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Creator and Redeemer

Introduction

When John opens his gospel, the words “in the beginning” evoke the opening of a book in the Old Testament, Genesis. The exegetical connections are richer than that and provide insight into Jesus Christ's role in the events of creation. Christ’s title as “Creator” is foundational to Christian belief and is profoundly important in understanding Christ’s role as Redeemer.

In the Beginning

Because the two references are written in different languages, an exegetical comparison cannot be a direct word-for-word effort. Rather, each work must be considered individually, identifying the principles and inherent meaning communicated through them. The Hebrew of Genesis and the Greek of John must first be opened up to review all the implications of the words used. An exegetical analysis will provide common ground for finding any connections. A thorough review of the terms used, describing the English parallels where they can be found in each account, will help to identify the similarities and areas of difference that may exist, providing a clearer picture of Christ and His role in creation events.

The Exegesis of Genesis 1

Genesis is the book of beginnings. The Hebrew term that begins this book, b’rêshîth, expresses this idea and is the basis for the title, Genesis. This term carries with it the meaning of beginning, first, first fruits, or foremost. It is used in this first verse of Genesis in conjunction with God’s name, Elohim, and the verb bara, which means to create, shape, fashion, or form.[1] When this term, bara, is used in Genesis, Psalms, and Isaiah, it never refers to any other individual or act other than God in His creative role.[2] There is another term used within the creation account, asah. This term likewise refers to an act performed by God to “make” or “form” as revealed in Psalms 104:24, 121:2 and Isaiah 41:20, 43:7, and 45:18. The name Elohim, is used here to identify the supreme power which is perfect in wisdom and goodness. The plural nature of this name implies the “powers, rights, and influences”[3] by which the world was created. The singular form of Elohim, Eloah, is used in Psalm 18:31 to great effect. In this verse, the question is posed, “Who is God?” or “Who is Eloah?” The answer follows, “but the Lord,” or “but Jehovah.”  As D. Stephen Long wrote, “We must know God’s name before we can know that Christ bears it. We know that because God gave it to Moses.”[4]

The creative work being described includes the heavens, shamayim, and the earth, erets. Shamayim is used in Genesis 1:8, and is defined there. It explains that God “called the expanse heaven.” The heaven here is shamayim, and the expanse is the Hebrew term lā·rā·qî·a‘, and is best described as the arch of the sky or the “vault of heaven.” So, shamayim is the area of creation that is above, and includes all of space. Erets describes the whole of the land. While the terms have individual meanings, they give further implications when considered as a phrase, “heavens and earth.” In Deuteronomy 32:1, God utilizes this phrase as He commands that His words be heard. The command he makes in Deuteronomy is to all of His creation. The phrase, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” here in Genesis is therefore intended to define both the creative work, and the Creator.

Moving on to verse 3, God says, “Let there be light,” and there was light. When God speaks here, the original Hebrew is way·yō·mer. The root of this word is amar, which is to command, to declare, or to say. This is a very simple word to describe a very powerful event.  Psalm 33:6 provides another witness of this event, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Here the speaker is identified once again as Jehovah. In Psalms this work is described as being by His biḏ·ḇar and ruach. Biḏ·ḇar is translated “words”, and ruach as “breath”. Ruach can mean breath, wind, or spirit. This same term is used in Numbers 27:16 when Moses speaks to the Lord. He there describes God as the one who provides breath, or “provides the spirits of all flesh.” Job also refers to the ruach, and separates it from the breath of his lungs when he promises God that he will be faithful as long as “my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils…” (Job 27:3, emphasis added)[5]

The phrase “Let there be light,” is in Hebrew Yhi ôr. These words have incredible power because they literally mean “to come to be” or “to happen.” With His command, light came into being. The next part of the phrase, way'hi confirms the event, because it means, “light existed.” This is God’s confirmation that the event occurred, as He commanded. He said it, and it was so. Through these verses in Genesis, we become aware that God, Jehovah, created everything, heaven, and earth. We also learn that His first act, after creating everything, was to bring light by speaking it into existence through “the breath of His mouth,” His word. We learn in Genesis who the Creator was, Eloah, Jehovah. We also see that Jehovah created everything, the heaven and the earth. We also see that by Him, light came into the universe, and this occurred by the power of his word, Yhi ôr wayhi ôr.

The Exegesis of John 1

The Gospel of John begins similarly to Genesis, “In the beginning.” In this case, the Greek word utilized to express “beginning” is arché. This term can be defined as the beginning, in a temporal sense, as in the initial (or starting) point, or that which is chief and preeminent. Its use here is absolute, the beginning of all things. What follows requires substantial discussion: the Word, or logos. Because logos is a Greek word, it must be evaluated in a Greek context. Greek philosophers described this ultimate reality as logos in their search for ultimate truth. However, in Greek philosophy, this was an impersonal concept, not a being. John was using a term readers who had experienced Greek philosophy would understand and then expanding it to include eternal truth.[6]

