On the Third Day of the New Creation, God Established the Chair of Peter

The Papal Coat of Arms and Statue of St. Peter Enthroned in St. Peter’s Basilica

It was not on accident that John chose to start his Gospel with the words “In the beginning…” A picture paints a thousand words, but in John’s case: three words painted with the power of a thousand reinforcing images. In three words, all the images of Genesis and the first creation were brought back to announce something greater. Those three famous words, “In the beginning,” were John’s declaration that God had begun a new creation; establishing new light, new waters, and a new earth in which his blessings would flow … all of them made possible through Jesus, the new man (Rom 5), the ultimate Adam (1 Cor 15:45-47), the new covenant. Just as Genesis opens with the announcement—“In the beginning…”—and the defining of the days of creation, so God’s establishment of his new creation—God with us as a man—heralded the defining of new days, and important new life-supporting structures.

As has been noted before, not only does the phrase “In the beginning” call to mind Genesis and creation, but so do John’s phrase—“the next day” (Jn 1:29,35,43)—call to mind Genesis’ opening days of creation. With every “next day,” John walks us through God’s steps in the new and greater creation … the effects of the Incarnation, and the new heavens and new earth the Incarnation establishes. The Incarnation makes all things new. There are seven days mentioned in Genesis’ creation account, and John parallels them in his telling of the renewal of all creation in Christ, and the extension of his life, the Church. In fact, the Evangelist gives new parallels to the days of Genesis 1 and 2 when just like Genesis, he concludes his enumeration of days with wedding imagery (cf. Gen 2:2; Jn 2:2). Genesis concludes the days of creation with God’s espousal of mankind by the figure of the Seventh Day (cf. Hosea 2:16-20) while John concludes his retelling with a wedding feast at Cana, and old world matter made into new wine.

This very brief essay will focus on the parallels for days—one to three of Genesis, and days one to three in John’s Gospel—in order to demonstrate that John views the ministry of Peter (and what becomes the papacy) as absolutely essential to the new creation, and Christ’s work of salvation. Day Three in John’s Gospel is a statement much stronger than Matthew’s Gospel concerning the importance of Peter’s office as the source of unity throughout the Church. The Apostle John is supplementing Matthew’s Gospel, and Simon’s name change, with a deeper theological context by structuring Simon Peter’s name change as the completion of the third day of the new creation. A stronger statement could not be scripturally paralleled in order to express that the office of Peter underlies the new order that Christ himself established when changing Simon’s name to Cephas (Jn 1:42). The condensed imagery is so strong because John compares changing Simon’s name to what God did on the Third Day in Genesis. John compares it to something so essential that, without it, life on earth could not continue; without it, death (floodwaters), the gates of hades (cf. Mt 16:18), would overcome the new creation.

The First Day of the New Creation
Inside the First Day of the old creation, everything exists. It is the primary structuring principle. Everything that comes after it must, in some way, participate in its structure, and find its being inside of it. There would not be space for Day Two and its waters if “Space” itself had not been generated by the “Let there be light.” Exegesis has always demonstrated that days—one through three—are the structures needed in order for the populations of days—four through six—to have a place in the world.

Day One (“Let there be light”) should be interpreted as “Space” itself (at least as we know it today); and, outer-space is populated by the corresponding creations of Day Four: the Sun, Moon, and stars that fill outer-space. Day Two is the separations into sky and sea; and, Day Five is the corresponding population of the sky with birds, and the sea with fishes, etc. … Day Three is the separation of land and sea, with land rising above the waters; and, then Day Six corresponds with the land being populated ultimately with humans in the image of God. Without Day One, the other days would have nowhere to find themselves. They all have existence, through and in, Day One.

In John’s Gospel, we discover that all the talk about God (the Logos) becoming a human is founded in what John presents as the new “Day One.” This is only discovered by the transitional verse in John 1:29: “the next day.” It means that everything John recorded before verse 29 was about the new “first day”—the Incarnation of the Inaccessible Light (Logos of the Father)—through which the words of Genesis “Let there be light” found power: “all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (Jn 1:3). The Eternal Light-from-Light, through whom was made the light of the first creation became man: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (Jn 1:4). He was restoring supernatural light inside of a creation which had broken original unity and harmony with God. His humanity became the source of Eternal light and the seven sacraments.

The Incarnation of the Logos (Word) is Day One of the New Creation (Jn 1:14). All the days that follow in John’s opening chapter are new creations through a participation in Christ, and made for a participation in Christ. Just as Day One of the old creation is about “Let there be light,” so Day One of the new creation is a greater statement: “the true light, [the supernatural light,] which enlightens every man, was coming into the world” (Jn 1:9). A greater light had come into the new creation! The best is saved for last (cf Jn 2:10)! John announces light seven times in his Day One (Jn 1:4-28) to make sure everyone knows that the New Covenant has come. Let there be light! Day One.

