Through the Bible in a Year: Genesis 1 to 5

Today it will seem as though you are beginning to read the history of the world. You are not. You are beginning to read the Law of Moses.

The Law of Moses is the original "constitution" for the nation of Israel.

In Moses’ time, a nation’s law—or constitution—followed a certain format. Since all nations of the ancient Middle East were kingdoms, they were an agreement between the nation and its king.

Each law had three parts:

  • What the king did for the people
  • What the king required of the people (the laws)
  • The blessings and curses for obedience or disobedience to the king’s authority

In Israel’s case, the king was God Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He ruled his kingdom through prophets and judges. Prophets spoke to the people for God, and judges made decisions when the people were in disagreement.

Moses was both a prophet and a judge.

The first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—are the five books of the Mosaic Law. (Mosaic means "of Moses.") The Jews call those five books the Torah. Scholars sometimes call those five books the Pentateuch, which is from an ancient Greek word meaning "five scrolls."

The reason that the Law of Moses begins with the creation of the world is because that is the very first thing that the King of Israel did for his people. He created the world. It is not until the book of Exodus that the Torah will begin to discuss the King’s requirements for the people. In Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, the Law will discuss this more fully and give the blessings and curses that come from obeying or disobeying God’s Law.

After the creation of the world, the Law of Moses gives the ancestry of the nation of Israel, explaining how they came to exist on the earth.

God Always Picks a Man

You will notice that after the creation of the world, a lot of time is spent on Adam (lit. Man) and two of his children. Afterward, Genesis goes very, very quickly through the descendants of "Man."

Tomorrow, we will begin Genesis chapter six. There the story of Man’s descendants stops its rapid progress, and we will spend several chapters on Noah and his children. At the end of tomorrow’s lesson, we will see Genesis speed rapidly through Noah’s descendants until it gets to Abraham.

In history, you will see that God always chooses a man, and then a nation descended from that man, through whom he will bless the world. In Genesis, it is first the man named Man (Adam). Then, when Man’s descendants became evil, God reduced the world to Noah.

After that, God promised never to destroy the wicked children of men like that again. So later, he will choose Abram (later Abraham), from whom a nation will descend that will bless the world.

Points to Ponder

  • The 39 books we call the "Old Testament" are called the Tanakh (or Tanach) by Jews. Tanakh is the first letters of the Hebrew words for law, prophets, and writings.
  • These books are not really the Old Testament. Instead, they are the books written while the Old Testament was in force.
  • A testament is a contract. The Old Testament, as the Christians have named it, is the Law of Moses, the contract between God and Israel.
  • Jews, of course, do not consider the Law of Moses the "Old" Testament. They believe it is still in force. Christians believe it has been replaced by the new covenant that Jeremiah prophesied would come (Jer. 31:31-34).
  • The New Covenant, as Christians call it, is the agreement between God and man instituted by Jesus Christ. "The Gospel" is a very similar term.
  • All 39 books of the Tanakh are written in Hebrew, though there are some portions in Aramaic, which is a sister language to Hebrew.
  • Only Protestants and Jews limit the Tanakh to 39 books. Catholic and Orthodox churches usually have at least 46. Some Orthodox churches have over 50.
  • Not all languages call this book Genesis. In German and some other languages, these are the five books of Moses, and Genesis is called First Moses.
  • The Hebrew word "adam" is used over 500 times in the Hebrew Scriptures to mean "man." Thus, "Adam" is not really a special name. The first man’s name was "Man."
  • Does Genesis conflict with the theory of evolution? Christian opinions vary widely on how literally Genesis should be interpreted and whether the inspiration of the Bible means that it is inerrant historically and scientifically.
  • A common question that comes up in this section of Genesis is where Cain’s wife came from. There is no way to answer this question. A similar question would be where all the people came from that caused Cain to build a city after he was expelled and who were the people he was afraid would kill him.
  • Remember, Genesis is not the history of the world. It is the beginning of the account of what the King did for his people. This may not explain where Cain’s wife came from, but it does explain why the Law does not address the question.
  • The reason God rejected Cain’s sacrifice is because Cain was already an evil person even before he killed his brother (Gen. 4:7; 1 Jn. 3:12).
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6 Responses to Through the Bible in a Year: Genesis 1 to 5

  1. Bob Duggan says:

    On an historical note, which both you and I are fond of, I recently read this on a blog and thought you might appreciate it. It simplifies the otherwise tedious, outdated and confusing searches I’ve made on newadvent.com (It’s a greats site but the Catholic Encyclopedia is old- 1800’s I think) Anyways, I’ve tried to sort out Nazarenes, Nasoreans, Ebionites, etc… etc.. and find this short take refreshingly brief, clear and simple. Enjoy!

