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The Bible Book (Big Ideas Simply Explained)

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Learn more about the ideas and beliefs key to the teachings of the most widely printed religious book of all time, in this perfect introduction to The Bible. The Bible Book features breakdowns of some of the most well-known passages ever written from The Bible. Looking at more than 100 of the most important Old and New Testament stories through beautiful and easy-to-follow spreads, The Bible Book profiles key figures, from Adam and Eve to Peter and Paul, locations, such as Jerusalem and Rome and essential theological theories, like the Trinity, to help create a clear insight into Christianity. Packed with biblical quotes, flowcharts and infographics explaining significant concepts clearly and simply, The Bible Book is perfect for anyone with an interest in religion.

Dorling Kindersley
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Big Ideas Simply Explained
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Tried multiple times to download this book , but it’s not working
26 July 2020 (00:59) 
Plenty of information, plenty of misinformation. None of the authors has read the whole Bible for themselves. What a bunch of amateurs.
03 August 2020 (00:19) 
Learn how to give BJ
Religion is all about giving BJ to your god, in this case you suck on jesus' pp.
21 October 2020 (17:00) 
I love this so much.
01 November 2020 (15:52) 
Daba Dube
Approaches of public policy
Policy can be viewed, according to Prof. Adam A. Anyebe (2018), as “designating behavior of some actor or set of actors, such as an official, or government agency, or legislator, in area of activity such as public enterprise or poverty reduction.” In the same way many scholars put the concept of ‘public policy’ as “whatever a government chooses to do or not to do”. This paper aims at presenting various approaches of Public Policy. Before presenting different approaches formulated by different scholars it is important to conceptualize the terms like: ‘policy’ and “public policy” briefly.
This statement focuses on what is actually done instead of what is only proposed or intended,
and it differentiates a policy from mere decision, which is essentially a choice among competing
alternatives. Public policy, therefore, is that policy developed and implemented by government
agency and officials, though non-state actors and factors may influence its process.
The scope and content of public policies will obviously vary from country to country, depending on the system of government and ideology in force in that country. In most developing countries where so much is expected of government and where government actions transcend virtually all aspects of life of the citizens, the range of public policies is usually very broad and almost unlimited. This study therefore, attempted to overview approaches to the study of public policy, highlighting the strengths and limitations of each approach.
Conceptualizing Policy
Policy is a broad concept that represents several different dimensions with intention to achieve a desired goal that is considered to be in the best interest of all members of society. It can be adopted by an individual or social group (Torjman: September 2005).
Policy-making is a process of articulating and matching actor goals and means or actions which contain both goal(s) and means that are identified, justified and formulated. Though many organizations and actors create policies, “public” policies are made by governments, and the ‘actions’ are government decisions to act or not to act to change, or maintain, some aspect of the status quo.
While policy process has variations, Torjman: (September 2005) describes the following as general steps that are common to its development. These are:
 Selecting the desired objective: - This is the first step in policy formulation and objectives are typically derived from priorities and imperatives set at the political level and can also arise from negotiations with stakeholders and subsequent intergovernmental agreements that effectively incorporate an explicit or implicit agenda.
 Identifying the target of the objective: - Identifying the appropriate targets toward whom the policy should be directed like whether the entire population or group that meet certain criteria.
 Determining the pathway to reach that objective: - This phase has a purpose to determine from a range of options how best to reach the specified objectives. This part of the work is often difficult and contentious.
 Designing the specific program or measure in respect of that goal: - This is the point at which the detailed work and tough decisions actually begin or the considerable design work to be done after the approach has been identified.
 Implementing the measure and assessing its impact: - Implementation is crucial to effectiveness, efficiency and consistency, for a plan that may be well prepared policy shall be properly implemented not to be diverted from its initial intent.
Relative studies of policy-making often focus on specific levels of policy-making, but
accurate descriptions of policy processes and outcomes requires investigation and analysis of the way in which both goals and means are expressed. A policy problem may be strategically framed by policy makers, but it may also be ‘discovered’ through the implementation of a policy or through the list of the social world which are measured and those numbers come to be interpreted and relativized. For instance, within environmental policy, the means of measuring biodiversity, air pollution or the environmental impact of specific energy resources shapes our understanding of environment (Persson, 2014).
Conceptualizing Public Policy
Public policy is viewed by different writers differently, but not contradictory. Considering the definition as a “mere decision”, Anderson, 1997, (cited in Prof. Adam, 2018), defined it as “what government intends to do to achieve certain goals” (Prof. Adam, 2018:8).
Considine also defined public policy as “an action which employs governmental authority to commit resources in support of a preferred value”(Considine,1994).
Interestingly enough, Prof. Adam (2018), stresses that public policy to be perceived as “actual resource allocation presented by projects and programs designed to respond to perceived public problems and challenges requiring government action for their solution” (Prof. Adam, 2018:8). A policy problem appears when attention is directed towards a particular phenomenon that is considered to depart from the desired state of affairs. What problems we see depends on where our attention is directed.
In this case, we can see that public policy determines every aspect of public life including: air pollution, safe water, food sufficiency, production and market, and etc. Since a public policy is a decision carried out to provide guidance for addressing selected public concerns, its development requires the selection of a destination or desired objective within the context of society under concern. To do so, “each possible solution is assessed against a number of factors such as probable effectiveness, potential cost, resources required for implementation, political context and community support” (Torjman (September 2005).
Sherri Torjman (September 2005) categorizes public policy as: substantive vs. administrative policy, Reactive and proactive policy and Current and future policy.
1. Substantive Vs. Administrative Policy
Substantive policy is concerned with the legislation, programs and practices that are written expressly and intended to inform the general public of a county. In other hand, administrative policy is a procedural policy that pertains to conduct of government officials, elected or unelected, as well as government staff in government agencies. Substantive policies include well calculated policy arrangements, like income security, employment initiatives, child care services and social exclusion, the Civil Rights and financial policy that can affect the political system in an important ways. Procedural policies are done with the intention of making substantive policy easier to implement due to clear and concise procedures.
2. Reactive And Proactive Policy
Reactive policy comes when a response to a concern or crisis that must be addressed is necessary. It is designed to bring solutions to the existing problems. Practical examples include: health emergencies and environmental disasters. Whether a certain policy mechanism is the best way to handle a situation or not is a central debate in reactive policy. In contrast, proactive policies are announced and followed through deliberate choice. Though it is useful to deliberately choose a policy and design it to prevent a problem or emergency from occurring, is more challenging in that it is often difficult politically to get lawmakers to commit money and resources to a problem that has not yet occurred. In general, reactive policy development often happens more quickly than proactive policy, as the problems can be pressing or even urgent.
3. Current and future policy
Another way to categorize various policies focused on the issues whether there are currently
on the public agenda or not. While issues already on the public policy agenda often have high profile, issues that are not currently on the public agenda, requires working hard in order to get support and involves gathering evidence that supports the policy.
Public Policy Approaches
Policy is a plan of action, usually based on certain principles and decided on by a body or individual, considered to have authority to administer, manage and control. Policy typically refers to the plan of action clearly prepared by international, regional, national or sub-national inter-governmental or governmental bodies. Public policy does not include the policies of NGOs or private sector organizations because they are not public in nature. Public policy is an action and decision that is taken by those in power in order to achieve certain public objectives. Whether the decision and actions are taken by individual or group, there is no single theory that explains everything. Theoretical approaches for the comparative study of policy processes have been a central issue of concerned bodies since the beginning of public policy as a field of study. In this paper, we look at the theories of public policy including class interest group bureaucratic and political arrangement, Elite theory, Group and group think theory (B. Guy and Philippe: 2016, Mill, 1963).
Elite theory
As society is the mixture of mass and elite group, elite group of society remains in top to have the power in decision making process as well as directing and instructing. Elite group consists of prestigious and “established” leaders (top politicians), important businessmen, high-level civil servants, senior military officers, trade, unions, important voluntary associations, and politically consequential mass movements. Elite theories introduce elites as well as new important subjects like power. This theory suggests that the elite group, which is minority, consisting of members of the economic elite and policy planning networks, holds the most power. According to this theory, the elites are at the top with power and the mass at the down without power. Based on the proposition that power is concentrated in the hand of few elites, elite theory argues that policy making is a process which works to the benefits of these elites. It assumes that elites inform mass opinion on policy issues more than mass influence elite opinion (Ignacio, 2017:2, Tej: 2019). Hence, as it is showed in some literatures, elitism can be divided in to two: economic and political elites.
Economic elites are often originally small-scale private-sector owner-operators whose businesses have expanded rapidly. However, they also include entrepreneurial financiers and managers in the state and collective sectors; as well as managers and developers of rural and suburban enterprises, and enterprises derived from local government activities and 'all-people's' enterprises.
Political elites are individuals who are in the position to make political decisions that have either negative or positive outcome at the national level (Ignacio, 2017). Burton and Highley (2001), cited in Ignacio (2017), defines political elites as “the several thousand persons who hold top positions in large or otherwise powerful organizations and movements and who participate in or directly influence national political decision making.” According to Ignacio (2017), this definition is agreed by due to the reason that small social groups that concentrate national political decision making are the pillar of political elites. This means, political elites have the capacity to either harm or improve the wellbeing of society dramatically. The contribution of political elites is attributed to their role in forming political path that the country to follow by competitive way of forming government. Since they have the opportunity to control the three organs of the state, and manage the institutions that shape the relationship among intrastate, state-society, and civic society. Political elites determine how to use of the state force, the economic policies of the state, and the foreign relations.
According to elitist theory (whether economic or political), public policy is the interest and values of the elites who are in the power of governing and policy flows down-ward to the mass from the elite. This theory undertakes that those who are at the top hold more power, and democracy could be viewed as a form of politics in which elites competes for the people’s vote in order to secure legitimacy for the elite rule. And also the elite theory argues that elites have the tendency of manipulating the mass opinion and feelings (Tej, 2019, Dye, 2004).
Tej (2019) describes that the elite theory recognizes the movement of elite mass conflict which arises from the assumption that organizational elites produce their own interests in goals which are different than those of the masses. But, the issue of elitism which illustrates public policy as a process to benefit the minority elites against the interest of the mass became subject to criticisms.
First, the stability of the system, in which the elites govern the people, depends on elites sharing in a consensus about fundamental values underlying this system, and only policy alternative that fall within shared consensus will be given serious consideration. This idea contradicts that the public policy making is followed only to give advantage to the elite group by giving attention that the elites should have a share with the interest of the people. Thus, the value of elite may be welfare oriented for the public and the responsibility for the welfare rests on the shoulders of the elites rather than masses.
Second criticism forwards that the mass can influence the elites in policy making masses through the popular elections or through the presentation of policy options by political parties. This idea condemns the assumption of elite theory that masses are apathetic and ill-informed about the public policy and elites manipulate mass opinion and sentiments on policy questions.
Group think theory
The group theory begins with the suggestion that interaction among group is the main facts of politics and policy is viewed as a system of forces and pressures that push each other in the formulation of public policy. ‘Public’ is considered as the equilibrium reached in the group struggle in any given circumstance, and the contending factions continually attempt to bring the decision in their favor. In this case, the legislature which oversees the group struggle may ratify the victory of the successful coalition. The role of policy makers, in this theory, is responding to group pressures by negotiating and bargaining among contending demands of powerful groups. Equilibrium, according to this theory, is maintained with the contribution of several forces including: a large covert group in the society which supports the constitutional system in the country, overlapping group membership which helps to maintain the equilibrium by preventing any one group from violating the constitutional system and prevailing values and the group competition in which the power of a group is checked by the power of another. In this theory, individuals in groups are under the pressure to confirm to group norms and perceptions
of information. But the achievement of task is dependent on the cohesiveness of the group (Wright,1970, Tej, 2019).
Institutionalism and Public Policy
Hay (2002), cited in B. Guy and Philippe (2016), reveals that “The social sciences have had a continuing debate over the explanation of phenomena by structure or by agency.” The resurrection of institutional descriptions has required greater thought of structural factors and the role of organizations and institutions in influencing decisions. Public policies represent the choices made by governments and interest groups, non-profit organizations, and the like which are the result of decisions reached by many individuals. But interaction of these individuals is carried out within formal structures based on the rules that govern those structures. Undeniably, these rules are used to define the institution and structures also involve in orderly relations in the policy making process (B. Guy and Philippe, 2016:58).
Institutionalism of policy-making, argues that individuals are rooted in a number of institutions. The individuals acquire the connotations for their political behaviors from the institutional networks and acquire cues for their behavior. The cues can be incentives or impediments. While it can be normative, the institutions provide guides for action and sanctions for individuals who do not follow to the rules set by the institutions (B. Guy and Philippe, 2016:58).
B. Guy and Philippe, (2016:62 – 63) discusses the some common influences of instructions on policy by listing the main characteristics of institutions. I present the discussions as follows:
Institutions Create Stability
Institutions have the capacity to produce equilibrium outcomes at the time instability occurred by underlying conflicts in society. This underlies the importance of clearly defined institutional rules during policy making.
Institutions Have Ideas, or At Least Propagate Ideas
Though institutions are perceived in terms of formal and structural terms, they may also be defined by ideas. Members are required to give commitment to the ideas of institutions for they join institutions because they agree with the ideas, socialized to these ideas after become members.
Institutions Channel Political Pressures
There is an argument that institutions are not free from politics and their functions are not confined to making their decisions according to their own values and rules. It is impossible for any institution within the public sector to function without considering political pressures and political values and they channel political pressures from the society, favoring some and tending to prevent others.
Institutions can be either Formal or Informal
Sometimes the informal institutions are neglected to have important role in policy making but in reality informal structures in society have the capacity to link society with the political system and they are important for both governing and policy-making. Therefore, informal as well as Formal Institutions are required to be considered.
There are various institutional theories in the literature including: Normative Institutionalism, Rational Choice Institutionalism, Historical Institutionalism and Discursive Institutionalism. Understanding that institutionalism has considerable internal variety requires to understand the role that institutions play in explaining policy choices. For the sake of this paper’s objective, I will make a brief explanation of the above listed variety of institutional theories.
Normative Institutionalism
Normative institutionalism is assumed to bring the original call to the discipline to reaffirm the role of institutions and organizations in explaining political life. This type of institutionalism describes institutions through the values, symbols, and even myths that are helpful to control conduct.
The importance of values in the normative approach has a clear connection with public policy and if values fundamentally define the institution, then it is likely to define the policies which are going to be formulated by that institution. The values within a given institution can be procedural which determines how decisions are made; or substantive focusing on the essential elements that the policy should include. Both substantive and procedural values are taught so that the individuals who are members of the institution to serve as rules for their behaviors. Thus, actors according to this approach are directed by a “logic of appropriateness” and behave according to the values they have learned that are suitable for their membership in the institution. This is to justify that what sorts of policy choices are suitable to the institution and the members of the institutions.
Rational Choice Institutionalism
Rational choice institutionalism, as the second version of institutional theory in political science, is being based as it is on the utilitarian logic. The essential supposition of this theory is that individuals follow their self-interest and act it using rational calculations. This implies that members make decisions based on the expected consequences of the decisions rather than on what is taken as appropriate within the given institution.
In the rational choice form of institutionalism, actors come to the institution with the objective to maximize their utilities and their fundamental value is not altered by membership in the institution. According to such individualistic logic, institutions become structures intended to bring certain outcomes by utilizing these drives. And principal-agent models of institutions assume that there is a need to design the institutions to supervise agreement by the agents. Besides, one of the virtues of the rational choice theory to institutionalism is that institutions are comparatively easy to change so that the designers of the institution must do is to alter the rules or incentives and they can expect the conduct of the affiliates of the institution to be changed also. The rational choice institutionalism proposes such a strong supposition; it is not free from adapting critiques (Waterman and Meijer 2004, B. Guy and Philippe, 2016:61).
Historical Institutionalism
In many ways is provided by historical institutionalism provided the most simplistic conception of institutions and their relationship to public policies (Steinmo 2008, B. Guy and Philippe, 2016:58). Here, the basic hypothesis is that once an institution proceeded on a track it is likely to continue on that way unless there are strong pressures is brought that will divert it from that track. This builds on a common insight about government that it inclines to be bureaucratic in the judgmental sense of the term without reacting effectively to the changing circumstances.
Advocates of historical institutionalism have attempted to argue for the existence of four kinds of more slow change in policies and institutions: layering, drift, displacement, and conversion. These can be seen as ways in which to define and scrutinize the overall processes of incremental change within institutions and public policies.
Discursive Institutionalism
The discursive version of institutionalism defines institutions in terms of the discourses that are being carried on within the institution. This approach also is defined primarily through ideas with varying degree with normative institutionalism. In the discursive approach of institutionalism, there are supposed to be two sorts of discourses within the institution: the coordinative discourse, which is used more internally among the members to define what they contemplate the institution to be and the communicative discourse, which, on other hand, is used externally to define to those outside the institution what the institution is and what it aims to do.
To sum up, these institutional theories have relatively common institutional standpoint functioning in political science and policy studies. Obviously, the capacity of institutions to create predictability is a shared element in institutional theory. Interestingly, if institutions are operating well, then they can generate predictable manners on the part of their members as well as predictable outcomes due to the fact that all institutions demand some predictability.
Power: - operates at many different levels and can be defined along a number of lines. First, the conventional understanding of power emphasizes the control over material resources negotiated through formal rules and structures, institutions and procedures. Second, power can be hidden, operating through dominant values and discourses which, in turn, shape individual preferences and identities. Third, power is produced by social relations the ways in which people relate to each other and the way they see those relationships. These may be consensual and positive, helping those involved work together to achieve a goal. Or they may be contested and negative, whereby the legitimacy of power holders is called into question (Jones, 2009).
Public policy, the action taken by the government to do or not to do things, requires a government’s decisions to solve problems and improve the quality of life for citizens. Decision making is continues process in which several stakeholders involve. This paper has attempted to discuss on several approaches that shall be followed by the governments based on the respective social, economic and political realities. Public policy represents a decision, made by a publicly elected body, which is considered to follow the public interest. Policy formulation encompasses the selection of choices about the most appropriate instrument to a desired result.
Therefore, it is important to recognize the policy context first while employing a theory to analyze a policy. Public policies have a influential role in training citizens and when the messages and teaching of public policy are against the interest of the people, policy scholars should be at the forefront challenge.
Each of these theoretical approaches focuses on different aspects of policy making, and it is important to understand the situations or events that are suitable for a specific approach to follow. Policy makers shall be open and flexible to select from approaches that seem most beneficial for the satisfactory description and explanation of policies.
Adam A. Anyebe (Prof.), (2018). An Overview of Approaches to the Study of Public Policy, International Journal of Political Science (IJPS), Volume 4, Issue 1, January 2018, PP 08-17.
B. Guy Peters and Philippe Zittoun (edit.) (2016). Contemporary Approaches to Public Policy: Theories, Controversies and Perspectives, International Series on Public Policy, Palgrave Macmillan.
Dye, T. R., & Zeigler, H. (2004). The Irony of Democracy. California: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Ignacio Arana Araya (2017). Comparative Political Elites, Springer International Publishing AG 2018.
Jones, N. (2008a). Knowledge Management as Knowledge Translation, Presentation at KIT Annual Research and Planning Week, Amsterdam.
Kiyoung Kim (2014). The Relationship between the Law and Public Policy: Is it a Chi-Square or Normative Shape for the Policy Makers, Social Sciences, Vol. 3, No. 4, 2014, pp. 137-143. doi: 10.11648/
Monika Persson (2014). The Dynamics of Policy Formation. Making Sense of Public Unsafety, Örebro University).
Nicola Jones, Ajoy Datta and Harry Jones (2009). Knowledge, Policy and Power Six Dimensions of the Knowledge Development Policy Interface, Overseas Development Institute.
Sherri Torjman (September 2005). What is Policy?, The Caledon Institute of Social Policy, Ontario, Canada.
Tej Raj Pokharel (2019). Power Approaches to Policy-Making, NCC JOURNAL, Vol. 4, No. 1, Nepal Commerce Campus..
Wright, D. S. (1970). Introducing Psychology: an experimental approach, Penguin Books, London.
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Sam Kennedy 

