What is the Point of Genesis?

What is the point of Genesis?

This question is especially pertinent to us because, for the last fifty years, the study of Genesis has been the bread and butter of UBF’s Bible study ministry throughout the world. God has blessed thousands of people through our study of Genesis. It has led to many genuine conversions to Christ. It did for me when I studied Genesis in 1980 with Dr. John Lee of Lincoln Park UBF.

How I had understood Genesis. Having studied and taught Genesis for the last three decades, I can say that my understanding and presentation of Genesis was built upon imperatives: God is the Creator, and you are not; therefore, you must honor God as the Lord of your life (Gen 1:1). Man sinned; therefore, repent of your sins (Gen 3:1-7). Cain proudly rejected God’s sovereignty; therefore, you must humbly accept God’s sovereignty (Gen 4:1-7). Noah obeyed God and built an ark of salvation; therefore, you must obey (Gen 6:1-22).

I saw the patriarchs as examples to be emulated. Be an ancestor of faith and a source of blessing, and offer your “Isaac” to God as Abraham did (Gen 12:2-3; 15:1-21; 22:1-19). Marry by faith as Isaac did (Gen 24:1-67). Struggle with God as Jacob did (Gen 32:22-32). Forgive others as Joseph did (Gen 50:15-21).

Genesis surely contains ethical and moral principles, illustrations and examples for our Christian lives today (1 Cor 10:6,11). But are these teachings to be obeyed the point of the book? How are Christians to understand Genesis? What did Jesus say about Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament (OT)?

What Jesus said. In John 5:39, Jesus spoke to Israel’s Bible teachers about the OT: “These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” Luke 24:27 says that Jesus “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” In Luke 24:44, Jesus said, “Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Basically, Jesus said that all of the OT Scriptures, including Genesis, are about him. They are not primarily about Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. They are not primarily about me. They are primarily about Jesus.

What Paul said. In Acts 20:27, Paul said, “…for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” The “whole counsel of God” refers to the OT, because the NT had not yet been written. Throughout his thirteen epistles, Paul regarded the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection as matters of first importance, and he believed the gospel was “according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4). Paul confirmed that Jesus’ death and resurrection are in accordance with the whole counsel of OT Scriptures.

What Peter and the four gospel writers said. All of Peter’s sermons in Acts were a proclamation of Christ by citing the OT Scriptures (Acts 2:14-41). The gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all quoted extensively from the OT to demonstrate that Jesus is the promised Messiah.

If Jesus, Paul, Peter, and the evangelists presented the OT Scriptures as a proclamation of Christ, shouldn’t we be doing the same?

I have found that it is possible to teach, reveal and proclaim Christ from Genesis. Here are just a few illustrations from select stories of Abraham and Jacob.

God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen 15). When Abraham asked God how he would gain possession of the promised land, God answered by explaining a covenant ritual that involved cutting a heifer, a goat and a ram in two and arranging the halves opposite each other (Gen 15:8-10). Then when Abraham fell into a deep sleep, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch (representing God) appeared and passed between the pieces (Gen 15:17-18). This was how God made a covenant with Abraham. What is the meaning of this grotesque and bloody ritual which involved cutting three animals in half? When parties made a covenant in ancient time, both parities would walk between the divided animals so as to signify, “May this be done to me if I break this covenant. May I be torn apart. May I be cut in half.” But after Abraham prepares the animals, instead of the firepot moving between the animals side by side with Abraham, God went through this bloody alleyway all by himself. God takes the full responsibility for the fulfillment of the covenant all by himself, even when we fail to keep our part of the deal. Whenever we sin, it is God, not us, who becomes like the butchered and sliced animal. This is grace. When we personally know this immeasurably costly grace, we begin to understand that the only one true blessing is Christ, not Abraham or anyone else.

Abraham offered Isaac (Gen 22). When God asked Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a sacrifice, it was not to command us to offer him our Isaac. God stopped Abraham, because the actual sacrifice of Isaac wasn’t necessary; one day God was going to sacrifice his Son for us all (Rom 8:32). This was explained in a previous article.

Jacob’s dream at Bethel (Gen 28). At Bethel, Jacob saw “a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” What is the personal application we are supposed to draw from this passage? Is the passage teaching us that we should make a disgustingly selfish vow, as Jacob did, so that we will see a vision? Or does this dream teach us something significant about God?

Jacob wanted God’s blessing, as do we all. Jacob was not seeking God. But God was seeking him. As God came down in judgment on the tower of man’s pride at Babel (Gen 11:4), so in Jacob’s dream God came down to Jacob in grace. The angels ascending and descending on the stairway signified an opening of communication between heaven and earth. The climax of the vision is that God came down the stairway to stand over Jacob. The Lord stood “above it” (Gen 28:13) has also been translated and understood to mean “beside him” or “over him.” Jesus identifies himself to Nathanael as the one on whom the angels ascend and descend (John 1:50-51). Standing by Jacob, the Lord taught Jacob about Himself. He is the God of the past (Gen 28:13), the future (Gen 28:14), and the present (Gen 28:15). He is the God who takes the initiative with selfish Jacob and with selfish me. God comes to us in the person of Jesus.

