In John’s Prologue there are obvious connections to the creation account: “in the beginning,” “the Light,” and “the darkness.” However, it does not appear John is using the Prologue to suggest the reader connect the light of life to the breath of life in Genesis 2:7.
In his article Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature , Brad McCoy discusses chiasms, their use, and their exegetical significance. The chiastic structure of John’s Prologue is one example he outlines: 1
A: The Word with God (1-2)
B: The Word's role in creation (3)
C: God's grace to mankind (4-5)
D: Witness of John the Baptist (6-8)
E: The Incarnation of the Word (9-11)
X: Saving faith in the Incarnate Word (12-13)
E': The Incarnation of the Word (14)
D': Witness of John the Baptist (15)
C': God's grace to mankind (16)
B': The Word's role in re-creation (17)
A': The Word with God the Father (18)
McCoy summarizes three important aspects of the chiasm: 2
- Delineate units of thought
- Accentuate the main idea or theme the writer is concerned to convey to their readers
- Compare and contrast the interplay between textually separated but thematically paired units of thought
Thus the main theme of John's Prologue is the current and future work of making children of God:
But all who did receive Him, He gave them— the ones believing in His name— the right to become children of God, who were born not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a husband, but of God. (1:12-13 DLNT)
What is of primary concern for John is explaining a new act of creation: making children of God. The references to Genesis show the Word is the Creator and establishes the Word is the only means by which any creation occurs. Thus, making children of God is also done through the Word.
Equally relevant is the chiastic arrangement means the complete unit of thought includes verse 5:
In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (1:4-5 DLNT)
The light of mankind is meant to be understood in the context of “the darkness” and if John intends a connection to Genesis, the direct reference is to the light and the darkness of Genesis 1.
The LXX describes the creation of the first man in the singular, whereas John writes as plural:
And God formed man (τὸν ἄνθρωπον), dust from the earth, and breathed into his face a breath of life, and the man (ὁ ἄνθρωπον) became a living being. (Genesis 2:7 LXX) [NETS]
In him was life, and the life was the light of men (τῶν ἀνθρώπων). (John 1:4 ESV)
The Genesis account is describing a breath which was given to a single man. The main point in John is the light which is available to all mankind. John conveys human beings, male and female [G444-anthrōpos] may become children of God. This point is emphasized by the language John employs in describing the work of the light:
There came-to-be a man (ἄνθρωπος), having been sent-forth from God. The name for him was John. This one came for a testimony— in order that he might testify concerning the Light, in order that all might believe through him. (1:6-7 DLNT)
A man was to give testimony concerning the Light in order that all might believe.
Also, when speaking of man in the context of making human beings, John deviates from the language of the LXX:
who were born not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a husband (ἀνδρὸς), but of God. (1:13 DLNT)
ἀνδρὸς is singular and specifically a male [G435-anēr]. John's use of language is purposeful to differentiate from the creation of the first man since he is describing a new work of creation, children (τέκνα, which is neuter) of God.
The Light & the Darkness
After reading “in the beginning” and "the light" and "the darkness," John appears to recall the first day of creation:
And God said, “Let there be light (א֑וֹר),” and there was light (א֑וֹר). And God saw that the light (הָא֖וֹר) was good. And God separated the light (הָא֖וֹר) from the darkness (הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ). God called the light (לָאוֹר֙) Day, and the darkness (וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ) he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:3-5 ESV)
The creation account of day one uses a word meaning the-light three times and a word meaning the-darkness twice. Twice the-light is written as הָא֖וֹר and once as לָאוֹר֙ and the-darkness is written as הַחֹֽשֶׁךְ and וְלַחֹ֖שֶׁךְ. John’s use of “the darkness” twice appears to follow Genesis, however, his choice of word deviates from the LXX:
And God said, “Let light come into being.” And light came into being. And God saw the light that it was good. And God separated between the light and between the darkness (σκότους). And God called the light Day and the darkness (σκότος) he called Night… (Genesis 1:3-5 LXX) [NETS]
In Him was life, and the life was the light of mankind. And the light is shining in the darkness (σκοτίᾳ), and the darkness (σκοτίᾳ) did not overcome it. (1:4-5 DLNT)
The LXX uses σκότος which means physical darkness [G4655-skotos]. Where John uses σκοτία which is metaphorically used as ignorance of divine things [G4653-skotia]. This follows the central theme of a new, and therefore different creation from that described in Genesis.
In addition, John uses “the light” six times. More than is used in the entire creation account (3 on the first day and 1 on the fourth). John’s uses have been arranged using the inverted parallel structure common to chiasms:
A: In him was life, and the life was the light (τὸ φῶς) of men
B: The light (τὸ φῶς) shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it
C: He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light (τοῦ φωτός), that all might
believe through him
C’: He [John] was not the light (τὸ φῶς)
B’: [John] came to bear witness about the light (τοῦ φωτός)
A’: The true light (τὸ φῶς) which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world
There is no central theme yet the paired units of thought considered from the center display a pattern taken from the work of creation:
C: He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him
C’: He [John] was not the light
B: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it
B’: [John] came to bear witness about the light
A: In him was life, and the life was the light of men
A’: The true light which enlightens (ὃ φωτίζε) everyone, was coming into the world
John's arrangement of "the light" has six uses followed by a seventh which is similar and yet different. This is the pattern of the Sabbath: six days of work followed by a seventh day of rest. The parallel John seems to be making is just as all creation rested on the seventh day of creation; the true light will enlighten everyone in the new creation.
The Word in the Gospel and The-Light in Genesis
In the Gospel John states Jesus is both the Word and the true light:
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)
Thus the primary connection John is making to the Genesis account is with "the-light."
After "the-light" is written three times on the first day of creation, it used once on the fourth day:
to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the-light הָא֖וֹר from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:18)
Thus "the-light" was used in the Genesis account of creation four times: 3 times on the first day and once on the fourth. John's use of "the Word" follows this pattern of "the-light" from Genesis:
First day of creation - "the-light" written 3 times.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (1:1)
Fourth day of creation - "the-light" written once.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (1:14)
In addition to directly stating the Word is the true light, John uses "the Word" following the pattern of the use of "the-light" in Genesis.
Breath in John's Gospel
The main point of the Prologue is becoming children of God:
But to all who did receive (ἔλαβον) him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (1:12-13 ESV)
The focus of "received Him" is how John introduces the main theme of the Gospel and "receive" connects the introduction to its conclusion:
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive (Λάβετε) the Holy Spirit." (20:22 ESV)
The breath from Jesus is the breath of eternal life:
but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (20:31 ESV)
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive (λαμβάνειν), for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 ESV)
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 ESV)
1. Brad McCoy, "Chiasmus: An Important Structural Device Commonly Found in Biblical Literature." p 29 [Chafer Theological Seminary]
2. McCoy pp.30-31