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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
John 2

 

 

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Verse 1-2

John 2:1-2. And the third day — Namely, after Christ’s coming into Galilee, and discoursing there with Nathanael, as related above; there was a marriage in Cana — A town which originally belonged to the tribe of Asher, Joshua 19:28. There were two other towns of the same name, one in the tribe of Ephraim, the other in Cœlo-Syria; and the mother of Jesus was there — It being probably a marriage of a near relation, or an intimate friend of hers. This may be inferred from Mary’s being not only present at the feast, but concerned about supplying the company with wine. As Mary here is spoken of alone, it may be reasonable to conclude that Joseph was now dead, and that he did not live to the time when Jesus entered on his public ministry, especially as he is nowhere mentioned in the gospel history afterward. And both Jesus was called — That is, was invited to the marriage; and his disciples — Namely, the two that had followed him from the banks of Jordan, with Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. And Jesus, not affecting the austerities which became the character and ministry of John the Baptist, freely accepted of the invitation. For he did not come to take away human society, but to sanctify it.


Verse 3-4

John 2:3-4. And when they wanted wine — It is probable that, in consequence of its being known that Jesus would be present at this feast, a greater resort of company came than was expected, and that this occasioned a failure of the wine. The mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine — Some infer from this application which she made to Jesus, that she had either seen some of his miracles in private, or had received from him some hint of his intentions of working one now. For, without supposing the one or the other of these, one can hardly imagine why she should thus apply to him on this occasion: for, doubtless, she knew, both that he had not money to buy a quantity of wine, and that if he had, it would not have been proper for him to have done it, as it must have been interpreted as an affront to the bridegroom. But the supply that she expected from him was undoubtedly by his working of a miracle; and it is plain, from her direction to the servants afterward, that, notwithstanding the rebuke she justly met with, yet she had still a view to this. Jesus saith unto her, Woman — Using a plainness of language, suited to the simplicity of those ages and countries. For that this compellation was not in those days accounted disrespectful, has been fully evinced by critics from the best authorities. We find in this gospel, (John 19:26,) our Lord addressing his mother by this title, on a very moving occasion, on which he showed her the most tender affection and regard. What have I to do with thee? — Or rather, What hast thou to do with me? namely, to direct me when and how my miracles are to be wrought. The original expression, τι εμοι και σοι, is rendered by some, What is this to me and thee? namely, that they want wine: What concern is it of ours? it does not belong to us to provide necessaries for this feast. But Jesus, says Dr. Doddridge: “was of so benevolent a temper, and Mary seems to have been so far concerned as a relation, that it does not appear this would have been a proper reply. The words seem rather to be intended as a rebuke to Mary, and it was surely expedient she should know that Jesus was not, upon such occasions, to be directed by her. And nothing is more evident than that the phrase, in other places, has the meaning that our version gives it.” Thus also Dr. Campbell: “It was, no doubt, our Lord’s intention in these words gently to suggest, that in what concerned his office, earthly parents had no authority over him. In other things he had been subject to them.” To translate the clause, What is it to me and thee? “at first sight appears preferable to other versions, because the most literal. But, as Bishop Pearce well observes, had that been the evangelist’s meaning, he would have written, τι προς εμε και σε; as in John 21:23, τι προς σε, what is that to thee? and Matthew 27:4, τι προς ημας, what is that to us?” He observes, further, that the common version suits the phrase in every place where it occurs; and that the other conveys a worse sense, a sense not suitable to the spirit of our Lord’s instructions, as “not favouring that tender sympathy, which his religion so warmly recommends, whereby the interests and the concerns of others, their joys and their sorrows, are made our own.” Mine hour is not yet come — “The season of my public ministry in this country is not yet come. Before I work miracles in Galilee, I must go into Judea and preach, where the Baptist, my forerunner, has been preparing my way.” So Macknight. Or, he may speak of the time when he intended to perform the miracle desired by his mother; for which the proper moment, though very near, was not yet quite come. Some translate the clause interrogatively, Is not mine hour come? the season of my public ministry, at which period thy authority over me ends? Upon the whole, our Lord’s answer to his mother was not in the least disrespectful, nor did she consider it as implying a denial of her request, as is evident from the temper with which she received it, and from her desiring the servants (John 2:5) to wait on him, and to execute his orders punctually. Many writers have interpreted this rebuke of our Lord as being given in his prophetic spirit, as a standing testimony against that idolatry which he foresaw after ages would superstitiously bestow upon his mother, even to the robbing him of the right and honour of his alone mediatorship and intercession.