God’s initiative in establishing a relationship with fallen mankind is a recurring theme throughout the book of Genesis. God approached Adam and Eve (Gen 3:9), Noah (Gen 6:13-14), Abraham (Gen 12:1-3), and now Jacob. God’s initiative challenges our natural, default way of thinking that we must make a sincere effort to seek God and please God enough to bring forth his blessing upon our lives. The painful, honest truth is that “there is no one who seeks God,” “not even one” (Rom 3:10-12; Ps 14:1-3, 53:1-3; Eccl 7:20). Jacob did not earnestly seek God, and neither do we. It is God who takes the initiative to seek us, ultimately at great cost to himself (John 4:23).

Jacob’s struggle with God (Gen 32). This famous wrestling match took place at night at the ford of the Jabbok River. Does this passage teach that we must also struggle with God until God blesses us? Does this mean that anyone and everyone who struggles with God gets to see God and receive his blessing? Is my struggle the determining factor as to whether or not I see God and get his blessing?

In any wrestling match, who wins? The one who is stronger and better. In a wrestling match between God and man, who is the stronger one? The answer is obvious. Yet God declared Jacob the winner (Gen 32:28). How could this be? God wrenched Jacob’s hip, declared him the winner, and then blessed him (Gen 32:25-29). In the morning, Jacob understood the grace of God when he said, “I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared” (Gen 32:30). Obviously, God allowed Jacob to win. But one day, God would have to lose. God blessed Jacob, but one day he was going to have to curse his Son (Gal 3:13). Jacob struggled at the river and victoriously won. One day, Jesus was going struggle at Gethsemane’s Garden in unbearable agony and then lose in an apparently conclusive defeat. For Jacob and for us to see the glorious light of the face of God (2 Cor 4:4), God had to hide his face in the darkness of Calvary (Matt 27:46). Only by God losing in heartbreaking humiliation could we ever gain the final victory.

What is the point of Genesis? It is Jesus. It is the gospel. It is the marvelous grace of Jesus. It is the initiative of God to seek us out, to love us and to save us at great cost to himself.

Do you agree that Genesis is about Jesus? Do you focus on Jesus when you teach Genesis?


  1. Preaching Christ in All of Scripture, Edmond P. Clowney, 2003
  2. The God Who is There, D. A. Carson, 2010
  3. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Graeme Goldsworthy, 2000
  4. The Gospel Coalition 2011 Conference: “Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament.” (9 excellent lectures)


  1. Ben, thanks for this helpful article.

    Until recently, I might have argued against the central thesis of this article.  I would have said that we shouldn’t allegorize the Bible or read too much of Jesus into the OT. I would have said that we needed to study each passage of the Bible primarily from the author’s viewpoint and stick to that original meaning as much as possible. I would have said that reading the OT narratives to draw out commands to be obeyed, examples to be emulated, and principles to be followed was in some sense being more faithful to what the authors intended. (That last argument was largely an assumption. I had no hard evidence or data that Hebrew authors intended the OT narratives to be used as books of rules, principles and examples. That approach to reading a text may actually come from Greek and Roman thinking, not from the Hebrew mind. But I digress.)

    I have not yet read any of the four references that you mentioned.   However, I recently came to the same conclusion as you did by reading the Bible itself. As I read the book of Acts and carefully studied Acts chapters 1-2, I saw that Peter saw Jesus  throughout the OT, and he had learned to do so from Jesus himself. As I  studied the book of Hebrews, I saw that the author of that book used OT Scripture in very creative ways to speak about Jesus. (In fact, one could say that Hebrews was written primarily for that purpose: to help Jewish Christians see the OT in a radically new Christ-centered way in light of the historical realities of  Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. If you read the prologue, Hebrews 1:1-3, you will see what I mean.)  And, of course, the Apostle Paul read the OT this way as well.  

    I can see that there are  potential dangers in this.  As Andy pointed out in his excellent series on parables, it  is possible to let our imaginations run wild and over-allegorize the Bible to make it say whatever we want. But the writers of the NT, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, did see Jesus in unlikely places throughout the OT, and I believe that we ought to do so as well.

    I think it is possible to take an imaginative Christ-centered approach to the whole Bible without going overboard. We can do  while being faithful to the original literary forms and without insisting that our imaginative reading of Christ into any passage is the one and only correct interpretation of that passage’s meaning. Perhaps I will write more about this when I have time.

    By and large, I think that we (our UBF messengers and Bible teachers, myself included) need to learn how to approach the Scripture with greater freedom and  pastoral imagination. In the early days of UBF, Dr Lee exercised great imagination in drawing insights out of the Bible that were fresh and relevant to the young people of his generation.  The specific sayings that he drew out were repeated by others over and over and eventually morphed into UBF principles which many began to think of as eternal and universal. I think we would do well to de-emphasize those principles for a while and go back to the actual practice  of drawing out imaginative Christ-centered teachings that are Spirit-filled and relevant to the current generation.

