Genesis 1-11 is a rich history that sheds light on how everything began. In it we see the origins of the created world, animals, human beings, relationships, and more.
ORIGINS AND INTENTIONS
The origins Genesis 1-11 shows us are important because they give perspective. For example, understanding that mankind was created in God's image helps us find inherent value in every person. It also helps us understand our purpose to reflect God's image to all of creation by how we lead ourselves, serve our families, and participate in our communities.
Week 1: Genesis 1:1 - God comes first and stands alone
Week 2: Genesis 1-2 - Reading Genesis as history
Week 3: Genesis 1:1-2:3 - God and his good creation
Week 4: Genesis 2:3-3:24 - Male and female, origins and curses
Week 5: Genesis 4-11 - The tragic tide of sin
Week 6: Genesis 1-11 - Genesis patterns: pointing to a savior
THE WHOLE STORY
Genesis 1-11 is only the beginning of the book of Genesis, but there is a great deal packed into these chapters, so we are taking six weeks to focus just on these six chapters.
Here is a great breakdown of how the different stories of Genesis 1-11 relate to one another to form a complete whole. It even has illustrations.
There are many controversies surrounding Genesis 1-11, and the battles rage on even today. As we review them here, keep in mind that week 1 of this study will focus on God for a reason: he is the central character in Genesis, and he deserves that kind of spotlight. Controversies do not.
SIMILAR CREATION STORIES
In the early 1900s, a Babylonian text named the Enuma Elish, which is a hymn of praise to the Babylonian god Marduk, became the point of controversy. Because Enuma Elish contained origin myths, many scholars began equating it with Genesis, thus undermining the authority of Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament. Many wondered, "Is it all just a creation myth like all the others?" For a concise discussion on this matter, read "Is Genesis 1 Just Reworked Babylonian Myth?"
The response has been varied. Some have chosen to lessen the historical reliability of Genesis to accommodate a scientistic view, and others have abandoned the historical nature of Genesis 1-11 altogether: claiming Adam, Abel, and Noah as fictional characters.
The danger in doing this is captured well by Jason DeRouchie in a book review on a Genesis commentary:
We must ask: is the Jesus we affirm the one who claimed that not simply the ideas but the very letters and words of Scripture matter and point to him (Matt. 5:18)? [...] Is he the Jesus whose human lineage stretches back to Adam (Luke 3:38), and who affirmed the historic reality both of God’s creating male and female in the beginning as a paradigm for marriage (Matt. 19:4) and of the global rebellion in the days of Noah (Luke 17:26–27)? Is he the Jesus who declared Scripture “cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and whom Paul insisted answers the sin problem produced by a historical Adam (Rom. 5:12–19; 2 Cor. 15:22, 45)?"
Genesis 1-11 is as much history as the Resurrection because Jesus and the rest of the New Testament says so.
GENESIS IS ANCIENT AND EASTERN
Although we should claim the historical nature of Genesis, we should equally recognize it as ancient Eastern history. This should affect how we read Genesis in two ways.
First, Genesis is less concerned about chronology and sequence than our modern Western minds. The famous example is that Genesis 1 and 2 seem to be out of order from one another. Wayne Jackson gives a good defense based on the literature:
"It is often claimed that Genesis 1 and 2 contain two different creation-narratives. In point of fact, however, the strictly complementary nature of the ‘two’ accounts is plain enough: Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the centre of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting. There is no incompatible duplication here at all. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand, and the concentration in detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism."
Second, Genesis is written as a compiled text. Where the New Testament is written in single letter form, much of the Old Testament is compiled and edited together. This does not lessen the Old Testament - it is just as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the New Testament - but allows us to see how the author wove it together to tell the story.
EVOLUTION and CREATIONISM
Many still debate this issue, but it is literally too big to fit anything here. Simply put, Genesis is both history and ancient Eastern, and it demands full authority on its own terms. Evolution as a concept can help to explain phenomena we see every day; however, evolution as a worldview cannot square with Scripture as it proposes an origin story (and thus man's significance and purpose) that runs counter to Scripture.