Study Guide

Book of Genesis Themes

  • Creation

    In Genesis, God created the world.

    And then he did it again.

    And again?

    Yep, creation occurs and reoccurs in different forms throughout Genesis. There are—count 'em—two creation accounts, in Genesis 1:1-2:4 and 2:4-25. Then, after some pretty mucky beginnings, God sort of re-creates things in Chapter 9, when Noah and his family repopulate the world after the flood.

    You might be asking, which creation story is the real one? We'll shoot one right back at you: does it matter? By providing three origin stories, Genesis portrays the world in three different styles or modes or fonts or keys... you get the point. Each version makes its own music, and it's up to us to appreciate the symphony.

    Questions About Creation

    1. How do the two creation accounts at the opening of Genesis (1:1-2:4; 2:4-25) compare? Which one is more exciting?
    2. Which is more relatable?
    3. If the two creation stories are different, how can they be understood as literal stories about God's creation of the world? And if they aren't literal, then what's the point?
    4. How does the story of the flood (6-9) echo and allude to the two stories of creation (1-2)? Why the mirroring?
    5. What is different about life before and after the flood?
  • Sibling Rivalry

    Remember the first time you called your brother a weenie? Well, Genesis will make you feel like that was the nicest thing in the world. See, the siblings in Genesis skip straight to murder, crime, deception, and revenge. But here's the thing. All this stuff is pretty nasty, sure. But it's also God's will. How do we reconcile this?

    Oh, and can we invoke God's will next time we give our little sister a wedgie?

    Questions About Sibling Rivalry

    1. Are there any brothers and sisters in Genesis who don't want to kill each other? Why are the issues so often between siblings? Why not between parents and children?
    2. Which siblings prosper? How do they gain an edge? 
    3. Are parents ever guilty of egging on these rivalries? 
    4. To what degree are these rivalries provoked by God?
  • Infertility

    The women of Genesis need babies, and they need babies bad. Barrenness plagues Sarah, Rachel, and Rebekah—and a matriarch without kids just ain't gonna fly. Fortunately for these ladies, God usually intervenes. You might remember that, more than once, God promises numerous offspring to Abraham and his descendants. And with all this barrenness, it just won't happen. So God steps in, once again taking care of another pesky human obstacle to the divine will.

    Questions About Infertility

    1. What options do women have if they are unable to produce children?
    2. What is the attitude toward women who are unable to bear children? Who's behind this attitude? Men? Women? Or both?
    3. What is the role of the deity in regards to barrenness? Does he cause it? Cure it? Both?
    4. How does surrogacy work? What problems does it pose? What are the differences between surrogacy as it is practiced in Genesis and as it is practiced in the contemporary world?
  • Covenants

    You've heard about making a deal with the devil. Well, how about making a deal with God? Plenty of figures in Genesis know all about that—Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob all enter into a covenant with God. They have to do certain things, like circumcise the masses or walk according to God's ways, and in return God gives them all kinds of SWAG: land, offspring, and divine protection. Don't get too excited. It's easier said than done.

    Questions About Covenants

    1. What's similar and what's different about the various contracts that God makes with each individual in Genesis? Are there any covenants that seem unique?
    2. Which characters try to haggle with God? Are they successful? 
    3. Does God ever fail to hold up the divine end of the deal? 
    4. How can we compare the various contracts that humans make with each other in Genesis to God's contracts with humans?
  • Lies and Deceit

    That sneaky little serpent isn't the only one lying in Genesis. Pretty much all of the patriarchs in this book know how to tell a good fib. And usually, their lies pay off. Does God want them to lie? Is lying is just a means to an end? And wait a second—isn't "thou shalt not lie" (kind of) one of the Ten Commandments? How do we reconcile all of this?

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Do any of the women in the text lie? Do their lies have different motivations than the men's?
    2. Are any these lies just there spice things up? You know, to get a good laugh? Is there kind of a pleasure or joy in hearing about someone's clever ruse?
    3. When does deceit further God's plans? Oh, and is this cool?
    4. Does the text go so far as to valorize lying?