    Various books by Eugene Peterson (author of The Message) are excellent resource for developing pastoral imagination. A while ago, Sharon recommended Reversed Thunder which applies pastoral imagination to the book of Revelation. I haven’t finished that book yet, but what I have read so far is really, really good. BTW: I recently asked Mother Barry if she knew Eugene Peterson because they studied at New York Biblical Seminary at about the same time. She said yes, she remembers him being there in the class one year ahead of hers.

  2. Thanks, Joe. Yes, Mother Barry told me recently that Eugene Peterson was in her class.

    I agree that we can over-allegorize the Bible to “see” Jesus out of context with what the OT authors wrote. For instance, a Bible teacher asks, “What climbs trees and eats bananas?” The Bible student says, “It sounds like a monkey, but I’ll say that it is Jesus!”

    I don’t think this applies to the way we have studied the Bible in UBF over the last 50 years, for we have inclined quite strongly in the opposite direction, I think. As you said, we have primarily used the Bible as moral and ethical imperatives and as principles to be followed and emulated “absolutely”: You must live a life of mission (Gen 1:28). You must be a blessing (Gen 12:2-3).  You must feed sheep (John 21:15-17), and make disciples (Matt 28:19). You must marry by faith. Etc. Surely, these imperatives are not unbiblical. But in and of themselves they are quite divorced from the redemptive work of Christ. By themselves, if repeatedly over-emphasized again and again, they even obscure Christ.

    I might add this about God’s covenant with Abraham in Gen 15:1-21: The point I had always made is that “you must believe as Abraham believed God’s promise, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:5-6). Then it is  our faith or our believing in God  that becomes our work, our righteousness, and the determining factor of us being blessed. But the key to seeing Christ is that it was not Abraham’s faith in God that sealed the covenant, but God keeping the covenant at great cost to himself that kept the covenant, for Abraham and us still repeatedly sin and fail to be faithful to God, even after becoming Christians.

  3. Thanks for this article. It’s great to see that some people don’t see Genesis as a book of rules one has to follow. It always seems weird being told that I had to do the things you mentioned (I especially have a problem with the marriage by faith thing). It’s quite liberating to see that just because these things happened in the Genesis I HAVE to do them. I recall an example from The Naked Gospel regarding Abraham and Isaac. If I remember correctly, the author agreed that there are some things that keep us from God that we need to get out of the way. However, the author looked at Abraham’s example and said something like “how many times did Abraham have to sacrifice Isaac? ONCE! He didn’t have to continually put the knife to his throat on the alter every time his loyalty to God was in question. Same deal with the woman who helped the Israelite spies, she wasn’t asked to do it over and over again, and she wasn’t even Jewish.   You might disree with  that author  based on your analysis of Gen 22.

  4. I believe the OT does  teach us some rules and  principles to be followed, but they have to be drawn out very carefully in light of the NT and the big themes of the Bible.

    Not long ago, I heard a senior leader in our church essentially claiming that because there are examples of “good” marriages in the OT that were arranged by others (e.g., Isaac and Rebekah, Ruth and Boaz) that our church should, as a matter of policy, arrange the marriages of all our young people. Arrangement of marriage has been found in many cultures throughout history and is never prohibited in the Bible. But nor is it commanded. If it were intended to be a universal principle, wouldn’t some statement to that effect be found in the OT and in the NT? Similar lines of thinking have been used to support polygamy (the great servant of God, King David, had multiple wives), human slavery, enforcement of a Sabbath rest on Saturday, prohibitiing women from speaking in church, etc.

    If we want to draw out from the Bible rules and principles for modern Christian  life, we had better be sure that we know how to do this properly, otherwise we may be just projecting our own opinions, cultural values and prejudices on the biblical text.  

    Memo to  all you energetic Bible scholars and aspiring UBFriends authors out there: How about writing an article about this?

    • I’ve been thinking of writing something about marriage, but I think it’s just going to be a list of compaints. So, if I can’t intelligently draft an article that is really an article and not a list of complaints it would be better if I don’t do it at all. I wonder if that would be a touchy subject considering there are a lot of arranged marriages in UBF.

    • Henoch

      Oscar, i agree with you. I did have some very intense discussion on this topic with some people who kind of promote the idea that the story of Isaac and Rebecca is the embodiment of the ideal of marriage by faith.  
      Ben made a very good point in his article. In addition to what he wrote, one should keep in mind that a major part of Genesis is OT narrative. As such, certain exegetical rules can be very helpful in avoiding abstruse interpretations. In case of Isaac and Rebecca, the narrator is simply giving us an account of what happened. Period. The narrative is primarily given to us to teach us history not to teach us moral lessons. Thus, in Genesis 24 we are mainly being told of what happened. We are not necessarily commanded to exactly follow their example.

    • Henoch

      Joe, that article would definitely ignite some serious discussion… :) This is something what we Germans would call a “powder-keg”.

    • David L

      Great idea about the marriage article, it will generate more comments than mine! Matter of fact I hope it does, because that was one of the reasons I left UBF…LOTS of shepherds tried to break me and my (then future) wife up. Someone write it!

