result of the fall of Satan, but the theory is not compelling. The second verse should not be translated "and the earth became waste and void," but "now the earth was waste and void."

If verse 1 is taken as a summary statement for the creation account, however, then it is not part of the first day. And whatever caused the chaos occurred before this account. The first day records the creation of light to dispel the darkness. In a sense, then, the account of creation has many aspects of re-creation in it, which fits with its later use in Scripture as a paradigm of redemption. The chapter details the creation of the universe as we know it, not the actual beginning of every form of matter. It begins with the clear proclamation that God created everything; then reports the chaos and how in six days God corrected the chaos by the creation. We know from the rest of Scripture that God created things before Genesis 1:1 because the angels were present to sing for joy at the wonderful work of creation (Job 38:4-7). Genesis is not interested in explaining the darkness or the formlessness or the emptiness, just what God did about it. But the expressions that are used lead one to suspect immediately that something ominous happened-darkness, throughout Scripture, suggests danger, and the verb "have dominion over" (1:28) implies putting down some opposition. The challenge comes in 3:1 when the tempter, using the form of a reptile, is introduced. He manages to convince Adam and Eve to disobey the Creator. The serpent is already there as part of creation, but the tempter simply speaks after God has finished his work of creation-he too is present in the garden. Later, Scripture will identify the tempter in this account as Satan (see Rev 12:9). The prophet Ezekiel seems to be hinting at the same thing, saying that the evil spirit behind the king of Tyre was in Eden (Ezek 28:11-14).


Excerpted from CORNERSTONE BIBLICAL COMMENTARY by Allen Ross John N. Oswalt Copyright © 2008by Allen Ross.Excerpted by permission.
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.
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Table of Contents

Contributors to Volume 1     vi
General Editor's Preface     vii
Abbreviations     ix
Transliteration and Numbering System     xiii
Genesis     1
Exodus     259
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