Adapted from Creation Answer Book by Hank Hanegraaff 

To say that Genesis is a literary masterpiece is to understate its elegance. With inspired brilliance, Moses interlaced a historical narrative with both symbolism and repetitive poetic structure, and he employed the powerful elements of story (characters, plot, tension, resolution) to set the foundation for the rest of redemptive revelation. The very chapter that references the fall also records the plan for restoration of fellowship—a plan that takes on definition with God’s promise to make Abram a great nation through which “all peoples on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). As such, Abram’s call is the divine antidote to Adam’s fall. Yet this is but a glimpse of the author’s genius. Genesis is forged so that its main message is as easy to remember as it is to recall.

To begin with, Genesis opens with a literary mnemonic (memory aid) by which we are daily reminded of God’s creative prowess. The first six days outline a hierarchy of creation that culminates in humanity as its crowning jewel. On the seventh day, the Creator, in whom we ultimately find our Sabbath, rests. As such, the history of creation is remembered and recalled through its association with the continuous seven-day cycle of life.

Furthermore, the rest of Genesis is structured in a way that it may be remembered using our ten fingers. With one hand we recall primeval history: the accounts of the heavens and the earth (2:4–4:26), Adam (5:1–6:8), Noah (6:9–9:29), Noah’s sons (10:1–11:9), and Shem, the father of the ancient Near East (11:10–26). With the other hand, we remember the accounts of Terah (father of Abraham, 11:27–25:11), Ishmael (25:12–18), Isaac (25:19–35:29), Esau (36:1–43), and Jacob, who is called Israel (37:2–50:26).

Finally, we should note that post-Gutenberg (printing press) we are primarily people of the printed page. We associate sound education with the capacity for reading and writing rather than memorizing and reciting. Not so the ancients. In their predominantly oral culture, people practiced the principles of memory. As such, Genesis contains many Hebrew symmetries, parallelisms, and sevenfold patterns. An example of a symmetrical pattern is found in the record of humanity’s first sin (Genesis 2:4–3:24: the creation of man and woman; temptation by the serpent; sin in the center; and punishment of the serpent, woman, and man). The account of the seven-day creation (Genesis 1:3–27) is a sevenfold pattern that contains a three-way parallel structure: Days 1 and 4, light/luminaries; Days 2 and 5, sky and sea/sea and sky creatures; Days 3 and 6, land/land creatures; and Day 7, the Sabbath.

From its seven-day opening through its tenfold pattern, Genesis serves as a unified and memorable prologue to the whole of redemptive history.

For further study, see David A. Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament: A Commentary on Genesis–Malachi (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).