  5. James Allen Rabchuk

    Ben, I think you’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
    Paul said “So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them. 12 And he is also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.”
    And later, he said, “Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.”[c] He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.”
    Abraham’s faith in God and in God’s promises are an example to us. It is through having the faith of Abraham that we are called his children, and receive the privilege to share in his inheritance. Of course, his inheritance is Christ, and so is ours. But we are called to walk in Abraham’s faith. We learn from him about what faith that saves us really is.

    • Hey Jim, good to hear from ya.

      Hebrews chap 11 presents Abraham’s offering of Isaac as an expression of gospel faith. There are many examples of faith in that chapter which, in  one sense, are to be emulated. In light of the overall message of Hebrews, they are examples of placing one’s life and trust in the promise of God and in the person of Jesus Christ.

      The specifics of how to  emulate Abraham  are determined by God and what he calls us to do; that will vary from one person to another. But the example to be emulated is the example of faith in Christ alone. To study Gen 22 and then, solely on the basis of that, decide to search for one’s Isaac and place it on the altar is not wise, in my opinion, because that might not be the expression of faith that God is asking from us at that time.  

    • Hi Jim, Great to hear from you! For sure, laws, commands, and faith are examples that Christians can emulate. But laws, commands, and faith (which are good) are not the point of the Bible. Jesus is (Jn 5:39; Lk 24:27,44). Also, laws, commands and faith can easily become our “works” of righteousness, or our badge of honor, or our means of merit.
      Also, faith is ultimately a gift of God and the work of God (Jn 8:29). Faith is not a human merit which warrants God’s blessing, but a gift of God’s undeserving grace. So, the faith of Abraham, is ultimately not the faith to be like Abraham, or to live like Abraham, but faith in Christ.
      How then do we plant faith in Christ when we teach the story of Abraham? I think that it is not to teach the Bible by focusing on man: Abraham or me, what Abraham did or what I must do. Instead, focus on God who took the initiative to call Abraham, to make a covenant with him, and to provide for him and lead all the days of his life, all at great cost to Himself.

    • Oops, sorry the correct reference is not John 8:29, but John 6:29. In my sinful mind, I was spontaneously excusing and justifying myself that I was JUST 2 chapters off! O, how much do I need Jesus…

  6. GerardoR

    Dr. Ben, have you read Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard? It is a philosophical meditation on the sacrifice of Isaac. Not my favorite book but many people have greatly enjoyed it throughout the years.

    • Gerardo, No, I’ve not. But is the phrase “despair, the sickness unto death” from the book? Do share a brief synopsis.

    • I read Fear and Trembling and it was good, well, what I could understand of it was good anyway. I love how he wrestles with what he thinks is going through Abrahams mind. It really makes you think, especially when you hear someone say something like “Abraham offered Isaac to God without hesistation so we should try to be like Abraham.”

    • For sure, Abraham went “through hell” in offering Isaac.  Surely, he succeeded only by God’s help (1 Pet 4:11), and as God worked mysteriously and majestically in him (Phil 2:12-13).
      In this article, I wanted to suggest that there is surely more than 1 way to study Genesis. Mainly, I hoped that through Genesis, it would help us think about Jesus, until His grace is sufficient for us (2 Cor 12:9), instead of predominantly thinking, “You better offer your Isaac to God, if you want God to bless you…”, or “You better struggle with God…” or “You better make a vow…” etc.

  7. Hello Dr. Ben! Thank you for your article. Genesis is my favorite book in the bible. It is because it opened my heart and mind of who I am, why I am here on earth and above all, who is God in our life. I started to know Christ personally in my life thru the book of Genesis. From here, I’ve learned that God is a creator God, the Almighty and powerful God who created me with a purpose and mission (Gen 1:28). I’ve learned that God loves us and wants to use us in his plan no matter how sinful and separated from God we are, His salvation is available.
    Genesis not only tells us that the world was created by God. More important, it tells us who God is. It reveals God’s personality, his character and his plan for his creation. It also reveals God’s deepest desire: to relate to and have fellowship with the people he created.
    I agree that Genesis is all about Jesus. It’s all about the great love and grace of God to all of us. And I kept sharing this when I am teaching the book of Genesis. And even I am sharing other books of the Bible; I love going back to Genesis and relate the topic to it. For everything, above and below, visible and invisible… everything got started in Him and finds its purpose in Him (Col 1:16).
    And about marriage by faith, for me it is not an arrangement but a prayer and faith to God. Here we can see thru faith how God was working and leading. And it is in us to have courage to make a decision of faith. Rebekah is a woman of faith. God bless her and her family because of her decision of faith. I’m not saying that God will not bless other marriages. But nowadays, we see the higher percentage of broken family. Why? There were many reasons and I believe that we know what those are. For the past 16 years, I’ve seen many woman of God who made a decision of faith to give their marriage to God. And truly, I was encouraged when I saw their God centered marriage life. And when I trusted God and gave my marriage for Him, God blessed me with a man of God… a man of mission. Now, we were united as one, working together and serving God’s flocks by the grace of God.

    • Hannah, thank you for participating in this discussion. Just to clarify: When I brought up the subject of marriage, my intention was not to argue for or against the specific practices seen in UBF. That would be a very helpful discussion topic, but it was not what I was talking about.

