How to Read Genesis for Yourself
Editor's Note: The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to Genesis Is for Normal People: A Guide to the Most Controversial, Misunderstood, and Abused Book of the Bible, available for $4.99 at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
This book is a brief guide to reading the book of Genesis. This book is not for scholars or seminary students, but we will gladly sell them a copy if they want one. We wrote this for normal people like you—people who are curious about the Bible and want to get a handle on what Genesis is about; people who don't want to spend the next five years of their lives learning Hebrew or slogging through thousands of pages of details. We know how it is. You want to get to the point. And we want to help.
Some of you might be curious about how to read Genesis because of certain controversies you have heard about, like the relationship between evolution and Genesis. Well, calling it a "relationship" might be a stretch. We'll just say that science and Genesis have not been the best of friends over the last few hundred years. They do, after all, tell very different stories about how the earth and life on earth began. And the more science does its work, the harder it is to make sense of Genesis, which can start to make you nervous if you take the Bible seriously.
Though this book is not about that relationship, it might help move it along. Why? Because one of the bigger problems in the debate over Genesis and science is that people, on both sides of the controversy, think they can just compare the days of creation (Genesis 1) or story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) to the theory of evolution and somehow find answers to what happened at the beginning.
But you can't do that. These two stories in Genesis are actually small parts of a much larger story: the whole book of Genesis. And the focus of Genesis is not on creation but on the nation of Israel. And Genesis itself is a small part of an even larger story: the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), which is of course a small part of the entire Old Testament. So, even though this book is not about science and the Bible, it will help those concerned or curious about those debates by taking a look at the whole story of Genesis and finding out what we should expect from its first chapters.
Whether or not you have an interest in the controversies about Genesis and science, you've still come to the right place to learn about Genesis. We wrote this book to help normal people get a feel for what the story of Genesis, as a whole, is about. We want to help you see Genesis as one story, not just a bunch of small (and weird) stories that stand on their own-which is how most people learn to read Genesis from childhood. Nothing in Genesis stands on its own. All the stories are connected and they all serve a purpose in the whole.
And part of the task of reading Genesis as a story is to learn to read Genesis through ancient eyes, rather than modern ones. The big question in front of us is why Genesis looks the way it does? Of all the stories the Israelites could tell, and in all the ways they could have told them, why this way?
As we will see, one primary answer to this question is seen in the image that opens the second chapter, the nineteenth-century painting "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel." That painting illustrates the famous wrestling match in the heart of Genesis, between Jacob and a divine being of some sort. After the match, Jacob is given a new name, "Israel," which means "struggling with God." We will find several major themes as we make our way, but a key idea that you will see throughout is how much God's chosen people struggle with God. Keeping this in front of you as you read Genesis will help some of the pieces come together.
Finally, one last disclaimer. We couldn't get to everything. If we tried to include all the details in Genesis and all the things that have been said about them, you would have to upgrade your e-reader. We didn't want to write War and Peace: Genesis Edition, and you wouldn't want to read it. But our hope is that once you get the big picture, you can finally tackle Genesis on your own, spending the rest of your life getting all the details.
Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) teaches Biblical Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has also taught courses at several institutions, including Princeton Theological Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books, including Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament and The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins. He blogs at Patheos. He and his wife live in Lansdale, Pennsylvania and have three grown children.
Jared Byas, M.A., teaches courses in both ethics and the Old Testament at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. He spent several years as a teaching pastor in the Philadelphia area and currently writes on Christianity and culture in various publications, including his website. He currently lives in Phoenix with his wife and three kids.