Introduction to the Old Testament
and Study of Genesis 1-4
January 1st

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Updated 2021

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Overview of Old Testament

We begin Bible 365 in the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Scriptures. There are multiple sections in the Old Testament, each of which features a different type of revelation: The first five books are collectively known as the Pentateuch (Greek for the five books), or the Torah, or the Books of Moses, or the Law, because it introduces the laws of God, but also tells the story of the formation of the nation of Israel.

The Pentateuch is followed by the History books, which continue the story of the nation of Israel and their relationship with God, also known as Yahweh or Elohim. The next sections are the books of Poetry (also known as Wisdom) which includes beautiful reflections of God’s creation (1) and finally the books of the Prophets, which emphasize the covenant and the law.

If you are comparing notes with people of other faiths and denominations, then it's helpful to known that the set of books that the Christians refer to as the Old Testament contain the same information found in the Hebrew Bible, except that the organization is slightly different. The twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible are represented by thirty-nine books in the Christian Old Testament and are in a slightly different order.

It's also worth noting that the versions of the Bible used in the Roman Catholic Church have seven additional books, because it is based on a slightly different Hebrew canon known as the Greek Septuagint. For example, the New American Bible, which is one of the Bible versions referenced in this study has these additional books: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), Baruch, and I and II Maccabees. There are twenty-seven books in the New Testament, for a total of sixty-six for the common set in the Christian Bible and seventy-three for the Catholic versions.

Our study of the Old Testament will help us to understand the New Testament, in which we will read many references to the people and events from these older periods of time. Jesus and his contemporaries were well versed in these old books, and often referenced the scriptures, which at that time were written on a series of scrolls. Therefore, if we want to fully understand Jesus and the context of his words, then it's important for us to roll-up our sleeves and study what our ancestors read when they unrolled the scrolls of the Law and the Prophets. For example, the first verse in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1.1, can be cross-referenced with the first two verses of the Gospel of John:

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

    - Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

    - John 1:2-3 (NIV)

John wrote this verse to emphasize that Jesus, referred to here as the Word, has always existed. He was with God at the beginning, and as John explains later, came to earth in human form as described in the Gospels, and then will return for a final victory as revealed in John's Book of Revelation, the final book in the Bible. From time to time we will point out some of these connections between verses in one book and verses in others as we review each day's readings, but we encourage you to discover and seek out additional connections on your own. As you make more connections you find that the perceived size of the Bible shrinks to a more comprehensible size.

Our study will touch on other themes, including the revelation of God's grace that can be discovered throughout the whole Bible. We will also be looking for the many roles of the Holy Spirit identified throughout the Bible, including one mentioned at the beginning of the first book.

One of our guiding principles will be a quote from the Apostle Paul in the his letter to Timothy, " All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17- NAB)."

We pray that we remember this guidance, even as we read through some of the more difficult books of the Bible, so that we may be equipped for good work. Our good work of study for the Old Testament will focus on the thirty-nine books common to both Catholic and Protestant traditions and will follow the standard order found in the Christian Bible, beginning with Genesis, the first book of the Pentateuch.

The Pentateuch

The Pentateuch comprises five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. This set of books records the beginning of the universe and chronicles the early period of our spiritual forefathers and their relationship with the Creator. Moses is assumed to be the author of all five books, but his authorship relied on stories relayed to him orally which had been passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years. His own contributions may also have been oral, as the first formal written copy may not have been drafted until the 7th century B.C., long after Moses led the Exodus from Egypt. Moses' stories includes the events of his own time, including an honest perspective on his own vulnerabilities as a leader.

The study of these five books will keep us busy throughout most of the winter of the northern hemisphere and will establish an underpinning for understanding the subsequent books.


The word genesis mean the origin or the coming into being of something. The book of Genesis tells the story of many beginnings - "the beginning of the universe, the beginning of man and woman, the beginning of human sin, and the beginning of God's promises and plans for salvation (2)." It covers a larger period of time than any other book of the Bible – from the beginning of time until about 1500 B.C. We will see in this first book all the major themes of the entire Bible. We will be introduced to God's creative power, his judgment, and his mercy. We will see man's fallibility and observe what he can accomplish when he puts his faith in God, and if we look carefully, we will find God's promise to all people and learn about his plans to send a Savior.

Every section includes an important development in the relationship of man to God, beginning with the first man and woman, followed by the story of Noah and then lineage of the key patriarchs of the faith: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. Although the events and messages are from an ancient time there are modern applications that can be found in every chapter. Our study will be divided into fifteen sections over the next two weeks, as shown below:

    Genesis 1-4 (Let There be Life) - January 1st
    Genesis 5-8 (Noah and the Flood) - January 2nd
    Genesis 9-12 (Two Eternal Promises) - January 3rd
    Genesis 13-17 (Patience is a Virtue) - January 4th
    Genesis 18-20 (Sodom and Gomorrah) - January 5th
    Genesis 21-23 (The LORD Provides) - January 6th
    Genesis 24-25 (Isaac and Rebekah) - January 7th
    Genesis 26-28 (Jacob's Ladder) - January 8th
    Genesis 29-31 (Jacob Takes a Wife+) - January 9th
    Genesis 32-35 (He Wrestles with God) - January 10th
    Genesis 36-38 (Joseph Sold into Slavery) - January 11th
    Genesis 39-41 (Dream On) - January 12th
    Genesis 42-43 (It's a Small World) - January 13th
    Genesis 44-46 (Family Reunion) - January 14th
    Genesis 47-50 (End of the Beginning) - January 15th

It's important for us to read the Bible directly and attempt to draw our own conclusions about the context and content, as well as the application for our own lives. The original text for each book was written in ancient Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic. The translations that we read in English or other modern languages have been created with great care by individuals or committees that seek to be faithful to the original meaning, but are subject to interpretation. Some versions of translations lean towards a more literal translation, such as the King James Version, while others seek to represent the intended meaning but represented in modern language. As such, it's helpful for us to use more than one version to develop a better understanding of each passage. The versions referenced in this study are all considered to be worthy sources.

