By Jonathan Turtle

Beginnings matter. They set the stage for what is to come and give a sense of what we might expect. It is telling, then, that John begins his Gospel with a recapitulation of the creation account in Genesis that spotlights the Word (1:1–18). Both start “in the beginning” with the Word of God (Jn 1:1; Gen 1:1–3). Of this Word John the Baptizer says that though he appears after he is in fact before (Jn 1:15, 30). In other words, this Word generates every word though every word cannot contain it (21:25). Everything has its beginning in the Word and apart from the Word nothing is. Yet the Word is beyond time and history, belonging to eternity and therefore properly to every place and time and person. It never wears out, never grows old, and never becomes something new (see Sir Edwyn Hoskyns, The Fourth Gospel). It is the Word of God and in the beginning it was.

Of course, John has more to say. The Word was in the beginning, but he is not stuck there. In procession he goes in and around and through everything. In fact, there is nowhere the Word is not. There he is in the darkness (Jn 1:5; Gen 1:2). In the world too (Jn 1:10; Gen 1:6–25). And now, most importantly, there he is in human flesh (Jn 1:14; Gen 1:26–27).

This is where things get interesting. Both the prologue of John and the first chapter of Genesis climax where? The human being. Someone may well have made this argument already but if they haven’t let me state it here and claim it as my own: The Gospel According to Saint John is an extended reflection on Genesis 1:26–27. In other words, we are concerned here in John with the question of just how human beings are made.


Now you’ll have to grant me the opportunity to make my case. It is not air-tight but I will highlight a few of the reasons why I believe this to be true.

Jesus the true Adam

On the sixth day God made the human being (Gen 1:26–31). Sort of. Everything that had been made prior was the result of what John Behr calls the divine fiat: “Let there be,” light and so on. However, when we arrive at the sixth day it is not “let there be” but rather “let us make.” The making of the human being is a process, God’s special project, that is not completed by his speech alone. Moreover, the human project begins with male and female — the man and the woman — at whom we get a closer look in the second chapter of Genesis.

In John’s prologue the human being is the Word made flesh who we come to know as Jesus from Nazareth (1:45) and who refers to himself as the Son of Man (1:51). Later when Jesus is on trial Pilate brings him before the crowd and proclaims, “Behold the man!” (19:5). Here is the human being, indeed. Not Adam but Jesus Christ the true Adam who is “the image of the invisible God,” (Col 1:15). Is it any wonder that when Mary is confronted by the risen Lord she believes him to be the gardener (Jn 20:15)? Indeed, he is the true gardener come to prune away the decaying branches and plant the seeds of faith in us.

In Jesus the human project is brought to completion. A feat that he accomplishes by his death, that is, at his hour (2:4; 13:1). Hence, John’s portrayal of the crucifixion as a victory. There is no cry of godforsakenness here, only the proclamation, “It is finished,” (19:30). In him that great sixth-day work, the making of the human being, is now once and for all “finished.” Then on the seventh day, the Sabbath, Holy Saturday, he rests in the tomb from his work (19:42). The crucified and risen Lord is the first true human being.

Mary the true Eve

At the wedding in Cana the mother of Jesus intercedes with him on behalf of the wedding guests. And Jesus said to her, “Woman…” (Jn 2:4). In the Synoptic Gospels the mother of Jesus is named but here in John she is simply “Woman.” We see this at the end of the Gospel as well when Jesus addresses his mother from the cross: “Woman, here is your son,” gesturing to the beloved disciple. Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother,” (Jn 19:26–27). Woman and mother.

In the creation account the one taken from Adam’s side is called “Woman” (Gen 2:23) and named Eve “because she was the mother of all living,” (Gen 3:20). Just as Jesus is the true Adam so Mary is the true Eve, “The obedient Virgin reversing the disobedience of the Virgin Eve and, in this way, the true Mother of the Living.” We would do well to welcome her into the home of our heart and love her as our mother, as Jesus did (Jn 19:27).