      My point was this. If we want to use the Genesis narrative to draw out moral teachings, principles, and examples to be emulated — whether we are talking about how to marry or any other question of  how  Christians ought to be living in modern times  —  then we need to understand how to do this properly in light of the author’s intention and in light of the Bible as a whole.

      I’m glad that God blessed your marriage by faith. He blessed mine too. But that is not the issue. The issue is: Do you really think that we are supposed to  interpret Genesis 22 as a pattern for modern Christian courtship?  Is that a correct way to use the Bible text? Are there problems and dangers with taking that approach to the Bible, especially the Old Testament?

      As Bible teachers, we ought to understand how to properly handle the word of truth.

    • Abraham Nial
      Abraham Nial

      Are you guys talking about Genesis 22 or 24? From the context it seems to be Gen 24.

    • Yes, it’s 24, not 22. Thanks for correcting my typo.

  8. David L

    Martin Luther said, “There are usually held to be four senses of Scripture. They are called the literal sense, the tropological, the allegorical, and the anagogical, so that Jerusalem, according to the literal sense, is the capital city of Judea; tropologically, a pure conscience or faith; allegorically, the church of Christ; and anagogically, the heavenly fatherland…”

    Before Luther, Thomas Aquinas taught a little ditty: “The lettter shows us what God and our Fathers did; the allegory shows us where our faith is hid; the moral meaning gives us rules of daily life; the anagogy shows us where we end our strife!”

    During the times of Origen and Augustine, the  middle ages and shortly after, the use of allegory and other hermenutical structures was common place, but from most of the magisterial reformers to the puritans, a more literal hermenutic for understanding the Bible was adopted. Hope that helps some!

  9. Thanks, Dave. I think that Luther’s 4 senses, and Aquinas’ ditty shows the diversity in which God uses Scripture to open our hearts to him. How does the Reformers and Puritans  “more literal hermenutic for understanding the Bible” contrast or differ from what Luther or Aquinas taught? Do you have a good (prefarably short online) read on this?

    • David L

      I will try to find a good online read on this, but in the meantime, a FANTASTIC book that deals not only with this topic but many others, is “Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word” by Doug Sweeney from Trinity. Easy to read and profoundly interesting, Sweeney not only covers the history of hermenutics, but also Edwards’ take on it all. Great stuff!

    • David L

      P.S. have you been reading J.C. Ryle? Definitely pick up any of his books, you will be edified and encouraged, and exhorted to be a better Christian for sure

  10. Joseph Ramirez

    “God takes the full responsibility for the fulfillment of the covenant all by himself, even when we fail to keep our part of the deal. Whenever we sin, it is God, not us, who becomes like the butchered and sliced animal.”

    As a college student in a secular school, I  can say that staying on the right path is one of the most difficult struggles students face.   I tend to blame my weakness and think about God’s forgiveness and faithfulness when I sin.   As a Christian, I find it depressing to think about God being “butchered and sliced” when I sin. I hope that I can grow to be a prayerful and walker in the light.

  11. Thanks, Joseph. Yeah, the fact that God suffers the most whenever I sin, is hard for me to constantly face. But when God enables me to do so, I experience the “power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16), a power beyond myself, a power greater than all my sins. Yet, I still sin.
    I told a Christian friend earlier today, “If God chose you, do you realize that you will not be able to sin yourself out of your salvation, and out of heaven.”
    I also qualified this by saying, “But if you use this truth as an excuse to keep on sinning, then you should seriously question whether or not you are saved in the first place.”
    Yes, it is depressing but true that God was “butchered and sliced” on the Cross in my place. Yet, He did so, willingly out of a love that I might not be able to fully fathom even through out eternity!

  12. To help us to see Christ from the OT, David Murray (OT professor) says that Bible teachers need to be clear on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:
    1. They were saved by obeying the law.
    2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.
    3. They were saved by a general faith in God.
    4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

    Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there.

    This is the link: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/05/11/tgc-asks-about-cautions-for-christ-centered-ot-teaching/

  13. Kevin Jesmer

    I love Genesis. I am currnetly doing a series on biographies of people in Genesis.   People can relater to Genesis. There is just the right amount of lessons ..around 30…to study with someone for one school year, and finish. As I study Genesis I focus on who God is and then principles for Christian living. I bring out Jesus whenever I can. As for Genesis 22 I think it is a great viable choice. When I was 22, I first met Jesus. Before that I was a hedonistic student with no hope of establishing “God pleasing” relationship with a woman. When I studied Gen 24, I was amazed at the sincere relationship and commitment Isaac and Rebekah had together. Thier faith and commitment and purity was astounding to me. I had hope for myself to marry such a faithful woman. During that Bible study I started to cry. God bless me to marry Julie in a very similar way as Isaac married. I have been so very blessed. To say that this is not a modern marriage choice is wrong. Is dating among the members of a young adult fellowship the only way? That is equally as dagmatic. I also think that there are those out their who can not play the dating game. What are they to do? I think there is a marriage crisis where people are getting 40+ and still not marrying. All options should be left open…..