    I have been re-reading the memoir by the Orthodox priest Father James Bernstein (whom many of you have mentioned in recent comments), Surprised by Christ. Father Bernstein’s book is an intellectual autobiography, focused primarily on the considerations and arguments that led him to his conversions – first from Judaism to Protestant Christianity, then to Orthodoxy under the Antiochian jurisdiction.

    Though his career has been primarily that of a Christian activist (indeed, a co-founder of the Jews for Jesus movement in his Protestant days!) and now a parish priest, rather than a scholar, Father Bernstein’s Biblical exegesis and command of patristic and historical sources is impressive and illuminating. I find particularly helpful his detailed analysis of Old Testament prophecy regarding Jesus Christ, from the Torah to the Prophets. For those who prefer the spoken word to the written, Father Bernstein’s podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio and elsewhere offer much of the same content (and he is funnier when he speaks!).

    Father Bernstein’s most valuable contribution in the book, to my mind, is an account of his quest to trace the history of the original Jewish Church in Jerusalem, headed by St. James. Studying sources from the New Testament to Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho the Jew to the 3rd and 4th century historians Eusebius and Epiphanius, to St. Jerome in the 5th century, he offers the following narrative.

    Jewish Christians, known as the Nazarenes, left Jerusalem for Pella (in Galilee, in present-day Jordan) just before the Jewish war and the destruction of the Temple. From Pella, they moved to the area of modern-day Aleppo in Syria, where St. Jerome encountered them in the fifth century. Syrian Christians from the Aleppo area – descendants of Nazarenes, who likely intermarried with the local Christian population – fled Arab persecution in the seventh century to the mountains in the west. This area today is called in Arabic Jabel al-Nusayriya (Valley of the Nazarenes), and Aramaic is used in worship there by the Syrian Orthodox Church.

    There is evidence that the Jewish Christians diverged into two sects – the Ebionites, who did not accept the divinity of Christ, and the Nazarenes, who used both the Old and the New Testament and did believe Christ to be the Son of God. According to Epiphanius and Origen, both sects were considered heretical because they followed the Mosaic law.

    Were the Nazarenes heretical? Father James points out that, as recorded in Acts 15, the Gentiles were permitted to enter the Church without observing Jewish law; but Jews were not called upon to stop observing it. St. Justin Martyr (2nd century), in his debates with Trypho in Antioch, states clearly that a Jewish person who believes in Christ but observes the Mosaic law can be saved as long as he does not seek to induce non-Jews to follow the Jewish law – that is, by implication, as long as the law is not regarded as essential for salvation. St. Jerome (331-419), who interacted with Nazarenes in Aleppo and obtained several copies of Hebrew Scriptures from them, wrote to St. Augustine that the Nazarenes “believe in Christ, the Son of God, born of Mary the Virgin” and “accept Christ in such a way that they do not cease to observe the old Law.” Finally, it’s worth noting that the Nazarenes were certainly Christian enough for the Jews. An additional “blessing,” used three times a day, was introduced into the Jewish liturgy soon after the fall of the Temple that was really a curse upon the Christian Jews – the Nazarenes.

    However, St. Augustine (354-430) condemned the Nazarenes in his writings for continuing the practice of “carnal” circumcision. It was the Jewish Church that had made the decisions regarding who’s in and who’s out; there is a bitter irony in the fact that, later on, Gentiles such as St. Augustine declared the Christian Jews to be “out” based on their observance of Mosaic law.

    To summarize: Jewish Christianity within the original Church was likely an Orthodox Christianity combined with observance of Mosaic law. Whether or not such observance constituted a heretical practice remains unresolved and controversial. In keeping with the acceptance of the Gentile Christians into the Church on equal terms in Acts 15, the Jewish Christian Law-observing community intermarried with Gentile Christians. Following a series of migrations, it became absorbed into the Gentile majority in modern-day Syria. Thus Father James traces the descendants of the original Church of Jerusalem to today’s Orthodox (and Melkite) population of western Syria – finding in this an important connection between the Jews and the Orthodox Church.

