How to Read Genesis

Part 1: Genesis 1–11


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application. 

The book of Genesis talks about the beginning of life on earth and the birth of God's people, the Israelites. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the story of Genesis, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this first video about Genesis 1–11. 




Observation asks the basic question: who, what, when, and where. It examines the book at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: The main characters in the second half of Genesis are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. 


Observe: As you watched the video, what observations did you make about Genesis 1–11? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters.)
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Where an observation determines what the book says, interpretation takes the next step to find what the book means. We've asked what the book says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Even though Abraham and his family continued to mess up, God gave them second chances. (Interpretation) God extends grace and mercy to sinful people.  


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of Genesis 1–11? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes.)
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Contextualization looks at how the book fits into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Example: The theme of God’s plan to redeem His sinful people ties into the story of Israel as they had judges, kings, and prophets. It also connects to the New Testament story, when God sent Jesus to bring His plan to fruition. 


Contextualize: What themes does Genesis 1–11 seem to establish? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this book applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Example: Since God gives grace to sinful people, I don’t have to despair when I catch myself lying to my boss when I come in late, spreading rumors about someone at church, or putting binge-watching a TV show before my family. I can confess my sin to God, come clean to my boss and the people at church, and apologize to my family, all because of God’s grace. 

I can also take specific action to replace sin with obedience, such as unsubscribing from my TV provider if I struggle with binge-watching.


Apply: How does the truth from this book affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in chapters 1–11 this week?
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As you finish this first section on Genesis, thank God for how He’s speaking to you so far. Ask Him to continue to teach you as you dive into the next part of Genesis. 

 
Part 2: Genesis 12–50


The previous section of this post focused on Genesis 1–11. This session covers the story of Abraham and his family in Genesis 12–50. As with the last section, the goal of this post is to help to navigate the story of Genesis, see what it teaches us and how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and, finally, to apply it to our lives.



Now that you have an overview of  Genesis in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Genesis. Read the call of Abraham in Genesis 12:1–4. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Genesis 12:1–4.

Genesis 12:1-4 (ESV)

The Call of Abram

1Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

4So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Remember that observation asks the basic who, what, where, and when questions. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. 

Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Genesis 12:1–4? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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We've asked what these verses say about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What do they mean? What is the main message of Genesis 12:1–4? How does it connect with the main message of Genesis? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 

Contextualize: What themes does Genesis 12:1–4 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Genesis? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible?
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Application considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.

Apply: How does the truth from this passage affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some practical ways you can live out the truths found in these verses this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video. 

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Genesis, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Genesis this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice.



To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.