Day Two of the New Creation
The NAB translation helps navigate ancient cosmology into today’s modern cosmology. On Day Two of the old creation: “God made the dome [sky], and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it [sea]” (Gen 1:7). Once again, it is no accident that we find Jesus wading into the waters below the dome on Day Two of the new creation (Jn 1:29-34). The sky is also involved as all of a sudden, from what would have been considered interchangeably heaven: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him” (NAB Jn 1:32). The sky is made new, and the waters are made new, as the “Spirit (or wind) of God was moving over the face of the waters” (cf. RSV Gen 1:2).

In John’s Day Two, Jesus renews the waters, and makes them life-giving. The Father brings the Spirit to brood and hover over those gathered in Jesus’ name. John structurally establishes in Day Two how we are to be brought into Day One … the Incarnation continued mystically by making us sharers in Christ’s mystical body. Jesus structurally establishes, in Day Two, how and where we are made a “new creation” in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:17) when the Spirit of God adopts us, and grafts us into the Word made flesh (Day One) by the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried, therefore, with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).

Why baptized into his “death”? Because in the Jewish mind, in the ancient world, being under water represents going down into death. Going under the flood waters of Noah represents death. Jonah describes his death in terms of flood waters and the Pit (Jonah 2:3-6). Psalm 88 connects death (Sheol) and the Pit and with flood waters. It is not without reason that Peter compares entrance into Christ with being saved from the flood: “being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit … [like the] days of Noah … Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you … as an appeal to God for a clear conscience through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:18-21).

Those who wade into the waters of Baptism in Jesus’ name, professing faith in the Only-Begotten Son of God,1 begin to enter a new day beyond time;2 carried by God’s grace preparing their souls for new life. Going under the waters, they die to the old man (the old Adam), and come to life in the new Man (Rom 5), who has conquered death, and who begins to conquer death within them as “the Last Adam” and “life-giving spirit” (1 Cor 15:45). Now the baptized also trample death by Christ’s death and resurrection. They arise from the waters made new by faith in the only name by which they can be saved; Christ’s life infusing their souls, and made a new creation. From the sky, from heaven, their Christ-established appeal of baptism (1 Pet 3:21; Mt 28:19) is heard, and in their souls, they receive God’s voice: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (cf. Mk 1:11). They are in Christ now, made filii nel Filio, inclusive language translated as sons (children: male and female) in the Son.

The Third Day and the Resurrected Life
Knowing that being under the waters represents death, the early Christians discovered spiritual meanings that Jesus, whom Paul calls the “end of the law” (Romans 10:4), or purpose for which the Torah existed, gave to the days of creation. On Day Three of the old creation something rises above the waters (beneath the dome of the sky) as the waters receded into basins. “Dry land appeared” (Gen 1:9). The ground is known in Hebrew as “adama”3 from which man “adam” is created. So what rises up out of the seas on the Third Day of the old creation? “Adama” (ground/land) rises above death (waters). Thus, the early Christians saw Jesus, “the Last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45) appearing in his resurrection “On the third day.” Genesis was typologically showing the Last Adam’s victory over death.4

With baptism, the Christian has arrived in the true Ark according to Saint Peter (cf. 1 Pet 3:20). The Christian has begun to share in the new life of Christ who has conquered death, and who saves us from the waters that flow from the dragon’s mouth (Rev 12:15). What did the earliest Christians do after baptism? “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). What else is the communal life (the koinonia) than the ecclesial faith and life of Christ’s elect, the new assembly in the Lord? It is a life gathered with Christ’s apostles, and their lawful successors, so that we can bring to completion and fulfillment the death of the old man, and life into the new man by the new birth received in baptism; worshipping God in Spirit and truth (cf. Jn 4:23-24). The free gift received in baptism must be deepened together in fellowship through a deepened entrance into Christ’s death and resurrection by the means he has left behind.

Saint Paul tells us that we are not yet completed: “Living the truth in love, we must grow in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:16). This is why Christ constituted the communio (the fellowship of those living within his resurrected life), those still on earth, to still have successors of the Apostles. Paul even lists this gift of continuing to have fellowship with the “apostles” (cf. Acts 2:42) first among the gifts with which Christ constituted his mystical body, the Church: “His gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists … until we all attain to … mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13).

Christ does not want us drowning and tossed about in the watery waves of death, remaining immature children unable to give up sins/bad habits of the old man. Christ gave “apostles” to protect the baptized in the truth “gathered with the teaching of the apostles” (Acts 2:42): “so we may no longer be children, tossed back and forth [after baptism] and carried about with every wind of doctrine. Rather by living the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way … into Christ” (Eph 4:15). This is what the Third Day of the new creation is all about in John’s Gospel (1:35).

