Is John Re-creating the Creation Story in Jesus?
Reading: John 1, 2
[Note: We went through John 1:1-18 during the three weeks leading up to Christmas and began in the body of the Gospel this past Sunday. We will continue in John again this Sunday. There are some things, however, that I’d love to cover, but might not be best to cover on a Sunday morning. I have reserved that for this blog post. So for those who want to take a deeper dive into John, here it is. Though longer than a typical post, a large portion of that is a chart of scripture text which is there for convenience.]
John begins his gospel with the words of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning…”, and later in chapter 1, John the apostle breaks his episodes with the repeated expression, “the next day…”. Because of this, many scholars have speculated that there is an intentional recasting of the seven days of creation week going on in John 1—2:11. However, even among those scholars inclined to think that this is the case, there isn’t a consensus on how to break that up. Each involves a touch of creativity since John did not write, “and the evening and the morning, the first day,” etc.
Coming up with seven days requires the reader to make some assumptions or extend the lines a little to get there. For instance, if you assume 1 day before the first “and the next day” (John 1:29) (which of course makes perfect sense), and one day for each “and the next day,” (John 1:29, 35, 43) and even include a separate day for the time it says that the disciples spent that day with Jesus (John 1:39), you have only five days. However, chapter two begins with, “On the third day,” (John 2:1) which as confusing as that may seem, at least offers a sixth day. On the other hand, the day the disciples spent with Jesus seems at least on first read to be the same as day 3 which began in verse 35.
Still, there is enough in the text to make one think that John, for whom the text of Genesis was second nature, didn’t just accidentally make the allusion to the days of creation, but intended it. If so, finding that solution will help us understand his theology, his message, more clearly. In pursuit of that goal, I offer the following rubric for understanding the days of John 1.
Chart Comparing the Days of Creation in Genesis with John 1 & 2
|Day||Genesis 1 & 2||John 1 & 2|
|0||In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1 NIV)||In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)|
|3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning– the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5)||4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.
9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:4-14)
|6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8)||19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20 He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.'” 24 Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25 questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” 28 This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:19-28)|
|9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.
12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. (Genesis 1:9-13)
|29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look [Behold], the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:29-34)|
|14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.
16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.
19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14-19)
|35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:35-42)
|20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23)
|43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)|
|24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Genesis 1:24-31)||On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” 11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)|
|Genesis 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:1-3)||12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. 13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” 20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (John 2:12-22)|
We’ve all heard of or even taken some form of a word association test. You are told or read a word and have to say or write the first word that comes to your mind. Everyone associates certain things together. I think John, under inspiration of the Spirit, uses a word association test of his own. He grabs word, ideas, or phrases from the creation story and sometimes blatantly, sometimes subtly inserts them into his story. This is called allusion.
Day Zero and One
What I have labeled as “Day 0” is the clearest and simplest one to identify. In Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth before the week of creation began.1 In the first day of the Genesis creation week, God said, “Let there be light,” and light became. In my proposed day one of John’s “re-creation” week, God sent His Word and it became flesh. That word was the true light that was coming into the world.
The 2nd day of creation week is about separation of that which is above and that which is below. On day two, as I suggest in the chart above, we have the first day of John’s testimony in which his focus is entirely on making a distinction between himself and the One to come, for whom he is not even worthy to be his slave (the person who would unstrap his sandals and wash His feet).
Day three of creation in Genesis when compared with John’s week, is admittedly the hardest of the associations to see. However, I don’t think it is absent. (Of course, I am trying to prove something, so maybe I am seeing what isn’t there.) Day three, as I propose, in John’s week is the 2nd day of John the Baptist’s testimony and the first appearing of Jesus in this Gospel. It is, in some ways, the climactic point of the whole week. The Word which had become flesh appeared on the scene and we are told to Behold Him (using a Greek interjection of the word meaning “to see” that was essentially a 2nd person imperative). In Genesis the dry is commanded to appear (using a 3rd person imperative in the Greek Old Testament (LXX) of the same verb).
The fourth days in each of these accounts is all about the multiplication of lights, and God setting these lights in place to give light to the earth. Light had already come in day one of the Genesis week. But now the sun, moon,2 and stars are set in place to give light to all on the earth. In John, the light had already come in Jesus, but now we see the first apostles being set in place and even the naming of Peter who would be chief among the apostles. It is this apostolic witness that would give the light of Christ to the world.
