Genesis 1-3 and the Pentateuch

*This is not a definitive answer on the topic but I hope it is useful food for thought.

Genesis 1-3 and the Pentateuch

The full question:

What is the relationship of Genesis 1-3 to the whole Pentateuch? Give special attention to whether there is a ‘covenant of works’ and a ‘covenant of grace’ in Genesis 2-3 that form a foundation for the rest of the Pentateuch.


The first three chapters in Genesis lay the foundation for the rest of the Pentateuch. The rule of God is essential for the establishment of his character, authority and actions that are on display throughout the five books of Moses. There appears to be a pre-fall covenant with Adam that God enters into and this is a key factor in how it affects the life and hopes of humanity that follow. God then makes a significant statement in Genesis chapter three verse fifteen known as the covenant of grace which sets up the rest of his covenanting purpose found in the history to come. Finally, the presence of God is a crucial aspect that provides desire and hope for God’s people. Each of these themes demonstrates how these three key chapters contain the concept in essence and how it is expounded in the rest of the Pentateuch. They are also applicatory to wider issues of Christian life and thought.


This paper will demonstrate how the relationship of the first three chapters of Genesis is foundational to the rest of the Pentateuch. As the first five books of the Pentateuch are unified under one author who is Moses[1] it would make sense for the beginning to lay a foundation for the rest.[2] The concrete is laid in the first three chapters and the building is developed as the truth is progressively revealed in the unfolding narrative.[3] There are a plethora of concepts that are established in the first three chapters but unfortunately such a limited paper is unable to deal with every concept mentioned and expounded in the Pentateuch. Themes such as humanity created in the image of God (Gen 1:26),[4] the concept of work,[5] the eschatological references[6] and the idea of rest,[7] although important and at times referred to in this essay, will not be covered on their own basis in this paper.

The way in which this essay will reveal the relationship is through the development of four major themes: The Rule of God; The Covenant of Works; The Covenant of Grace; The Presence of God. In each of these points it will be shown how the first three chapters of the Bible encapsulate these themes and then how they are further developed by the rest of the Pentateuch, finishing with a short point on how this concept engages with the wider Christian life and thought.

The Rule of God

In Genesis 1-3

God as ruler is an essential element that the beginning of Genesis makes perfectly clear. It tells the narrative of how God created everything (Gen 1:1-2:3). This sets up the ‘foundation for the theocracy’.[8] It shows God to be unimaginably powerful, to have complete control over what he created and to help the reader see nothing can be equal to his status and authority.[9] Because God created everything he has the right to rule it and relate to his creation in any way he chooses. In Genesis 1:28 the ruler chooses to allow humanity to participate in this rule.[10] Humanity is charged to ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…’ (Gen 1:28). The apex of his creation (Gen 1:31) are told to spread out and fulfil their purpose.[11] The only proper response to the ruler is to recognise his authority, worship him and obey him.[12]

In the Pentateuch

God’s clear authority and power is further exemplified in the rest of the Pentateuch. As the creator he is able to control the events of his creation (Gen 50:20). Again and again throughout the Pentateuch God demonstrates his power over creation, other gods and over humanity’s rebellion. A few of the many examples are the flood (Gen 6:1-8:19), the ten plagues (Exod 7:14-12:32), Nadab and Abihu consumed (Lev 10:1-2), earthquakes (Num 16:31-35) and the reminder of who is in charge (Deut 8:17-18). It is because he is creator and owner that he can decide to make his name known through the people he raises up (Exod 9:16). As ruler he can choose to make the rules (Exod 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21). There is also evidence that it is still his plan to establish his rule over creation through humanity.[13] This is evident in the re-establishment of Genesis 1:28 with Noah in 9:7, in his promise to Abraham in 17:6, to Jacob in 35:11 and it continues in Exodus 1:7 and Leviticus 26:9. Because God is the ruler it is apparent that Christians are to recognise his absolute authority over their lives and worship him. This concept that is clearly solidified in the beginning of Genesis and demonstrated throughout the Pentateuch makes the next three points all the more incredible. It is astounding that the same transcendent, ruling God chooses to condescend to relate personally with humanity ‘by way of covenant’.[14]

