John 2
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:
Chap. John 2:1-11. The Testimony of the First Sign

1. the third day] From the calling of Philip (John 1:43), the last date given, making a week in all; the first week, perhaps in contrast to the last week (John 12:1).

Cana of Galilee] To distinguish it from Cana of Asher (Joshua 19:28). This Cana is not mentioned in O.T.; it was the home of Nathanael (John 21:2), and is now generally identified with Kânet el-Jelîl, about six miles N. of Nazareth.

was there] Staying as a friend or relation of the family; she speaks to the servants as if she were quite at home in the house (John 2:5). Joseph has disappeared: the inference (not quite certain) is that in the interval between Luke 2:51 and this marriage—about 17 years—he had died.

And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.
2. and his disciples] Now five or six in number, Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and probably James. For ‘both Jesus’ read ‘Jesus also.’

And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.
3. when they wanted wine] Better, when the wine failed. Perhaps the arrival of these six or seven guests caused the want; certainly it would make it more apparent. To Eastern hospitality such a mishap on such an occasion would seem a most disgraceful calamity.

They have no wine] Much comment has here obscured a simple text. The family in which she was a guest was in a serious difficulty. Perhaps she felt herself partly responsible for the arrangements: certainly she would wish to help. What more natural than that she should turn to her Son and tell Him the difficulty? Probably she did not expect a miracle, still less wish Him to break up the party, or begin a discourse to distract attention from the want. The meaning simply is—‘They have no wine; what is to be done?’

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
4. Woman, what have I to do with thee?] S. John alone of all the Evangelists never gives the Virgin’s name. Here, as so often, he assumes that his readers know the main points in the Gospel narrative: or it may be part of the reserve which he exhibits with regard to all that nearly concerns himself. Christ’s Mother had become his mother (John 19:26-27). He nowhere mentions his brother James.

Treatises have been written to shew that these words do not contain a rebuke; for if Christ here rebukes His Mother, it cannot be maintained that she is immaculate. ‘Woman’ of course implies no rebuke; the Greek might more fairly be rendered ‘Lady’ (comp. John 19:26), At the same time it marks a difference between the Divine Son and the earthly parent: He does not say, ‘Mother.’ But ‘what have I to do with thee?’ does imply rebuke, as is evident from the other passages where the phrase occurs, Jdg 11:12; 1 Kings 17:18; 2 Kings 3:13; Matthew 8:29; Mark 1:24; Luke 8:28. Only in one passage does the meaning seem to vary: in 2 Chronicles 35:21 the question seems to mean ‘why need we quarrel?’ rather than ‘what have we in common?’ But such a meaning, if possible there, would be quite inappropriate here. The further question has been asked,—what was she rebuked for? Chrysostom thinks for vanity; she wished to glorify herself through her Son. More probably for interference: He will help, but in His own way, and in His own time. Comp. Luke 2:51.

mine hour] The meaning of ‘My hour’ and ‘His hour’ in this Gospel depends in each case on the context. There cannot here be any reference to His death; rather it means His hour for ‘manifesting forth His glory’ (John 2:11) as the Messiah by working miracles. The exact moment was still in the future. Comp. John 7:8, where He for the moment refuses what He soon after does; and John 12:23, John 17:1, which confirm the meaning here given to ‘hour.’

His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.
5. Between the lines of His refusal her faith reads a better answer to her appeal.

And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.
6. six waterpots of stone] As an eyewitness S. John remembers their number, material, and size. The surroundings of the first miracle would not easily be forgotten. It is idle to seek for any special meaning in the number six. Vessels of stone were preferred as being less liable to impurity.

purifying] Comp. Matthew 15:2; Mark 7:3 (see note); Luke 11:39.

two or three firkins] ‘Firkin’ is an almost exact equivalent of the Greek metrçtes, which was about nine gallons. The six pitchers, therefore, holding from 18 to 27 gallons each, would together hold 106 to 162 gallons.

Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.
7. Fill the waterpots] It is difficult to see the meaning of this command, if (as some contend) only the water which was drawn out was turned into wine. The pitchers had been partially emptied by the ceremonial ablutions of the company, i.e. pouring water over their hands. Note that in His miracles Christ does not create; He increases the quantity, or changes the quality of things already existing.

to the brim] His Mother’s words (John 2:5) have done their work. Our attention seems here to be called to the great quantity of water changed into wine.