Day five runs a close second to day three as the more difficult days in which to see the relationship between Genesis and John. The strength of this proposal on the others days (as I see it) makes these more difficult ones plausible in my mind. The fifth day of creation is the first time we see the word blessed introduced into Scripture. The book of Genesis is largely about God’s blessing, in fact. The blessing which was forfeited at the fall was then promised to Abraham and passed down through Isaac and Jacob, to Jesus Christ, and finally to us (Galatians 3:14).
In day five of John’s week (as I am proposing), it concludes with Jesus’ enigmatic statement about seeing “… ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) Jesus captures this from the story of Jacob at Bethel (Genesis 28:11-22) where Jacob had a dream with this very same thing happening upon Jacob (28:12). The whole point of the scene was that God was giving the same blessing to Jacob that He had given Abraham. So both of these “day fives” are about blessing. In Jesus blessing is returned to mankind. He is the house of God; He is the place of God’s presence and blessing. All who are in Him receive the blessing of Abraham.
John’s day six is much easier to identify. However it begins with “on the third day…”. Allow me to address that first, and then we will move to the connections with day six of Genesis. This has been addressed a couple of ways, but for me the easiest is to look back two days and see what happened. On the fourth day (in my construction here) (John 1:35-42), it is the first time Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel. And though John the Baptist had told the crowds the day before to, “Behold the Lamb of God…”, and though he was evidently present and people saw him, we see no description of that fact, nor do we read of any responses. So it is on this day, day four in the sequence of seven which is the first day that Jesus speaks, the first day that anyone responds to Jesus, and the first day that there are disciples. Everything begins anew in Jesus. He is the start of a new creation (which, I think, is the whole theological point of John’s casting of these things in a pattern of the creation week to begin with). So day six of the week is the third day since Jesus begin engaging people in ministry.
Now for the correspondence between John 2:1-11 and Genesis 1:26-31. This might be the most obvious of them all. Day six in Genesis is the creation of humanity, male and female in which they are told to be fruitful and multiply, and “day six” in John is a wedding—which initiates the institution of marriage which is the place for humanity to be fruitful and multiply. Also that on day six of creation God’s image is revealed in the making of man (Psalm 8:6 refers to this as being crowned with glory), while in the “sixth day” of John Jesus first revealed His glory. After the sign of changing water to wine, is the first explicit reference to the disciples believing in Jesus. According to John 1:12-13, they therefore become children of God. This also corresponds to God making man in His image. There is the reference to the six water stone jars which, if intended by John, is a direct allusion to day six of Genesis. Interestingly, each of them ends in a reference to that which is good or better. Genesis 1:31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (kalos).” John 2:10 ends, “but you have saved the best (kalos) till now.” Again, I think these word associations are indicators that John is wanting us to have one story in mind as we read the other. Or to tell us subtly that what he is talking about is a new creation.
Is There a Seventh Day?
Is that it? Did John stop at six days? What about the seventh? Even in Genesis, the seventh day is talked about quite differently than the other six. There is no “And God said, and it was so.” Nor is there a “and there was evening and morning the seventh day.” However, we are told that God rested on the seventh day from all the work He had done. John Walton, in his book The Lost World of Genesis One, demonstrates well the point that the seventh day was the climax of the week, not the sixth, for the whole week was about preparing in the world a dwelling place for God, a temple as it were. This idea of rest is used elsewhere in the Old Testament describing the place of God’s enthronement and dwelling as His resting place (Psalm 132:13-14; Isaiah 66:1). Throughout the ancient near east, he points out, temples were places for divine rest. How appropriate then, that the earth should be the resting place of God… the dwelling place of God (see also Revelation 21:2-3).
This, I think, may help us identify the seventh day allusion in John’s Gospel. While it stands apart and quite different than the other days, it has clear reference to the dwelling place of God, the temple, in the new creation of God. I am referring to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and declaration, “’Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ 20 They replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said.”
If it is true that John is alluding to the days of creation in the beginning of his gospel, whether according to the schema I’ve proposed, or another, then it is yet one more thing in his gospel that points to the truth that in Jesus the new creation of God has begun. Of course, this is true regardless, but it is amazing to see just how woven together these truths are in the inspired words of Scripture.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1I won’t discuss it here, but some contend that Genesis 1:1 is a summary statement that is then explained in the chapter. I will leave it to Hebrew scholars who have demonstrated sufficiently in my mind that the structure of the text indicates otherwise, never mind the fact that if it were a summary, we should expect that the week ends with the earth formless and void and darkness covering the face of the deep.
2Neither the sun, nor moon are mentioned by name but are merely called the greater and lesser lights. This may have been due to the worship of the sun and moon as gods in the cultures around Israel. Genesis is about the Creator God, the the things created that some suppose are gods.