What do the first few minutes of a movie and the first four pages of your Bible have in common? Well, they’re both beginnings, introducing the viewer or reader to the key elements they must know to interpret and understand the story correctly. Everyone in my family knows how fanatic I am about getting to a theater on time. Why? Because if you miss the beginning of a film, you’ll be lost for the rest.
In literary terms, a prologue introduces us to the indispensable elements of a narrative: setting, main characters, and conflict. Indeed, such elements are often provided only in the prologue. If you removed Genesis 3, for example, you would struggle to understand the Bible’s narrative conflict. The reader’s focus in the prologue should be on locating the conflict—the problem around which the story will revolve. Once we identify the conflict, we’ll be able to follow the storyline, which will intensify until it reaches a climax—the most intense point in the conflict. This is followed by the story’s resolution, which reveals how the conflict is resolved. Then comes the end—the story is brought to completion, and the author brings closure to all the issues introduced at the beginning.
Reading Genesis 1–4 as the introduction to the Bible will give you the interpretive keys to see the Scriptures as the Scripture—one unfolding story rather than an anthology of 66 books. And when you read it as a single metanarrative, the overarching theme of the gospel shines through.
Let’s test this hermeneutical thesis by looking at the role and function of Genesis 1–4 in the rest of the Bible.
Genesis 1–4: Seed of the Tree
The opening verse of Genesis isn’t just the beginning of the story; it marks the beginning of everything (time, space, and creation). Careful readers anticipate a corresponding middle (Matt. 4:1; Luke 22:53–54; 23:33) and end (Rev. 12:9–11; 20:1–2, 10–15), and we meet the Bible’s main character: God. This is unmissable because God is mentioned in this chapter 31 times. He is the all-powerful Creator who rules over the whole creation. We then behold the apex of God’s creation: man and woman. Both were made like God so they could rule over creation, enjoy a relationship with him, and reflect his glory. And he pronounced his creation very good.
When you read Scripture as a single metanarrative, the overarching theme of the gospel shines through.
We also discover the key place in all the cosmos: the earth, and more particularly, the garden paradise where he communed with humanity (Gen. 2:8–15; 3:8). Next, we meet the antagonist: the serpent. Not surprisingly, the introduction introduces but doesn’t fully reveal the spiritual identity of this villain. We must wait until the end of the story for his unmasking (Rev. 12:9).
Finally, what’s the conflict that drives the Bible’s storyline? The serpent attacks the plan God announced to be very good (Gen. 1:28, 31). He subdues man and becomes the world’s illegitimate ruler (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 1 John 5:19). So the question for the reader is: how will God redeem man, reconcile him back from sin and death, restore his reign, and renew a good creation? In Genesis 3:15, God outlines human history as a spiritual war between the collective seed of the woman (those whom God would choose to use) and the seed of the serpent (those whom Satan would use). Cain murders Abel, worldwide corruption elicits God’s judgment of a universal flood, and all humanity revolts against God at the Tower of Babel. At almost every turn, the outcome of this war for humanity looks bleak.
All is not lost, however. God prophesies he will send another man who will succeed where the first man failed and deliver a mortal blow to the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). And as the earth’s rightful king, he will regain humanity’s righteous rule over creation. When read carefully, the rest of the story will foreshadow, prophecy, and reveal patterns and types of who this king will be and what he’ll do to reconcile all things to himself. This Dragon Slayer will be none less than the son of Abraham (Gen. 22:17–18) and Judah (Gen. 49:9–10; Num. 24:8–9; Matt. 1:1). The climax of the story is the cross, and the conclusion comes when Jesus casts the serpent into the lake of fire.
Follow the Trail
Of course, Genesis 1–4 only introduces the story. The reader must follow the seed trail to see how God reconciles everything to himself in Jesus (Eph. 1:10).
So as you work through your Bible this year, make sure you read the first five pages carefully. They’ll help you to understand the rest of the story—the most incredible ever told.