The Covenant of works

In Genesis 1-3

As Michael Horton puts it, ‘a covenant is a relationship of “oaths and bonds” and involves mutual, though not necessarily equal, commitments’.[15] This definition of a covenant appears broad enough for the Hebrew word most commonly used for the concept of covenant, berith. In Genesis the very first covenant God makes with humanity is found in chapter two where God says to the man, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:16-17).[16] The name of this covenant has many possibilities with Horton referring to it as the ‘”covenant of creation” because it is the least controversial and most broadly useful’.[17] Berkhof believes the title ‘covenant of works’ is the most fitting name as other possibilities are not distinct enough from the covenant of grace.[18] Despite these differences the name of the covenant is not essential yet the designation of it being a covenant is more profound. For the sake of convenience this paper will use the term ‘covenant of works’ despite there being the difficulty of appearing to be in contrast with the covenant of grace. As for the agreement God makes with Adam there is some contention over the legitimacy of referring to this as a covenant for a number of reasons. Three major objections are: that the term covenant is not found; the two parties do not appear to show agreement; there is no explicit evidence of a promise of life. Yet, despite these objections it is clear from further study of covenants that the term does not need to be stated for it to be a covenant when the elements of a covenant are clearly observed.[19] As God is creator, he has ‘but to announce the covenant, and the perfect state in which Adam lived was a sufficient guarantee for his acceptance’.[20] Finally, despite there being no explicit statement of life it is clear that life is implied if obedience is sustained.[21] Other evidences of this being a covenant is the possibility of Hosea 6:7 referring to God’s covenant with Adam and the way in which Romans 5:12-21 parallels Christ and Adam, two covenant heads.[22] Still some would prefer to use the term ‘Adamic administration’ due to the uncertainty of it being a covenant.[23] However, as Robertson points out, by doing this it de-emphasizes ‘the personal dimension of the covenantal bond which is so central to the biblical concept of covenant’.[24] In Genesis one to three it appears evident that God entered into a personal relationship with Adam that can be defined as a covenant. This covenant was broken by Adam and Eve (Gen 3:1-7) and therefore they were punished for their disobedience as per the stipulations of the covenant (Gen 3:14-19). This affects not only Adam but also all those that descend from him, transmitting ‘a corrupted nature…sin was also imputed to his posterity’.[25] This broken covenant ruined what Adam had for all subsequent generations.

In the Pentateuch

Evidence of a broken covenant with Adam is throughout the Pentateuch particularly in the sinfulness of humanity and the continual presence of death. Genesis provides the beginning of the study of sin, hamartiology.[26] The rest of the Pentateuch shows it being played out in real life as life spirals down in Genesis four, ‘a story of rapid degeneration’.[27] The theme of Genesis five is that death comes to all.[28] The flood comes due to God seeing ‘that every intention of the thoughts of his (humanity) heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart’ (Gen 6:5-6). Throughout the rest of the Pentateuch there is clear evidence of a continual rebellion against the creator and stipulations of how a sinful people are to obey and relate to a holy God (Gen 8:21, Exod 20-23, Lev 19:2, Num 14:26-27, Deut 4:1). There is also the continued theme of the hope of a new Adam to reverse the effects of the broken covenant which we will explore further in the next point. One way this broken covenant of works applies to the wider Christian life is the clear teaching that all humanity today are under the curse of this broken covenant. A relationship with God is impossible by our obedience because we are disqualified and unable to compete. There is only one possible means of attaining what Adam lost and did not achieve and that is reliance on Jesus Christ.[29]

The covenant of grace

In Genesis 1-3

Possibly the most monumental idea conceived in the beginning of Genesis and brought forth in the rest of the Pentateuch, indeed the whole of Scripture, is God’s redemptive plan for humanity, soteriology. Genesis three fifteen contains what is commonly referred to as the ‘Protoevangelium’, the earliest reference to God’s salvation plan.[30] The very beginning of the covenant of grace first made to Adam.[31] There is contention if this verse directly refers to the Messiah to come as some like Calvin contend that the word seed, as a collective noun, could not refer to ‘one man only’.[32] Vos agrees that ‘the seed of the serpent must be collective, and this determines the sense of the seed of the woman’ yet points out ‘the possibility is hinted at that in striking this fatal blow the seed of the woman will be concentrated in one person’ due to the fact that it is the ‘serpent itself whose head will be bruised’.[33] It would appear as though it provided hope for Adam as it seems he responds in faith by naming his wife (Gen 3:20)[34] and acting in faith ‘by sleeping with Eve and having children’ (Gen 4:1).[35] If Adam acts in faith with hope after God’s punishment it would seem prudent to treat it in the same manner.

