I am preaching through Genesis. I wrote the following as part of my introduction to this series. Much of this was adapted from He Gave Us Stories by Richard Pratt.
The Bible is one of the means of grace that God gives to His people so that they can grow in their knowledge and love of the Lord. It is not simply a book of information. Rather, it is the Book for life transformation. Since the Bible is thousands of years old, applying it to your life in the 21st century requires some understanding.
To understand how a passage of the Bible applies to your life, you must begin with the original meaning, then see how the rest of the Bible elaborates on it in biblical elaborations, and from there draw legitimate applications.
The original meaning is what the passage meant in the setting of its original writer and audience. The original meaning defines and guides the process of understanding and applying a passage of Scripture. It does not tell us everything about the passage, but it is the starting point.
To understand the original meaning of a book of the Bible, one must study the text itself (document), understand something of the writer, and know something of the original readers (audience). Without understanding of the writer, the document, and the audience, it is difficult to understand the true meaning of any text.
For example, let’s say you found the following note:
Our evening together last night was simply wonderful--our most memorable ever. Moreover, you were terrific. I hope we can sneak away again for another evening like that one.
If Sam and Bill are tennis partners who won their match last night, the note takes on one meaning. If they lost their match, then it may be sarcasm. If Sam is short for Samantha, and they are married, it takes on another.
If you are to know the meaning of the note, then you must know something of the writer, the document, and the audience. You must also see how these three are related and interact.
Genesis is one portion of a larger book called The Pentateuch. The Pentateuch contains the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Together, these five form a single unit called the Pentateuch. Often times, Jews (including Jesus) referred to the Pentateuch as the Torah, the Law, or even the Book of Moses.
No where in the Pentateuch does the author give his name. In that sense, it (including Genesis) is an anonymous book. However, from the outset, the ancient Jews regarded Moses as the author. There is no reason to doubt their testimony. Moses was a prophet of God, having been used by God to utter the infallible word. Historically, Christians have regarded Moses as the author as well. Jesus Himself, as well as the gospel writers, cite Moses as the author, which leaves no doubt that it was Moses who indeed wrote it (see Matthew 8:4; 19:7-8; 22:24; Mark 10:5; 12:19, 26; Luke 16:29; Luke 20:28; 24:27, 44, John 1:45; 7:19; 8:5).
Still, there are signs that a final editor other than Moses was involved in the final edition of Genesis and the other books of the Pentateuch. For example, Deuteronomy 34:10-12 records the death of Moses. Other signs of a post-Moses editor are a) Genesis 12:6, where it says that the Canaanites were in the land then (the Canaanites were still in the land at the time of Moses), b) the mention of Dan in Genesis 14:14 (Dan was not established until after the Exodus), and c) the reference to the kings of Israel in Genesis 36:31. Yet, even the final editing of the book was done under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which means that the text itself is fully inspired by God, and therefore both infallible and inerrant (without errors) as originally given.
Moses wrote these books during the time between the Exodus and the nation of Israel’s entrance into the Promise Land under Joshua. That places the date of the writing of the Pentateuch during the 15th Century BC.
The Original Readers of Genesis
Moses wrote Genesis (and the rest of the Pentateuch), while Israel was wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt and before entering the Promise Land. That means the original audience of Genesis were the people preparing to enter conquer the land of Canaan.
These people had been slaves in the land of Egypt. They were preparing to go into a land that they had never seen and fight off enemies they had never met. They had never been to war. They had never encountered some of the challenges that were ahead of them.
This is important because Genesis must be read from their eyes first, before you can apply it to your own situation. Any history book has to be selective. No book can record all of the events that occurred during a specific time period. Therefore the author selects what events he will include and how he will tell of these events based on what he believes is significant for his audience.
As you read Genesis, ask yourself, “How would this help the Israelites in the wilderness? What was God’s purpose in telling them this? How would this strengthen their faith?” Moses purpose in writing to them was to inspire faith in God as they faced the challenges of the exodus and the conquest.
Moses did not write Genesis in response to Charles Darwin. However, he may have written parts in response to Marduk, the Baals, and the Asherahs (pagan deities of his day).
Richard Pratt says the following about Genesis: “Moses wrote the book of Genesis to teach his readers that leaving Egypt and possessing Canaan was God’s design for Israel. The primeval acts of bringing creation from chaos to sabbath rest, recreating the fallen world through waters of judgment, choosing Shem’s descendants to dispossess Canaan, and defeating the city of Babel explained what God was doing or Israel in the exodus from Egypt. The lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob anticipated Israel’s interest in their numerical expansion, possession of the Promised Land, and relationships with surrounding nations. The interaction among the tribal patriarchs in the Joseph story establish proper inter-tribal relations in Moses day and assured Israel of her destiny in Canaan.”
More than that, the Pentateuch establishes God’s plan for redeeming the world by establishing His covenant relationship with Israel. All of this ultimately points to the Christ of the New Testament.
The Relevance of Genesis
If the original readers were so different from us, then how can Genesis have any relevance to us? This is the issue most people struggle with when reading the Bible, particularly Old Testament history.
While the specifics of your situation may be vastly different from that of God’s people in the wilderness, the real issues have not changed, and neither has God. The Israelites wondered how order could be brought to their world of chaos. They wondered why the world seemed so messed up. They wondered if life was out of control. We wonder the same things, and Genesis answers all these questions and more.
 Deuteronomy 34:10-12 records Moses’ death. So there obviously was another editor involved in the final edition. Still, for the most part it was written during the Exodus and prior to the conquest.
 “World War II is a matter of fact; telling the story of World War II is a matter of selection; understanding World War II – why it happened, who “won” it – is a matter of interpretation. Whenever anyone undertakes to write narrative history these three things are involved” (Alec Motyer, The Story of the Old Testament, p. 43.
 Pratt, p. 281.