Verse 5

John 2:5. His mother — Either gathering from his answer, or from something he said to her which the evangelists have not recorded, that he would perform something extraordinary; saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it — Obey his orders immediately and exactly, for he may have reasons for them beyond what you imagine. Hereby she declares her expectation of his performing some mighty work, in answer to what she had suggested to him; and prescribes a rule, which it would be well if every servant of Christ would invariably observe, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it, not questioning the reasonableness of the command, or its fitness to accomplish the end proposed, but implicitly obeying whatever is manifestly a precept of Christ.


Verse 6

John 2:6. There were six water-pots of stone — Which were placed there, some of them for the cleansing of cups and tables, &c., and others for such purifications as required the immersion of the whole body; after the manner of the purifying of the Jews — Who were accustomed to purify themselves by frequent washings, particularly before eating; containing two or three firkins apiece — A large quantity, but exactly how much, is not now easy to be ascertained. The original word, μετρητας, here used, is translated by Dr. Campbell baths, because the Hebrew measure, bath, is thus rendered in the Septuagint, 2 Chronicles 4:5. He acknowledges, however, that this is not a decisive proof that it ought to be so rendered: but says, “I have not found any thing better in support of a different opinion. Some think, that as μετρητης was also the name of an Attic measure, the evangelist (most of whose readers were probably Greeks) must have referred to it, as best known in that country. There are other suppositions made, but hardly any thing more than conjecture has been advanced in favour of any of them. It ought not to be dissembled, that in most of the explanations which have been given of the passage, the quantity of liquor appears so great as to reflect an improbability on the interpretation.” The doctor observes, however, that the English translation is more liable to this objection than his version, the firkin containing nine gallons, whereas the bath is commonly rated at seven and a half, and, according to some, but four and a half; in which case the amount of the whole is but half of what the English translation makes it. The quantity thus reduced, he thinks, will not be thought so enormous, considering 1st, The length of time, commonly a week, spent in feasting on such occasions, and the great concourse of people which they were wont to assemble. To this may be added, that whatever the quantity of water contained in these water-pots might be, there is no proof that our Lord turned the whole of it into wine, or that he turned into wine any of it, any otherwise than as it was drawn out.


Verses 7-10

John 2:7-10. Jesus saith unto them — After some convenient pause, that the failing of the wine might be the more observed; Fill the water-pots with water — Choosing, for wise reasons, to make use of these rather than the vessels in which the wine had before been contained: one of which reasons might be to prevent any suspicion that the tincture or taste of the water was in any degree derived from any remainder of wine in the vessels. Draw out now, and bear unto the governor — “Among the Greeks, Romans, and Jews, it was usual, at great entertainments, especially marriage-feasts, to appoint a master of ceremonies, who not only gave directions concerning the form and method of the entertainment, but likewise prescribed the laws of drinking. Jesus, therefore, ordered the wine which he had formed to be carried to the governor of the feast, that by his judgment passed upon it, in the hearing of all the guests, it might be known to be genuine wine of the best kind.” When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, &c. — The governor of the feast, on tasting the wine, being highly pleased with its flavour and richness, but not knowing how it had been procured, addressed himself to the bridegroom, in the hearing of all the guests, and, commending the wine, as far preferable to what they had been drinking, praised him for the elegance of his taste, and for his civility, in giving the company better wine during the progress of the entertainment than at the beginning of it, which showed that he did not grudge the quantity they might use. This declaration of the governor, no doubt, surprised the bridegroom, who knew nothing of the matter, and occasioned an inquiry to be made about it. It is reasonable, therefore, to suppose, that the servants were publicly examined, and the company received an account of the miracle from them. For it is expressly said, that by it Jesus manifested his glory, that is, demonstrated his power and character, to the conviction of the disciples, and of all the guests. The expression in the tenth verse, οταν μεθυσθωσι, here rendered, when men have well drunk, though it may sometimes signify to drink to excess, yet frequently in Scripture, and sometimes in other writings, denotes no more than to drink sufficiently, or to satisfaction: and “it would be very unjust and absurd to suppose it implies here, that these guests had already transgressed the rules of temperance. None can seriously imagine the evangelist to be so destitute of common sense as to represent Christ as displaying his glory by miraculously furnishing the company with wine to prolong a drunken revel. It is much more reasonable to conclude, that it signifies here, (as it does Genesis 43:34; Song of Solomon 5:1; Haggai 1:6, in the Septuagint,) only to drink so freely as innocently to exhilarate the spirit. And even this, perhaps, might only be the case with some of them, and particularly not of those who, drawn by a desire to converse with Jesus, might be but lately come in.” — Doddridge.


