When Jesus Gave Birth

March 14, 2013 — 6 Comments

The early church saw in John 19:34, the piercing of Christ’s side and subsequent flow of blood and water, an allusion to Eve’s creation (Genesis 2:21-22).  By the end of the second century we find the Apologist Tertullian saying,

If Adam was a figure of Christ, the sleep of Adam was the death of Christ who was to fall asleep in death; that in the injury of His side might be figured the Church, the true mother of the living.

According to Alban Maguire,

This teaching had been foreshadowed before the time of Tertullian, and after his time we can find no doctrine more honored among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

Few scholars today, however, actively engage this interpretation and those that do dismiss it as foreign to John’s intent.  Raymond Brown sees “little evidence that the Genesis story was in John’s mind here.”  Mark Stibbe thinks, “(it) requires ideas which are properly speaking extrinsic to the gospel.”  It’s no wonder Andreas Koestenberg in his comprehensive A Theology of John’s Gospel doesen’t even include it as a “Possible Instance of the New Creation Motif in the Passion Narrative.” 

But far from being an unfounded interpretation such a meaning appears to have been intended by John himself.  It demands renewed consideration. As allusion, John 19:34 is the Fourth Gospel’s keystone, holding this narratives most important themes together.

In the series of posts to follow we will examine the evidence for this implicit reference.


Matthew Scott Miller

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  • Anthony

    Super excited to see where you go with this one!

    • http://logosmadeflesh.com/ Matthew Miller

      You are such a blessing to me Anthony. Hey how did Bibleworks work out for you?

      • Anthony

        I installed it on my pc, and it keeps giving me some sort of run around about how I can only install it through my control panel, but when I try that, the same message comes up. So, I don’t know what else to do. I am glad that I can be a blessing to you. God has really opened my eyes through the Gospel of John, especially the ideas of the Spirit as water. So, I would have to return the compliment and say that your teaching and faithfulness has been such a great blessing and example for me. So, thank you for listening to God and for being faithful with what you have been given! Love you bro!

  • Jason Wakefield

    Tertullian wasn’t the only one!

    Cyprian of Carthage famously said, “you cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.”

    Even Calvin saw this:

    I shall start, then, with the church, into whose bosom God is pleased to gather his sons, not only that they may be nourished by her help and ministry as long as they are infants and children, but also that they may be guided by her motherly care until they mature and at last reach the goal of faith…so that, for those to whom he is Father the church may also be Mother. And this was so not only under the law but also after Christ’s coming, as Paul testifies when he teaches that we are the children of the new and heavenly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:26). (Inst. 4.1.1).

    I wonder if these commentators have an aversion to allegorical interpretation. Yes, sometimes the early church went too far in this kind of interpretation. But I think that the pendulum has swung too far when we only consider the historical-grammatical method.

    BTW have you looked the Orthodox Church’s writings on John? Fascinating stuff!

    Keep up your writing!

    • http://logosmadeflesh.com/ Matthew Miller

      Thanks Jason for the encoragement. and great quote.

      Actually none of these authors have a bias against this kind of interpretation. That’s what really surprised me. Each, for instance, recognizes the allusion to the creation of Adam when Jesus a chapter later breathes on the disciples, saying, “receive the Holy Spirit.” I recognize why they have doubts about 19:34 but I just don’t think they’re considering all the evidence.

      As to the Orthodox interpretation, I have a bit. I think Theosis is absolutely taught by John and the allusion in this passage only further confirms it. “God was made man that man might be made God.” What do you think? Are the Orthodox going too far?

      • Anthony

        Here is an idea that struck me. Jesus makes the distinction between water and Spirit and yet they are both refering to the Spirit in his conversation with Nicodemas. What if the the baptism with water (Jesus pouring out the Spirit on the cross) was the place of introducing the body to the Spirit. While the baptism of the Holy Spirit in act is in reference to the fullness of the Spirit being received. There has long been talks within the body of a two part encounter with the Spirit. When we are first introduced to the saving grace of Jesus and the Spirit comes to be inside of us, being the first encounter. The second encounter would be the full baptism of the Spirit, in which gifts begin to manifest and such other things. If this were the case, then it would be an arguing factor for both occasions of the Spirit. The baptism of water being the new birth, and the baptism of the Spirit is the Spirit in power. Just a thought.