  14. Abraham Nial
    Abraham Nial

    Hi Dr Ben! Thanks for the article. For a decade I thought that the point of Genesis was Jesus and our redemption. But now I think that it is much more than what I had understood.

    To get what the point of Genesis is, I wrestled with what God was thinking before Genesis 1:1. I found the answer only after I begin to see a big picture through the Book of Revelation. I believe that we don’t really get the point of Genesis or for that matter any other books in the Bible until we begin to see the book of Revelation. So, I no longer see the point of Genesis as redemption but restoration of all things under the leadership of Jesus. And the good/positive things in Genesis seem to be prophetic pictures in smaller scale of the things to come at the end of Revelation in unimaginably much larger scale.

    So, what was God thinking before Genesis 1:1? Why did He do all that He did in Genesis or has been doing throughout the history of the planet earth? Did He not plan well before Genesis 1:1? Did He make a mistake only to struggle later on to somehow restore what He had planned? I think that poor planning and mistakes are simply not possible with the smart, most intelligent and all powerful God who knows the end from the beginning. So, unless we see what God saw about the end before the beginning, we fail to see the beauty, majesty, power, love and wisdom of God. God the Father wanted to raise up a family (sons and daughters) for Himself, while raising up an equally yoked Bride   for His Son, Jesus to govern the planet with Jesus. This is a big subject and means a lot of things. But precisely this is what God achieves at the end of Revelation and there has been no bigger event and celebration for this achievement.

    So, when God created Adam, he gave them (corporate Adam or the human race)  dignity (His image) and dominion (authority to rule) as a prophetic picture of the Church who will reflect God’s image and share in Jesus’ governmental responsibility for the planet earth in the age to come (Rev 3:21; Rev 20:4). When God created Eve for intimacy without shame, He was looking forward to the spotless and blameless Church’s in perfect unity with Jesus (Rev 19:8). We see the Garden of Eden as a small part of the earth in Genesis. We see the Garden of Eden condition extending to whole earth under the leaders of Jesus and the saints in the Millennium (Rev 22:1-5). We see God dwelling together with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We see the throne of God coming down to the earth at the end of the Millennium in Revelation (Rev 21:3). God let’s the serpent in the Garden of Eden to ensure voluntary love (First and the Great Commandment Mt 22:37,38), God let’s Satan once more in at the end of the Millennium to prove that the whole earth is in voluntary bridal love (fulfilling the First and the Great Commandment) with His Son by the end of the Millennium, and the Serpent is thrown into the fire lake of burning sulfur for ever (Rev 20:7-10).

    Everything that God does to men and with men after the Fall is the picture of preparing the Bride. Enoch, Noah etc serve as a prophetic picture God involved in men’s affairs and men’s response to God’s loving kindness in a fitting way. Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac in Genesis 22 not only shows God’s sacrificing His Son, but also shows how an ordinary man was prepared to love God more than anything else,   and plants hope for how each of us God will prepare to love Him in a way that fulfills God’s deepest desire revealed to us through the First and the Great commandment. The story of Isaac and Rebekah is surely a historical account of two person’s lives, but in Rebekah’s extravagant response is hidden the prophetic picture of how the nameless servant (Holy Spirit? Whose only mission is to advertise Jesus and glorify the Father) on a mission to search and to prepare the Bride and lead her through a journey of wilderness back to the promised land where the wedding will take place (Rev 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; 22:17). In UBF we have the tendency of hero worship, so we try to fit our lives into the lives of those in whom God was working, rather than learning to see how God is working in our still evolving unique stories. We need to learn to distinguish between laws and principles. Laws are universal whereas principles are circumstantial, can vary and have exceptions. If we draw principles from Genesis and make them the only possibilities for our Christian living, it sounds not in line with the whole counsel of the Scriptures.

    So to me, the point of Genesis, especially when I see through the prophetic lense, is not just redemption but reversal of all things that went wrong (sin, curse, death, dominion lost etc) and full restoration of God’s ruling by extending the garden of Eden condition to the whole planet earth and earth becoming God’s governmental center under the leadership of Jesus in partnership with His equally yoked Bride, the believers in the age to come.

    For anyone interested, not directly on this topic, but a helpful one is Mike Bickle’s (IHOP, Kansas City) latest sermon on The Authority of the Believers : http://mikebickle.org/resources/resource/3061

    • Hi Abraham, thank you for this very thoughtful comment. Like you, I believe that we  ought to interpret any passage from the Bible — including Genesis 1-2 — from the standpoint of God’s grand redemptive plan as revealed in the whole Bible.

      I do not want anyone to mis-interpret your remarks. So let me offer an alternative explanation which, I believe, is consistent with what you are saying. If this is not what you meant, please correct me.

      The book of Revelation is not a key or secret code  that unlocks  the hidden secrets  in the rest of the Bible. Revelation  is a faithful summary of the  whole Bible. The theme that you describe, the new heaven and the new earth, is indeed the great hope of the church and of all humankind. Jesus didn’t die on the cross merely to take  our  punishment upon himself so that we wouldn’t be punished. He did it because he wants to spend eternity with us, reigning over the earth with us in the manner that God originally intended. The bodily resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit  upon the church are  the great signs, the downpayment,  of this coming glorious age.