Gillian Andrews

Victoria Heyworth-Dunne

James Graham

Claire Gell

Mark Cavanagh


Sophia MTT

Gillian Reid

Mandy Inness

Gareth Jones

Lee Griffiths

Liz Wheeler

Karen Self

Philip Ormerod

Jonathan Metcalf


Ira Sharma

Vikas Sachdeva, Vikas Chauhan

Sourabh Challariya, Revati Anand

Smita Mathur

Monam Nishat, Simran Saini

Arun Pottirayil, Mohd Zishan

Suhita Dharamjit

Priyanka Sharma

Shanker Prasad, Harish Aggarwal 

Nand Kishor Acharya

Aditya Katyal

Saloni Singh

Taiyaba Khatoon

Balwant Singh

Pankaj Sharma

Kingshuk Ghoshal

Arunesh Talapatra


Ellen Dupont

Thomas Keenes

Dorothy Stannard

Abigail Mitchell

John Andrews, Guy Croton, Larry Porges,  

Vicky Richards, Rachel Warren Chadd

Michael Clark

Zara Mandel

Marie Lorimer

Marion Dent

Autumn Green, Jeremy Harwood,  

Vicky Hales-Dutton

original styling by

First American Edition, 2018 

Published in the United States by DK Publishing 
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reserved above, no part of this publication may be 
reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval 

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means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, 

recording, or otherwise), without the prior written 
permission of the copyright owner. 

Published in Great Britain by  
Dorling Kindersley Limited.

A catalog record for this book  
is available from the Library of Congress. 

ISBN: 978-1-4654-6864-2

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Dr. Tammi J. Schneider is a Professor of Religion at 
Claremont Graduate University, having received a doctorate 
in Ancient History from the University of Pennsylvania. Her 
books include: Sarah: Mother of Nations; Judges; Mothers of 
Promise: Women in the Book of Genesis; and An Introduction 
to Ancient Mesopotamian Religion. She excavates in Israel.

Dr. Shelley L. Birdsong is a member of the Religious Studies 
faculty at North Central College, Naperville, Illinois. Her 
interests range from topics such as women in the Bible to 
specific text-critical issues in ancient Jeremiah manuscripts. 

Andrew Kerr-Jarrett read English at Trinity College, 
Cambridge. He is a writer and editor of more than 25  
years’ standing. He facilitates seminars and workshops  
at the Mount Street Jesuit Centre in London, UK.

Rev. Dr. Andrew Stobart is a Methodist Minister in 
Darlington, UK, and commissioning editor of Holiness, 
an online theological journal published by Wesley House, 
Cambridge. He studied theology at the London School of 
Theology, Aberdeen University, and Durham University, and 
has contributed to a number of reference works, including 
DK’s The Illustrated Bible and The Religions Book.

Dr. Benjamin Phillips is Associate Dean and Associate 
Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist 
Theological Seminary’s Houston Campus, where he teaches 
courses in Christian doctrine and preaching. He is also 
Director of Southwestern’s Darrington Extension, which 
offers a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies to offenders  
in the Texas prison system.

Guy Croton is an author and editor who has written, 
co-written, or edited books and articles on a variety of 
subjects in a career spanning more than 30 years. A 
Christian Humanist by religious and moral inclination,  
he studied theology and biblical history as part of his  
degree at the University of Sussex.

Dr. Nicholaus Pumphrey is the Assistant Professor of Religious 
Studies and Curator of the Quayle Bible Collection at Baker 
University, Baldwin City, Kansas. He specializes in Biblical 
Studies, Ancient Near Eastern history and literature, and 
Islamic Studies. He is currently a senior staff member on 
the Tel Akko Total Archaeology Project in Akko, Israel. 


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GENESIS 1:1–50:26
20 And God said, “Let  

there be light” 

26 Let us make man in our 
image, in our likeness 
The Garden of Eden

30 They realized that  
they were naked 
The Fall

36 Am I my brother’s 
Cain and Abel

38 At that time people  
began to call on the  
name of the Lord  
The Origin of Prayer

40 Only Noah was left,  
and those who were  
with him in the ark 
The Flood

72 When you enter the  
land that the Lord  
will give you as He 
promised, observe  
this ceremony 
The Passover

74 Stretch out your hand  
over the sea to divide  
the water 
The Exodus

78 You shall not murder 
The Ten Commandments

84 They have made for 
themselves a golden calf 
and have worshipped it 
The Golden Calf

86 The place will be 
consecrated by my glory 
The Ark and the Tabernacle

88 It does flow with  
milk and honey 
The Twelve Spies

89 The Lord opened  
the donkey’s mouth  
Balaam’s Donkey

90 There is no other 
Only One God

96 Take up the Ark of  

the Covenant 
Entering the Promised Land

42 Come, let us build 
ourselves a city, with  
a tower that reaches  
to the heavens 
The Tower of Babel 

44 I will make of you  
a great nation 

48 For the sake of ten men  
I will not destroy it 
Sodom and Gomorrah

50 Now I know that  
you fear God 
The Testing of Abraham

54 May nations serve you  
and peoples bow down  
to you 
Esau and Jacob

56 Your name will no  
longer be Jacob  
Jacob Wrestles with God

58 We will see what will 
become of his dreams 
Joseph the Dreamer

EXODUS 1:1– 
66 Though the bush was on 

fire it did not burn up 
Moses and the Burning Bush

70 All the water was 
changed into blood 
The Ten Plagues


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154 Surely he took up our 
infirmities and carried  
our sorrows 
The Suffering Servant

156 Before I formed you in  
the womb I knew you 
The Prophet Jeremiah

160 My heart is poured  
out on the ground 
Lament for the Exiles

162 I will remove … your 
heart of stone and give 
you a heart of flesh 
The Prophet Ezekiel

164 My God sent His angel, 
and He shut the mouths  
of the lions 
Daniel in Babylon

166 Jonah was in the belly  
of the fish three days  
and three nights  
The Disobedient Prophet

168 And what does the  
Lord require of you? 
The Prophet Micah

172 The remnant of Israel  
will trust in the name  
of the Lord 
Call for Repentance

173 Surely the day is  
coming; it will burn  
like a furnace 
The Day of Judgment

MATTHEW 1:1–JOHN 21:25 
178 And behold, you will 

conceive in your womb 
and bear a son 
The Annunciation


98 None went out, and  
none came in 
The Fall of Jericho

100 Has not the Lord gone 
ahead of you? 
Gideon and the Judges

104 The spirit of the Lord 
came upon him 

108 Your people shall be  
my people and your  
God my God 
Ruth and Naomi

110 Speak, for your  
servant is listening 
The Prophet Samuel

116 There was no sword  
in the hand of David 
David and Goliath

118 The man who did  
this must die 
David and Bathsheba

120 Cut the living child in 
two, and give half to one 
and half to the other 
The Wisdom of Solomon

124 I have directed the  
ravens to feed you there 
A Prophet in Hiding

125 Go and present yourself  
to Ahab, and I will send 
rain on the land 
Elijah and the Prophets  
of Baal

126 Let me inherit a double 
portion of your spirit 
The Chariot of Fire

128 So Judah went into 
captivity, away from  
her land 
The Fall of Jerusalem

132 I will go to the king …  
if I perish, I perish 
Queen Esther

133 Hear us, our God, for  
we are despised 
Rebuilding Jerusalem

JOB 1:1–MALACHI 4:6 
138 The Lord is my shepherd, 

I lack nothing 
The Psalms

144 From everlasting to 
everlasting you are God  
The Nature of God

146 Have you considered  
my servant Job? There  
is no one on Earth  
like him  
The Suffering of Job

148 Blessed is the one who 
trusts in the Lord 

152 I am my beloved’s …  
my beloved is mine 
Song of Songs

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180 A savior has been born  
to you; He is the Messiah 
The Birth of Jesus

