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by Donald C. Fleming
A running explanation of the biblical text
for the people of today's world
Song of Songs
Old Testament Prophecy
The New Testament World
Introduction to the Four Gospels
Jesus and the Kingdom
Index to the Four Gospels
The Four Gospels
The post-Acts Period
The origins of this commentary go back to my missionary years in Thailand, when I began writing a few books in the Thai language to help local people understand the Scriptures. The result, after many years, was a series of fifteen mini-commentaries on the Thai Bible.
Although the success of the books in Thai was due largely to the lack of available alternatives, news of the books spread, and it was suggested that I prepare an English equivalent for use in other countries. Over some years the fifteen-volume series was produced in English, but by this time I had written several other books and their production was scattered over a variety of countries.
When Bridgeway Publications in Australia undertook a project to republish all these books in a new format, the fifteen volumes were revised and reissued in eight volumes under the series title, Bridge Bible Handbooks. Those eight books are now combined into the one-volume Bridgeway Bible Commentary, which is a companion in size, style and format to the Bridgeway Bible Dictionary, an A to Z of biblical information.
The eight Handbooks were dedicated to people who, in different ways, had a significant influence in my life and ministry. Since the present volume is not a new work but a reformatted (and in parts revised) version of the eight Handbooks, no new dedication attaches to it. Instead I am pleased to acknowledge again my indebtedness to those to whom the earlier editions were dedicated.
Philip and Pat Juler
Reg and Marjorie Vines
John and Grace Robertson
Bob and Vic McCallum
Vic and Jean Fleming
In the present book, as in my other books, my aim is to provide biblical reference material that bridges two gaps at the same time. First, I want to bridge the gap in time and culture between the world of the Bible and the world of today. Second, I want to bridge the gap between the technical reference works and the non-technical reader. Above all, my desire is to produce books that will encourage people to read the Bible.
Though labelled a commentary, this volume is not a word-by-word or verse-by-verse technical reference book. But neither is it a survey that flies over the top of the various biblical books without touching the text. Perhaps ‘running commentary’ would be a more appropriate description.
My suggestion is that instead of trying to ‘dig deep’ or ‘squeeze lessons’ from the Bible, we relax a little, try to understand what each book is saying, and then let the Bible do whatever it wants to do. ‘Let the Bible speak for itself’ - which is the title of a practical handbook I have written on how we might teach the Bible in plain language. The aim of such teaching, like the aim of this commentary, is not to exhaust the meaning of the text, nor to force the text to fit our schemes of interpretation, but to provide enough background and comment to enable people to read with understanding.
The Bible has its own power as God’s Word, and is an authoritative standard for teaching truth, correcting error, and instructing in right living. It is living and active, and has its own way of making its message relevant to us as readers, but it can do so only if first we understand it. This commentary is designed to help us understand what the biblical writers might have meant, and to do so in such a way that we might readily see the relevance of the ancient Word to present-day living. And once we have the understanding, we have an obligation to act upon it.
The name Genesis means ‘origin’ or ‘beginning’ and is a suitable name for the book of the Bible that speaks of the origins of the universe, of the human race, of human sin and of God’s way of salvation. Though it stands at the beginning of our Bibles as an individual book, it was originally part of a much larger book commonly called the Pentateuch.
Hebrew, the mother tongue of the Israelite people, was the original language of the Old Testament. During the third century BC this Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek, the translation being known as the Septuagint (often written LXX), after ‘the seventy’ who translated it. From these translators we have borrowed the word Pentateuch as a name for the first five books of the Bible (from two Greek words, penta, meaning ‘five’, and teuchos, meaning ‘a volume’).
Originally the five books were one, but they were put into their present five-volume form so that they could fit conveniently on to five scrolls. The Hebrews referred to the whole Pentateuch simply as ‘the law’ (2 Chronicles 17:9; Nehemiah 8:1-3,Nehemiah 8:18; Matthew 5:17-19; Matthew 11:13; Matthew 12:5; Luke 24:44).
Age-old tradition, both Hebrew and Christian, recognizes Moses as the author of the Pentateuch (2 Chronicles 35:12; Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 13:1; Daniel 9:11; Mark 12:26; Luke 16:29-31; Acts 15:21), though the Pentateuch itself does not say who wrote it. Nevertheless, it mentions Moses’ literary activity. He wrote down the law that God gave to Israel (Exodus 24:4; Exodus 34:27; Deuteronomy 31:9,Deuteronomy 31:24), he kept records of Israel’s history (Exodus 17:14; Numbers 33:2) and he wrote poems and songs (Exodus 15:1; Deuteronomy 1:22,Deuteronomy 1:30).
As leader of the nation, Moses was no doubt familiar with the family records, traditional stories and ancient songs that people of former generations had preserved and handed down, whether by word of mouth or in written form (cf. Genesis 5:1; Genesis 6:9; Genesis 10:1; Genesis 11:10,Genesis 11:27). Like other writers, he would have used material from various sources, especially in writing about places and events outside his own experience (Genesis 26:33; Genesis 35:19-20; Genesis 47:26; Numbers 21:14). In addition he had direct contact with God and received divine revelations (Exodus 3:4-6; Exodus 33:9-11; Deuteronomy 34:10). Under the guiding hand of God, all this material was put together to produce what we call the five books of Moses.
People who study biblical documents have at times suggested that the Pentateuch reached its final form much later than the time of Moses. They base their ideas on the similarities and contrasts they see in such things as narrative accounts, the names used for God, usage of certain words and phrases, and details of Israel’s religious system. Some even see a number of independent documents that were later combined into one.
Amid all the discussion that has taken place concerning these matters, people have sometimes forgotten that the important issue is not how the Pentateuch was written, but what it means. And in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles it stands as a book whose unity is clear and whose message is the living Word of God (Nehemiah 8:8,Nehemiah 8:14; Nehemiah 9:3; John 5:39,John 5:46; Acts 28:23).
The book of Genesis
Those who gave the name ‘Genesis’ to the first book of the Bible were the translators of the Pentateuch. The ancient Hebrews called the book by its opening words, ‘In the beginning’. The book’s chief concern, however, is not with physical origins, but with the relationship God desires to have with the people who inhabit his earth.
Adam and Eve, though sinless when created, fell into sin, and the evil consequences of their sin passed on to the human race descended from them. Rebellious humanity deserved, and received, God’s judgment, but that judgment was always mixed with mercy. God did not destroy the human life he had created. Rather he worked through it to provide a way of salvation available to all. His way was to choose one man (Abraham), from whom he would build a nation (Israel), through which he would make his will known and eventually produce the Saviour of the world (Jesus).
The book of Genesis shows how human beings rebelled against God and fell under his judgment, but it shows also how God began to carry out his plan for their salvation. After recording his promises to make from Abraham a nation and to give that nation a homeland in Canaan, it shows how the promises concerning both the land and the people began to be fulfilled.
The story of creation
Early human life
Genealogy from Adam to Noah
Rebellion and judgment
Genealogies from Noah to Abram
Abram’s entry into the promised land
Abram and the promised heir
Isaac passes on the inheritance
Jacob establishes the family
Family growth and the move to Egypt
the Fifth Week after Easter