WHY IS THERE SO LITTLE HUMAN HISTORY IN GENESIS 1-11?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Adam, the first man, was created circa 4000 B.C. Abraham was born in the closing verses of Genesis chapter 11, approximately 2100–2000 B.C. In other words, the first 11 chapters of Genesis focus on about 2,000 years of history. Think of it—the Bible’s first 300 verses cover 20 centuries! Why is there so little world history in these Scriptures? Furthermore, why does Genesis spend the remaining 39 chapters (over 1,200 verses) discussing a period of less than 400 years? This study will offer some enlightenment regarding this “Genesis timeline disproportionality.”
I. THE CONUNDRUMS
Much of the first 11 chapters of Genesis are various “high points” of history, not an uninterrupted, exhaustive, detailed commentary of all 20 centuries. Notice the following stats:
- Chapter 1 covers the first week of creation.
- Chapter 2 is dedicated to the sixth day of that first week.
- Chapter 3 seems to have covered only the second week.
- Chapter 4 covers Adam’s first 130 years alive.
- Chapter 5 is a genealogical record from Adam’s creation to Noah’s birth, chapters 1-5—approximately 1650 years.
- Chapter 6 spans just over one century (Noah building the Ark).
- Chapters 7-8 cover a little more than one year (the Great Flood).
- Chapters 9-11 span approximately 350 years (the post-Flood New World, the dividing of the nations and languages, the Tower of Babel, and Abraham’s lineage).
After outlining some 2,000 years in 11 chapters, Genesis’ layout takes on a bizarre form. From chapter 12 all the way to the end (chapter 50), Scripture covers approximately 400 years. Why provide some 39 chapters of information about a four-century-long period, but only 11 chapters about a 20-century-long period? The first 11 chapters of Genesis leave us with a lot of unanswered questions. Several dozen people are actually named in the Scripture here. Surely more people than that lived during those 20 centuries prior to Abraham! Why is the content of Genesis chapters 1-11 so “limited,” an edited (incomplete) version of the history between Adam and Abraham?
II. THE CONFIGURATIONS
Five divine establishments form the heart of Genesis chapters 1-11. It would do us well to survey them.
We know this concept by the more common term “free will.” This ability of free will is the first divine institution. It appears in Genesis chapter 2: “ And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
The LORD God created us to be free moral agents. We are not robots, forced to behave a certain way. We are creatures capable of choosing how we want to conduct our lives. That is, we can decide to follow God by faith, or we can resolve to follow the flesh (sin) in unbelief. God did not force Adam to do right (avoid eating the forbidden fruit). Genesis 2:16-17 is not, “You will only eat of those trees other than the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Neither did God force Adam to do evil (eating the forbidden fruit). Genesis 2:16-17 is not, “You will eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Genesis chapter 2 once again: “ And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:  But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” God left Adam with the volition—the choice of “freely” choosing—and however Adam reacted was his responsibility and will. The God of the Bible loves freedom, dear friends. Volition is the most basic creation institution. Free will enables the individual to have control over his or her own life.
Satan attacked volition by endorsing Eve’s misquoting God (she omitted “freely,” the reference to free will). Genesis chapter 3 tells us: “ Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?  And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:  But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.  And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:….”
God established this second creation institution in Genesis 2:18-25: “ And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him….  And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.  And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;  And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.  And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.  Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.  And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
As per the divine institution of marriage, a man and a woman are to be permanently joined in matrimony for the purpose of companionship (“an help meet for him”) and reproduction (“be fruitful and multiply”). Genesis 1:26-28 says: “ And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
The marriage relationship is at the heart of the family (third divine institution, to be discussed shortly). Satan attacked marriage, of course, at the Fall, when Adam failed to function as the head of the relationship. Adam and Eve turned on one another.
Genesis 3:11-13 tells us: “ And he [the LORD God] said [to Adam], Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?  And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.  And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” First Timothy 2:11-15 comments: “ Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.  But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.  For Adam was first formed, then Eve.  And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.  Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.”