186 They … presented Him 
with gifts of gold, 
frankincense, and myrrh 
The Magi

187 He gave orders to kill all 
the boys in Bethlehem  
Herod’s Infanticide

188 Didn’t you know I  
had to be in my  
Father’s house? 
A Child in the Temple

189 Prepare the way  
for the Lord 
The Coming of Salvation

190 The Word became flesh 
and made His dwelling 
among us 
The Divinity of Jesus

194 This is my Son, whom  
I love; with Him I am  
well pleased 
The Baptism of Jesus

198 Jesus said to him,  
“Away from me, Satan!” 
The Temptations of Christ

200 “Follow me,” Jesus  
said, “… I will send you 
out to fish for people” 
The Calling of the Disciples

204 Love your enemies,  
and pray for those  
who persecute you 
Sermon on the Mount

210 Do to others as you  
would have them  
do to you 
The Golden Rule

212 This, then, is how  
you should pray 
The Lord’s Prayer 

214 Whoever has ears,  
let them hear 
Parables of Jesus

216 When he saw him,  
he took pity on him 
The Good Samaritan

218 This brother of yours  
was dead … he was  
lost and is found 
The Prodigal Son

222 From whom do the  
kings of the earth  
collect duty and taxes? 
The Temple Tax

223 So the last will be first, 
and the first will be last 
Workers in the Vineyard

224 My name is Legion,  
for we are many 
Demons and the  
Herd of Pigs

226 The man who had  
died came out 
The Raising of Lazarus


228 And taking the five 
loaves, and the two fish, 
he looked up to heaven 
Feeding the 5,000

232 Take courage! It is I.  
Don’t be afraid 
Jesus Walks on Water

234 His face shone like the 
sun, and His clothes 
became as white as light 
The Transfiguration

236 For God so loved the 
world, that He gave His 
one and only Son 
The Nature of Faith

242 For the Son of Man came 
to seek and to save the lost 
Jesus Embraces a  
Tax Collector

244 He scattered the coins of 
the money changers and 
overturned their tables 
Cleansing the Temple

246 She has done a beautiful 
thing to me 
Jesus Anointed at Bethany

248 This is my body, which  
is given for you 
The Last Supper

254 The hour has come, and 
The Son of Man is delivered 
into the hands of sinners 
Betrayal in the Garden

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256 I don’t know this man 
you’re talking about 
Peter’s Denial

258 Surely this Man was  
the Son of God 
The Crucifixion

266 Remember me when you 
come into your kingdom 
The Repentant Thief

268 Blessed are those who 
have not seen and  
yet have believed 
The Empty Tomb

272 Were not our hearts 
burning within us  
while He talked with  
us on the road? 
Road to Emmaus

274 Go and make disciples  
of all nations 
The Great Commission

ACTS 1:1– 
282 Everyone was filled  

with awe at the many 
wonders and signs  
The Day of Pentecost

284 In the name of Jesus 
Christ of Nazareth, walk 
The Healing of the Beggar

288 He told him the good 
news about Jesus 
The Word Spreads

290 I am Jesus, whom you  
are persecuting 
The Road to Damascus

292 He purified their  
hearts by faith 
The Council of Jerusalem

294 I admit that I worship  
the God of our ancestors 
as a follower of the Way 
Paul’s Arrest

296 Love is patient, love  
is kind. It does not envy,  
it does not boast, it is  
not proud 
The Way of Love

298 The grace of the Lord 
Jesus Christ and the love 
of God and the fellowship 
of the Holy Spirit 
The Holy Trinity

300 But the fruit of the spirit 
is love, joy, peace, 
forbearance, and kindness 
Fruits of the Spirit

301 For it is by grace you  
have been saved, through 
faith … not by works 
Salvation through Faith

302 Put on the full armor  
of God 
Armor of God

304 I want to know Christ  
The Power of the Resurrection

306 And He is the head of  
the body, the church 
The Body of Christ

308 Scripture is God-breathed 
The Bible as God’s word

312 Know that the testing  
of your faith produces 
Faith and Works

314 Just as He who called  
you is holy, so be holy  
in all you do 

316 The dead were judged 
according to what they 
had done 
The Final Judgment

322 There will be no more 
death or mourning 
The New Jerusalem





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T he Bible is the world’s  most famous book and a keystone text of Western 
civilization. It has been translated 
into more languages than any other 
text in history, and it remains the 
most prolifically published book 
since the invention of the printing 
press. Christians worldwide look to 
it as sacred scripture—the written 
word of God, given by divine 
inspiration. It has influenced art, 
language, music, and literature for 
more than 2,000 years: in fact, the 
history of Western art cannot be 
fully understood without at least  
some knowledge of the Bible. 

The Bible’s teachings have  
also shaped social, economic, and 
political developments, contributing 
to Western civilization’s emphasis 
on the value of the individual rather 
than the state. It is the subject of 
academic study by believers and 
skeptics, and its words are the 
source of comfort and challenge 
from pulpits on every continent. 

Moved by God
The Bible is a collection of 66 
books, written by some 40 authors, 
living on three continents (Africa, 
Asia, and Europe), over 1,400  
years (c.1200 BCE–c.100 CE). These 
authors understood themselves to 
be “moved by God” to write “the 

word of the Lord.” By the 1st 
century BCE, most Jews had come  
to recognize the 39 books of the 
Hebrew Bible, written in Hebrew 
and Aramaic, as God’s written 
word—the scriptures (from 
scriptura, Latin for “writings”). 
Later, the Christian churches  
of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE 
similarly acknowledged the four 
Gospels and a range of apostolic 
letters, written in Greek, as the 
word of God, alongside the earlier 
Hebrew scriptures.

These texts communicate to  
the modern reader through a system 
of transmission and translation that 
began with the ancient Israelites. 
As early as the 3rd century CE, 
scholars were comparing copies 

and translations of the Hebrew 
Bible. This process continues 
among scholars today, who collect 
and compare newly discovered 
copies of biblical texts in order  
to establish a “critical text” from 
which translations are then made. 

The most famous English 
translation is the Authorized 
Version, also called the King  
James Version, published in 1611. 
The Bible Book refers to the New 
International Version, an English 
translation from 1978 that aims to 
make the text understandable  
to modern readers. 

Book of books
The 66 books of the Bible are 
divided into two major sections. 
The first in the Christian Bible is 
the Old Testament (the Hebrew 
scriptures of Judaism, known as 
the Tanakh), comprising 39 books, 
which were written for the ancient 
nation of Israel. It begins with the  
five books of the Law (the Torah: 
Genesis to Deuteronomy), and 
proceeds through the Historical 
Books (Joshua to Esther). Although 
these books are arranged in roughly 
chronological order, the writing  
of the books occurred at various 
points along the timeline. For 
example, Psalms was probably 
written quite early, while Isaiah 


We did not follow  
cleverly devised stories … 
but we were eyewitnesses  

of His majesty. 
2 Peter 1:16

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and Amos were contemporaries. 
The third group of books are the 
Poetical Books (Job to Song of 
Solomon), followed by the Major 
Prophets (meaning “large books”: 
Isaiah to Daniel) and the Minor 
Prophets (meaning “small books”: 
Hosea to Malachi). These books  
are considered sacred texts by  
both Christians and Jews.

A small set of books, often 
referred to as the Apocrypha (from 
the Latin apocryphus, meaning 
“hidden”) are considered by Roman 
Catholic and Eastern Orthodox 
Christians to be part of the Old 
Testament. These seven books, 
plus additions to the Books of 
Daniel and Esther, were primarily 
written in Greek from 400–300 BCE. 
They are not regarded as scripture 
by either Protestant Christians or 
Jews, who argue that these books 
deny that there was any prophetic 
word from God (the characteristic 
of scripture) during the period in 
which they were written.

The New Testament comprises 
the Christian scriptures, 27 books 
that are accepted by all Christian 
denominations as the complete  
list of New Testament books. The 
title “New Testament” arises from  
the prophecy of a new covenant 
(“testament”) that God would give 
to His people (Jeremiah 31:31–34). 

Most of the 27 books of the New 
Testament were written in the  
1st century CE by Jesus’s apostles, 
although some books, such as 
Hebrews, are anonymous. They 
were written for Christian churches 
and individuals scattered across 
the eastern half of the Roman 
Empire. The first group of books are 
the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, 
Luke, and John), which present the 
life and ministry of Jesus Christ as 
the fulfillment of the Old Testament 
prophecies heralding a savior for 
Israel and the nations. 

The Book of Acts describes the 
spread of the message about Jesus 
in the 30 years after His death, 
resurrection, and ascension into 
heaven, while the New Testament 
letters, known as “epistles,” are 
divided into the Pauline Epistles 
(Romans to Philemon) and the 
General Epistles (Hebrews to Jude). 
The final New Testament text is 
the Book of Revelation.  

Literary genres
There are many different types  
of literature in the 66 books of  
the Bible. Historical accounts, 
genealogies, and legal texts 
comprise most of the Law and 
Historical books of the Old 
Testament. The Poetical books 
contain proverbs, laments, praises, 

and even prayers for judgment  
on the wicked. The longest chapter 
in the Bible is a poem (Psalm 119), in 
which each of the 22 stanzas 
comprises 16 lines beginning with 
one of the 22 letters of the ancient 
Hebrew alphabet. The prophetic 
books contain parables, historical 
accounts, songs, and visions. 

The Gospels are a unique 
literary genre, containing speeches, 
sermons, arguments, visions, and 
miracles, often interpreting events 
in Jesus’s life as the fulfillment  
of the Old Testament prophecies.  
The letters of the New Testament 
contain teaching, encouragement, 
and even rebuke. Many use literary 
devices common in Greco-Roman 
literature of the 1st century CE ❯❯ 


Man shall not live on  
bread alone, but on every  

word that comes from  
the mouth of God. 

Matthew 4:4

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such as lists of vices and virtues, 
household codes (instructions about 
family relationships), and topical 
treatments of moral questions. 
Finally, the most difficult form  
of literature in the Bible is the 
apocalyptic texts. Found in the  
Old Testament books of Daniel and 
Ezekiel, and in the New Testament 
Book of Revelation, these highly 
symbolic texts describe God’s 
triumph over the wicked and 
vindication of the righteous.

Key themes
The Bible begins with the creation 
of the world and humanity. This 
original paradise indicates God’s 
intent for humanity—to live in  
a rich and joyful relationship  
with God and others, exercising 
stewardship over God’s world.  
This goal is challenged, however, 
when Adam and Eve disobey God, 
bringing ruin and decay upon 
themselves and creation. This “Fall” 
introduces the central tension in 
the biblical narrative; the holiness 
of God demands the judgment of 
sinful humanity, yet the love of God 
calls for the restoration of humanity 
and the fulfillment of God’s purpose 
for creation. The rest of the Bible  
is taken up with resolving this 
tension, culminating, in the New 
Testament, with the fulfillment of 

the prophecy in Genesis (3:17) of 
one who will “crush the head of the 
serpent” and lift the curse of God’s 
judgment on humanity and the 
Earth. Often, God pursues His 
purpose by making covenants with 
humankind, such as those made 
with Abraham, Moses, and David. 
God promised Abraham that his 
descendants would become a great 
nation (Israel) and that one particular 
descendant would bless the whole 
world. The Mosaic Covenant, also 
called the Law of Moses, was given 
through Moses to the nation of 
Israel, setting the terms of their 
relationship with God. The covenant 
with David promised that one of 
David’s descendants would sit on 
the throne of Israel forever. Christians 

believe these covenants converge 
in the life of Jesus, who claimed 
that “[the Scriptures] speak of Me” 
(John 5:39) and explained how 
Moses and all the prophets pointed 
to Him (Luke 24:27). 

Human weakness is a recurring 
theme in the Bible. Even the 
greatest leaders are shown to be 
flawed. Jacob was a manipulative 
liar, Samson fornicated with 
Delilah, David committed adultery 
with Bathsheba and murdered her 
husband to cover it up, and even 
the prophets Elijah and Jeremiah 
wanted to give up their calling. 
God uses the weak to confound  
the strong. He makes a slave nation 
into His Chosen People (Israel), a 
murderer into a liberator (Moses), 
barren women into mothers (Sarah 
and Hannah), and a shepherd  
into a king (David). In the New 
Testament, God uses murderers 
(Paul) and flawed leaders (Peter)  
to spread the teaching of Jesus.

Early analysis
Traditionally, Jewish scholars, or 
rabbi, focused on memorization of 
the Hebrew scriptures as well as 
debates over their interpretation 
and application to Jewish life.  
By contrast, early Christian 
scholars, mostly pastors, analyzed 
the way in which the scriptures 


Within the covers  
of the Bible are all  

the answers for all the 
problems men face.
Ronald Reagan

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The Bible has been  
the Magna Carta of the  

poor and oppressed.  
The human race is not  

in a position to  
dispense with it. 

Thomas Huxley

spoke of Christ. Many tools used  
by these scholars are still popular 
today. They included examinations 
of grammar and analysis of word 
choice, such as the links between 
the words “Passover” and “passion.” 
Some, such as Clement (c.150–215 
CE) and Augustine (354–430 CE), 
adapted pagan philosophy to aid 
their reading of scripture. 

Christian scholars tended to see 
difficulties and differences within 
scripture as fruitful sources of 
knowledge for those with enough 
faith to ponder them deeply. In  
the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, such 
scholars struggled to understand 
how there could be only one God, 

while the Father, Son, and Holy 
Spirit are each fully God, yet also 
distinct. The 200-year debate, 
which took account of the full range 
of biblical statements on these 
points, without undercutting any, 
eventually led to the Christian 
doctrine of the Trinity. 

Modern perspectives
Modern-day biblical scholars utilize 
many of the same tools as their 
ancient counterparts, analyzing, for 
example, the range of meaning in 
agape (love) across the Bible and 
contemporary Greek literature. 
Some scholars affirm the ancient 
Christian conclusions about 
scripture, while others operate with 
a skeptical mindset and rely on 
external confirmation—physical 
evidence or historical records—
before accepting biblical accounts 
of events. For example, some 
scholars rejected the biblical 
account of David as the founder  
of a royal dynasty until the 
discovery of the Tel Dan stele in 
northern Israel in 1993–1994. This  
battle monument, raised about  
200 years after David would have 
lived, tells of an Aramean king 
celebrating a victory over “the 
house of David.” In cases such  
as this, some Christian scholars, 
through their employment of  

skepticism and the scientific 
method, use historical evidence to 
inform their theology, and in order 
to develop conclusions as to the 
legitimacy of biblical scripture.
Those who possess a naturalistic 
worldview (insisting that things  
are the result of natural causes) 
generally reject claims of divine 
intervention in history. As a result, 
skeptical modern scholarship  
often employs an archaeological 
approach to the Bible, in which 
perceived errors must first be  
sorted through in order to expose 
underlying truths.

