Gospel of John: Garden to Garden


John 20:1-23 moves backward through Genesis 2:7-3:24, restoring each of the ruptured relationships caused by humankind’s rejection of God: the reign of death, the rule of man over woman, and the broken bond between God and humanity.

At the end of this blog is a short bibliography of the resources I used in researching this article.


Resurrection, Death is Overcome

In Genesis 3:19, God informed the man that he (and the woman) would return to the dust from which the man had been formed. Then, in Genesis 3:22-24, God ejected both humans from the Garden of Eden, barred their access to the Tree of Life, and thus ensured their days would be numbered. The final act of the Genesis creation stories was to certify the finality of death for all humanity.

The first act in John’s resurrection story, in the dark just before the dawn, Mary of Magdala entered the garden where Jesus’ dead body had been entombed. Yet upon arrival, she discovered Jesus was gone. For the reader and hearer alike, this is the signal that light and life have once again entered the world, in a new way.

In the next scene, based upon Mary’s report, Peter and John also ran into the garden. Two men and a woman witnessed the first mighty restoration Jesus had accomplished, though only one—fittingly, the other disciple, presumably the man John—saw and believed, at the least that Jesus’ body was indeed removed and without its grave cloths, or more probably so, that Jesus had risen from the dead as predicted, though without understanding that prophetic scripture stated he must rise from the dead.

Reinstatement of Shared Dominion

In Genesis 2:18, God noted the incomplete nature of humanity, for to truly reflect the image of God, humankind would need community, a plurality in relationship. Up to this point, in Genesis 2, there was only the one human being. Therefore, God first showed the human all the creatures of earth, that he might observe and name them, exercising the dominion given to humankind. In that process it was established there was no suitable counterpart for the human.

This discovery led to God’s forming of the woman from the man’s body, that they might be of the same essence—one flesh—yet also community, as is God. God’s description of the woman makes use of two Hebrew words: The word ‘ezer originally had two roots. One meant ‘to rescue, to save,’ and the other ‘to be strong.’ The next word, ‘fit,’ is keneged in Hebrew, meaning ‘corresponding to.’  Put together, these words could be translated as God saying, “I will make a power [or strength] corresponding to the man.”[1] God would make for the man a woman fully his equal and fully his match, and together with God, they would form a flourishing, vibrant community, in the very image and likeness of God.

God’s plan is for woman to correspond to man, as someone to share not only his life as a companion, but his work and responsibilities as well. Woman is to be “a help comparable” to the man, an equally valued human being and an equal partner in God’s grace. God created woman to be the counterpart of man in life. It is God’s stated plan in the beginning that men and women should be together, working with a common purpose, the woman as a partner, a “companion like the man,” one who will “be strong” for him, and with him; one who will even, at times, “save” and “rescue” him.

Reflecting the directive given to both women and men in Genesis 1:28, God’s design is for woman to share with man a mutual concern and responsibility, a shared commission to govern the earth, with united commitment to each other that reflects God’s own eternal being of equal deity,  power, and purpose.

Sadly, rupture came in Genesis 3, when both the man and the woman transgressed God’s instruction. The man’s realigned loyalties were revealed when he ignored God’s question, Who told you? Instead, the man obfuscated the Serpent’s role through misdirection, placing blame squarely on both God, and the woman God had made, rather than exposing the Serpent’s deceit and his own complicity.[2] God would later admonish the man for having listened to the voice of his wife, a tacit censure for having rejected God’s own voice.

In Genesis 3:16, God explained to the woman she would retain her desire for the oneness described in Genesis 2:24 with the man.* However, the man would now expand his shared rightful rule of dominion over the earth and its creatures, to wrongful sole rule over the earth and the woman as well. In fulfillment of God’s prophecy, the man immediately established his wrongful dominion by naming the woman, as he had named all the creatures in the Garden. Such suppression, even oppression, of women is well-documented the world over.

Yet, John’s gospel makes a point of portraying Jesus’ inclusion of women (please see Gospel of John: Mary of Magdala). Jesus’ question, τίνα ζητεῖς; posed to Mary of Magdala led to her recognition of Jesus as her rabbi. Of even more significance than Jesus’ affirmation of Mary as his disciple was Jesus’ commission of her to return as an apostle of the gospel to the other disciples, to give them the good news of his resurrection.