John explains here that the logos is theós, understood as God, the Creator and even owner of all things. This Greek term, theós, even refers to the supreme being and sustainer of all things outside of the biblical context in Greek culture. John connects logos with theós through two relationships, being with and actually being, theós. “With”, or pros in Greek, is the idea of being in motion towards, to interface with, or an implied interaction, or contact. This contact and interaction is so intimate that the Word and God are to be considered as one.[7]

John follows his introduction of “the Word,” and its connection with God, with five statements that define this concept further. He first correlates the Word, logos, with a person, houtos, being a definitive pronoun, an absolute declaration. This is the same person referred to before, “He” is the Word, the logos. John reaffirms the statement in the beginning of verse 1 by declaring in verse 2 once again that He, the Word, was with God in the beginning, the arché. John continues with three creative declarations. The statement that begins verse 3 declares that all things were made (panta) through (di') the Word (logos).  Panta is a powerful word, not unlike the Hebrew phrase “heaven and earth” since it means “all” in the sense of “every part” the “making up of the whole.” Di' is a Greek word that describes “thoroughly” or “across to the other side, or through.” It can also connote “literally” or “successfully.” So, the phrase describes a complete, thorough, and literal creation of all things by the logos. The term translated as life, is the Greek word zóé. Zóé is a term that describes life, both physical and spiritual. This term carries an implication of being universal, that is, throughout the universe, sustained by God. The gift of life is followed by connecting it to light, phōs, which relates to the divine illumination, that imparts life. This word is distinct from other forms of light described by other Greek terms such as; sélas, light from the stars; anápto̱, the light from fire; fanós, light from a lamp or lantern; and fo̱tízo̱, to illuminate. This phōs shines (phainei) in the darkness (scotia). Phainei describes causing something to appear. John “conveys the idea of both revelation and action. It also calls attention to the concept of God speaking creation into existence.”[8] It is also used in Revelation 8:12 in the negative. When the fourth angel sounds his trumpet a third of the lights of heaven cease to appear, or cease to shine, phanē, serving as a powerful counterpoint to the first use of the term here. Skotia is described by John as being in conflict with the light, and describes a darkness, that is spiritual in nature, obscuring the light of God. John is communicating that the light introduced by the Word is not obscured or overcome by the spiritual darkness.[9]

The Gospel of John is likely the last of the four gospels to be written. John “was cognizant of Hellenism and rabbinism to a degree that was professional.”[10] This qualified him uniquely to bridge the gap between the writings of Moses and the Greek-speaking world he lived in. It appears to have been written after the second temple's destruction in 70 A.D. This was a time when the Jews were particularly fearful of the darkness since, with the destruction of the Temple, they felt they had lost. They did not recognize the promise of Jesus Christ. This historical context is important in understanding the intent of John’s writing and its relationship to Genesis 1. The portion of John 1 to be considered here is often called the prologue. The fact that “the prologue prepares the reader for the temple clearing is the reference to the Word being made flesh and “dwelling among us” (skenoō, 1:14), which links Jesus with God’s presence among his people in the Tabernacle and later the temple (Exod 26-27; 1 Kgs 6:13). Hence Jesus is here shown to appropriate the temple’s theological status and to fulfill God’s promise to dwell among his people in a new temple.”[11]  Peter Walker wrote of this Temple connection, “The presence of God has not been withdrawn, for Jesus has taken the place of the Temple. Jesus gives more than the Temple had ever given. . . . Jesus stands in the place of everything that Israel has lost.”[12]

The Title of Creator

While Genesis is direct in its recitation of creation events and God’s role in them, the "Gospels, speak of the kingdom of God not eschatologically but protologically-that is, by comparing ordinary life in the present not with that of the coming kingdom but with that of the primordial creation."[13] By theologically connecting the writings of Moses with those of John, we can best understand the role of Christ in creation. In reviewing the exegetical connections between Genesis and John, we see that the Creator is the Word, and the Word is Jesus Christ. When light entered the world in Genesis, it is the same light John described, that the darkness could not overwhelm. While language may serve to separate Genesis from John, the presence of Jesus Christ and His attributes shine through the separation and unite the accounts. Moses and John both wrote of the same Creator, Jesus Christ. We see this connection continue throughout all scripture.

In the Old Testament

The Old Testament provides multiple references to the Lord, Jehovah, as creator. In addition to Genesis 1, Isaiah records the words of the Lord. He asks first, “Lift up your eyes on high and see: who created these?” In His answer to the question, the Lord also answers our question regarding the identity of the Creator. He says, “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 40:26-28) He declares that the Lord, Jehovah is the everlasting God and the Creator of all things.