Lay study
Study of the Bible is not the sole 
domain of scholars and clerics,  
but their work can enlighten the 
understanding of the average 
reader. Today, a number of readable 
Bible translations place the sacred 
books of Judaism and Christianity 
into the hands of any interested 
reader. While certain books are 
more difficult to read than others, 
and history and the Gospels are 
more engaging than the lineages 
and law codes, those who  
read carefully can find wisdom, 
inspiration, and hope in its pages. 
The Bible Book is intended to help 
readers to understand more of this 
most significant of books. ■


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G enesis (Beresht in Hebrew) means the origin of everything. For Jews, 
Genesis is the first of the five books 
of the Torah (the Pentateuch in 
Greek) that open the Hebrew Bible.  
It not only relates the origin of 
humankind but also how the Jews’ 
ancestors, the Israelites, were 
chosen by God to be monotheists. 
For Christians, the origin story of 
Genesis is the first in a pair of 
bookends, the second of these 
being Revelation, the last book  
of the Bible, which describes  
the apocalypse.

Themes and authors
Genesis divides into two sections, 
the first concerning the primeval 
period, and the second the 
historical, or patriarchal, period, 
although some scholars view the 

story of Joseph as a third section. 
The primeval period is concerned 
with creation, disobedience (the 
Fall, Cain and Abel), uncreation  
and punishment (the Flood, Tower 
of Babel), and recreation. In the 
patriarchal period, God chooses 
two descendants of Noah—
Abraham and Sarah—to travel to 
the Promised Land and “be fruitful 
and multiply.” The narratives then 
follow the exploits of their offspring, 
especially of Abraham’s grandson 
Jacob, whose sons found the 12 
tribes of Israel. In the final story, 
Jacob’s son Joseph brings the 
family to Egypt, preparing the 
ground for the transition to the 
Book of Exodus.

According to Jewish and 
Christian traditions, Moses, 
inspired by God, penned the  
entire Torah, including his death  

in Deuteronomy, a belief still held by 
traditionalists. However, in the 17th 
century, Protestant reformers began 
to doubt the Mosaic authorship. In 
1878, the German biblical scholar 
Julius Wellhausen published his 
theory that the Torah was written 
by four authors, whom he labeled  
J, E, P, and D—J for the Jahwist 
who used the name YHWH for God; 
E for the author who used Elohim;  
P for the Priestly class who wrote 
about genealogies and rituals  
and created the structure for the 
narratives of J and E; and D for the 
author of Deuteronomy. 

Many scholars see repetitions 
and contradictions in Genesis as  
a sign of this composite authorship. 
Genesis 1 and 2, for example, tell 
different creation stories, with God 
creating humans at separate points 
in the narrative. Abraham tells two 


2:7–22 4:8 11:1–9 19:28–29

7:11–9:17 15:18–21

God creates Adam 
and Eve, the first 
man and woman, 

who live in the 
Garden of Eden. 

Cain kills his 
brother Abel in 
the first example 

of murder in  
the Bible.

God destroys the 
Tower of Babel 
and scatters its 
people around  

the world.

Sodom and 
Gomorrah are 

destroyed by God 
because the people 

are sinners.

Over the course  
of six days, God 

creates the world, 
and then rests  
on the seventh. 

Adam and Eve eat 
the forbidden 
fruit and God 
expels them  
from Eden.

God makes a 
covenant with 

Abraham to 
worship only Him 
and no other God.


God floods the earth, 
leaving only the 

patriarch Noah and 
those with him on his 

Ark to survive.



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different kings that Sarah is his 
sister, not his wife (Genesis 12  
and 20), and Jacob is renamed 
Israel twice (Genesis 32 and 35). 
The acceptance of these multiple  
truths is a fundamental aspect of  
rabbinic Judaism. For Christian 
traditionalists, however, there can 
be no contradictions: Genesis 2 is  
a further explanation of 1; Genesis  
12 and 20 are two separate stories; 
and Jacob’s name is only officially 
changed in Genesis 35 after his 
covenant with God.

Political purpose
Wellhausen and other scholars also 
believed the identity of the Genesis 
authors could be contextualized 
from theological and political 
implications present in the text. 
One theory dates the authors to  
the reigns of David and Solomon 

(c.900 BCE), with the “J” author 
compiling stories from Judah and 
the “E” author compiling stories 
from the northern tribes, creating 
political narratives to unite the 
divided Israelites. 

Schools of interpretation
In the 1960s, scholars led by Robert 
Alter turned to literary criticism  
to unlock Genesis, examining  
its “final form” in Hebrew. They 
looked at literary devices, such as 
wordplay (often lost in translation), 
and repetition, and the different 
genres (which might indicate the 
merging of multiple texts). 

In the latter half of the 20th 
century, scholars shifted criticism 
from the text itself to the personal 
agendas of its interpreters and 
claimed there was no “right” way  
to read the Bible. Most interesting 

to nonscholarly readers of the Bible, 
perhaps, is the tension between 
Genesis and science. Translation  
of Gilgamesh, the Babylonian 
creation story, in 1872 revealed a 
flood story similar to the biblical 
one. For some, this confirmed that 
Genesis was accurate, but for 
others, it indicated the influence  
of Babylonian mythology. This 
translation came only 13 years after 
Darwin published his theory of 
evolution in The Origin of Species 
(1859). In 1925, the Scopes trial to 
determine whether Darwin or 
Genesis should be taught in 
Tennessee schools pushed the 
issue to the top of US politics. 
Debate continues in the US today, 
as a new wave of creationist 
museums seek to demonstrate  
that science and Genesis are  
not necessarily incompatible. ■



25:33 32:24–32 41:40 50:22–26

27:1–29 37:12–28 49:29–33

Esau sells his 
birthright to his 
brother Jacob in 

exchange for food.

Jacob wrestles 
with God at  

Peniel, after which 
he is given a new 

name: Israel.

Pharaoh appoints 
Joseph as his second 

in command after 
Joseph interprets 

his dreams.

Joseph dies in 
Egypt, requesting 
his family take his 
bones with them 
when they leave.

God tests Abraham 
by asking him to 
sacrifice Isaac,  

his son. Abraham 
proves his loyalty. 

Jacob tricks his 
aging father, Isaac, 
into blessing him 
by pretending to  

be Esau.

Joseph is sold into 
slavery by his 

brothers, who are 
jealous that he is his 

father’s favorite. 

Reunited with Joseph, 
Jacob dies after 

giving his blessing  
to each of his  

12 sons.


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Genesis 1:1–2:2 

The creation of the 

Primeval period Inside  
the Garden of Eden, during the 
time covered by the first 11  
chapters of Genesis. 

God Creator of the universe. 

of seven days unfold, life springs 
into existence. First, God calls out, 
“Let there be light,” and light 
appears. Then God makes the sky. 
On the third day, God calls the 
water to gather into seas, creating 
dry land, on which plants and trees 
flourish. On day four, the sun and 
the moon are put in place, along 
with a host of stars. Next, God fills 
the sky with birds, and the seas 
with all their creatures. On the 
sixth day, God populates the land 
with all kinds of animals, and 
finally creates humanity “in his 
own image” (1:27). At this point  
in the story, the pinnacle of God’s 
creative work, God entrusts creation 
into humanity’s stewardship. On  
the seventh day, God rests. 

Rhythms of life 
The story of creation has its own 
structural beauty. Each account  
of God’s activity is punctuated with 
“and God said,” “and there was 
evening and there was morning,” 
“and God saw that it was good.” 
This rhythm helps to emphasize 
three key messages of the creation 
story. The first of these is that God 
creates simply by speaking. 
Throughout the rest of the Bible, 

T he first few words of the Bible—“In the beginning God created the heavens 
and the earth”—introduce us to  
its central character, God. They 
also reveal the universal scope  
of the Bible’s narrative, from  
the heavens to the Earth, and  
present its overarching theme— 

the relationship between God and 
everything else. With so much 
covered in so few words, it is  
not surprising that the start of 
Genesis is considered to be one  
of the Bible’s most eloquent yet 
difficult passages. 

These opening verses were  
most likely written down sometime 
in the 6th century bce, while the 
Israelites were being held in exile 
by Babylon, the most powerful state 
in the region. The story provided  
a hopeful message about God’s 
purposes for his people and for  
the entire world. In contrast to the 
Babylonians’ own origin story, 
Genesis attributes the existence  
of the universe to the goodwill of 
one God. It served to reassure the 
Israelites that even on foreign soil, 
they were not out of the reach of 
God’s care, since God had created 
all land. God did not stand at a 
distance, but was intimately 
involved in the story of the world. 

A world in seven days
Genesis 1:1–2:2 tells a single story 
about the beginning of everything. 
The origin of the universe starts 
with darkness and emptiness (1:2). 
As God’s actions over the course  

The Babylonians’ creation story

Believed to have been written 
down during the Israelites’ 
captivity in Babylon, Genesis 
provides a significant contrast  
to the Babylonians’ own creation  
story known as the Enuma  
Elish (“When on High”). While  
the God of Genesis has a loving 
relationship with humans and 
regards them as stewards of His 
creation, the Babylonian god 
Marduk enslaves humanity.

Enuma Elish is essentially an 
explanation for the supremacy of 
Marduk in the Babylonian 

pantheon. After a power 
struggle between the gods, 
Marduk defeats his rival Tiamat, 
ripping open her body and 
fashioning the two halves into 
the earth and the skies. Marduk 
then destroys another rival  
and uses his blood to create 
humankind to perform the  
work that the lesser gods have 
done until then. Marduk also 
imposes order on the universe 
by regulating the moon and the 
stars and takes control of the 
weather and calendar. 

This impression on a Neo-Assyrian 
cylinder seal used to create imprints 
on wet clay shows the battle 
between Marduk and Tiamat.

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The Creation is one of 117 woodcut 
illustrations by Lucas Cranach the 
Elder in Martin Luther’s Bible of  
1534. It shows a benevolent God 
looking down on his creation, with 
Adam and Eve at the center of  
the Garden of Eden.

the word of God is understood to  
be powerful and dynamic, able  
to pronounce blessing, judgment, 
and forgiveness. If God’s word can 
speak the whole universe into 
existence, then God’s word can 
bring hope to exiles in Babylon  
or provide wise advice for ordinary 
life. The creation of the world by 
God’s word stands behind the 
repeated invitation throughout the 
Bible to “hear the word of the Lord.”

The second message is that, 
while Genesis speaks about the 
creation of the physical world and 
all living things, it is also about 
creating a rhythm to life. Along 
with the daily rhythm of night and 
day, there is a weekly pattern of  
six days of work followed by one 
day of rest and a seasonal cycle 
marked by the creation of sun, 
moon, and stars. Throughout the 
Old Testament, these daily, weekly, 
and yearly rhythms are enshrined 
in Jewish religious practice, with 
daily prayer, the weekly rest on the 
Sabbath, and an annual cycle of 
religious festivals. While it would 
later become theological orthodoxy 
to speak about creation ex nihilo 
(out of nothing), here in Genesis 

God’s act of creation is understood 
as the giving of order and purpose  
to the chaos of “the deep.”

The third message of the story 
is that God’s creation is “good,” 
even “very good” (Genesis 1:31). ❯❯

See also: The Garden of Eden 26–29  ■  The Fall 30–35  ■  The Flood 40–41  ■  Entering the Promised Land 96–97  ■   
The New Jerusalem 322–29   

The heavens declare  
the Glory of God; the  

skies proclaim the  
work of his hands.

Psalm 19:1

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This illuminated illustration of the 
Creation is from the Bible of Souvigny, 
produced in Cluny Abbey, France, in 
the 12th century. In the Middle Ages, 
even non-religious books often opened 
with an image of the Creation. 

Contrary to many ancient 
philosophies, which saw the 
physical world as a cumbersome 
drag on the human spirit, Jewish 
and Christian thinking begins 
with an affirmation of the goodness 
of the created world. Despite 
humanity’s later departure from 
God’s intentions, a belief in 

The opening of Genesis is a vision 
of the entire creation. This stands 
behind many of the Psalms—songs 
or hymns—later in the Bible, which 
delight in the beauty and variety  
of the created world, and find  
that creation is a signpost to  
the existence and character of  
God. It is a concept developed  
in “natural theology,” which uses 
the beauty and complexity of the 
world as proof of God’s existence. 

Natural theology is sometimes 
explained using the “watchmaker 
analogy,” in which the skill that 
brought a watch into existence is 
“proof” that a watchmaker exists. 
Those who have faith see the 
complexity, order, and purpose of 
the natural world as an indication 
that the Earth is no accident, but 
rather designed and made by God.

Modern response
This creationist view was 
challenged in the 19th century, 
when scientific discoveries led to 
new theories of the universe’s 
origins. Charles Darwin’s On the 
Origin of Species (1859) put forth the 
theory of evolution, which stood in 
stark contradiction to the Genesis 
account of a seven-day creation. 

For some people, the theory  
of evolution is a reason to reject  
not only the Genesis account  
of creation, but the whole Bible. 
Among Christians, there is a 
spectrum of responses to the 
creation story. Some believe it  
is absolutely true and a reason for 
rejecting theories of evolution and 
geological evidence; others view the 
biblical account as allegorical rather 

creation’s innate goodness means 
that Judaism and Christianity have 
an earthly character. They expect 
the spiritual life to have an impact 
on the physical world, whether 
through the rhythms of worship 
and prayer, or through acts of 
service and love that promote the 
original goodness of God’s world. 