With this question and commission, Jesus reinstated Mary of Magdala as an ‘ezer keneged, “power [or strength]” with a message of “salvation” (‘ezer) to the brothers,[3] the Eleven, as well as all the male disciples. In particular, Jesus was sending Mary to the two disciples—Peter and presumably John—who had first accompanied her to the garden. She would become a female leader along with the leadership of Peter and John in the early church.

Restoration of Humankind’s Bond with God

In Genesis 2:7, God breathed into the nostrils of the newly formed human the “breath of life,” transforming the clay form into a living being. In Hebrew, the word ruach connotes both breath and wind, and the spirit of God and humans. Medieval commentary to the contrary, the sharing of breath between God and the human should be presumed in the woman, who was formed from the body of the man. She was formed as a living being, for she shared the same essence as the man, both flesh and spirit, which originally come from the ruach of God. God presented the woman to the man as a living, breathing being, as his ‘ezer keneged.

This bond, this shared spirit, is displayed in all its fullness in Genesis 2:25, where the man and the woman are portrayed as naked, completely transparent and vulnerable to each other and to God, yet unashamed.

Their sense of shame and fear, in Genesis 3:7 and 10, illustrated the bond as now ruptured. They no longer shared intimacy as they once did, not with God nor with each other.

This is the rupture Jesus now proclaimed restored by presenting God as both my Father and your Father, my God and your God. Later, Jesus breathed on his disciples (the Greek permits a gathering of both women and men)—as God once breathed the breath of life into the newly formed human—and enjoined them to receive the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

The beginning and ending of John’s gospel’s resonance with Genesis 1-3 is inferred, not overt, yet for the scripturally literate audience of John’s day, such allusions would have been noticed and understood. Considering Mary of Magdala’s specific mention in five of the six gospel narratives as a witness to Jesus’ resurrection,[4] despite first century skepticism concerning female testimony, adds to the weight of how John portrayed her in his own resurrection testimony.

GenesisRuptureRestorationJohn
3:19b, 22-24Reign of death instated.Jesus’ victory over death witnessed.20:1-10
2:18, 21-25; 3:16b, 20Wrongful rule of man over the ‘ezer keneged begun.

Jesus reinstates woman’s equality with man as ‘ezer keneged.  20:14-18
2:7; 3:7, 10Ruptured relationship with God revealed.Jesus states My father/God, your father/God, and breathes the Spirit over the disciples.20:17, 22

*The word ‘desire,’ here, occurs only two more times in the Bible. The second is found in the next chapter, in God’s warning to the woman’s firstborn son, Cain, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” The last place is in the Song of Songs, where the Prince’s beloved sighs, I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” Whatever the nature of this word, it is used both positively and negatively in scripture to convey a powerful, transcendent longing. To surrender to it is to be filled and enveloped, held completely in its thrall. There are only two responses one may have, for there appears to be no middle ground: master it, or abandon oneself to it.


Bibliography

Anderson, Paul N. The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.

Brant, Jo-Ann A. ΠΑΙΔΕΙΑ-paideia Commentaries on the New Testament: John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: BakerAcademic, 2011.

Cunningham, Loren, and David Joel Hamilton with Janice Rogers. Why Not Women? A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership. Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2000.

Fleming, Bruce C. E. Women & Men in the Light of Eden. United States of America: Xulon Press, 2011.

GNT Reader, “John,” accessed November 27, 2020, http://gntreader.com/#

O’Collins, Gerald, and Daniel Kendall. “Mary Magdalene as Major Witness to Jesus’ Resurrection.” Theological Studies 48, no. 4 (December 1987): 631–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/004056398704800402.

Thompson, Marianne Meye. John, a Commentary. Louisville, Kentucky: WJK, Westminster John Knox Press, 2015.

Winkett, Lucy. “Go Tell! Thinking About Mary Magdalene.” Feminist Theology 10, no. 29 (January 2002): 19–31. https://doi.org/10.1177/096673500200002903.


[1] Cunningham, Hamilton, and Rogers, Why Not Women?, 95-96.

[2] Fleming, Women & Men in the Light of Eden, 23.

[3] Jesus told Mary of Magdala, “πορεύου δὲ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου καὶ εἰπὲ αὐτοῖς. . . “Now, go to my brothers and tell them . . .”

[4] O’Collins, “Mary Magdalene as Major Witness to Jesus’ Resurrection,” 634.

[Cover Image, Jesus with Mary of Magdala | Hans Thoma – Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=98225143%5D

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