How this course came to be
Back in the mid-1970’s I was a student at Fuller Seminary. I had started my graduate-level training by taking 12 units of Hebrew in 8 weeks – probably not the best decision I ever made. I survived the Hebrew class with a ‘B’ but a year later I realized I was forgetting much of what I’d learned too quickly.
So I decided to take a course that would force me back into the Hebrew language, to put it to use. I signed up for Genesis 1-11. It was a challenging class on several levels. Not only was the Bible reading and study for the class conducted solely with Biblica Hebraica (the Hebrew Bible); the professor (a visiting scholar from Australia) was a man who did not believe in the historicity of the stories in those eleven chapters!
It was a memorable course. I remember fighting (verbally) with the professor on the meaning of the text, and fighting (academically) with the text to discover its meaning in English. I also remember taking lots of notes!
Last year I was going through some old files and came upon my folder of notes from the Genesis class. I took some time to read through them and found them quite interesting. Even thought I’d fought my way through that class, I’d gained a lot of insight into the early parts of the book of Genesis.
I asked our Bible study group if they’d be willing to sit through a few weeks of study on Genesis so that I could spend a little more time with this material. We had a good time going through the notes, and the final result was this course.
Focus of the course
I determined early on that I was not going to focus on the creation/evolution debate in this course. Partly because that’s what everybody else does – and there is a wealth of material on that subject. So much so, that your average evangelical thinks that the subject of creation (or worse, “Intelligent Design”) is the main reason that Genesis was written! And that’s going too far, in my opinion.
I decided to treat Genesis like I treat any other book of the Bible. The important questions for any Bible study are these:
- What was the author of this text trying to say to his audience?
- What did the text mean to the people who first read/heard it?
- What does God want to teach us through this text?
- What difference should this text make in our lives?
These are the questions with which I approached this study in Genesis. The outcome is focused on two themes: Genesis tells us much about the character and purposes of God, and it is the story of how God deals with His people.
I believe in creation, but I see no need to argue against evolution – for two reasons. First, I believe that it just might be possible that God will allow evolutionists into heaven. Last time I checked, a belief in creation was not required for salvation. So what someone else believes isn’t my problem – unless they ask me. Second, in all the years that I’ve heard creation/evolution debates, I have never heard – in fact, never heard of – anyone whose opinion on the subject changed. People tend to be pretty rigid on these things.
As am I. I believe in creation. I am uncertain as to how it was done, because the Bible isn’t clear on the subject. But I know God did it, and that what the Bible says about it is worth studying. But I will allow the focus of my study to be set by the agenda of the author (and of the God who inspired him), and not by the concerns of my culture.
Scope of the course
This course covers Genesis 1-4. But we require six weeks. The first week focuses on the purposes of the book, and on some interesting (to me, at least) background information behind the first two verses of chapter 1. In the next four weeks, we finish chapter 1 and go on through chapters 2-4. The final week looks into some of the deeper questions behind the first four chapters.
The original plan was for the next course to cover Genesis 5-11, but that hasn’t yet happened. Instead, I’ve been working on a much more ambitious effort called The God of the Old Testament. That course builds on themes originally explored in this course.