I remember talking to a friend years ago who said to me, “I don’t know why Genesis 4–11 is in the Bible, really. I understand that chapters 1–3 describe creation and the fall, and I get how God begins His work of redemption with Abram in chapter 12, but why include all these odd stories and genealogies in chapters 4–11?”
I suspect that my friend’s queries are not isolated ones. Some of the stories in Genesis 4–11 are among the most famous in the Bible: Cain and Abel, Noah’s flood, and the Tower of Babel. But why are they in there?
Since more historical time elapses in these chapters than the rest of Scripture, we can conclude that these early chapters of Genesis are highly selective. That is, many other events occurred in the earliest period of history than are recorded here. This means that the events that do appear in these early chapters must have remarkable biblical-theological significance.
A Narrative of Mission Frustrated
In Fill the Earth, I argue that the purpose of Genesis 4–11 is to show how the fall into sin has frustrated humanity’s ability to fulfill our mission. God’s mission for humanity is to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) and thereby represent God’s kingship to the ends of the earth. Genesis 4–11 portrays humanity as sinfully inclined toward the opposite of this mission: rather than increasing numerically and filling the earth geographically, humanity is now acting in ways that result in their decreasing numerically and centralizing geographically.
How does the narrative of Genesis 4–11 portray this? You’ll have to buy the book to find out!