In the Pentateuch

The rest of the Pentateuch is clearly looking for this seed that is promised and continues to reveal God’s redemptive plan through the development of the covenant of grace. Noah appears to be presented as a possible Adam.[36] Israel is another example of this as they may be able to experience the paradise of Eden as the land is described ‘in Eden-like terms as a highly desirable and fruitful place (Deut. 8:7-9; 11:10-12) and as a sanctuary (cf. Exod. 15:17)’.[37] The Pentateuch appears to be looking for access to God’s presence which we will explore further in the next point. The promise of the seed and how redemption will come is continued throughout the Pentateuch in reference to ‘Abraham’s Seed (Gen 22:16); Shiloh of Judah (Gen 49:10); The Passover Lamb (Exod 12); The Star and the Scepter (Num 24:17); The Prophet (Deut 18:15)’ to name a few key references.[38] God’s revelation of his covenant of grace with his people is continued to be revealed to Noah (Gen 9:8-17).[39] Further developed with Abraham (Gen 12:1-3; 15:1-21; 17:1-8) promising ‘descendants, territory, and blessing’ and continued in Isaac (Gen 26:3) and Jacob (Gen 35:9-12).[40] God remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exod 6:3, 5, 8) and rescues Israel from Egypt to bring them into the land that was promised.[41] There is some contention in regards to the Mosaic covenant. Some refer to it as a reinstatement of the covenant of works, others consider it a subservient covenant to the covenant of grace, while the majority of reformers in the 16th and 17th century see it as ‘an administration of the covenant of grace made with Moses and fulfilled in Christ’.[42] The Westminster Confession of Faith agrees with this position in 7.6.[43] Vos states it well as he recognises the ‘final unfolding and rearranged structure of the New Testament’ provides negative judgments (2 Cor 3:6-11; Gal 4:21-31; Heb 7:22; 9:15-17) yet ‘with the eyes of the Old Testament itself, we find it necessary to take into account the positive elements by which it prefigured and anticipated typically the New Testament’.[44] The gospel of grace is found in the law as ‘every sacrifice and every lustration proclaimed the principle of grace’ yet still ‘there was a lack of freedom even in the presentation of and attendance to the gospel. The gospel was preached under the constraint of law’.[45] Vos does well to define the difference the New Testament clearly portrays when he says ‘it (the gospel) was not permitted to rise superior to the legal environment in which it had been placed. Only the New Testament has brought the full liberty in this respect’.[46] As such the full revelation of the covenant of grace that began in Genesis can only be fully understood taking the whole of Scripture into account. The Christian today can take rest in the truth that God’s plan of salvation began in the very beginning and culminated in Christ. There is surety in a covenant when it is clear God remains faithful despite humanity.

The presence of God

In Genesis 1-3

Finally, this paper will briefly point out the major theme of God’s presence that begins in the first three chapters of Genesis and runs throughout the Pentateuch. Morales considers the theme of God’s presence as the kernel that sprouts ‘up from the soil of the Pentateuch’s heart’.[47] In the beginning of Genesis God clearly dwells with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden as it refers to God ‘walking in the garden’ (Gen 3:8). It is God’s desire for humanity ‘to enjoy an intimate relationship with him in his presence’.[48] This is the ultimate design ‘of all God’s converse with man’.[49] Yet Adam’s sin destroyed this possibility.[50] Humanity will no longer have access to an eternal hope of ‘rest’ (Gen 2:1-3) in God’s presence.[51]