One sign of the decadence of Anglicanism in the West is the stubborn insistence of some that the traditional language and grammar of the faith is inherently exclusionary and oppressive. Take for example the push to include the use of feminine titles and pronouns for God in our liturgies. The concern is fair enough. Surely it is problematic to emphasize the masculine in the doctrine and worship of the church while excluding the feminine. However, the solution is not to adopt pagan language,[1] but rather to adopt a deeper reverence for and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mother. Mary’s “yes” to the gospel makes her the mother of the living one, Jesus.

The Eucharist the true Fruit

In Genesis the man and the woman grasp the fruit of the tree and the result is darkness and death for all the children of Adam. In John, however, the true man and woman offer us the fruit of another tree that results in light and life for all who believe, thereby making us children of God.

Consider once again the wedding in Cana. This story prefigures both the Passion of our Lord and the sacramental life that flows from him and animates his Body, the Church. On the surface we have a story about water and wine but with the eyes of faith we perceive in the water and wine the two great sacraments by which we are cleansed and fed: baptism and the Eucharist.

These sacraments connect our lives to our Lord’s Passion in the real way. This too is present in Cana. We see it in Jesus’ cryptic response to his mother: “My hour has not yet come,” (2:4). What hour? The hour of his Passion (13:1), the glory of which is signified in this his first sign (2:11).

The fruit of the tree in Eden brought about darkness and death. But the fruit of the tree outside of Jerusalem bestows life upon those in the tombs. The blood of Christ is a healing balm that drips from the cross onto the bones of Adam. And whenever you and I now eat of that fruit in the eucharistic feast our sinful bodies are made clean and our souls washed by his most precious blood.

The Church, the Mother of the Living

In the Gospel of John the Blessed Virgin Mary is the true mother of the living (Eve). As such, Mary also becomes a figure for the Church. Indeed, from the Fathers we learn that one of the names of the Church is Mary. Eve, then, is a figure for both Mary and the Church.

While Adam slept Eve was taken from his side (Gen 2:24). While Christ slept the Church was taken from his side: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out,” (Jn 19:34). It is true, then, what St. Cyprian of Carthage has said: “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your Mother.”

If it is true that the human project is “finished” in Christ, then we are not complete until we are “in Christ.” We are not truly born at all until until we are born of the woman at the foot of the Cross (Jn 16:21). We begin as children of Adam but our end is to be made children of God. This is precisely why the Word has come to us in the flesh. That we would know God the Father (1:18). That our sin would be removed from us (1:29). That we would be baptized not only with water but with the Holy Spirit (1:33). That we would willingly follow him (1:43). That our bodies would be nourished with the best wine, the blood of his Passion (2:10). That we would believe and believing be made children (1:12–13). Finally, living human beings.

The Rev. Jonathan Turtle is the incumbent of the parish of Craighurst and Midhurst, in the Canadian Diocese of Toronto.

[1] The human authors of Scripture were not unfamiliar with female deities. Consider, for example, the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna or any of the subsequent female deities of the Roman Empire. These deities were embodied and statues of them adorned their temples. Therefore, the argument that we must use expansive language for the God Christians worship in order to shed light on a historically-contingent blind spot is misguided. On the contrary, the God revealed in and through Jesus Christ who lived, died, rose, and ascended according to the Scriptures is different. This God is one in essence and three in person: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This God transcends gender and the body and cannot be sculpted from marble and placed in a temple. Precisely this is one of the features that distinguishes Christian belief about God from ancient pagan beliefs about the gods. When speaking of God Christians use the word “Father” and the pronouns “He/His” without reference to gender. Rather, the word “Father” describes nothing more or less than a relationship, a genuine and spiritual relationship that God’s own self-revelation makes known: “The Father is the source, the origin, the wellspring of divine life. And the Son derives from that source,” (Ben Myers, The Apostles’ Creed, 22).

About The Author

The Rev. Jonathan Turtle is rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Orlando, Florida.

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