Introduction to the general structure of the book of Genesis

The schemas or structures of the Scriptures are very useful guides for understanding each of the books that contain the canonical books. From this article I will try to introduce first the schemas or structures of the books of the Bible and then include, if possible, the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price. We will begin with the general structure of the book of Genesis.

General structure of the book of Genesis

The composition of the book of Genesis is, in reality, very simple. Two general divisions are quickly distinguished: one, which has to do with the events that took place in the earliest times that are the origin of civilization and another that tells the stories of the principal patriarchs who gave birth to the people of Israel. The narration of Genesis goes, then, from the general to the specific, from the whole humanity towards a specific people. Throughout the narration, that specificity is becoming increasingly narrow. In fact, an increasing level of detail is observed along the reading.

The two main parts of Genesis

So, we are going to distinguish these two great sections:

  • The pre-patriarchal period, or primeval history, as some call it. It goes from Genesis 1: 1 to Genesis 11: 9.
    The patriarchal history, which focuses on the life of the patriarchs. This section goes from Genesis 11:10 to Genesis 50:26, the end of the book.

Now that we have distinguished the two main sections of the book of Genesis, we are going to subdivide them. And we’re in luck, because each one is divided into four, so it’s easy to remember that all of Genesis is about only four events and four characters.

The four events

The first part of the book of Genesis, the pre-patriarchal period or primeval history, highlights the following four events.

1. The Creation. Those are the first two chapters of Genesis (Genesis 1-2).

2. The Fall. It covers from chapter 3 to chapter 5 (Genesis 3-5). Although the Fall is narrated, properly, in Genesis 3, its consequences are reflected in the next two chapters.

3. The Flood. Chapters 6 through 9 narrate the causes of the Flood, its development, its completion and the covenant with Noah (Genesis 6-9).

4. The Dispersion of the Nations. Although many do not pay attention to them, the truth is that chapters 10 and 11, which narrate how the earth was populated after the Flood, contain a treasure trove of valuable information (Genesis 10-11).

The four characters

If the first chapters, which narrate the history of humanity in general, contain four events, the second section, the patriarchal history, tells in much greater detail the story of the first four patriarchs who gave birth to the people of Israel. The change of rhythm in the narrative, which jumps from a general narrative to a very detailed one, is felt from chapter 12 on. The four characters detailed in the second part of the general structure of the book of Genesis are:

1. Abraham. If you include your genealogy (what is said of your father Terah) you should begin to study his life in Genesis 11:10, although the detail of his life begins in chapter 12, which immediately begins with the enunciation of the Covenant of Abraham. In all, Abraham’s life spans from Genesis 11:10 to Genesis 25:18.

2. Isaac. We are not told much about the life of Isaac. It begins in Genesis 25:19. The truth, I confess that it is a little difficult to determine that beginning, because it depends if you want to consider the sacrifice of Isaac as part of the life of Abraham or of Isaac. But let’s say it starts in Genesis 25:19 and ends with chapter 26. In total it would be like this: Genesis 25:19 – Genesis 26:35.

3. Jacob. Jacob’s life is very rich and full of significant details. A good space is dedicated to him. It goes from Genesis 27 to Genesis 36.

4. Joseph. We all love the life of Joseph because we can draw from him great examples, in contrast to his brothers and because of him and his descendants depends on the recollection of Israel in the last days. The life of Joseph is told in the Bible from Genesis 37 to Genesis 50.

At a glance

I put here a summary so you can see the general structure of the book of Genesis at a glance. Remember: these are four events and four characters.

  1. The pre-patriarchal period or primitive history (Genesis 1: 1 – Genesis 11: 9).
    1. The Creation (Genesis 1-2).
    2. The Fall (Genesis 3-5).
    3. The Flood (Genesis 6-9).
    4. The Dispersion of the nations (Genesis 10: 1 – 11: 9).
  2. The patriarchal history (Genesis 11:10 – Genesis 50:26).
    1. Abraham (Genesis 11:10 – 25:18).
    2. Isaac (Genesis 25:19 – Genesis 26:35).
    3. Jacob (Genesis 27-36).
    4. Joseph (Genesis 37-50).


When I think of the book of Genesis I like to simplify it even more, so as not to get lost in details, and to think in whole chapters. I set the division from chapter 12, which is where the detail of the book of Abraham begins, although I know it is preceded by a brief genealogy. I consider that his life ends in chapter 25 and that Isaac’s begins “out there”. If I make those small exceptions (rounding) it is much easier for me to remember the whole thing and memorize these sections. So, when someone asks me a question and I need to locate a passage in Genesis, I mentally say “four events and four characters”, I draw a mental map remembering the beginning and end of each section and locate it not exactly, but with approximations. This is much easier and faster than finding the passage by means of riddles. I get rid of the most recurrent question that harasses us in learning and teaching: Where is it? Today, at the end of this reading, you already know “where it is” in the book of Genesis.


  • Nelson’s Teaching Outlines of the Bible
  • The Bible Knowledge Commentary
  • Bible Outline Browser. (Bellingham, WA: Faithlife, 2014).
  • Harper’s Bible Dictionary


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