Moses as the Author
Probably most conservative scholars in
the past have accepted the view that Genesis was written by Moses.
This has been the uniform tradition of both the Jewish scribes
and the Christian fathers. Genesis is considered to be the first
book in the Pentateuch (the others being Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
and Deuteronomy), and all of them together taken as the Law (Hebrew,
torah) of Moses. This general view was apparently accepted by
Christ Himself: "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets,
he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning
himself.... These are the words which I spake unto you, while
I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which
were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in
the psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:27,44).
Assuming that Moses was responsible for
the Book of Genesis as it has come down to us, there still remains
the question as to the method by which he received and transmitted
it. There are three possibilities: (a) he received it all by
direct revelation from God, either in the form of audible words
dictated by God and transcribed by him, or else by visions given
him of the great events of the past, which he then put down in
his own words, as guided subconsciously by the Holy Spirit; (b)
he received it all by oral traditions, passed down over the centuries
from father to son, which he then collected and wrote down, again
as guided by the Holy Spirit; (c) ho took actual written records
of the past, collected them, and brought them together into a
final form, again as guided by the Holy Spirit.
Evidently any of these methods would be
consistent with both the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration
and that of Mosaic authorship. However, neither of the first
two methods has a parallel anywhere in the canon of Scripture.
"Visions and revelations of the Lord" normally have
to do with prophetic revelations of the future (as in Daniel,
Ezekiel, Revelation, etc.). The direct dictation method of inspiration
was used mainly for promulgation of specific laws and ordinances
(as in the Ten Commandments, the Book of Leviticus, etc.). The
Book of Genesis, however, is entirely in the form of narrative
records of historical events. Biblical parallels to Genesis are
found in such books as Kings, Chronicles, Acts, and so forth.
In all of these, the writer either collected previous documents
and edited them (e.g., I and II Kings, I and II Chronicles),
or else recorded the events which he had either seen himself
or had ascertained from others who were witnesses (e.g., Luke,
It is also significant that, although the
Book of Genesis is quoted from or alluded to at least two hundred
times in the New Testament, as we have already noted, in none
of these references is it ever stated that Moses was the actual
author. This is especially significant in view of the fact that
Moses is mentioned by name at least eighty times in the New Testament,
approximately twenty-five of which refer to specific passages
attributed to Moses in the other books of the Pentateuch.
While this evidence is not conclusive,
it does favor the explanation that, while Moses actually wrote
the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, he
served mainly as compiler and editor of the material in the Book
of Genesis. This in no way minimizes the work of the Holy Spirit,
who infallibly guided him in this process of compilation and
editing, just as He later did the unknown compiler and editor
of the Book of Kings and Chronicles. It would still be appropriate
to include Genesis as one of the books of Moses, since he is
the human writer responsible for its present form. In fact, this
explanation gives further testimony to the authenticity of the
events recorded in Genesis, since we can now recognize them all
as firsthand testimony.
Compilation of Patriarchal Records
It is suggested in this commentary, therefore,
that Moses compiled and edited earlier written records that had
been handed down from father to son via the line of the patriarchs
listed in Genesis. That is, Adam, Noah, Shem, Terah, and others
each wrote down an individual account of events which had occurred
in his own lifetime, or concerning which he in some way had direct
knowledge. These records were kept, possibly on tablets of stone,
in such a way that hey would be preserved until they finally
came into Moses possession. He then selected those that
were relevant to his own purpose (as guided by the Holy Spirit),
added his own explanatory editorial comments and transitional
sections, and finally compiled them into the form now known as
the Book of Genesis.
It is probable that these original documents
can still be recognized by the key phrase: "These are the
generations of...." The word "generation" is a
translation of the Hebrew toledoth, and it means essentially
"origins," or, by extension, "records of the origins."
There are eleven of these divisions marked off in Genesis:
(1) "These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 2:4).
(2) "This is the book of the generations
of Adam" (Genesis 5:1).
(3) "These are the generations
of Noah" (Genesis 6:9).
(4) "Now these are the generations
of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth" (Genesis 10:1).
(5) "These are the generations
of Shem" (Genesis 11:10).
(6) "Now these are the generations
of Terah" (Genesis 11:27).
(7) "Now these are the generations
of Ishmael" (Genesis 25:12).
(8) "And these are the generations
of Isaac, Abrahams son" (Genesis 25:19).
(9) "Now these are the generations
of Esau, who is Edom" (Genesis 36:1).
(10) "And these are the generations
of Esau the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir" (Genesis
(11) "These are the generations
of Jacob" (Genesis 37:2)
Assuming that these toledoth divisions
represent the original documents from which Genesis was collected,
there is still the question whether the specific names are to
be understood as subscripts or as superscripts, or some of each.
Are they headings applied to the material following, or closing
signatures of that which precedes?
The weight of evidence suggests that the
respective names attached to the toledoth represent subscripts
or closing signatures. The events recorded in each division all
took place before, not after, the death of the individuals so
named, and so could in each case have been accessible to them.
The main difficulty with this view is that most of the portions
that would be assigned to Ishmael and to Easu under this formula
hardly seem appropriate for them to have written. However, this
problem can be avoided by assuming that "the generations
of Ishmael" constituted a small subdivision within the broader
record maintained by Isaac, and finally transmitted by him. Similarly,
the "generations of Esau" may have been appropriated
by Jacob in his own larger account later transmitted under the
heading "the generations of Jacob."