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than literal; a third camp seeks to 
combine the two by promoting the 
idea of intelligent design that set 
the process of evolution in motion. 

Current biblical scholarship  
also considers the Creation story  
in the context of the period in 
which it was written down—during 
the exile of the Israelites in Babylon  
in the 6th century bce. Faced with  
a threat to their identity by King 
Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, God’s 
people are encouraged by the poetic 
affirmation in Genesis that the  
world is a result of God’s good  
and creative purposes, which will 
ultimately triumph over chaos. ■ 

The symbolism  
of seven

In Genesis, the world is 
created in six days, followed 
by a seventh day of rest.  
This is the origin of the 
understanding of the number 
seven as a perfect, or 
complete, number throughout 
the rest of the Bible. Seven—
or its multiples—are used to 
draw the reader’s attention  
to something that is complete, 
in the sense that it is all that 
God wants it to be. For 
instance, in the Hebrew  
Bible, God has seven different 
names. In the New Testament 
(Matthew 18:22), Jesus tells 
his disciples to forgive  
70 times seven, meaning 
completely and repeatedly.  
In the book of Revelation, there 
is a series of sevens—seven 
letters, seven lampstands, 
seven judgments, seven 
trumpets—that represents the 
completeness of God’s plan. 
The seven churches that the 
apostle John addresses at the 
start of Revelation represent 
the universal church.

In the beginning  
was the Word, and  

the Word was with God,  
and the Word was 

 God … Through Him  
all things were made.

John 1:1–3

According to the first book  
of Genesis, God created the 
world, all that is in the world, 
as well as the entire universe 
in seven days. 

The menorah, the candlestick 
used in Jewish rituals, has  
seven branches. The design  
of the lamp was revealed to  
Moses on the top of Mount  
Sinai (Exodus 25:31).

Day 1:  
Light and Day

Day 7: 

Day 3:  
Moon and Stars

Day 6: Animals  
and Humans

Day 5:  
Fish and Birds

Day 4:  
Plants and Trees

Day 2:  
Sky and Sea

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I n chapter 2 of Genesis,  God creates the Garden  of Eden, an earthly paradise. 
We cannot know Eden’s exact 
location, but scholars have 
proposed several possibilities, 
including Mesopotamia (now Iraq), 
Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Armenia. 
Genesis 2:8 mentions the Euphrates 
and the Tigris rivers, which both 
flow into the Persian Gulf via 
Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. 

God creates the garden by 
bringing streams up from the earth 
and filling the ground with plants 
that are “pleasing to the eye and 
good for food.” There are two trees 
in the middle of the garden—the 
Tree of Life and the Tree of the 
Knowledge of Good and Evil. 

The making of man 
Genesis depicts the creation of 
humankind in two separate 
passages. The first of these (1:27), 



Genesis 1:1–2:25

Creation of humanity

Primeval period Inside 
Eden, during the time covered 
by the first 11 chapters  
of Genesis.

Adam The first man,  
made in God’s image, who  
is the ruler of all animals  
and steward of the Earth.

Eve The first woman,  
and companion to Adam. 
Created by God, either at the 
same time as Adam or by 
using one of Adam’s ribs.

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See also: The Fall 30–35  ■  Covenants 44–47  ■  Entering the Promised  
Land 96–97  ■  The New Jerusalem 322–29


According to the Bible, the 
Garden of Eden is perfection 
itself—a place of beauty and 
abundance, free of disease, 
death, and evil, into which 
God sets Adam, the pinnacle 
of His creation. After around 
500 bce, this wondrous place 
becomes synonymous with 
the Hebrew term pardes 
(orchard), stemming from  
the Persian word paridayda 
(walled enclosure).

The concept of paradise is 
important within Christianity, 
Judaism, and Islam. Even  
as He is dying on the cross, 
Jesus says to a thief hanging 
beside him, “Truly, I tell you, 
today you will be with me in 
Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The 
Jewish Talmud (the written 
version of oral law) associates 
paradise with the Garden of 
Eden, and within Islam, the 
concept of jannah or “garden” 
describes the destination of 
the righteous after death. 

believed to have been written in 
the 6th century bce by the Jewish 
priestly writer referred to as “P,” 
is cursory. It implies that both 
sexes are formed at the same time, 
on the sixth day of creation: “So 
God created mankind in his own 
image,” “male and female he 
created them.” 

The second passage, chapter 
2:7, attributed to the oldest source 
of the Pentateuch (the first five 
books of the Bible), known as 
Jahwist (or “J”), provides more  
detail and describes God in  
human terms. In this account,  
God forms the man out of dust  
and “breathes into his nostrils  
the breath of life.” God goes on  
to create Eve when He sees that  
it is not good for Adam (Hebrew  
for man) to be alone. Putting Adam 
into a deep sleep, God removes a 
rib from his side and creates a 
woman from it (2:21). Seeing that 
this new being closely resembles 
him, Adam composes a poem: 
“This is now bone of my bones and 
flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 
‘woman,’ for she was taken out of 
man” (2:23). She is not referred to as 

Eve until Genesis 3:20, after  
eating the fruit from the Tree of  
the Knowledge of Good and Evil 
(see pp. 30–35).

Biblical references to God’s 
image, in which humankind is 
made, are contradictory. Some 
passages ascribe human features, 
such as arms, eyes, hands, and a 
beard to God and refer to Him as 
“walking in the garden” (3:8). 
Others depict him as a type of 
angel, sheltering humans “under 
his wings.” More significant are the 
spiritual attributes shared by God 
and humankind, which include 
intellect, the capacity for rational 
thought, morality, free will, 
creativity, and compassion. 

Divine spark
Inherent in God giving Adam  
life through His divine breath  
is the implication that humans 
themselves—unlike animals—❯❯  


Adam is made in God’s image in 
Michelangelo’s God creates Adam  
(c.1512), one of nine scenes from the 
book of Genesis painted on the ceiling 
of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. 

Strange and familiar beasts 
populate the Garden of Eden 
portrayed in the left-hand panel of 
Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden  
of Earthly Delights, c.1510.

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are blessed with the essence of 
divinity. Mankind’s capacity for 
rationality and morality is the 
reason why no suitable companion 
could be found for Adam among  
the animals and why God gave 
Adam and Eve responsibility  
to look after the Earth and rule  
over the animals (1:26–28). In 
Judeo-Christian philosophy, these 
passages have been cited to justify 
humans using animals to serve 
their own needs.

Yet, despite having divine  
spark and being created in God’s 
image, Adam and Eve are flawed 
(Matthew 19:26). God is everywhere 
(Proverbs 5:21) and is superior to 
everything else in the universe 
(Psalms 115:3), while Adam and  
Eve are limited. In the 13th century, 
the theologian Thomas Aquinas 
defined God as perfect (lacking 
nothing), immutable, and infinite, 
unlike humans, whom he described 
as spiritually, intellectually, and 
emotionally limited. 

Original innocence
Although their flaws are revealed 
by subsequent events, Adam and 
Eve are created without sin and  
in complete innocence. Genesis 
2:25 tells us that they are naked 

and unashamed. As they are alone 
with God, some readers assume 
that their days are centered around 
worshipping and communing with 
Him; their relationship with God is 
unlike any other creatures’.

In addition to managing the 
animals and tending the garden 
(“to work it and take care of it”),  
the pair are instructed to reproduce 
(“be fruitful and increase in 
number”). For now, at least, Adam 
and Eve are content with their 
bountiful lives and observe God’s 
one prohibition: while they are free 
to eat the fruit from the Tree of Life, 
which grants them immortality, to 
eat the fruit from the mysterious 
Tree of the Knowledge of Good  
and Evil will be on pain of certain 
death (2:17). 

One man, one woman
Adam and Eve are the first couple 
(2:24–25 says the pair become  
“one flesh”) and their union has 
traditionally been the yardstick  
for God’s perfect intention for 
marriage—one man and one 
woman united in matrimony for  
life. Crucially, the affirmation in  
Genesis that both sexes are made 
in the image of God is often  
used to support the concept that 

God created all humans as equal, 
regardless of gender, race, or any 
other characteristics. 

Yet the Bible is sometimes cited 
in support of claims that women 
are inferior to men. Genesis 2:18 
refers to Eve’s creation as Adam’s 
“helper” (Hebrew ezer) and 
therefore potentially subordinate  
to him. However, some scholars 
suggest that ezer should have  
been translated as “companion,” 
implying greater equality.

The divine “We” 
In Genesis and throughout the Old 
Testament, God is often talked 
about in the plural—for example, 
“our” likeness (Genesis 1:26).  
This has triggered much debate 
and many theories. Possible 
explanations include polytheism 
(meaning that God himself is 
referring to more than one god), 
although this is soundly refuted  
in passages such as Isaiah 45:6 
where God states, “I am the  
LORD, and there is no other.” 

God pulls Eve from the rib of the 
sleeping Adam in an image from  
a manuscript of 1480 based on  
St. Jerome’s 4th-century Latin 
translation of the Hebrew Bible. 

Adam was placed in  
Paradise in perfect  

estate … God walked  
and did talk with him.

John Jewel (1522–1571)
Bishop of Salisbury

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theories of creation, recent surveys 
in the United States have revealed 
a widespread belief in the existence 
of Adam and Eve. (They are partly 
supported by a group of scientists 
who have traced human genetic 
history back many thousands of 
years, potentially to the first men 
and women.) 

The Bible is clear—in Genesis 
and elsewhere—that Adam is the 
first man and not descended from 
other humans. Adam is referred to 
in Luke 3:38 as “the son of God,” 
just as angels in the Old Testament  
are made by God (for example,  
Job 1:6, 38:7 and Daniel 3:25).  
The Bible depicts Adam as a living 
entity with many descendants who, 
according to Genesis 5:5, lives until 
he is 930 years old. ■ 

Adam and Eve

The first human couple,  
Adam and Eve were created—
as adults—in the image of 
God. As they were not born  
in the same way as their 
descendants, they would not 
have needed umbilical cords. 
Despite this, navels are still 
present in many artistic 
representations of the pair. 

Genesis 2:7 says that 
Adam is created out of dust. 
Adamah is Hebrew for 
“ground” or “earth,” a 
reference to both Adam’s 
origins and his fate after the 
Fall (see pp. 30–35). The word 
Eve means “life.” She and the 
man are inseparable, made 
from one flesh, as they come 
from the same body (Adam’s) 
and are brought together, both 
in marital union with each 
other and in full communion 
with God. Humankind’s 
remarkable journey begins 
with Adam and Eve. Without 
them there is no fall from 
grace or sin, and thereby no 
need for suffering, mortality, 
redemption, atonement, or 
Jesus Christ. 

Other explanations are that  
God is including his attendant 
angels in the “us” of Genesis 1:26. 
Another explanation is that the 
plurals here and in Genesis 3:22 
(“the man has now become like  
one of us”) describe a conversation 
that God the Father is having with 
God the Son and God the Holy 
Spirit, the Trinity, a concept 
developed in the New Testament.

Human origins 
The creation of Adam and Eve  
and the events unfolding in the 
Garden of Eden are also described 
in the Islamic Qur’an. While  
many Christians reject a literal 
interpretation of Genesis in favor of 
a more allegorical approach that 
also encompasses evolutionary 

God creates 
Adam out of  

the earth.

God puts Adam to 
sleep and removes a 

rib from Adam’s body 
to create woman as a 
companion for Adam.

Yet despite 
their divine 

spark, Adam and 
Eve are limited,  

unlike God.

God breathes  
his divine breath  

into Adam, giving  
him life.

Unlike the 

animals, Adam has 
divine spark. God 
sees that he needs  

a companion.

The pair tend  

the garden and 
commune with God. 
They are innocent 
and know no sin.

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The forbidden fruit from the Tree  
of the Knowledge of Good and Evil 
passes from Eve to Adam in a detail 
from Cornelus van Haarlem’s The Fall  
of Man, c.1592. 

I n the third chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve’s disobedience, punishment, and alienation 
from God pave the way for the 
emergence of evil, bringing suffering, 
discord, and death into a sinless 
world. Until then, Adam and Eve live 
and work in paradise, enjoying a 
close relationship with each other 
and with God. They are forbidden 
only one thing—fruit from the Tree 
of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, 
which grows in the center of the 
garden. Eating this, warns God, will 
result in death. He gives no reasons 
or details for His command, but 
Adam obeys and avoids the Tree. 


Genesis 3:1–24

Original sin

Primeval period The  
Garden of Eden during  
the time covered by the first  
11 chapters of Genesis.

Serpent In the Christian view, 
the embodiment of Satan, the 
archenemy of God.

Adam The first man, created 
by God in His own image on 
the sixth day of creation. 

Eve The first woman, created 
as a companion for Adam, 
with whom he would populate  
the Earth.

It is the serpent, identified in 
Genesis 3:1 as an extremely  
crafty animal, that questions  
God’s motives in forbidding the 
fruit. It slyly implies that God is 
deliberately withholding something 
desirable—the means by which 
Adam and Eve can obtain wisdom 
and be like God. Eve needs little 
persuasion. The fruit looks good 
and she is tempted, so she eats  

For God knows that  
when you eat from it  

your eyes will be  
opened, and you will  
be like God, knowing  

good and evil.
Genesis 3:5

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it and gives some to Adam. 
Immediately, the couple see that 
they are naked. Ashamed, they  
sew fig leaves together to cover 
themselves and hide. Later, Adam 
admits to eating the fruit but 
blames Eve: “She gave me some 
fruit from the tree, and I ate it” 
(3:12). Eve passes on responsibility 
too: “The snake deceived me, and  
I ate” (3:13).

God’s punishments are swift  
and severe. He condemns the 
serpent to crawl and eat dust for  
the rest of its life. Eve is told she 
will suffer excruciating pain in 
childbirth and be ruled by her 
husband. Cursing the ground from 
which Adam was made, God tells 
Adam he must forever toil before  
he can eat. Finally, God expels 
Adam from the garden—Eve leaves 
with him—and places cherubim  
(angelic hybrid creatures) and a 
flaming sword on the east side  
of Eden to keep them out. 

