What is the first book of the Bible? If you were to answer the Gospel according to John, you wouldn’t be as far off as you might think. That’s because the New Testament may be read as a new Genesis. It is a new creation narrative, with its own Adam and Eve, its own garden and tree, and its own primordial waters.
The opening of the Gospel of St. John invites us to consider this comparison:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:1-3).
This opening is an intentional allusion to the beginning of Genesis: “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth.” Underneath the English term Word is the Greek term Logos. The term logos means the “reason,” the “account of something,” or the “ordering principle of a thing.” If Socrates is seeking to understand justice, then he is seeking the logos of justice. Aristotle will use logos to mean an appeal to the intellect—to make an argument by demonstrating the reason of a thing. Here, St. John uses Logos to describe the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Logos is the account of all things, the ordering principle of all creation. It is this Logos through which all reality was ordered and made. It is this Logos that becomes incarnate. St. John writes, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). The ordering principle of all creation has come to his creation and become man. St. John wraps the narrative of the incarnation in language that anticipates the beginning of a new creation.
St. Paul will then juxtapose the Logos made flesh, Jesus Christ, with the first man, Adam. (Rom. 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:20-28,45-50; Col. 1:15-20). He speaks of humanity under the headship of the old Adam and the effects of original sin and how salvation lies in moving under the headship of the new Adam, Jesus Christ. In Latin, capit means “head,” and whereas to decapitate means to “remove the head,” recapitulate means to “replace the head” or to renew. The New Testament is a story of recapitulation: the new Adam makes all things new, a new Genesis. Our salvation under the headship of the new Adam illuminates the salvific effect of being part of his body, the Church, and receiving his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. Like a husband and wife, there is a commingling, and the two become one flesh—Christ and his bride, the Church. St. Paul furthers the concept of recapitulation by using creation language to describe our rebirth in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Just as God pulled creation from the primordial waters in Genesis, so too does he pull us as a new creation in Christ from the waters of baptism.
This type of reading is called allegorical and is a method of reading Holy Scripture common among the early Church Fathers. It is still taught today by our Church, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) explains (115-19). The allegorical sense of the Bible familiarizes us with how one thing can serve as a type of another (CCC n. 117).
The study of types is called typology. For example, Christ serves as a type of Adam, and Adam a type of Christ. The typology exhibited between Adam and Christ serves as a particular instance of the broader allegorical relationship between the two Testaments. As the Church teaches: “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” (CCC n. 129). The types found in the Old Testament will foreshadow the New, and types in the New Testament will perfect the Old.
Pursuant to this principle, we may examine other similarities between the creation narrative of Genesis and the New Testament.
As the old Adam had his Eve, so too does the new Adam have his. Eve listens to the words of the serpent, Satan, and damnation enters the world. Mary listens to the words of the angel, Gabriel, and salvation enters the world. As St. Irenaeus, the second-century bishop of Lyon, teaches: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary” (Against Heresies 3.22.4). And “for what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” The Blessed Virgin Mary provides a redemption of femininity and motherhood. Where Eve was pulled from Adam, the new Adam is pulled from Mary. As the old Adam and Eve were created in the grace of God, so too are the new Adam and Eve without the stain of original sin. Eve is the “mother of all who live,” but Mary is the mother of all who live in Christ. In all this, it is now a woman, Mary, who is exalted as the highest creature in all of creation.
An understanding of Christ and Mary as the new Adam and Eve allows a comparative reading of Genesis and the New Testament to blossom into a more robust allegory.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil foreshadows the holy cross. Whereas Adam and Eve gathered at the tree, and humanity fell into sin, the new Adam and Eve gathered at the Cross, and humanity was redeemed (1 Pet. 2:24; Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:29; see also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae III q. 46 a. 4). Moreover, there is a certain perfection in the cross as a type of the tree insofar as it is only in coming to know Christ—the Logos, the Truth—that we are granted wisdom beyond our nature into what is good and what is evil. Furthermore, the Garden of Eden—with rivers flowing from it—is located on a mountain and serves as a type of Calvary or Golgotha.
We may also compare the fruits of these two trees. The eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought the fall of humanity. The eating of the fruit of the holy cross, our Lord Jesus Christ, brings salvation. For Elizabeth proclaims to Mary, “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” (Luke 1:42), and it is this fruit that Christ states we must eat for our own salvation (John 6:22-71).
The typology of the fruit returns us to the primary lesson of this allegory: that our salvation lies in placing ourselves under the headship of the new Adam. We are drawn anew from the waters of baptism, fed with the fruit of the New Testament, and become a part of his body. It is in and through Christ that we find our salvation and our place in the new creation.