In the Pentateuch

This theme continues throughout the Pentateuch as there are multiple references to this idea of God’s intention to dwell with his people. In Leviticus and Deuteronomy there is the idea of God walking among his people (Lev 26:12; Deut 23:14).[52] In the blessing to Shem God promises to ‘dwell in the tents of Shem’ (Gen 9:27).[53] Often the Bible points to the patriarchs experiencing ‘the impact of God’s presence… (Gen 12:7; 17:1, 18:1; 26:2-5, 24; 35:1, 7, 9)’.[54] Morales sees Leviticus’ goal as ‘opening a way for humanity to dwell in the divine Presence’.[55] It also seems as though the idea of rest is tied up in the promise of God’s presence when he says to Israel, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exod 33:14). Dumbrell sees Deuteronomy as conveying the desire for ‘rest’ in the Promised Land as a key feature.[56] Kaiser also sees the land as Israel’s promised resting place.[57] We have already seen that the land is seen in ‘Eden-like terms’.[58] Rest and God’s presence correlate and are in some ways inseparable. This concept of God’s dwelling presence is further developed in the plans for the Tabernacle as it seeks to replicate the Garden of Eden which is presented as a dwelling place of God.[59] This is seen in the Cherubim that are to be woven into the curtains (Exod 26:1, 31),[60] in the lampstand design (Exod 25:31-40; 37:17-24),[61] and in the reference to gold and jewels in the tabernacle that correlate to the precious stones in Eden (Gen 2:11-12; Exod 36:8-39). All of the designs of the tabernacle finally culminate in the glory of the Lord filling it (Exod 40:34). This idea of God’s desire to ‘tabernacle’ with his people is stated explicitly in Exodus 29:43-46.[62] It is central to the whole of the Pentateuch and applies to the Christian today by the joy that is theirs because of Christ who ‘tabernacled’ among us (John 1:14) and now dwells in his people (1 Cor 3:16-17) and will dwell with them forever (Rev 21:3). God’s eschatological purpose is seen from the very beginning.[63]


The first three chapters of Genesis are the foundation for the rest of the building. It contains the major themes that are revealed further in the rest of the Pentateuch. This paper has endeavoured to display the vital relationship Genesis one to three has with the five books of Moses by briefly looking at how it sets up God as ruler, the predicament of the covenant of works, the hope of the covenant of grace and the desire for the presence of God. Through these four major themes the foundational relationship of Genesis one to three to the rest of the Pentateuch is unavoidable.

  1. Tremper Longman and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006).

  2. Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009).

  3. W.H. Griffith Thomas, Through the Pentateuch Chapter by Chapter (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957).

  4. Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (New Studies in Biblical Theology 15; Leicester, England : Downers Grove, Ill: Apollos ; InterVarsity Press, 2003).

  5. Rowland S. Ward, God & Adam: Reformed Theology and the Creation Covenant (Wantirna, Australia: New Melbourne Press, 2003).

  6. Voddie Baucham, Joseph and the Gospel of Many Colors: Reading an Old Story in a New Way (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013).

  7. William J. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel: A Theological Survey of the Old Testament (2nd ed ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2002).

  8. Eugene H. Merrill, Mark F. Rooker, and Michael A. Grisanti, The World and the Word: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic, 2011), 184.

  9. John D Currid, A Study Commentary on Genesis (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2003).

  10. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 59.

  11. Walter C. Kaiser, Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1978).

  12. Roberts, God’s Big Picture.

  13. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel.

  14. The Westminster Confession of Faith: An Authentic Modern Version. (Signal Mountain, Tenn.: Summertown, 1984), 13.

  15. Michael Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 2006), 10.

  16. Philip Schaff (ed.), St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, MI: Chrisitan Classics Ethereal Library, 1890),, (1890); The Westminster Confession of Faith.

  17. Horton, God of Promise, 83.

  18. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1938), 213.

  19. Peter Golding, Covenant Theology: The Key of Theology in Reformed Thought and Tradition (Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2004), 118.

  20. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 213.