The creation of death
It soon becomes clear that there is 
a price for gaining wisdom—pain, 
toil, scarcity, fear, and suffering. 
Denied access to fruit from the 

Tree of Life, humans are now 
mortal and will die. As God informs 
Adam, “For dust you are and to 
dust you will return” (3:19). Cast 
adrift, humankind is now in 
constant danger from the evil 
within themselves and from others.

Humankind and free will
In Christian thought, a sinful act  
is a deliberate action, attitude, or 
thought against God. This includes 
things that are done but should  
not be (sins of commission) and 
those that are not done but should 
be (sins of omission). The fact  
that all choices are open to sin 
takes humankind down a path of 
perpetual wrongdoing, frequently 
referred to in the Bible as “slavery.”

For Christians, the exercise of 
free will is central to the story of 
the Fall. Adam and Eve’s actions 
show that human beings have the 
freedom to make poor choices,  
but there is a price to pay. Up to  
this point, Adam and Eve have 
chosen to obey God. In the face  
of temptation, they make unwise 
choices that have catastrophic 
results. God insists that the couple 
face up to what they have done— 
with every exercise of free will 
comes a consequence (desirable  
or not) for which responsibility 
must be taken. 

Theologians have long  
been occupied by the matter  
of theological fatalism, or the 
incompatibility between the 
concepts of free will and God’s 
omniscience. If people can choose,  
how can God foresee their choices?
Judaism accepts this as a paradox 
beyond human understanding, 
believing that God exists outside 
of time. His knowledge of the past, 
present, and future does  ❯❯ 

See also: Sodom and Gomorrah 48–49  ■  David and Bathsheba 118–19  ■   
The Crucifixion 258–65  ■  Salvation through Faith 301 


The serpent descends from the 
Tree of the Knowledge of Good  
and Evil to tempt Eve in the 
defining moment of the Fall. For  
its part in the catastrophe, the 
serpent is cursed above all 
livestock and all wild animals.

The role of the serpent 

No one knows why the crafty 
serpent is chosen to tempt  
Eve into disobedience. Unlike 
most animals in the Bible, it  
is able to talk, implying that  
it is more intelligent than 
other animals. Whispering 
into Eve’s ear in Genesis 3:5,  
it causes her to doubt God. 
The Genesis account does not 
mention Satan, although the 
wily serpent is seen within 
Christianity (but not Judaism) 
as the devil or his mouthpiece. 
Satan is later specifically 
alluded to in Revelation 20:2 
as “that ancient snake, who  
is the devil, or Satan …” 

Snakes are not always 
represented as evil entities  
in the Bible. They are also 
seen as strong, courageous 
creatures. For example, 
Moses’s staff turns into a 
snake on his command 
(Exodus 4:3) and God asks him 
to make a statue of a serpent 
with the power to heal snake 
bites (Numbers 21:8). 

By the sweat of your  
brow you will eat  

your food until you 
return to the ground. 

Genesis 3:19

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not interfere with free will. Some 
Christians reconcile this conundrum 
by believing that God limits  
his omniscience to preserve 
humankind’s dignity and freedom.

Original sin
According to Christian doctrine, 
the consequence of Adam and 
Eve’s disobedience is that all 
humans are born sinful, with an 
inborn tendency to succumb to 
temptation and disobey God. While 
God is blameless, people are 
damned, deserve to suffer, and 
require salvation. Known as 
Original Sin (or ancestral sin), this 
doctrine was set out by Paul the 
Apostle, in Romans 5:12: “Sin came 
into the world through one man 

[Adam], and death through sin,  
and so death spread to all men 
because all sinned.” In the 5th 
century, St. Augustine (354–430 ce) 
developed Paul’s doctrine further, 
saying that spiritual weakness was 
inherited via “concupiscence,” or 
sexual intercourse, which deprives 
people of self-control. 


A cherub drives Adam and Eve  
from the Garden of Eden with “a 
flaming sword flashing back and  
forth to guard the way to the Tree  
of Life” (Genesis 3:24).

The Augustinian view of Original 
Sin was formally adopted by the 
Roman Catholic Church during the 
16th century. The doctrine was  
also popular among Protestant 
reformers, such as Martin Luther 
and John Calvin. They equated it 
with perpetual human longing for 
fleshly pursuits that persist even 

Judaism and sin 

The doctrine of Original Sin 
became a central tenet of 
Christianity but this concept  
is rejected by Judaism. Instead, 
Jews believe that we are born 
pure rather than tainted by the 
sins of our ancestors. They think 
Adam is not to blame for the 
wrongdoing of his descendants. 
We commit sin (het in Hebrew, 
meaning “something that goes 
astray”) because we are not 
perfect beings. We must accept 
that we all transgress at some 

point in our lives. Because we 
have free will (behirah), we are 
naturally frail and likely to give 
way to our sinful inclinations 
(yetzer). Not all sins are 
committed deliberately, but 
those that are will be punished, 
either here on Earth or later, 
after death.

The many Old Testament 
stories concerning the nation  
of Israel and its sins look at the 
nature of human beings,  
the meaning of sin, and the 
potential for the forgiveness  
of those sins.

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after baptism (the rebirth and the 
washing away of hereditary sin). 
Calvin went further, rejecting the 
concept of free will in favor of 
predestination—the idea that all 
events are willed by God.

Both Judaism and Islam  
reject the idea of Original Sin. 
According to the Qur’an, Adam 
and Eve are equally responsible 
for the Fall. After their expulsion 
from the Garden of Eden, they are 
forgiven by God and become His 
representatives on Earth. 

The wages of sin
Original Sin helps to explain why 
God allows innocent people to 
suffer. Personal innocence is no 
immunity against God’s wrath; 
everyone is a sinner by nature and 
(eventually) by choice. “All have 
sinned and come short of the glory 
of God,” says Romans 3:23.

Christian doctrine maintains 
that because of humankind’s 
Original Sin, every person is born 
separated from God. When Paul 
states in Romans 6:23 that “the 
wages of sin are death,” he is 
referring to Adam’s original sin  
and death as a condemnation by 
and separation from God rather 
than a physical death. The inability 
to have a relationship with God is 
described in Ephesians 2:1 as a form 

of spiritual death: “You were dead in 
your transgressions and sins …”

For Christians, it is only through 
faith in Jesus Christ, who was sent 
by God to die for humankind’s sins, 
that someone can be born again 
and reawaken spiritually. This is  
a central theme of redemption  
(the act of cleansing away Original 
Sin). Redemption is achieved by 
receiving God’s grace, through 
baptism, and accepting that  
Jesus Christ died for the sins that 
enslave humankind. 

In his letter to the Galatians 
(5:1), Paul proclaims, “It is for 
freedom that Christ has set us free. 
Stand firm, then, and do not let 

yourselves be burdened again  
by a yoke of slavery.” Christians 
sometimes refer to Christ as the 
“Second Adam.” The first Adam 
sins and causes the fall of 
humanity; the second (Christ)  
dies and redeems humanity.

Blame falls on Eve 
Christianity has traditionally blamed 
Eve—and all womankind—for the 
Fall from God’s grace, and seen  
her as degenerate, morally weak,  
and subordinate to man. Paul 
contributed to this view. In  
1 Timothy 2:14, he absolves Adam 
and blames Eve, saying, “Adam was 
not deceived, but the woman  
was deceived and became a 
transgressor.” Many medieval 
theologians echoed Paul’s views, 
and Christian art reinforced this 
interpretation. Michelangelo’s 
fresco of the Fall (c.1510) in the 
Sistine Chapel in the Vatican 
shows a serpent with the upper 
body and long blonde hair of  
a woman, an image that was 
prevalent during the Renaissance. 

However, Genesis itself does  
not attribute blame for the Fall.  
On the contrary, it indicates that 
Adam is present when the serpent 
speaks to Eve and receives equal 
punishment, suggesting that they 
are both culpable. ■

Nor can the Apostle mean  
that Eve only sinned …  

for if Adam sinned  
willfully and knowingly,  

he became the  
greater transgressor.

Mary Astell (1666–1731)
English feminist

God punishes 
the wrongdoers. 
The serpent is 
forced to crawl  
on its belly  
and eat dust; 
Eve and her 
daughters are 
destined to 
endure pain  
in childbirth; 
and Adam and 
his sons will 
always toil in 
order to eat.The serpent The woman Adam

US_030-035_The_Fall.indd   35 12/10/2017   15:01


 AM I MY  

Death of Abel by Andrea Schiavone  
(c.1510–1563) shows Cain committing  
the first murder in the Bible. The  
dying sheep depicted in the background 
foreshadows the death of Abel.


Genesis 4:1–16

The first murder

Primeval period The 
unnamed land where Adam, 
Eve, and their children live 
after leaving the Garden  
of Eden.

Cain Eldest son of Adam and 
Eve and the brother of Abel. 
Like his father, Cain is an 

Abel Second son of Adam  
and Eve and younger brother 
of Cain. Abel is a herdsman.

T he story of Cain and Abel is the second installment  of the Fall narrative, 
describing the first manifestation  
of evil in humankind. Genesis 4 
tells how Adam and Eve’s elder  
son, Cain, murders his brother, 
Abel. It follows a similar pattern  
to the previous chapter: ignoring 
divine warnings and committing  
a sin is punished, in this case with 
exile. While Adam and Eve disobey 
God’s specific command, Cain’s sin 
is violent: his anger at God and 
jealousy of Abel lead him to commit 
an act of fratricide.

Sibling rivalry
Genesis 4 begins with the birth  
of the two brothers to Adam and 
Eve. When the boys reach 
adulthood, they pursue different 
occupations. The elder brother, 
Cain, becomes an agriculturalist, 
a tiller of the soil, like his father; 
Abel, the second son, becomes  
a pastoralist, a keeper of sheep  
and goats. These were the chief 
occupations during the time in 
which the authors of Genesis were 
writing, and tensions sometimes 
flared up between agriculturalists 
and pastoralists over the use of  
the land. However, there is no 

suggestion that disputes over  
land use—or any inherent conflict 
between the occupations—was  
the source of the animosity 
between Cain and Abel.

In the passage, both brothers 
bring sacrificial offerings to God. 
Abel takes “fat portions from some 
of the firstborn of his flock,” while 
Cain brings “some of the fruits of 
the soil” (4:3). God responds 
favorably to Abel’s offering, but  

US_036-037_Am_I_my_brothers_keeper.indd   36 21/09/17   11:26 am

See also: Joseph the Dreamer 58–61  ■  The Ten Commandments 78–83  ■  The Prodigal Son 218–21  ■   
The Final Judgment 316–21


not to Cain’s, which is less 
valuable. Cain is jealous of Abel.
Noticing Cain’s anger (4:7), God 
warns him that if he does not do 
what is right, sin will “crouch” at 
the door (the Hebrew word for 
“crouching” being the same as the 
Babylonian word for a demon that 
waits in doorways, a play on words 
by the authors of Genesis, who 
were writing during the Jews’ 
captivity in Babylon in the sixth 
century bce). God tells Cain to 
master the demonic temptation  
of sin. Cain, however, does not 
temper his impulses. Instead, he 
lures his brother out into the fields 
and murders him. 

Cain’s punishment
When God asks Cain where Abel 
is, Cain says that he does not know. 
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” he asks 
(4:9). In another play on words, he  
is insolently asking, “Am I, the 
agriculturalist, the shepherd of my 
shepherd brother?” God knows 

what Cain has done and banishes 
Cain from the land onto which he 
spilled his brother’s blood. “You  
will be a restless wanderer on the 
earth,” God says (4:12). 

Unrepentant, Cain says his 
punishment is more than he can 
bear. Before exiling him to the land 

The sanctity of life

The Ten Commandments that 
God gives to Moses on Mount 
Sinai in Exodus are clear: “You 
shall not murder” (Exodus 
20:13). Cain’s punishment for 
murder was exile. God punished 
him, but also showed mercy by 
extending Cain his protection.

In this way, God sought to 
avert a potential cycle of 
violence and retaliation. By 
marking Cain (Genesis 4:15), He 
stopped others from taking the 
law into their own hands by 
killing Cain. God’s plan seemed 
to work, for a time, as the next 

murder to be recorded by  
the Bible happens five 
generations later in Genesis 
4:26. This time the murderer  
is Cain’s descendant Lamech,  
who kills a man for wounding 
him. Lamech says: “If Cain  
is avenged seven times,  
then Lamech seventy-seven 
times” (4:24).

In Israel during biblical 
times, “Anyone who takes the 
life of a human being is put to 
death” (Leviticus 24:17), but 
places of refuge were also 
created for anyone who killed 
someone “accidentally and 
unintentionally” (Joshua 20:3).

of Nod (“east of Eden”), God puts a 
mark on Cain. Contrary to popular 
wisdom, this “mark of Cain” is a 
sign of God’s continued protection, 
not a brand of shame. God says that 
anyone who kills Cain “will suffer 
vengeance seven times over.” Cain 
then leaves for the land of Nod. ■

All murder is 
condemned in the  
eyes of the Lord.

shall be put to death. 

(Exodus 21:12)

God exiles Cain  
for slaying Abel.  
(Genesis 4:12)

Anyone who takes 

human life is  
to be put to death. 
(Leviticus 24:17)

Murderers will never  
enter the Holy City. 

(Revelation 22:15)

If someone kills 

unintentionally they may 
seek sanctuary. 

(Deuteronomy 19:4)
1 John 3:12 

condemns Cain as “evil”.

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T he first extended prayer  in the Bible arises from  the anguish of a couple 
longing for children. It bursts forth 
during a conversation initiated by 
God with Abraham. After the King 
of Sodom tries to strike a deal that 
will obligate Abraham, God tells 
Abraham not to be afraid. God 
himself will be Abraham’s shield 
and “very great reward.” To this 
Abraham retorts: “What can you 
give me since I remain childless?” 
(Genesis 15:2). God’s answer to this 
outburst, or prayer, is to take 
Abraham outside and point to the 
night sky: “Look up at the heavens 
and count the stars—if indeed you 
can count them.” God pauses, then 
adds: “So shall your offspring be.” 

