In the months leading up to the premiere of the first Superman movie in 1978, starring the late Christopher Reeve, billboards populated America with the prophetic words, “You will believe a man can fly.” When they first started appearing, folks wondered, “What the heck is this?” By the time of the movie’s premiere, the anticipation was almost palpable. Superman is considered the forerunner of superhero movies.
Genesis and Exodus acted as a sort of ancient “billboard”. Those books served the purpose for beginning to tale the wonders of God’s plan of salvation. Generation after generation the Jewish people retold the history of the patriarchs and formation of Israel. A message of hope that God will not abandon mankind could be discovered into these books. Without Genesis and Exodus, the subsequent history of the Jewish people in the Old Testament would be incomplete. Furthermore, the life Jesus in the New Testament would lack depth and meaning.
God’s redemptive plan charted throughout Genesis and Exodus are the thematic and theological bases for the rest of the Bible. From the initial promise to Abraham to the nation of Israel, Divine Providence slowly educates the Jewish people about His plan to save humankind from sin. Salvation history reaches its climax in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. After Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven, the Holy Spirit comes upon the early Church with the graces to spread the Gospel to all nations.
Genesis and Exodus go way back to the beginning, to the initial blueprints of God’s design for all humanity. Genesis focuses on the Fall of humanity into sin and disobedience against God’s Will. The first book of the bible also outlines the history of the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus details how God formed the nation of Israel through Moses. God’s call to Moses, and then to Joshua, to bring the Jewish people out of slavery in Egypt and to lead them to the promised land is a critical element in understanding Jewish history, the beginnings of Christianity, and Jesus’s redemption of all of us.
A primary theme throughout Genesis and Exodus is the covenant between God and His chosen people. According to Scripture scholar Scott Hahn in A Father Who Keeps His Promise, ““Salvation history reveals sin as literally a broken home.” For Jews and Christians a covenant — avowed, sacred relationship with God — is at the heart of spiritual life and of religion. It involves a familial bond of God the Father to the Israelite people who are His children. No relationship with any individual human being is as important or meaningful as one’s covenant relationship with God.
Teachings in Genesis and Exodus provide both the basis for statements in later books of the Old Testament about a “new covenant” (e.g. Jer 31:31) and the basis, including prophecies, for the New Testament’s claims about the new covenant that flow from and depend on the old covenant.
Genesis and Exodus provide more than overarching themes or incidental background for the remainder of the Bible. Without their history and theology, the remainder of the Bible is an assortment of unrelated stories, of wise maxims and sayings, and much of it is simply not understandable unless the content of these two books is present to serve as a foundation and meaning-giving background— the paradigm of divine redemption.
Same Divine Plan in Oral Tradition
For years — centuries with respect to the books of the Old Testament and decades with respect to the books of the New Testament — very little of the Bible was written down and there were relatively few copies of what was written. Individuals did not have personal copies of these scriptures. The Israelites passed down stories, laws, and teachings from generation to generation via oral tradition.
Jesus Himself personally wrote, with His own hand, nothing that is recounted in Holy Scripture. The current evidence provides no writing by anyone of the New Testament books that were produced contemporaneously with Jesus’s life on earth or immediately thereafter. The New Testament books were written within decades of Jesus’s life either by eyewitnesses or those who had access to eyewitnesses — in short, in many instances New Testament books are based on the relatively young oral tradition about Jesus.
Interestingly, no book of the Bible denies the existence of the oral tradition that served as the Bible’s basis. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15, St. Paul declares, “Stand firm, then, brothers and keep the traditions that we taught you, whether by word or by letter.” Without the context of Genesis and Exodus, salvation history may be reduced to simply a comforting bedtime story— a mere fairy tale!
According to Dei Verbum (The Dogmatic Constution on Divine Revelation), “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New.” Reading Genesis and Exodus certainly serve a great preparation for the New Testament. The evangelist frequently cited the Old Testament. Examining the biblical footnotes within the Gospels provide a map that leads one back to the beginning.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is these that bear witness of Me. (Jn 5:39).