      The apostle Paul taught this very explicitly. “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph 1:8-10).

      One does not need to lean heavily on Revelation to come the same conclusion that you did.  Other parts of the Bible that point us in this direction are Isaiah  40-55, Romans 8, Ephesians 1 and Hebrews 2. And, of course,  the teachings of Jesus himself which can be summarized in the phrase “the kingdom of God.” I see this vision  all throughout  the Psalms, the Penteteuch and the major and minor Prophets.

      Nor does one need to hold to any particular school of eschatology to believe as you do. Personally, I am now leaning away from the premillennial interpretations and toward the views of those scholars (e.g., Gordon Fee, Eugene Peterson) who see  Revelation as an epistle written by John to the churches in  the style  of apocalyptic poetry, speaking of the spiritual realities of the church at the turn of the first century. Yet the last two chapters are indeed a vision of the future that we all hold as the great culmination of God’s redemptive plan.

      Our  future vision is a Christ-centered one. Jesus (the God-man) is at the center of the new creation, as the one simultaneously worshiping and being worshiped. Revelation, like the rest of the Bible, points us to worship the crucified and risen Lord. And it points us to serve him in this present world not to bring about his reign but to show the world that he is already reigning and that reign will be fully revealed in the future. (The word apocalyse doesn’t mean destruction; it means unveiling what is presently hidden.)

      At  a recent Bible-reading retreat, one of the members of my church pointed out the many amazing similarities between Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. I could list them here, but I won’t; I will  just challenge all  you energetic  Bible scholars out there to read the passages again and find them for yourself.

    • Abraham Nial
      Abraham Nial

      Exactly, Joe. I also view  the book of Revelation as a summary fulfillment of the whole Bible. Of course in my zeal I drew heavily from Revelation, but  eschatology and  the kingdom of heaven  are discussed  in more than 150 chapters throughout the Pentateuch, Psalms, Poetry, History, Prophetic books, and NT.  Not making any sincere effort to understand them means throwing away a lot of the Bible passages and can only be justified by symbolizing these chapters.

  15. Thanks, Abraham, Joe, for your scholarly comments, which does expose my inadequacy, which is very good. I agree that a major trajectory and flow of the Bible goes from Creation (Gen 1-2) to New Creation (Rev 21-22).
    I think that a simple yet great way to present the Gospel is with 4 words: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration. The entire OT, including Genesis, contains all 4 of this, at least in seed form. So, this should be addressed to make our teaching of Genesis a Christian Bible study that leads to and centers on Christ, through whom all prophesies and promises, all themes and trajectories, center on and are fulfilled.
    Otherwise, our Genesis Bible study might be predominantly imperative driven, one which focuses on man, rather than God, and on what man must do, rather than on what God is doing.
    One illustration that has been repeatedly mentioned by several people is that since Isaac married Rebekah “by faith,” then this is the way we should all marry in UBF. Such a teaching could of course compell one to trust God with their marriage, which many have done, including myself. But such a focus is simplistic and reductionistic, and it  is primarily morally and ethically driven. Though the Bible contains moral and ethical teachings (similar to all other religions in the world), the  point and thrust of the whole Bible including Genesis is Christ, and it should lead to Christ, not to rules, not to principles, not to morality, not to tradition, not to the way we all should marry, etc. Don’t you think?

    • David L

      Ben, another wonderful book on what you are talking about is “Human Nature in its 4 Fold State” by the puritan author Thomas Boston. It goes into great depth regarding Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.

    • David Bychkov

      law (rules, principles, morality, tradition etc.) except others could be helpful for 4th part – Restoration. Could I talk about sanctification as a part of Restoration? So In Christ we have reason to fight for sanctification – to prepare ourselves as pure Bride for him, don’t you think?

    • Thanks, Dave. How do you find the time to read as much as you do?
      I love these 4 words of Boston: Primitive Integrity, Entire Depravity, Begun Recovery, and Consummate Happiness Or Misery.

      4 other similar words: Innocence, Sin, Grace, Glory.

    • The last comment was for Dave L. This is for David B.
      The way one truly experiences sanctification is through remembering/renewing our justification. What I think we tend to do, often without realizing it, is to rely on our sanctification for our justification, by depending on how well I am performing as a Christian, rather than to remember the gospel first. Ultimately our sanctification is a response to our justification, a response of gratitude to the grace of Jesus.
      See if this short quote makes sense: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/note.php?note_id=10150171802008941

    • David L

      I just like books I suppose! However, my wife says she will kill me if I buy even one more! (Hopefully I will get home before her to intercept the Amazon package I have coming today…getting Ray Ortlund’s preaching  commentary on Isaiah, Oh Boy!!!)

    • Abraham Nial
      Abraham Nial

      I think God is happy with “marriage by FAITH” as well as “marriage by FACE.” :) At least in UBF both sound very similar.

      I hope someone will someday write an article for UBFriends on “The point of  godly marriage.”