A God who cares
Abraham’s encounter says much 
about prayer in the Bible. First, it 
takes place within the context  
of a dialogue between God and 
humankind, initiated by God. It 
assumes there is a God who cares 
and can be pleaded with. The 
person praying expresses themself 
with honesty and vigor, the prayer 
often taking the form of a lament 
about a painful situation. A common 
pattern involves a crisis, leading to 

prayer in which the person praying 
complains about, or laments, the 
situation and petitions God to 
intervene. This leads to resolution 
following divine intervention, which 
may take the form of a promise. 

Petitioning God
According to Genesis, the cult of 
Israel’s God, Yahweh, begins 
during the third generation of 
human life on Earth, when Adam 


Genesis 15:1–6 Abraham 
prays for a child.

Genesis 21:8–21 Hagar, 
Ishmael, and the well.

The potential of prayer

Primeval period During the 
time covered by the first 11 
chapters of Genesis.

Abraham Son of Terah, the 
ninth son of Noah.

Sarah Wife of Abraham, who 
is barren for many years.

Hagar Sarah’s Egyptian 
handmaiden and concubine  
of Abraham.

Ishmael Hagar and 
Abraham’s son.

Prayer beads, used to count prayers, 
are clasped by members of the 
congregation at a Catholic church in 
Baghdad, following the death of Pope 
John Paul II in 2005.

US_038-039_Origin_of_prayer.indd   38 21/09/17   11:26 am

See also: Esau and Jacob 54–55  ■   The Exodus 74–77  ■   
The Prophet Samuel 110–15  ■  The Crucifixion 258–65

A conviction that 
prayer of all kinds 

reaches God.

Petitionary prayer. 
Abraham prays for an 

heir and is rewarded with 
one. Genesis 15:5

A prayer in peril. 
Moses prays for help 

when his people turn against 
him. Exodus 17:4

Silent prayer. 
Hannah prays in her 

heart. Samuel 1:13

Prayer as confession. 

Ezra prays and confesses.  
Ezra 9:5–10:4

and Eve’s third son Seth has a  
son called Enosh. At this time, 
Genesis tells us, people begin to 
invoke the name of Yahweh. 

Many of the earliest prayers are 
petitions for the birth or protection 
of children. Isaac’s prayer to 
Yahweh on behalf of his wife 
Rebekah leads to her becoming 
pregnant with the twins Esau  
and Jacob. The passion of such 
petitions is sometimes expressed 
in the names given to longed-for 
sons. For example, Leah, the first 
wife of Jacob, names her first son 
Reuben (“See, a son”), because, she 
explains, “the Lord has seen my 
misery” (Genesis 29:32).

Another particularly poignant 
prayer involves Hagar, the Egyptian 
concubine of Abraham, Isaac’s 
father. The jealousy of Abraham’s 

wife, Sarah, leads to Hagar and her 
son Ishmael being banished to the 
wilderness, where they run out of 
water. Hagar places Ishmael in the 
shade of a bush, then sits a short 
distance away because she cannot 
bear to watch her child die. Her 
prayer brings a response from the 
angel of God, who calls out to 
reassure her of God’s protection. 
She opens her eyes to see a well. 

Prayers of thanksgiving 
Another great strand of prayer, 
praise and thanksgiving, occurs 
when Abraham sends his servant 
to Mesopotamia to find a wife for 
Isaac. The servant petitions God for 
success in his mission. When his 
prayer is answered, he bows down 
and worships Yahweh, saying: 
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of 

my master Abraham, who has not 
abandoned his kindness and 
faithfulness to my master.” The 
addition of such praise becomes 
more common later in the Bible.
For believers, biblical examples of 
prayer show that humans can 
communicate with God and that 
God listens and responds. In the 
New Testament, prayer is usually 
communicated to God in the name 
of Jesus Christ, through the Holy 
Spirit. Prayer relies on promises of 
the Spirit’s aid in prayer and God’s 
favorable reception of prayers 
offered under Jesus’s authority 
(Romans 8:26 and John 14:13–14). ■

The names of God

Names in biblical times were 
more than just a label: they 
stood for a person’s being and 
status. Even more significant 
were the names of God. The 
three names for God most  
frequently used in the Hebrew 
Bible are El (more than 200 
times), Elohim (2,570 times),  
and Yahweh (6,800 times).  
El was both a generic word  
for “god” and the name of the 
chief god of the Canaanites— 
a benevolent deity portrayed 
as an old man with a beard.  
El is often used in compounds: 
Everlasting God, God 
Almighty, Most High God. 
Elohim is another generic 
word for “god,” emphasizing 
God’s universality. It is used  
in the first verse of Genesis: 
“In the beginning God created 
the heavens and the earth.” 
Yahweh (or YHWH, since 
ancient Hebrew script lacked 
vowels) is the personal name 
of the God of Israel. The name 
is explained in Exodus, during 
Moses’s encounter at the 
burning bush, where God’s 
words are translated: “I am  
who I am.” 

The evolution of prayer

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A t the end of the first chapter of Genesis, God surveys His creation.  
“God saw what he had made,” 
Genesis tells us, “and it was very 
good” (1:31). By the sixth chapter, 
the mood has darkened. “God saw 
how corrupt the earth had become, 

for all the people of the earth had 
corrupted their ways” (6:12). His 
heart “filled with pain,” He resolves 
to “wipe mankind … from the face 
of the earth—men and animals,  
and creatures that move along the 
ground, and birds of the air—for I 
am grieved that I have made them.” 


Genesis 6:1–8:14

Obedience and  
trust in God

Primeval period The 
floodwaters sent by God to 
cover the Earth; Mount Ararat, 

Noah Son of Lamech, who is  
a descendant of Seth, the  
third son of Adam and Eve.  
A righteous man, Noah 
becomes father to Shem at  
500 years old, and then to 
Japheth and Ham.

Genesis establishes 
humans as stewards  

of the Earth.

But he preserves Noah 
and the animals to begin 
a new life after the Flood.

God makes a covenant 
with Noah that he will not 
destroy the earth again.

God tells Noah all 
creatures are given 

into his hands. 
Humanity must 
now care for the 

Earth and  
behave well.

But after several 
generations, humanity has 

grown corrupt.

Human stewardship is 
affirmed in Psalm 8.

God resolves to remake 
the world.

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See also: Creation 20–25  ■  Covenants 44–47  ■  Sodom and Gomorrah 48–49  ■  The Psalms 138–43  ■   
The Suffering Servant 154–55  ■  The New Jerusalem 322–29


One thing makes Him modify His 
intention, however: the existence  
of one “righteous man,” Noah.

Remaking the world
The writers of Genesis used the 
story of Noah to reflect upon what 
scholars have called creation, 
un-creation, and re-creation. God 
makes creation good; humanity 
spoils it. Patiently, God un-creates 
in order to re-create. Like other 
stories in Genesis, The Flood 
shows that God will judge and 
punish sin but also offer salvation 
to the faithful and penitent.

To deal with human depravity, 
God sends a flood to wipe out “all 
life under the heavens” apart from 
“righteous” Noah, his family, and a 
full sampling of animal life. God 
tells Noah to build an ark, or ship, 
to contain him, his family, and “two 
of all living creatures, male and 
female, to keep them alive” (6:19). 
Noah does as God bids. When they 
enter the ark, God shuts them in. 

As the waters rise, God remembers 
Noah, and all the animals and 
livestock. In the Bible, remembering 
often involves the fulfillment of an 
obligation or promise. Here, God 
sends a wind, and the waters 
recede. In a famous passage, Noah 
sends out a raven to test how far 
the waters have withdrawn. It flies 

back and forth until the land is  
dry again. The second time, Noah 
sends out a dove—it returns with 
an olive leaf in its bill. The next 
time, the dove does not return. 
Noah now knows that it is safe  
to leave the ark. 

The first covenant
Cleansed by water, the world 
emerges anew. Noah, effectively  
a second Adam, makes a sacrifice 
to God, who repeats to Noah and 
his family the blessing made in 
Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and increase 
in number and fill the earth.” God 
also enters into a covenant with 
Noah, the first of a series of 
covenants between God and 
humankind. “Never again will all 
life be cut off by the waters of a 
flood; never again will there be  
a flood to destroy the earth.” The 
sign of this pact is the rainbow. ■

Noah’s family and the animals leave 
the Ark when it comes to rest in the 
Ararat region of Mesopotamia. Simon 
de Myle’s painting (c.1570) shows 
aggression and chaos soon returning.

Flood stories

Cultures worldwide have sagas 
of cataclysmic floods. In the  
case of ancient Mesopotamia 
and the surrounding region,  
there are at least three other 
versions of the Great Flood 
story, possibly inspired by a 
devastating flooding of the 
Tigris and Euphrates rivers 
known to have taken place in 
2900 bce. In the Sumerian flood 
story, the equivalent of Noah is 
Ziusudra, a man known for his 
humility. In a version of the flood 
narrative found on one of the 

tablets recording the Babylonian 
epic of Gilgamesh, which may 
have been written down as early 
as the 22nd century bce and was 
probably based on an older oral 
tradition, the sole human 
survivor of the flood is called 
Utnapishtim. The third account 
is the Akkadian epic of Atra-
hasis, written down in around 
1700 bce, whose eponymous 
hero is “exceedingly wise.” 

These stories later found 
their way into Greek and Roman 
mythology—the Roman poet 
Ovid tells a version of the flood 
story in his Metamorphoses.

US_040-041_The_flood.indd   41 27/09/17   5:55 pm



pyramid that reaches toward the 
heavens. Not surprisingly, they are 
proud of this achievement. 

High ambitions
The story of the Tower of Babel 
comes at the end of the first  
section of Genesis, before moving 
on from the creation of the universe 
to a more particular account of the 
ancestral origins of the nation of 
Israel. The Babel narrative draws  
on historical realities—people  
did migrate and Babel was an  
early name for Babylon—in order  
to tell a universal story about 
humankind’s tendency to behave 
against God’s wishes. It is not just 
the Babylonians who are depicted 
here, but the whole world, all 
speaking the same language. 

After settling in Shinar, the 
people spur themselves on with 
two emphatic statements: “Come, 
let’s make bricks and bake them 
thoroughly. … Come, let us build 
ourselves a city, with a tower that 
reaches to the heavens, so that  
we may make a name for ourselves 
and not be scattered over the face 
of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4).

Wary of what is happening 
among the people of Shinar, God 
visits the city and its tower. He 

sees that if the citizens of Babel 
continue to progress at this rate, 
nothing will be beyond them. Part 
of their power, He decides, lies in 
the fact that they all speak the 
same language. 

The sin of arrogance
Genesis does not explicitly  
state the reasons for God’s 
disapproval, but among the options 
suggested by scholars is that the 
tower is an outward expression  
of the sin of human arrogance. In  
a statement of His own, God says, 
“Come, let us go down and confuse 
their language so they will not 
understand each other” (11:7).  


Genesis 11:1–9

The power of humanity

After the Great Flood 
Shinar, Mesopotamia.

People of the world 
Descendants of Noah,  
who speak one language.

G enesis 11 describes a  large people journeying westward in a mass 
migration. They decide to settle in 
the land of Shinar, another name  
for Babylonia, after finding the 
Mesopotamian floodplain fertile. 
Although there is no stone with 
which to build a city, the people  
are technologically innovative and 
learn to create imposing structures 
using bricks, with bitumen for 
mortar. They establish a great  
city and begin to build a ziggurat,  
a temple tower in the shape of a 

If … they have begun to do 
this, then nothing that they  

 propose to do will now  
 be impossible for them. 

Genesis 11:6

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Cloud obscures the soaring tip of  
the Tower of Babel in a painting by an 
unknown 16th-century Flemish artist, 
who set the tower in a busy river port 
with basilicas and mosques.

He separates the people of Babel  
by language so that they are unable 
to complete the tower. God then 
scatters them across the world, 
in accordance with His previous 
command in Genesis 1:22 to be 
“fruitful and increase in number 
and fill the earth.”

Political purpose
The story also has a satirical 
undercurrent. In the last verse, 
for example—“That is why it was 
called Babel—because there the 
Lord confused the language of the 
whole world” (11:9)—play is made of 
a similarity between the name 

Babel and the Hebrew balal, 
meaning “confuse.” The intention 
may be to poke fun at  Babylon, 
whose name meant “Gate of God.” 
A more appropriate name, the 
Genesis writers may be suggesting, 
would be confusion.

Hostility toward Babylon is  
not surprising given that the book 
of Genesis probably took its final 
form in the 5th century bce, not long 
after the Judeans had returned to 
Judah from their enforced exile in 
Babylon following the Babylonian 
capture of Judah. That experience, 
along with the Israelites’ sufferings 
at the hands of other regional 
powers, may help explain the 
author’s seeming preference for 
smaller scattered nations, each 
with its own language and  
territory, over the consolidation  
of power in a single imperial city. ■ 

Gateways to heaven

Most Mesopotamian cities, 
including Babylon, had 
ziggurats, which rose from  
the surrounding plain like 
artificial mountains reaching 
up to the heavens. These  
temples were seen as 
gateways between the world 
of humans and the gods—an 
act of pride disliked by the 
God of the Israelites. They 
were built with brick—there 
was little or no stone in the 
Mesopotamian floodplain—
with solid mud-brick cores  
and exteriors of fired brick. 
Sometimes their sides were 
landscaped, as is commonly 
depicted in images of the 
Hanging Gardens of Babylon. 

The inspiration for the  
story of the Tower of Babel is 
thought to be the Etemenanki 
(“House of the Foundation of 
Heaven and Earth”), a seven-
story ziggurat topped by a 
sanctuary dedicated to the 
god Marduk. The chief temple 
of Babylon, the Etemenanki 
was destroyed by the Assyrian 
King Sennacherib in 689 bce. 

Ziggurats have not 
survived as well as the 
stone-built pyramids of Egypt 
but their remains still exist, 
including those of the Great 
Ziggurat of Ur in southern Iraq. 