Jesus brings us out of the waters of his Day Two to follow him, and walk in him in newness of his life on certain and solid land … rock. Jesus is the true land, and the true rock, upon which man finds refuge. It is on the Third Day that Jesus gives order within the world of waves of falsehood which toss man, to and fro, amidst the floods and winds, which would seek to destroy the household of God; the household he has established inside of himself by those who would participate in his authority (cf. Matthew 18:18; 24:45). If a man is to build a house, he must build it upon rock (Matthew 7:24). No man is more wise than Wisdom incarnate. We see in John’s Gospel an explanation of Matthew 16:17-19, Jesus communicating a share in himself to Peter and his successors. On the Third Day of the New Creation, Jesus, the Rock of our salvation, establishes Simon as “Cephas” (Jn 1:42; Mt 16:18), the rock (Peter) upon which Christ’s mystical body on earth will experience safety and growth in the midst of falsehood and death; safety from the floods from the deceiving serpent’s mouth (Rev 12:15) which seek to destroy Christ’s divine institution.

The Third Day of Creation in John’s Gospel is Establishment of the Chair of Saint Peter
By structurally placing the change of Simon’s name to the Third Day of the new creation, Saint John is giving renewed emphasis to the true significance and meaning of Saint Peter’s office. The event of Simon’s name change is only recorded by the evangelists who were present. Mark and Luke were not present, and do not retell it. John is supplementing the meaning of Matthew’s historical account of the promise of the keys, and Simon’s name change to Cephas/Peter, with theological imagery and import. It is often said, that Saint John writes the truth, but he writes according to the truth of the spiritual meaning. Since John writes his Gospel as last amongst the evangelists, he strengthens and clarifies the meaning of the other evangelists by special emphases not recorded by them.

For instance, the other synoptic gospels record the institution narrative of the Last Supper. Why should John retell it when he figures the communities within the one koinonia are already quite familiar? John wants the koinonia (communio/fellowship) that gathers for the “teaching of the Apostles” (Acts 2:42) to grasp the theological meaning of the “breaking of the bread” (Acts 2:42) and so he leaves us with Chapter Six of his Gospel and Christ’s discourse on eating his flesh, and drinking his blood, instead of the institution narrative. The synoptics cover the prophecy of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Why should John cover it when, in his time of writing, it has already happened, and the Book or Revelation has already explained the significance? Matthew has already clarified that Peter is like a Prime Minister who will have successors (Mt 16:19) by showing Jesus basically quoting Isaiah 22:22 and the succession of Eliakim. Matthew has already quoted that the “gates of hades” (Mt 16:18), the waters of the floods and death, “shall not prevail against the Church” … “God’s household, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). John has found a new and succinct way to say the same by placing the name change of Simon to “Rock” on his Third Day of Jesus and the new creation.

Where John differs from the synoptics, and how he structures his Gospel, demonstrate what he wishes to clarify. Shortly before his death as the last surviving Apostle, John wished to remind the Church through his Gospel, and in supplementation to Matthew’s Gospel, that Christ established and intended a source of unity amongst the remaining bishops through the gift of the keys, and ministry established by Simon’s name change to Cephas (Mt 16:17-19; Jn 1:42). Just as Peter was the source of unity amongst the foundation of the Twelve Apostles, so now the one who received the office where Peter last governed (Rome), was to be the source of unity for the “unity of faith,” which Paul mentioned in his letter to the Ephesians (4:13), and his mention of Christ’s gift of “apostles” (Eph 4:11). This is why John places the name change of Simon to “Rock” on the Third Day of his Gospel. It parallels the Third Day of the old creation when land rose above the raging seas, and set their limits. So now does Rome, the historical court of last appeal, the settler of all debate, the chair of Saint Peter, set limits and protect the unity of faith … the Third Day.

  1. The profession is done by parents and Godparents for infants and children. Pouring water and sprinkling is also sufficient by the authority of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.
  2. Octagonal baptismal fonts represented the Eighth Day; entrance into Christ the “eternal life” (1 Jn 1:2-3).
  3. See NAB footnote for Gen 2:7 from St. Joseph’s Edition (Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1986).
  4. I once heard a similar typology of the resurrection from Gerry Matatics in a guest lecture at Christendom College in Fall of 1992; this footnote is to give proper recognition, but not to associate myself with any of his later ecclesial positions. Ever since hearing the typology, I have always repeated it when teaching on the days of creation.
Matthew Tsakanikas, STD About Matthew Tsakanikas, STD

Dr. Matthew Tsakanikas is an assistant professor of theology at Christendom College.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your thoughts.

  2. Michael Welshman says:

    Perhaps this sentence needs some revision: “They are in Christ now, made filii nel Filio, inclusive language translated as sons (children: male and female) in the Son.”

  3. This correspondence doesn’t work if the renaming of Peter happens on the fourth day:

    “for it was about the tenth hour. 40* One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41* He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).”

    biblicalstudies. org.uk/pdf/eq/1972-3_154.pdf

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