  2. Bob Duggan says:

    Hi Shammah, I am thinking that the situation of Israel is quite different than when Christ was condemning the hypocrisy of temple judaism of the time. (of corse there is hypocrisy to condemn today as well in lot of places – starting with my heart) Even Israel is judged out of God’s mercy. Israel has certainly been pruned and must certainly accept Christ to come into the fullness of all the blessings promised to the world through Israel. And as exalted a bride the body of believers is, it is not autonomous or superseding Israel, even as it is a fulfillment founded upon Christ and the Apostles, the King and cornerstones of spiritual Israel. I do not count being of the lineage of Abraham as Israel, but since the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem there has certainly been a spiritualizing of Israel. “for the flesh availeth nothing”. I would also say that in God’s judgement, Israel has historically meted out the drama of the suffering servant, being in a sense, mysteriously bound to her Messiah while she still prays for his coming.

    • Both of these last replies are interesting, but they do not have much to do with what I was objecting to. I don’t want to leave that confusion.

      My objection was to the idea that the old covenant is somehow still in effect. The new brings the old to fulfillment, and supersedes it. There is a new covenant now, one instituted by the blood of Jesus Christ, and it is that covenant into which God calls all people including Jews.

      The Gospels make it clear that God was going to judge Israel angrily for what they had done, rejecting prophets throughout their history, and finally rejecting the Son he sent to them and killing him.

      I have no objections to the idea that God didn’t tell the Jews to stop keeping the Law, but the Scripture teaches that circumcision of the flesh is worth nothing at all. There is a fullness to the Law that God wants all people, Christian and Jew to come into. (I go pretty thoroughly into the fullness of the Law at http://www.christian-history.org/law-of-moses.html )

      I would probably object with you to Augustine’s condemnation of the Nazarene church you describe, and also agree with the early churches’ universal rejection of the Ebionites.

      I just don’t want it to be suggested that the old covenant is some acceptable alternative to the new for Jews. Nor do I want it to be suggested that the “new law” of Jesus Christ can be replaced by the old Law of Moses just because someone physically descended from Jacob.

  3. I really can’t go along with the idea that the old covenant–which I use in reference specifically to the Law of Moses, not to any others–is somehow still in effect. Hebrews says that the new has made the old obsolete. The prophecy in Jeremiah says that the new covenant will be made with the house of Israel, and that it will not be like the old covenant, which the fathers did not fulfill.

    The Scriptures says that God will judge those who reject the Messiah, and the Messiah, Jesus, says that he is the only way to the Father.

    I’m all for hoping and praying that God will have mercy on those that have not heard the Gospel, but who are living in the best way they know how, whether under the Law or outside the Law. But I’m not for making an allowance that the old covenant might be in effect.

    Matthew 21, especially v. 43, makes it pretty clear to me that the kingdom has been taken away from those who were under the old covenant. It’s not just that there’s a new covenant, but also the old one has been broken, despised, and done away with.

    This is not to say that the Law has been done away with. As I write repeatedly, the Law has been brought to fullness. It was always the shadow of the new Law of Christ, which is lived out by the Spirit of God, but which is also foreshadowed in the Law of Moses. One of the ways that Jesus wants us to learn his ways is by spiritually finding his will in the fullness of the Law, brought to fullness by the revelation of the Spirit of God.

  4. Bob Duggan says:

    Was thinking that the story of the fall is the “proto-torah”.

    Also, I was thinking along these lines: some would say not that the “Old Covenant” (Really “Covenants”) were not simply abolished or superseded, but fulfilled in a way that does not make them void for those who are still living under them. In other words, the descendants of Abraham, living according to the old covenants would not be deprived of promises made by God to Israel before the revelation of the Messiah because they are God’s promises.

    However, Christ himself is the Law and the Prophets. Christ is the Lamb. His Apostles are the foundation of the Heavenly Jerusalem and of the priestly nation of Israel. Before Abraham was………

    But if the Jews follow the trail and if we, the Church, honor the fact that we are grafted onto a family that is still alive and active, and preach the Gospel in love and the witness of the Body of Christ… wouldn’t Paul’s prophecy in Romans come true?

  5. Barbara says:

    Easily understandable even to those of us who stumble getting to the meat on the bone,

    Thank you.

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