See also: The Fall 30–35  ■  The Flood 40–41  ■  Sodom and Gomorrah 48–49  ■  
The Fall of Jerusalem 128–31  ■  The Day of Pentecost 282–83 

Partially restored, the Great 
Ziggurat of Ur, in modern-day  
Iraq, was built during the Third 
Sumerian Dynasty, c.2100 bce.  
Like other ziggurats, it was 
climbed by sloping ramps.

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T he conversion of Abraham by God is one of the most remarkable in the Bible. 
God’s decision to reveal Himself  
to this ordinary man resulted in  
the emergence of three of the 
world’s major religions—Judaism, 
Christianity, and Islam.

In Genesis 12:2, God appears  
to Abraham and urges him to leave 
his home and go to Canaan. In this 
critical narrative of posterity, 
introducing the concept of a people 
chosen to deliver God’s message  
of salvation, God tells Abraham: “I 
will make you into a great nation, 
and I will bless you; I will make  
your name great, and you will  
be a blessing. I will bless those who 
bless you, and whoever curses you  
I will curse; and all peoples on earth 
will be blessed through you.”


Genesis 12:1–20:17

Abraham’s Covenant

Early 2nd millennium bce 
The Fertile Crescent, Canaan, 
and Egypt.

Abraham Son of Terah,  
who becomes the father of  
all nations.

Sarah Abraham’s famously 
beautiful wife.

Lot Abraham’s nephew, who 
travels toward Canaan with 
Abraham and Sarah.

Pharaoh Unnamed ruler  
of Egypt.

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See also: The Fall 30–35  ■  The Flood 40–41  ■  The Testing of Abraham 50–53  ■ 
The Ten Commandments 78–83   


A 16th-century Brussels tapestry 
dramatizes the calling of Abraham  
and his journey. In fact, the biblical 
passage mentions neither the setting 
nor circumstances of the calling.

The Abrahamic Faiths

Abraham is one of the most 
important figures in the 
religions of the Middle East 
and the Western world. He  
is universally recognized as 
the father of the three great 
monotheistic faiths: Judaism, 
Christianity, and Islam. To  
the Jewish people, Abraham 
was the founder of Israel  
and their first patriarch. He 
taught them that there is only 
one God and inspired their 
faith with his unquestioning 
obedience and unwavering 
loyalty to God. 

Christians view Abraham 
as possibly the greatest 
exponent of a human 
relationship with God. They 
believe that it is through 
Abraham’s descendant, Jesus, 
that all God’s promises are 
fulfilled. In Islam, where he is 
known as “Ibrahim,” Abraham 
is regarded as a great prophet 
whose son Ishmael, by Hagar, 
became the father of the Arab 
peoples and the ancestor of 
the Prophet Muhammad, the 
founder of Islam. Muslims 
celebrate Abraham on the 
festival of Eid-al-Adha, held  
in memory of Abraham’s 
willingness to obey God’s 
command to sacrifice his son 
(see pp. 50–53). 

God reiterates his promise on 
several occasions. The basic 
components always remain the 
same: that Abraham’s descendants 
will become a great nation, live in a 
fruitful land, be blessed, and be a 
blessing to all the peoples of the 
Earth. The nation God promises is 
one of generations of worshippers  
in their own land. This is the 
“covenant”—binding contract—that 
God and Abraham make. God offers 
divine promises in return for the 
continued faith of Abraham and his 
descendants. The covenant is part 
of God’s plan of establishing a 
nation of people free from sin.

A momentous journey  
In a clear demonstration of his  
faith, Abraham obeys God’s call  
to leave his homeland. He is ❯❯ 

The Five Great  
Covenants of  

the Bible




2 Samuel  




US_044-047_Covenants.indd   45 27/09/17   5:55 pm


accompanied on his great journey 
through the Fertile Crescent by his 
wife Sarah, their nephew Lot, and 
servants. They travel along a well-
trodden trade route from Harran  
in Mesopotamia to Egypt. 

Following God’s instructions, 
they eventually stop at the Great 
Tree of Moreh near a place named 
Shechem in the heart of Canaan. 
Here, God appears to Abraham 
once more and tells him that his 
descendants will inherit this new 
“Promised Land”—the chosen land 
for God’s people. Seeing in advance 
the rewards God has promised him, 
Abraham builds the first of many 
altars to his Lord (12:7).

Father of many
At the time of their departure, 
Abraham and Sarah are 75 and 65 
years old respectively. Although 
these might appear to be very 
advanced ages at which to 
establish a new nation, let alone 
have children, the patriarchs were 
long-lived. Abraham dies at the age 
of 175 and Sarah at 127.

At this stage, Abraham and 
Sarah are referred to as Abram and 
Sarai. God changes Abram’s name 

(meaning “exalted father”) to 
Abraham (“father of many”) in 
Genesis 17. In this same chapter, 
God promises Abraham a son—
Isaac—whose descendants will 
found a nation named Israel. The 
significance of Sarai’s name change 
to Sarah is less clear. Both names 
mean “princess,” but “Sarah” may 
also mean “queen.”

Journey to Egypt 
Abraham, Sarah, and Lot’s initial 
stay in the Promised Land is brief 
due to a famine. Along with all the 
other people of Canaan, they are 
forced to flee to Egypt in search of 
food. Concerned that Sarah’s great 
beauty may attract the Egyptians’ 
attention, and that he may be 
murdered in order to clear the way 
for a marriage, Abraham instructs 
Sarah to tell the Egyptians that she 
is his sister. 

The ruse backfires when 
Pharaoh takes Sarah into his 
harem. In turn, Pharaoh rewards 
Abraham for having a beautiful 
“sister” and showers him with 

Covenants in Judaism 
and Christianity

In religion, a “covenant” 
denotes a formal alliance or 
agreement between God and 
humankind, either a religious 
group such as the Israelites  
or humanity in general. The 
covenant God makes with 
Abraham is fundamental to 
Judaism, as it forms the basis 
for the Jews being the “chosen 
people.” God promises to 
make Abraham the father of  
a great nation and commands 
that his descendants must 
obey Him. To this day, Jewish 
males are circumcised when 
they are eight days old as a 
symbol of this covenant. 

In Christianity, a covenant 
has a different significance. 
Christians believe that the 
New Covenant was instituted 
by Christ at the Last Supper  
as part of the Eucharist.  
They believe it represents an 
ongoing relationship between 
God and his followers that will 
only come to full fruition with 
the Second Coming of Christ.

Punished by God, the repentant 
Pharaoh returns Sarah to Abraham  
and sends them out of Egypt. Pharaoh 
permits Abraham to retain the riches 
he has amassed during his stay. 

Blessed is the nation  
whose God is the Lord, the 

people whom He has chosen 
for His own inheritance.

Psalm 33:12

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wealth, servants, and livestock.
When God hears that Pharaoh has 
taken Abraham’s wife as his own, 
he inflicts plague on Pharaoh and 
his household. Realizing he has 
been lied to, Pharaoh summons 
Abraham and asks him why he 
pretended Sarah was his sister. 
After an angry exchange, Pharaoh 
commands Abraham and Sarah  
to leave Egypt, yet he allows 
Abraham to retain the riches he 
has accumulated. Leaving Egypt, 
Abraham, Sarah, and Lot head 
toward the Negev.

Traditions and meanings
The biblical account of Abraham’s 
life is rooted in oral traditions rather 
than historical records, so no true 
biography of Abraham can be 
written. However, the story of 
Abraham’s life is so central to  
the fabric of the Bible that scholars 

have long debated when Abraham 
lived and what were the precise 
circumstances of his existence.

One commonly held view is  
that the story of Abraham’s journey 
to Canaan was first related in  
the early Persian period (late 6th 
century bce) by Jewish landowners 
defending their property in the  
face of Jews returning to Judah  
from their captivity in Babylon  
(see pp. 128–31). They were keen to 
trace the ownership of their lands 
back to their “father Abraham” to 
counter the land claims of the 
returning exiles.

Many readers of Abraham’s 
narrative are struck by the moral 
ambiguity at its heart—Abraham’s 
lie that Sarah is his sister instead  
of his wife, which he tells in order 
to preserve his own life. As if to 
soften the blow of this deception, 
the story later reveals that Sarah  

is Abraham’s half-sister, as well as  
his wife: “Besides, she really is my 
sister, the daughter of my father” 
(20:12). This means that Abraham’s 
statement to the Egyptians can be 
construed not only as a practical 
measure to ensure his survival, but 
also as a half-lie, or half-truth.

A merciful God
The ambiguities in the story also 
serve to show God as a benevolent, 
forgiving Lord. Later in the Bible,  
all kinds of noble acts are ascribed 
to Abraham (see pp. 50–53), but 
here he is an ordinary man, an 
example of how God’s work can  
be carried out through anyone.  
God allows Abraham to lie to the 
Egyptians in order to save his life, 
but punishes Pharaoh for taking 
another man’s wife as his own. 
Abraham is allowed to retain the 
riches he has accumulated because 
God is gracious and lenient. 
Although God does not approve  
of Abraham’s actions, He will not 
rescind His promise or His blessing.

In order to understand the full 
impact of God’s choice of Abraham 
as such an important representative 
on Earth, the reader must look 
beyond his deception in Egypt  
in the broader context of the 
subsequent events in his life. ■

Nation will not lift up  
sword against nation,  
and never again will  

they learn war.
Isaiah 2:4

God calls 
Abraham to leave his 

homeland and journey to 
the land of Canaan. 

God promises to 
make Abraham’s 

descendants into a  
great nation.

God says all 
people on earth will 

be blessed through 


God will bless those  
who bless Abraham  
and curse those who 

curse him.

God tells Abraham  

that his descendants  
will inherit the  

Promised Land.

has faith in God 
and builds his  

first altar to  
the Lord.

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L ike the Great Flood, in which God destroyed and remade creation, the destruction of 
Sodom and Gomorrah is one of  
the most dramatic examples  
of divine punishment in the Bible. 
It illustrates the need for human 
beings both to fear God’s power 
and trust in His judgment.

In Genesis 18, Abraham is 
visited by three angels in human 
form. One of them, speaking as if 
he is God, tells Abraham that He 
has come to investigate reports of 
sinful behavior in the towns of 
Sodom and Gomorrah. The angel—
or God himself—indicates that if 
the “outcry against Sodom and 
Gomorrah is so great and their sin 
so grievous” as He has heard, He 
will destroy the cities.

The writers of Genesis then 
reveal the close relationship 
between Abraham and God. 
Abraham challenges God’s plan 
and humbly asks, though he is 
“nothing but dust and ashes,” 
whether it is right to take such 
drastic action. While he is not 
prepared to resist God’s wishes, 
Abraham bargains with Him, 
confident that the “judge of  
all earth” (18:25) will do right.  
Eventually, God agrees that He  


Genesis 18:1–19:29

Divine punishment

Around 1900 bce In Sodom 
and Gomorrah, two towns in 
the Valley of Siddim, possibly 
near the Dead Sea.

Abraham Son of Terah and 
the future father of all nations. 

The angels God’s messengers 
on Earth.

Lot Abraham’s nephew,  
who has settled with his 
family in Sodom. 

Lot’s wife A woman who  
may have enjoyed living in  
the sinful city of Sodom. 

The men of Sodom  
Depicted as a sinful and 
unfaithful people.

Other biblical references  
to Sodom and Gomorrah

 In Deuteronomy 29:22–23, 
Moses refers to the 

destruction of Sodom  
and Gomorrah.

In Isaiah 13:19–22, Isaiah 
warns Babylon that it 

may end like Sodom  
and Gomorrah.

In Ezekiel 16:48–50,  
God compares  

Jerusalem to Sodom. 

In Luke 10:12–13,  
Jesus cites  

places that are  
more damnable.

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See also: The Fall 30–35  ■  The Flood 40–41  ■  The Ten Plagues 70–71  ■  The Fall of Jericho 98–99  


will not destroy the cities if He 
finds at least ten good people 
within them.

God’s wrath
The story moves to the city of 
Sodom, where Lot, Abraham’s 
nephew, invites two angel-
strangers to stay at his home  
rather than in the town’s square. 
Lot prepares a meal for the angels, 
“baking bread without yeast,” 
foreshadowing the hasty meal the 
Israelites prepare when they flee 
Egypt (Exodus 12:8). 

Later that night, the men of 
Sodom arrive at Lot’s door and ask: 
“Where are the men who came to 
you tonight? Bring them out to us 
so that we can have sex with them” 
(19:5). Refusing the men’s request,  
Lot offers his two virgin daughters 
to the crowd instead, but the men 
refuse Lot’s offer and try to break 
down the door. The angels strike 
the crowd with blindness. They 
warn Lot and his family that God  
is about to destroy the city. 

Lot flees from Sodom with only 
his wife, two daughters, and the 
angels. God rains down fire and 
brimstone to destroy the two cities. 

The angels warn Lot not to look 
back, but Lot’s wife glances behind 
her and is turned to a pillar of salt. 

Saving the penitent
The sin of Sodom and Gomorrah  
is traditionally considered to be 
homosexuality, giving rise to the 
word “sodomy.” However, passages 
about the cities’ sins focus on  
the abandonment of justice and 
neglect of the poor (Isaiah 3:8–15 
and Ezekiel 16:48–50). More 
significant is what the story reveals 
about God’s judgments and His 
relationship with Abraham. God 
considers the evidence before 
making judgment and allows 
Abraham to bargain with Him. God 
is prepared to reward the righteous 
and save the penitent. Nonetheless, 
His judgment is final: the cities of 
sin are not spared. ■

Cities of sin

Sodom and Gomorrah are  
not the only sinful cities in  
the Bible. Other debauched  
or lawless settlements include 
the other three cities of the 
“Valley of Siddim” (Admah, 
Zeboiim, and Zoar), Edom,  
and Jerusalem. States such  
as Egypt and Assyria are  
also censured for their lack  
of morality and disregard for 
God’s laws. 

These cities of sin were 
held up as dramatic warnings 
about the terrifying power of 
God’s wrath. The book of 
Revelation describes the 
destruction of the city of 
Babylon at the end of time, 
noting that “the smoke from 
her goes up for ever and ever” 
(19:3). This is a direct 
reference to the smoke from 
fire and brimstone (sulfur)  
that rose up from the cities o