And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.
When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,
9. ruler of the feast] Perhaps manager of the feast would be better. It is doubtful whether the head-waiter, who managed the feast and tasted the meat and drink, is meant, or the rex convivii, arbiter bibendi, the guest elected by the other guests to preside. The bad taste of his remark inclines one to the former alternative: Sir 32:1-2 is in favour of the second. In any case the translation should be uniform in these two verses, not sometimes ‘governor,’ sometimes ‘ruler.’ It is the same Greek word in all three cases, a word occurring nowhere else in N.T. The words also for ‘water-pot’ or ‘pitcher’ and for ‘draw out’ are peculiar to this Gospel; but they occur again John 4:7; John 4:15; John 4:28.

the water that was made wine] Or, the water now become wine. The Greek seems to imply that all the water had become wine; there is nothing to mark a distinction between what was now wine and what still remained water. It is idle to ask at what precise moment the water became wine: nor is much gained by representing the miracle as a series of natural processes (rain passing through the vine into the grapes, being pressed out and fermented, &c.) compressed into an instant. Such compression is neither more nor less intelligible than simple transition from water to wine. Moreover there was no vine.

which drew] Better, who had drawn.

called] Rather, calleth.

And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
10. when men have well drunk] Our translators have timidly shrunk from giving the full coarseness of the man’s joke: it should be when they have become drunken, when they are drunk. In Matthew 24:49; Acts 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:7; Revelation 17:2; Revelation 17:6, we have the same word rightly translated. Tyndall and Cranmer were more courageous here; they have ‘be dronke;’ and the Vulgate has inebriati fuerint. The error comes from the Geneva Bible. Of course he does not mean that the guests around him are intoxicated: it is a jocular statement of his own experience at feasts. Omit ‘then.’

thou hast kept the good wine until now] This was true in a sense of which he never dreamed. The True Bridegroom was there, and had indeed kept the best dispensation until the last.

This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.
11. This beginning, &c.] Better, this, as a beginning of His signs, did Jesus in Cana; i.e. it is the first miracle of all, not merely the first at Cana. Thus S. John agrees with the Synoptists in representing the Messianic career as beginning in Galilee. This verse is conclusive against the miracles of Christ’s childhood recorded in the Aprocryphal Gospels. See on John 4:48. Our translators often in this Gospel, though very rarely in the other three, turn ‘signs’ into ‘miracles.’

manifested] The same Greek word occurs in connexion with His last miracle, John 21:1; John 21:14, and the same English word should be used in all the passages. Comp. John 7:4 and see on John 1:31.

his glory] This is the final cause of Christ’s ‘signs,’ His own and His Father’s glory (John 11:4), and these two are one.

and his disciples believed on him] What a strange remark for a writer in the second century to make! His disciples believed on Him? Of course they did. Assume that a disciple himself is the writer, and all is explained: he well remembers how his own imperfect faith was confirmed by the miracle. A forger would rather have given us the effect on the guests. Three times in this chapter does S. John give us the disciples’ point of view, here, John 2:17 and John 2:22; very natural in a disciple, not natural in a later writer. See on John 11:15 and John 21:12.

Two objections have been made to this miracle (1) on rationalistic, (2) on ‘Temperance’ grounds. (1) It is said that it is a wasteful miracle, a parade of power, unworthy of a Divine Agent: a tenth of the quantity of wine would have been ample. But the surplus was not wasted any more than the twelve baskets of fragments (John 6:13); it would be a valuable present to a bridal pair. (2) It is urged that Christ would not have supplied the means for gross excess; and to avoid this supposed difficulty it is suggested that the wine made was not intoxicating, i.e. was not wine at all. But in all His dealings with men God allows the possibility of a temptation to excess. All His gifts may be thus abused. The 5000 might have been gluttonous over the loaves and fishes.

Christ’s honouring a marriage-feast with His first miracle gives His sanction (1) to marriage, (2) to times of festivity.

Four hundred years had elapsed since the Jews had seen a miracle. The era of Daniel was the last age of Jewish miracles. Since the three children walked in the burning fiery furnace, and Daniel had remained unhurt in the lions’ den, and had read the hand-writing on the wall, no miracle is recorded in the history of the Jews until Jesus made this beginning of His ‘signs’ at Cana of Galilee. No wonder therefore, that the almost simultaneous appearance of a Prophet like John and a worker of miracles like Jesus attracted the attention of all classes.