After reading a set of chapters on our own, it's helpful to read opinions from theological experts. Thus, the Bible 365 study has referenced many sources in order to provide an analysis that we share in the Reflection and Application section of each day's study. References for Genesis including the following:

  • Abegg, Martin, Jr.; Flint, Peter; and Ulrich, Eugene, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, Harper One, New York, 1999
  • Bible Gateway website (
  • Bible Society website (
  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984
  • Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 4th Edition, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2014
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Khouri, Fred J. The Arab Israeli Dilemma, 2nd Edition, Syracuse University Press, 1976
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1991
  • Men’s Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1993
  • Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2005
  • “Sermon Library,” Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970
  • Wikipedia

Genesis 1-4 (Let There be Life)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verses

And so the whole universe was completed. By the seventh day God finished what he had been doing and stopped working. He blessed the seventh day and set it apart as a special day, because by that day he had completed his creation and stopped working.

- Genesis 2:1-3 (GNB)

Summary of Chapters

These first four chapters provide a significant foundation for the entire Bible, beginning with the well-known story of the creation of the universe, described in chapter 1:

    In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
    And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
    And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

    - Genesis 1:1-4 (KJV)

In the next two chapters we read about the creation of man in God's image, the creation of woman, the fall of man caused by the first sin (the original sin):

    But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

    - Genesis 3:9-13 (NRSV)

We then read about the consequences of this sin, followed by the creation of the second generation of man, and the first recorded murder of one man by another, which occurs within that second generation.

Reflection and Application

Note that in Genesis chapter 1, verse 2 quoted above, we read that "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." The Holy Spirit was present at creation, had a role in the creation story, then continued to have a role throughout the Bible and into our lives today. We will continue to look for mentions of the Spirit and evaluate the ways in which the Spirit intercedes in our world.

Not many books pack this much action and drama in the first few chapters. We are awed by what is described in Genesis, but how do we know if this account is true? Our culture has witnessed an ongoing debate between scientists and theologians, evolutionists and the faithful people. Are the gaps between scientists and theologians expanding or shrinking?

One contribution to this debate is an editorial in the Wall Street Journal contributed by author Eric Metaxas in December 2014. In this article, Metaxas brings to light the improbable odds of life on earth as one of the ways that science makes a case for God. You can find a link to the article and see comments on both sides of the debate at the following link: "Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God."

Consider another observation: Scientists who specialize in human genetics have concluded that there exists a single matrilineal ancestor in Africa from which all living humans descended. They surmised that the mitochondrial DNA passed from mother to child that is found in every living person has come directly from this one person, dubbed Mitochondrial Eve (see Mitochondrial Eve on Wikipedia).

Scientists don’t equate this person with the Biblical Eve, but in this instance the differences between science and religion seem to be getting smaller.

If we accept that God created man, than what does it mean to say that God created man in his own image as described in v.1:26-27? The Rev. Sam Schreiner addressed this question in a sermon on the beginning of Genesis. He pointed out that some of the distinctions of man vs. animal include moral reasoning, a conscience, communication, and social structure. Some animals have the latter two attributes, but only man has all four. Furthermore, he notes that we are called to value human life because we were all made in God’s image (3). Doctors and emergency personnel dedicate their careers to the concept of valuing human life, but the track record of the rest of us ignoring it goes all the way back to chapter 4 in Genesis, when Cain kills Abel because of petty jealousy.

Chapter 1 records that God created man to rule over all of the animals and the earth itself. Schreiner points out that experienced farmers understand this assignment because their land becomes fallow if they don’t properly care for it (4) We all need to make sure we do our best to act as stewards for our part of the earth. We may feel tempted to use the earth without thinking about how to care for it, but we can stop ourselves.

Genesis chapter 3 records the first time that we succumbed to temptation. It’s a familiar story of the apple, the serpent, Eve, and Adam. The story can be a good reminder that temptation is not a sin unless we give in. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and using that as an excuse to give in to temptation we can think of our blessings first. Eve may have not fully considered her blessings when she responded to the cunning suggestions of the snake and bit the apple.

Adam and Eve both experienced temptation to bite the apple of knowledge and faced a decision: They could have chosen to resist, move on to other activities, and continue enjoy paradise, but instead they chose to succumb, and created separation between man and God. But thank God, all is not lost. The Apostle Paul reminds us that Adam brought us sin and death, but Jesus provides us justification and life:

    If death got the upper hand through one man’s (Adam's) wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

    - Romans 5.16 - MSG

You can read more of the context of Paul's quote in Romans 5:12-17.

Let us pray that we remember we always have a choice not to give in to actions that we know are wrong but if we do, then let us pray that we seek the mercy offered to us.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What parts of this story are the most difficult to believe?
    2. How would we explain these chapters to someone else?
    3. How do we resist the temptation to do something we know is wrong?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to appreciate and care for what you have created and resist the temptation to want what we don't have.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Farmers and Doctors


    (1) Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984, p.12
    (2) Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993. p. 1
    (3) Schreiner, Rev. Sam, "Created in God's Image," Genesis 1:26-27, Sermon delivered at Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, CT, July 18th, 2010
    (4) IBID

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Genesis 5-8 (Noah and the Flood).

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