We also find connections to the terminology used within the New Testament. Psalm 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made and by the breath of his mouth all their host.” Isaiah 61:1 references the Spirit of the Lord being upon us, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me.” And in Proverbs 8 the Lord’s wisdom is revealed. All of these are representative of God’s creative qualities. "The OT used the categories of Word, Spirit, Wisdom, and Glory to communicate God’s creation of, and presence with, the world."[14]

In the New Testament

These qualities are restated in the New Testament. As we have seen, John 1:1-2 reveals the Lord’s role in creation as the Word.[15] Luke 4:18-19 echoes the words of Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me.” And Paul, in his letter to the church at Colossea, says of Christ, “which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-3) This connection, through Word, Spirit and Wisdom eloquently ties the creative qualities of the Old Testament to those of the New Testament, revealing a unified picture of the Creator…Christ. “Creation marks the beginning of his messianic dominion; he rules the world he made”[16]

In Colossians, Paul also says “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:16)

The Sustaining Influence of Christ

The book of Hebrews speaks clearly of the Son being the Creator of the world (Hebrews 1:2). The next verse goes on to state that He is also the one who “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Paul also says of Him that “in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17) When we consider how things operate in our world today, there is continuous decline and decay. Only when we exert effort upon them is their condition maintained. The same is true for the Lord’s creation. Only His continued effort holds decay and decline in check.

Luke says it well in Acts, “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Without His sustaining, creative power, we would be nothing. We would have no life, no ability to act, we would not be at all. We would collapse into nothingness. Our “nature is always oriented toward and surrounded by grace, and the creature’s apportioned time is allotted to it from God’s eternally triune time and history.”[17]

The Days of Creation Reflected in Christ’s Attributes

From throughout the Old and New Testament we learn that: The same Jesus who declared “I am the light of the world,” (John 8:12) created light on the first day (Genesis 1:3). The same Jesus who walked on water (Matthew 14:24), created the firmaments above and below on the second day (Genesis 1:6). The same Jesus who fed the 5,000 with fishes and loaves (Matthew 14:13-21), brought forth the dry land and commanded it to bring forth grass, herbs and fishes on the 3rd Day (Genesis 1:11). The same Jesus who’s star came forth to testify at His birth (Matthew 2:2), set the sun, moon, and stars in their rotation for signs, seasons, for days and for years on the 4th day (Genesis 1:14). The same Jesus who went to be baptized in the river Jordan to demonstrate His faithfulness, and there had the Spirit come to Him in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16), made the fowls in the air on the 5th day (Genesis 1:21). The same Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in triumph (John 12:14), brought forth animals on the land (Genesis 1:25). And the same Jesus who healed the blind man with clay (John 9:6-7), created man from the dust on the 6th day (Genesis 2:7). The very acts required of the Creator were exhibited by Christ is His life. The parallels are intentional and specific and testify to His Creator title.

Christ as Creator and Redeemer

Because Christ is the Creator, the giver of life, and the sustainer of all, he alone has the power to create and to take away. “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.” (1 Samuel 2:6) And because “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) He is uniquely qualified to redeem. Throughout the Old Testament, we see Christ in His role as redeemer. “Of course the world is the subject of God’s love and of Christ’s saving mission.”[18] He delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, He redeemed Israel from Babylonian captivity. As Paul wrote in Romans, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19-21) The reference to “the creation” focuses the reader on the Creator. Paul continues in verse 34, “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” As the giver and taker of life, and the one who loves as no other, He alone can provide this gift.

Conclusion

As Genesis begins the record of Creation, and John begins his record of Christ’s mortal life, John also records the final act of Christ’s creation. After the great battle has been won, and Christ establishes the New Jerusalem, His final recreation is described “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, …and his servants will worship him… And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:1-5) Just as the story began, with Jehovah bringing His light into the darkness, it will end with His light illuminating all. Christ, the Creator.

 

[1] James Strong. The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Thomas Nelson. 2010.

[2] R.D. Fowler. “In the Beginning: A Comparison of Genesis 1 and John 1.” Biblical Illustrator Winter 2006-2007. p. 41.

[3] Charles John Ellicott. A Bible Commentary for English Readers. Cassell and Company. 1905

[4] D. Stephen Long. Speaking of God: Theology, Language and Truth. Eerdmans, 2009. p. 107.

[5] Unless otherwise specified, all biblical references utilize the English Standard Version (ESV).

[6] Jimmy Dukes. “John’s Use of Logos,” Biblical Illustrator 29.1, Fall 2002

[7] Matthew Henry. Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V-Matthew to John. Pickering & Inglis, 1922.

[8] Fowler. p. 42.

[9] L. Morris. The Gospel According to John, NICNT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971.

[10] C. H. Dodd. Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel. Cambridge: University Press, 1965.

[11] Andreas Köstenberger. “The Destruction of the Second Temple and the Composition of the Fourth Gospel.” Trinity Journal 26NS. 2005. P. 232

[12] Peter Walker. Jesus and the Holy City. Eerdmans. 1996. p. 197.

[13] Pagels, Elaine H. “Exegesis of Genesis 1 in the Gospels of Thomas and John.” Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 118, no. 3, 1999. 478.

[14] Sean M. McDonough. Christ as Creator: Origins of New Testament Doctrine. Oxford University Press, 2010. p. 55.

[15] B. F. Westcott. The Gospel According to St. John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

[16] McDonough. p. 55.

[17] D. Stephen Long. Speaking of God: Theology, Language and Truth. Eerdmans, 2009. p. 107.

[18] R. G. Bratcher. “‘The Jews’ in the Gospel of John,” Bible Translator 26. 1975. 401

the Septuagint.

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