After this he went down to Capernaum, he, and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples: and they continued there not many days.
12. “Now follows a section of which we can only say with M. Renan, that it constitutes a decisive triumph for our Gospel.… If it is at all an artificial composition, with a dogmatic object, why should the author carry his readers thus to Capernaum—for nothing?” S. p. 52. If S. John wrote it, all is simple and natural. He records this visit to Capernaum because it actually took place, and because he well remembers those ‘not many days.’

went down] Capernaum (the modern Tell-Hûm) being on the shore of the lake. It was situated in one of the most busy and populous districts of Palestine, and was therefore a good centre.

his mother, and his brethren] Natural ties still hold Him; in the next verse they disappear. On the vexed question of the ‘brethren of the Lord’ see the Introduction to the Epistle of S. James. It is impossible to determine with certainty whether they are (1) the children of Joseph and Mary, born after the birth of Jesus; (2) the children of Joseph by a former marriage, whether levirate or not; or (3) adopted children. There is nothing in Scripture to warn us against (1), the most natural view antecedently; but it has against it the general consensus of the Fathers, and the prevailing tradition of the perpetual virginity of S. Mary. Jerome’s theory, that they were our Lord’s cousins, sons of Alphaeus, is the one most commonly adopted, but John 7:5 (see note there) is fatal to it, and it labours under other difficulties as well. (2) is on the whole the most probable.

continued there] Better, abode there. See on John 1:33.

not many days] Because the Passover was at hand, and He must be about His Father’s business.

And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,
John 2:13 to John 3:36. The Work among Jews

13. And the Jews’ passover] Or, the Passover of the Jews. An indication that this Gospel was written outside Palestine: one writing in the country would hardly have added ‘of the Jews.’ It is perhaps also an indication that this Gospel was written after a Passover of the Christians had come into recognition. Passovers were active times in Christ’s ministry; and this is the first of them. It was possibly the nearness of the Passover which caused this traffic in the Temple Court. It existed for the convenience of strangers. Certainly the nearness of the Feast would add significance to Christ’s action. While the Jews were purifying themselves for the Passover He purified the Temple. S. John groups his narrative round the Jewish festivals: we have (1) Passover; (2) Purim (?), John 5:1; (3) Passover, John 6:4; (4) Tabernacles, John 7:2; (5) Dedication, John 10:22; (6) Passover, John 11:55.

John 2:13 to John 11:57. The Work

We here enter on the second portion of the first main division of the Gospel, thus subdivided:—The Work (1) among Jews, (2) among Samaritans, (3) among Galileans, (4) among mixed multitudes.

And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
14–22. The First Cleansing of the Temple

14. in the temple] i.e. within the sacred enclosure, in the Court of the Gentiles. The traffic would be very great at the approach of the Passover. The account is very graphic, as of an eyewitness. Note especially ‘the changers of money sitting:’ the sellers of cattle, &c., would stand.

changers of money] Not the same Greek word as in John 2:15. There the word points to the commission paid on exchanges; here the word indicates a change from large to small coins.

And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;
15. when he had made a scourge] Peculiar to this account; not in the similar narrative of the Synoptists.

and the sheep, &c.] Rather, both the sheep and the oxen. ‘All’ does not refer to the sellers and exchangers, but anticipates the sheep and the oxen. The men probably fled at once. The order is natural; first the driving out of the cattle, then the pouring out of the money and overturning the tables. The word for ‘money’ literally means ‘something cut up small,’ hence ‘change.’ The common exchange would be foreign money for Jewish, payments to the Temple being necessarily made in Jewish coin.

And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.
16. said unto them that sold doves] The doves could not be driven out. He calls to the owners to take the cages away. Comp. Luke 2:24.

my Father’s house] A distinct claim to Messiahship: it reminds us of ‘about My Father’s business’ (which may also mean ‘in My Father’s house’) spoken in the same place some 17 years before, Luke 2:49. Possibly some who heard the Child’s claim heard the Man’s claim also.

an house of merchandise] Two years later things seem to have grown worse instead of better; the Temple has then become ‘a den of robbers’ or ‘a bandits’ cave.’ See notes on Matthew 21:13 and Mark 11:17.

And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.
17. remembered] Then and there. Who could know this but a disciple? Who would think of inventing it? See above on John 2:11.

was written] Better, is written; in the Greek it is the perf. part. pass. with the auxiliary, which S. John almost always uses in quotations, while the Synoptists commonly use the perf. pass. Comp. John 6:31; John 6:45, John 10:34, John 12:14 (John 19:19).

hath eaten me up] Rather, will devour, or consume me, i.e. wear me out. Psalm 69:9, a psalm referred to again John 15:25 and John 19:28.

It is difficult to believe that this cleansing of the Temple is identical with the one placed by the Synoptists at the last Passover in Christ’s ministry; difficult also to see what is gained by the identification. If they are the same event, either S. John or the Synoptists have made a gross blunder in chronology. Could S. John, who was with our Lord at both Passovers, make such a mistake? Could S. Matthew, who was with Him at the last Passover, transfer to it an event which took place at the first Passover, a year before his conversion? When we consider the immense differences which distinguish the last Passover from the first in Christ’s ministry, it seems incredible that anyone who had contemporary evidence could through any lapse of memory transfer a very remarkable incident indeed from one to the other. On the other hand the difficulty of believing that the Temple was twice cleansed is very slight. Was Christ’s preaching so universally successful that one cleansing would be certain to suffice? And if two years later He found that the evil had returned, would He not be certain to drive it out once more? Differences in the details of the narratives corroborate this view.

Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign shewest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things?
18. the Jews] See on John 1:19.

What sign shewest thou] We have a similar question Matthew 21:23, but the widely different answer shews that the occasion is not the same. Such demands would be made often.

Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
19. Destroy this temple] It is S. Matthew (Matthew 26:61) and S. Mark (Mark 14:58, see notes) who tell us that this saying was twisted into a charge against Christ, but they do not record the saying. S. John, who does record the saying, does not mention the charge. Such coincidence can scarcely be designed, and is therefore evidence of the truth of both statements. See on John 18:11. The word used in these three verses for ‘temple’ means the central sacred building (naos), whereas that used in John 2:14 means the whole sacred enclosure (hieron). The latter is never used figuratively.

raise it up] In the charge His accusers turn this into build, a word not appropriate to raising a dead body. There is no contradiction between Christ’s declaration and the ordinary N.T. theology, that the Son was raised by the Father. The expression is figurative throughout; and ‘I and My Father are one.’ Comp. John 10:18. This throwing out seeds of thought for the future, which could not bear fruit at the time, is one of the characteristics of Christ’s teaching.

Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?
20. Forty and six years, &c.] This was the third Temple. Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. Zerubbabel’s was rebuilt by Herod the Great. The Greek implies that the building began 46 years ago, but not that it is now completed. “The building of the Temple, we are told by Josephus (Ant. xv. ii. 1), was begun in the 18th year of Herod the Great, 734–735 a. u. c. Reckoning 46 years from this point, we are brought to 781 or 782 a. u. c. = 28 or 29 a.d. Comparing this with the data given in Luke 3:1, the question arises, whether we are to reckon the 15th year of Tiberius from his joint reign with Augustus, which began a.d. 12; or from his sole reign after the death of Augustus, a.d. 14. This would give us a.d. 27 or 29 for the first public appearance of the Baptist, and at the earliest a.d. 28 or 30 for the Passover mentioned in this chapter.” S. p. 65. So that there seems to be exact agreement between this date and that of S. Luke, if we count S. Luke’s 15 years from the joint reign of Tiberius. It is incredible that this coincidence can have been planned; it involves an intricate calculation, and even with the aid of Josephus absolute certainty cannot be obtained. “By what conceivable process could a Greek in the second century have come to hit upon this roundabout expedient for giving a fictitious date to his invention?” S. p. 67.

rear it up] Better, raise it up; the same verb as in John 2:19. For other instances of gross misunderstanding of Christ’s words comp. John 3:4; John 3:9, John 4:11; John 4:15; John 4:33, John 6:34; John 6:52, John 7:35, John 8:22; John 8:33; John 8:52, John 11:12, John 14:5.

But he spake of the temple of his body.
21. spake] Or, was speaking. Setting aside inspiration, S. John’s explanation must be admitted as the true one. What better interpreter of the mind of Jesus can be found than ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved?’ And he gives the explanation not as his only, but as that of the disciples generally. Moreover it explains the ‘three days,’ which interpretations about destroying the old Temple religion and raising up a new spiritual theocracy do not.

When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.
22. was risen] Better, was raised. Comp. John 21:14; Acts 3:15; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:30.

his disciples remembered] They recollected it when the event that explained it took place; meanwhile what had not been understood had been forgotten. Would anyone but a disciple give us these details about the disciples’ thoughts? See on John 2:11.

the scripture] O.T. prophecy, viz., Psalm 16:10; see on John 10:35.

had said] Better, spake, on the present occasion.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
23–25. Belief without Devotion

23. in Jerusalem at, &c.] More accurately, in Jerusalem, at the Passover, during the Feast. Note the exactness of detail.

when they saw the miracles] None of these have been recorded. Comp. John 4:45, John 20:30. Faith growing out of such soil would be likely to cease when the miracles ceased. ‘When they saw’ should perhaps be ‘whilst they saw,’ as if implying ‘and no longer.’ For ‘miracles’ read signs, as in John 2:11.

But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
24. did not commit] The same verb as ‘many believed’ in John 2:23. ‘Many trusted in His name; but Jesus did not trust Himself unto them.’ The antithesis is probably intentional.

And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.
25. And needed not] Better, and because He had no need.

for he knew] Better, for He of Himself knew. We have instances of this supernatural knowledge in the cases of Peter, John 1:42; Nathanael, John 1:47-48; Nicodemus, John 3:3; the woman at the well, John 4:29; the disciples, John 6:61; John 6:64; Lazarus, John 11:4; John 11:15; Judas, John 13:11; Peter, John 21:17.

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