Is Genesis 1 a Preface?

At lunch yesterday I read through Jason DeRouchie‘s recent article in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society “The Blessing-Commission, the Promised Offspring, and the Toledot Structure of Genesis.” (Yes, the title is as intriguing as the article.)

Though this is terribly concise, DeRouchie’s article explores the literary system of  Genesis whereby its author(s) used the phrase ‘eleh toledot (“these are the generations of ” or “this is the account of”) to begin new sections of the biblical book. The phrase ‘eleh toledot occurs in the following places:

Toledot Chart

In his piece DeRouchie goes on to discuss the difference between the toledot as chapter headings as opposed to colophons, or types of sub-headings. He ends up discussing how he sees several of these toledot structures as dominant section headers with sub-headers. It is a fine journal article.

So, I noticed that the first place the toledot phrase occurs is Genesis 2:4. Now this is interesting, since the content of 2:4-25 form a second account of creation, this one focused on the Garden of Eden, the author of the text has chosen to mark this with the toledot function. Here’s the text:

Standing at the beginning of this new section, the toledot structure is not a backwards referent to 1:1-2:3. As most contemporary commentators have pointed out, as reflected in some translations, the first account of creation does go from 1:1-2:3, not 1:1-31.

For the author of this section to have included a significant literary device such as the toledot feature, it is perhaps reflecting that the first account is, indeed, prefatory. That is, Genesis 1:1-2:3 reflects a preface to the book of Genesis that stands outside, or before, the rest of the content of the text.

The difference between Genesis 1:1-2:3 being a preface as opposed to an introduction is important. If prefatory matter stands outside the rest of the book in terms of linear progression, explaining the events leading up to the first true scene of narrative history in 2:4, than what is in the preface does matter to the text but is not entirely congruent with the aims of the remainder of the text. As someone else has put it: the preface is the book about a book and the introduction is about the content of the book. 

If we look at Genesis 1:1-2:3 as a preface, it details content or ideas that led up to the events that begin the actual narrative in 2:4.

Though this doesn’t mean we have to discard existing theories of interpretation, it does, perhaps, help us better understand the literary intent of the author in that first section. It does not appear that the first section (Genesis 1:1-2:3) is a foreword, that is a text written by another to discuss the rest of the text.

As we consider the first section the structure and pattern of the text appear, at least to me, to be written to first show how the God of Israel stands above and beyond the gods of pagan kingdoms. Then it also speaks about how glorious the God of Israel is in His creative act.

It should also be noted that YHWH, the Hebrew proper name for God, first appears in Genesis 2:4 whereas Elohim is the primary word used in 1:1-2:3 to refer to God.

So, is Genesis 1 a preface? If it is does it impact our interpretive approach at all? Does it allow us to see there is a larger literary function of the passage rather than a static, linear accounting that automatically flows into Genesis 2, then 3, etc?

The toledot structure appears to be important to the author of Genesis. Maybe it should be equally as important to us as we consider interpretive decisions and how they relate to our overall theology.