The issue of family, the third divine institution, is spoken of first in Genesis chapter 4: “ And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.  And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.” Adam and Eve had two boys, Cain and Abel. Satan attacked this divine institution by inspiring religious Cain to kill righteous Abel. Verse 8: “And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.”
God established the fourth and final creation institution in chapters 9-11 of Genesis. After the Great Flood of Noah’s lifetime, God formed human government and endorsed capital punishment. The Bible says in Genesis 9:5-6: “ And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.  Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.”
In chapter 10, God divided the nations (dividing the three sons of Noah—Shem, Ham, and Japheth): “ By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations….  These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their countries, and in their nations….  These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations….  These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.”
Satan countered God’s institution of nationalism with the internationalism recorded in chapter 11. At the Tower of Babel, Satan promoted the nations gathering for a one-world government and a one-world religion. God intervened by confusing the languages, giving rise to the name “Babel” (which eventually became Babylon) and the “tongues/languages” referenced in chapter 10.
5. SEED-LINE OF MESSIAH
The first Gospel message—the “Protoevangel”—recorded in the Bible is Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” God issued this declaration to Satan, a promise that a Man would be born one day and defeat Satan and all that he purposed. This “seed of the woman” is what we now understand as the bloodline of the Lord Jesus Christ. Eve carried that bloodline, and it passed on through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, King David, and finally through the virgin Mary.
- Genesis 3:15 – seed of the woman
- Genesis 22:18 – seed of Abraham
- Genesis 21:12 – seed of Abraham passes through son Isaac
- Genesis 28:14 – seed of Isaac passes through son Jacob
- Psalm 89:3-4 – seed of David
- Galatians 3:16 – seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ
In Luke chapter 3, we find the genealogy of Jesus Christ (traced backward, albeit we cite a partial listing here for brevity’s sake):
- Son of Mary (verse 23)
- Son of King David through Nathan (verse 31)
- Son of Judah (verse 33)
- Son of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham (verse 34)
- Son of Noe/Noah through Sem/Shem (verse 36)
- Son of Adam and Eve (verse 38)
This narrowing-down of Messiah’s seed-line covers approximately 4,000 years of lineage—Eve to the virgin Mary. This matters because Jesus Christ, in order to be the “Kinsman-Redeemer,” must be biologically related to all people. Jesus is just that because His bloodline goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, the parents of the human race. The Lord Jesus is the perfect Man, what Adam should and could have been forever (but chose in Eden to give Satan his God-given crown). Yet future from us, Jesus Christ will rule the planet for God’s glory, doing exactly what Adam chose not to do. Jesus Christ will also rescue/redeem creation from Satan, reversing the damage that Adam caused when he chose to follow Satan in Eden.
Genesis 1:26-28 (of Adam): “ And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.  And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
Hebrews 2:6-9 (of Jesus Christ, quoting Psalm 8:4-6): “ But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him?  Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:  Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.  But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
III. THE CONCLUSION
Why is there so little human history in Genesis chapters 1-11? God the Holy Spirit was not interested in documenting every little detail during those first 2,000 years of human history. God limited that information to emphasize five key ideas:
- The identification of the four creation institutions God established for the formation, organization, and perpetuation of the human race (volition, marriage, family, and nationalism/human government).
- The tracing and isolation of the seed of the woman—from Eve, chapter 3, to Abraham, chapter 12. This is the bloodline of Jesus Christ, thus qualifying Him to redeem all sons and daughters of Adam.
- The demonstration of how God was just or fair in setting aside the unbelieving and satanic nations at the Tower of Babel.
- The necessity of the formation of the nation Israel in Genesis chapter 12, Israel being created to do in the Earth what Adam and the Gentiles/nations failed to do. Israel picked up Messiah’s seed-line (Abraham onward), so Genesis 12-50 focuses very specifically on that nation. The Holy Spirit took meticulous care to detail what happened with Israel during her first 400 years.
- The documentation of Satan’s relentless efforts to utilize his policy of evil to hinder and destroy what God attempts to accomplish in and through creation.