If this explanation is correct, then the
Book of Genesis can be divided into nine main subdivisions, as
(1) "The generations of the heavens
and the earth" (Genesis 1:1-2:4)
This section, describing the initial Creation
and the work of the six days, has no human name attached to it,
for the obvious reason that no man was present at the time to
record what happened. It must either have been written directly
by God Himself and then given to Adam, or else given by revelation
to Adam, who then recorded it.
(2) "The book of the generations
of Adam" (Genesis 2:4b-5:1)
This section, written by Adam, describes
the Garden of Eden, the temptation and fall, and the experiences
of Cain and Abel. Adam was obviously the logical one to record
this particular history. The use of the word "book"
makes it clear that these primreview records were actually written
down, and not simply handed by word of mouth. It also is significant
in light of the beginning phrase of the New Testament: "The
book of the generation of Jesus Christ" (Matthew 1:1).
(3) "The generations of Noah"
The patriarch Noah, sometime before that
actual coming of the Flood, compiled the records of the patriarchs
before him. According to the genealogies listed in Genesis 5,
Noahs father, Lamech, had lived contemporaneously with
every one of these patriarchs, including Adam. Noah himself had
known all of them except Adam, Seth, and Enoch. Noah then also
recorded his own observations of the rapid degeneracy of men
in his day and Gods determination to destroy them, mentioning,
however, that he himself had found grace in Gods eyes.
(4) "The generations of the sons
of Noah" (Genesis 6:9b-10:1)
Shem, Ham and Japheth evidently took the
responsibility of recording the preparations for the Flood, and
then describing the Flood itself. They also recorded the immediate
postdiluvian events, including Noahs prophecy concerning
themselves, and then later his death.
(5) "The generations of Shem"
After Noahs death, and after the
dispersion at Babel, it seems that the three sons of Noah became
separated, and Shem took the responsibility of keeping the records.
Accordingly, he wrote about the confusion of languages at Babel
and the resultant scattering of the families. He also recorded
the names of the descendants of Noah down to about the time of
the scattering, in the so-called Table of Nations in Genesis
10. Presumably he more or less lost track of the descendants
of Ham and Japheth after this, even though he himself lived five
hundred years after the Flood.
(6) "The generations of Terah"
This is a very brief document, containing
only the genealogies in the Semitic line, from Shem down to Terah
and his three sons. It is important, however, in that it gives
us the only possible basis for a chronology from the Flood to
(7) "The generations of Isaac"
In contrast, this is quite a long document,
giving all the details of the life of Abraham from the time of
his call by God to the time of his death, and also including
events in Isaacs life until his father died. Isaac apparently
also appended to his own record the "generations of Ishmael"
(Genesis 25:12), the record of his half-brothers sons,
which he must have obtained from him at the time Ishmael returned
home to help Isaac bury his father (Genesis 25:9). Isaac also
included mention of the death of Ishmael, about forty-eight years
after Abrahams burial.
(8) "The generations of Jacob"
Jacobs record, like Isaacs,
is much longer than most of the others in Genesis, giving the
later events in the life of his father Isaac and then including
all his own history through the time of his twenty-year sojourn
with Laban and his return to Canaan, with the record of the death
of both his wife Rachel and his father Isaac. As Isaac had appended
Ishmaels record of descendants to his own, so Jacob also
included two documents from his brother Esau (Genesis 36) after
his brother had joined him in burying his father (Genesis 35:29).
It is also possible that some of this material, in particular
the eight generations of Edomite kings listed in Genesis 36:31-39,
may have been inserted later as an editorial addition by Moses.
(9) "The generations of the Sons
of Jacob" (Genesis 37:2b-Exodus 1:1)
Although the regular formula is not used
in this case, the wording in Exodus 1:1 is very similar to the
others: "Now these are the names of the children of Israel,
which came into Egypt..." The events in the life of Joseph
and his brethren, as recorded in these latter chapters of Genesis,
could have originally been known only to them. Whether they wrote
them down, as their fathers had done, or transmitted them orally,
somehow their stories must finally have come into the possession
of Moses, as is indicated by the smooth transition from the last
verses of Genesis to the first verses of Exodus. The formula
would be exactly repeated, in fact, if the word "names"
in Exodus 1:1 were replaced by the word "generation".
It would then read" "Now these are the generations
of the children of Israel..."
Thus it is probable that the Book of Genesis
was written originally by actual eyewitnesses of the events reported
therein. Probably the original narratives were recorded on tablets
of stone or clay, in common with the practice of early times,
and then handed down from father to son, finally coming into
the possession of Moses. Moses perhaps selected the appropriate
sections for compilation, inserted his own editorial additions
and comments, and provided smooth transitions from one document
to the next, with the final result being the Book of Genesis
as we have received it.
Although this theory of the authorship
of Genesis cannot be rigidly proved, it does seem to fit all
available facts better than any other theory. It is consistent
with the doctrine of Biblical inspiration and authority, as well
as with the accurate historicity of its records. Furthermore,
this approach provides vivid insight into the accounts, and a
more vibrant awareness of their freshness and relevance, than