  21. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 213. What life would be like if Adam had obeyed is a topic upon which much ink has been spilled. Some reformers insist Scripture provides no warrant for a state of glory in Heaven such as John Ball, ‘A Treatise on the Covenant of Grace’, 1645,, (accessed March 23, 2016). Still others prefer to leave the debate alone as it is not clear such as Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae Legis (n.p.: EEBO, 1647),, (1647). Calvin considers 1 Corinthians 15:45 as clear teaching that Adam’s state was fit for improvement in Genesis (trans. by John King; Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 1975). Vos also points to the tree of life as ‘the sacramental means for communicating the highest life’. Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Reprinted ed.; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975), 28. Yet, pointing to the tree of life as evidence is still conjecture as it appears they were eating from the tree of life beforehand (Gen 2:9, 16) and Genesis 3:22 on a reading taking it at face value says Adam and Eve were forbidden ‘lest they live forever in a fallen state’ Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, 23. It seems preferable to leave such hypothetical situations alone for the Bible is not clear and God knew this would not come to pass, it appears as though there was a reward for Adam if he passed a probationary period and it involved ‘undisturbed enjoyment of God’. John Owen, Biblical Theology: The History of Theology from Adam to Christ (trans. by Stephen P. Westcott; Grand Rapids, MI: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994), 25.

  22. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 214.

  23. Jeong Koo Jeon, Covenant Theology: John Murray’s and Meredith G. Kline’s Response to the Historical Development of Federal Theology in Reformed Thought (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1999), 105.

  24. O Palmer Robertson, ‘Current Reformed Thinking on the Nature of the Divine Covenants’, Westminst. Theol. J. 40/1 (September 1977): 68.

  25. Ward, God & Adam, 11.

  26. Baucham, Joseph and the Gospel.

  27. Vos, Biblical Theology, 45–46.

  28. Timothy J. Cole, ‘Enoch, A Man Who Walked with God’, Bibliotheca Sacra 148/591 (September 1991), 288–297.

  29. Ward, God & Adam.

  30. Longman and Dillard, Introduction to the OT, 61.

  31. Ward, God & Adam.

  32. Calvin, Genesis, 170.

  33. Vos, Biblical Theology, 43.

  34. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty, 68–69.

  35. Jonty Rhodes, Raiding the Lost Ark: Recovering the Gospel of the Covenant King (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2013), 38.

  36. Rhodes, Raiding the Lost Ark.

  37. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, 64.

  38. Thomas, Through the Pentateuch, 190.

  39. Rhodes, Raiding the Lost Ark.

  40. Almer A. Martens, God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology (2nd ed ed.; Grand Rapids, Mich. : Leicester, UK: Baker Books ; Apollos, 1994), 23.

  41. Kaiser, OT Theology.

  42. Ward, God & Adam, 126–139.

  43. The Westminster Confession of Faith.

  44. Vos, Biblical Theology, 128–129.

  45. Vos, Biblical Theology, 129.

  46. Vos, Biblical Theology, 129.

  47. L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (New Studies in Biblical Theology 37; Downers Grove, Illinois: Apollos,InterVarsity Press, 2015), 23.

  48. Roberts, God’s Big Picture, 22.

  49. Vos, Biblical Theology, 106.

  50. Rhodes, Raiding the Lost Ark; Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel.

  51. Kaiser, OT Theology.

  52. G. K Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth, 2015.

  53. This idea is contentious as the ‘he’ could refer to Japheth or to God. Hamilton considers it makes most sense in referring to Japheth as ‘not only will Japheth’s territory and influence be enlarged, but he will experience a peaceful cohabitation with Shem’. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17 (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1990), 326. Yet it is this paper’s opinion that it makes most sense in the blessing for it to refer to God in view of the rest of Scripture, particularly Mosaic theology as Kaiser and Currid agree Currid, SC Genesis, 228; Kaiser, OT Theology, 82.

  54. Kaiser, OT Theology, 85.

  55. Morales, Who Shall Ascend, 23. This is a highly insightful book on Leviticus that assists in the understanding of the Pentateuch as a whole.

  56. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel.

  57. Walter C. Kaiser, ‘The Promise Theme and the Theology of Rest’, Bibliotheca Sacra 130/518 (April 1973), 135.

  58. Dumbrell, The Faith of Israel, 64.

  59. Beale and Kim, God Dwells Among Us.

  60. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, 210.

  61. Beale and Kim, God Dwells Among Us.

  62. Kaiser, OT Theology, 119.

  63. Baucham, Joseph and the Gospel.

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