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Bible Commentaries

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and Colleges

John 2

Verses 1-99

Chap. 2:1 11. The Testimony of the First Sign

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

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

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?’

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 (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. 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, Judges 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’ ( v . 11) as the Messiah by working miracles. The exact moment was still in the future. Comp. 7:8, where He for the moment refuses what He soon after does; and 12:23, 17:1, which confirm the meaning here given to ‘hour.’

5. Between the lines of His refusal her faith reads a better answer to her appeal.

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 metrētes , which was about nine gallons. The six pitchers, therefore, holding from 18 to 27 gallons each, would together hold 106 to 162 gallons.

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 ( v . 5) have done their work. Our attention seems here to be called to the great quantity of water changed into wine.

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: Ecclus. 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 4:7, 15, 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 .

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.

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 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, 21:1, 14, and the same English word should be used in all the passages. Comp. 7:4 and see on 1:31.

his glory ] This is the final cause of Christ’s ‘signs,’ His own and His Father’s glory (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, v . 17 and v . 22; very natural in a disciple, not natural in a later writer. See on 11:15 and 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 (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.

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 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 1:33.

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

2:13 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 .

2:13 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 (?), 5:1; (3) Passover, 6:4; (4) Tabernacles, 7:2; (5) Dedication, 10:22; (6) Passover, 11:55.

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 v . 15. There the word points to the commission paid on exchanges; here the word indicates a change from large to small coins.

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.

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 .

17. remembered ] Then and there. Who could know this but a disciple? Who would think of inventing it? See above on v . 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. 6:31, 45, 10:34, 12:14 (19:19).

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

18. the Jews ] See on 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.

19. Destroy this temple ] It is S. Matthew (26:61) and S. 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 18:11. The word used in these three verses for ‘temple’ means the central sacred building ( naos ), whereas that used in v . 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. 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.

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 v . 19. For other instances of gross misunderstanding of Christ’s words comp. 3:4, 9, 4:11, 15, 33, 6:34, 52, 7:35, 8:22, 33, 52, 11:12, 14:5.

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.

22. was risen ] Better, was raised . Comp. 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 v . 11.

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

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

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. 4:45, 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 v . 11.

24. did not commit ] The same verb as ‘many believed ’ in v . 23. ‘Many trusted in His name; but Jesus did not trust Himself unto them.’ The antithesis is probably intentional.

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, 1:42; Nathanael, 1:47, 48; Nicodemus, 3:3; the woman at the well, 4:29; the disciples, 6:61, 64; Lazarus, 11:4, 15; Judas, 13:11; Peter, 21:17.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on John 2". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/john-2.html. 1896.