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Saturday, 22 June 2024 22:37

The Gardener: The Literary Qualities of Scripture

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After a particularly long winter, I have thought often this spring and early summer about new life and the theological significance that the change of seasons brings. In particular, the passage of Scripture where Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene after the resurrection has been on my mind.

I was an English Literature major in university, so I love thinking about plot progressions and character development in books. I am fascinated by the intersection between literary studies and the study of the Bible. The Bible is, after all, a book – a very special, unique book, but a book, nonetheless. A book with words, pages, chapters, characters, a plot, themes, rising and falling action, and all the literary elements that any other book has. While I understand and support the effort to honor and esteem God’s Word as a body of literature set apart, I sometimes wonder why we don’t read and study it as we do other books. When I remember that Scripture is a story, it comes alive more than when I view it as a textbook on faith.

In Genesis 2:8, we read, “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (ESV). In the opening scenes of the Bible, God plants a garden of superb beauty and places Adam and Eve in it as stewards. They are to tend and care for it, but instead they introduce thorns and thistles and break the perfection that God had made. God banishes them from the garden, leaving angels to guard the entrance. The following episodes of human history are fraught with pain, sin, and brokenness in the world outside the Garden.

Fast forward 2000 years, and the Biblical story is in the midst of a climax with Jesus’ crucifixion. He gives His life for the world. Interestingly, we read this in John 19:41, “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid” (ESV). So, Jesus, the “second Adam,” has undone on the cross what the first Adam did in the Garden of Eden. As a beloved Bible professor of mine says, “Adam came naked to a tree and murders all of humanity. Jesus came naked to a tree and un-murders all of humanity.”[1]

Not much later in the text, we find Mary Magdalene outside of the tomb of Jesus. After all she has just witnessed, she is distraught and grieving. Imagine her surprise and confusion when she looks in the tomb, expecting to see the lifeless body of her crucified Savior, and instead finds two angels who have the audacity to ask her why she is weeping. Now more upset than before, she turns back around to find Jesus standing there. Except she doesn’t recognize Him, and in a twist of dramatic irony, she mistakes him for – the gardener. John 20:15b says, “Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away’” (ESV). I used to think this was a strange detail for Scripture to include and an even stranger thing for Mary to mistake Jesus for. But now, I see in this seemingly insignificant detail a beautiful overarching theme: Jesus came as the second Adam to redeem what the first Adam had broken and to bring humanity back to the Garden.

When I think about how tracing this theme in Scripture has helped me to more deeply understand the story of redemption, I wonder what else I might find if I took the time to trace other themes this way. Much more like reading any other book, I wonder what would happen if we looked at things like character development, rising and falling action, metaphor, writing style, and more. I think we would find the Scriptures that much richer and be surprised by what the Lord had to teach us.

For now, as I plant and tend my own garden this year, I’m reminded that even there are echoes of Eden. I get to participate in a long line of gardeners – creating even as my Lord creates.

[1] Many thanks to Dr. Jud Davis for these wonderful insights and for always turning my attention to the beauty of the Biblical text.

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 June 2024 02:46
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