On Reading Genesis: Four Approaches with Many Resources

close up photo of bible

January 1, 2021. 

With the new year comes the chance to begin a new Bible reading plan (or to continue your reading plan from last year). If the new year leads you to Genesis, as the Via Emmaus Bible Reading Plan does, you might be looking for some resources to aid in your reading—especially, if your plan does not give you a day-by-day, play-by-play. To that end I am sharing four reading strategies, with some helpful resources to listen and read. Be sure to read to the end, as some of the most helpful resources come at the end.

Reading Genesis two, three, or five chapters at a time.

This is self-explanatory and the easiest way (mathematically-speaking) to break up the book. Two chapters will get you through the book in 25 days, with a few days to spare (or miss). Three chapters a day will permit you to read Genesis twice in the month. And five chapters a day will result in reading the book three times, or twice with ten days to do some focused study. That study could include doing some personal reflection or reading / listening to some of the resources below.

Reading Genesis with Bible Talk.

Another way to read Genesis would be to follow the sections that Jim Hamilton and Sam Emadi have discussed on their 9Marks podcast, Bible TalkTaking about three chapters at a time, these two trustworthy biblical theologians have blessed the church with a running commentary on Genesis. Ranging from Genesis’s ancient Near Eastern context to its literary, typological, and theological meaning, Jim and Sam have blessed the church with their observations on this book.  Personally, this reading strategy will be the way I read Genesis this month.

Reading Genesis as it was Originally Organized 

A third reading strategy recognizes the outline of the book and follows accordingly. As Peter Leithart has helpfully explained in his article, “Toledoth and the Structure of Genesis,” the book of Genesis demonstrates a clear outline around ten “generation markers” (toledoth’s). This observation is ubiquitous among commentators, but it is one that readers of Genesis can easily miss. Because some of these sections go for 15 chapters (see Gen. 11:27–25:11), we may not immediately pick up the clues to read Genesis in 10 sections—or 11 sections, including the opening creation story.

For those who want to understand the message of Genesis, however, they will need to pay attention to Moses’s original organization. That comes from the generation markers (2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 361; 37:1) and can be seen in the following outline. In his article, Leithart makes a few other worthwhile observations, and all readers of Genesis would be helped by reading it. For instance, he argues that the exceeding length of the narratives for Noah, Terah (Abraham), Isaac, and Jacob (bolded below) shows where the emphasis of Genesis lies. He writes,

And each of the narrative-heavy sections hearkens back to the original narrative of heaven and earth: Noah and his wife, Abram and Sarai, Jacob and his wives, Joseph and the daughter of the Egyptian priest are new unions of heaven and earth, new Adams and Eves, beginning the project of undoing the curse.

In the end, the import of the pattern of the toledoths can best be summarized this way: All nations generate people, but the story of the world is borne by the people of God. Or, more abstractly: Everyone generates things, but the people of God are the ones who generate history, who generate events.

Leithart’s observation helps us to move from structure to significance and it shows why seeing the structure matters. For even if you don’t divide up your reading according to the structure, or if you must break up the longer toledoths into smaller daily readings, knowing the structure is important and will help you follow the Spirit’s message in Genesis. Here again is that structure.

  • The Creation of the World (1:1–2:3)
  • Generations of heaven and earth (2:4–4:26)
  • Generations of Adam (5:1–6:8)
  • Generations of Noah (6:9–9:29)
  • Generations of Shem, Ham, Japheth (10:1–11:9)
  • Generations of Shem (11:10–26)
  • Generations of Terah (11:27-25:11)
  • Generations of Ishmael (25:12–18)
  • Generations of Isaac (25:19–35:29)
  • Generations of Esau (36:1–37:1)
  • Generations of Jacob (37:1–50:26)

Reading Genesis Theologically

The last way you might read Genesis is to read it as much as you can and whenever you can with the goal of understanding it with the help of various theological articles. While some treat theology as an esoteric discipline reserved from select group of Christians, theology is a basic reality of humanity. Because God made us in his image (see the first chapter of Genesis!), we cannot deny God without denying ourselves. To say it differently, everyone has a theology. The question is: What kind of theology do you have?

When it comes to reading the Bible, a theological approach to reading is one that strives to know and understand and love the God of Scripture. Instead of just learning facts, dates, people, and places, a theological reading strives to know all of the above and these historical and literary realities reveal the living God. In truth, we should always be reading theologically. Whether you are a pastor or a new believer, knowing God, i.e., theology, is what Scripture is for. And in this month, to help you read Genesis theologically, I am listing a number of helpful articles.

These articles (and a few audio links) are culled from two places: (1) The Gospel Coalition, which continues to put out excellent biblical content, and (2) Via Emmaus. If you have written or read other good articles, please put them in the comments. I will read them and add them.

  1. Evangelical Interpretations of Genesis 1-2 (Vern Poythress)
  2. Is the Trinity in Genesis 1? (Scott Swain)
  3. Starting with Adam: Seeing How the Priesthood Begins in Genesis 1–2 (David Schrock)
  4. Theological Triage and the Doctrine of Creation (Sam Emadi)
  5. How to Teach on the First and Last Adam (Nancy Guthrie with Howard Griffith)
  6. Read the Whole Bible as a Whole Bible: Rejecting Critical Source Theory and Reconciling Genesis 1 and 2 (David Schrock)
  7. The law of sin and death: Ecclesiastes and Genesis 1–3 (David Clemens)
  8. 5 Evidences of Complementarian Gender Roles in Genesis 1–2 (Denny Burk)
  9. ‘Sin Crouching at the Door’ or ‘A Sin Offering at the Gate’: Michael Morales on Genesis 4:7 (David Schrock)
  10. The Messianic Hope of Genesis: The Protoevangelium and Patriarchal Promises (Jared August)
  11. Who Are the Sons of God in Genesis 6? (Bill Cook)
  12. First Creation and Second Creation: Adam, Noah, and the Focus of Genesis 1–11 (David Schrock)
  13. In Search of a Priest Like Melchizedek (Genesis 14; Psalm 110; Hebrews 7) (David Schrock)
  14. ‘Kill Me a Son’: The Beautiful Scandal of Abraham’s Sacrifice (Glen Scrivener)
  15. Genesis 24 and God’s Plan for the World (David Schrock)
  16. What the Joseph Story Is Really About (Sam Emadi)
  17. How Does Joseph Foreshadow Jesus? (Jim Hamilton)
  18. From Genesis to Exodus to Jesus: What Biblical Typology Might Say about Modern Day Israel (David Schrock)

All in all, the first book of the Bible is an incredible treasure and one we can and should spend a lifetime reading. For those beginning the Via Emmaus Reading Plan or any other reading plan, I pray these four approaches to reading Genesis might be helpful!

Soli Deo Gloria and Happy New Year!