    • Robert Bhatra

      Hi Ben. You   made a striking point here. If we just draw moral and ethical teachings from Bible and leave out the deepest thing or the truth that God wanted to teach us we are heading towards a wrong way. More importantly we are not led to Christ but led to be a christian who observes moral teachings, traditions and rules.
      I thank Joe for begging a thoughtful article in understanding the OT, especially Genesis. I thank all who thoughtfully commented on this article. It is important for us not just to see some heroes of faith but to see what God is revealing in the shadow of their lives.
      the question you raised “How were Old Testament believers saved?” is an important one. If we miss the fourth one we miss the whole thing. Only when we get to know the big picture that God showed in a shadow in Genesis we will understand the true and eternal plan of God.
      I thank you for all who thoughtfully commented on the blog. For last couple of years God has been miraculously guiding me into the deepest truth in the Bible. The marriage of Isaac and Rebekah does not just reveal marry by faith but the picture of our voluntary love for our bridegroom Jesus.

  16. Welcome, Robert.
    It’s so easy to judge someone else on the basis of what I am doing. For example, if I stress “marriage by faith” (which is really not unbiblical) I am basically being condescending and self-righteous toward anyone else who I think will not “marry by faith,” based on what I expect.
    You can apply this to anything else: “going fishing,” “writing testimony,” “feeding sheep,” etc.
    Studying the Bible by focusing on rules, laws, principles, ethics, traditions, expectations, etc, has a great chance of raising self-righteous Pharisees, who basically think that they are better than everyone else.
    Grace (which is always undeserved) is never communicated when one emphasizes something we must do. True obedience can only come from Grace, and not from demanding obedience or compliance.

  17. I have been increasingly accused on “letting people do whatever they want.” Reading my last comment might confirm that for some people. For the record, I am “pro-obedience to Christ.”
    What I am against is the demand for obedience without clearly communicating the gospel. Sadly, what many have expressed is the power play and the authoritarianism of the one demanding or expecting obedience. Also, when we study Genesis to emphasize that we should be like Abraham, that really does not communicate the gospel, which is always free grace, apart from works, and apart from law.
    Similarly, if we say that we must only marry by faith like Isaac and Rebekah, it really does not reveal the primacy of Grace and the Gospel. Only the gospel leads to true faith, which can then rightly result in marriage by faith, which centers on Christ and the Cross.

  18. Brian Karcher
    Brian Karcher

    Ben, I agree that Genesis is about Jesus.   You mentioned some passages and examples. I think there are more.  

    For example, the Joseph story gives much insight into how some people have been treated.   Joseph’s brothers threw him into a well.   They couldn’t kill him directly as they wanted.

    Genesis 37:2 reads: “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.  Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.”

    Joseph courageously brought something negative to his father, Jacob.   The rest of chapter 37 reads all too familiar to people like me, and dare I say it, like the 13 families who have been forced out of UBF from Toledo since 1990.

     19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

     21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

     23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

     25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.

    Read the rest of chapter 37.   Am I just delusional?   Has anyone else felt like Joseph being thrown into an empty cistern and then sold off, disappearing in another country?

  19. Hi Brian, your comment caught me off guard when you mentioned “the 13 families who have been forced out of UBF from Toledo since 1990.” It’s really hard to focus after reading that!

  20. Brian Karcher

    Ben, I am passionate these days, and sometimes write things that are a bit too personal for this blog. However, it is true.  Two of the 13 families had some other major issues, so perhaps they were not “forced out”. However it has happened, every 5 years or so.  

    This time however, I have not sat by idly, watching my good friends and good Christians hurt so much. This time I have spoken up and will continue to do so.    The unhealthy pattern started happening again, so I decided to “stand in the gap”.

    I pray that it may not happen again.  I pray earnestly that the people reading this blog may hear about Toledo UBF before it becomes like India, instead of hearing about it after the fact, like we heard from Abraham Nial’s comments.

    This is not the place to discuss such things in detail, but I ask for much prayer support right now.

  21. Hi Admin, I was wondering if Ref Tagger has been taken off, because of the recent virus? Can it be reinstalled without harm to the website?

  22. Brian Karcher
    Brian Karcher

    Hi Ben, we’ll check into it. Probably we can install it.

  23. Hi Brian, This, I think, is the RefTagger code:

    <!– RefTagger from Logos. Visit http://www.logos.com/reftagger. This code should appear directly before the tag. –> Logos.ReferenceTagging.lbsBibleVersion = “ESV”; Logos.ReferenceTagging.lbsLinksOpenNewWindow = true; Logos.ReferenceTagging.lbsLogosLinkIcon = “dark”; Logos.ReferenceTagging.lbsNoSearchTagNames = [ “h2”, “h3”, “h3” ]; Logos.ReferenceTagging.lbsTargetSite = “biblia”; Logos.ReferenceTagging.tag();

    Can you reinstall it? I think Mary installed it the first time.

  24. The first few minutes of this sermon explains how many preachers have taught Genesis (wrongly) by focusing on secondary things, thus missing the main point of Genesis: http://liberatenet.org/2012/09/06/in-the-beginning-grace/


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