Verse 11

John 2:11. This beginning of miracles did Jesus, &c. — Grotius supposes the meaning to be, that this was the first miracle wrought at Cana, another being afterward mentioned, John 4:46. But it is plain there must have been a long series of miracles wrought here to justify such a manner of speaking, which doth not at all appear to have been the case. The sense of the expression seems much rather to be, that this was the first of Christ’s public miracles; for probably the necessities of the family might sometimes have engaged him to have done something miraculous in private for its relief. And manifested forth his glory — And that in such an illustrious manner, that his fame was spread over all the neighbouring country; and his disciples believed on him — Namely, more steadfastly than before. Being the first miracle they had ever seen Jesus perform, it tended not a little to the confirmation of their faith.


Verse 12-13

John 2:12-13. After this he went down to Capernaum — A city that lay near the north part of the sea of Galilee, and on the south border of the land of Naphthali. See note on Matthew 4:13. Here Christ and his disciples continued but a short time, the passover of the Jews being at hand, which Jesus, who was made under the law, and maintained a religious regard to its ceremonial, as well as its moral precepts, would not neglect attending: thus teaching us by his example a strict observance of all divine institutions, and a diligent attendance on religious assemblies. As the evangelists have not informed us how many passovers happened between the baptism and death of Christ, or during the course of his public ministry, learned men have been much divided in their opinions on the subject. But by far the greater part have supposed there were four, reckoning this the first; the feast mentioned John 5:1, the second; the passover spoken of John 6:4, as the third; and that at which Christ suffered, the fourth. But there are others of a different opinion. The celebrated Sir Isaac Newton reckons five; the first, this which is now before us; the second, according to him, happened four months after Christ’s discourse with the woman of Samaria, John 4:35; the third, a few days before the story of the disciples rubbing the ears of corn, Luke 6:1; the fourth, a little after the feeding of the five thousand; and the last, at the time of our Lord’s crucifixion.


Verse 14

John 2:14. And found in the temple those that sold oxen, &c. — Used for sacrifice. It seems the officers, whose province it was to take care of the temple, permitted a market of these animals, and other things necessary for sacrifice, to be kept in the court of the Gentiles, in order that the worshippers might be supplied with victims requisite for the altar. The consequence of which was, that there was often such a bustle and confusion there, that the proselytes who came to worship could not but be much disturbed in their devotions; as the reader will easily believe, when he is informed that, according to Josephus, “no fewer than two hundred and fifty-six thousand five hundred victims were sometimes offered at one passover. But the abuse did not rest here; for it is generally supposed that the priests let out this part of the temple for profit, and that the sellers, to enable themselves to pay the rent of their shops and stalls, demanded an exorbitant price for their commodities. Nay, it is said that the priests and Levites very often sold the animals they had received for sacrifices to the dealers in cattle, at a lower rate, that they might sell them again with profit; so that the same sacrifices were often sold to different persons, and the spoils, or gain of them, were divided between the priests and the salesmen. In order to expedite this traffic, there were money-changers at hand, who gave the Jews who came from foreign countries the current money of Judea, in lieu of the money of the countries from whence they came; and for this service they took a premium, which, upon the whole, became very considerable. Thus was the temple profaned by the avarice of the priests, and literally made a den of thieves. When our Lord viewed this scene of iniquity, we need not wonder at his indignation; for it was an honest zeal, which showed his high regard to religion, and his implacable enmity to vice; while, at the same time, it illustrated the character given of him by Malachi, (Malachi 3:1,) and established the pretensions he made of being the messenger mentioned by that prophet.” See Josephus, Bell., John 6:9, and note on Matthew 21:12-13.


Verses 15-17

John 2:15-17. And when he had made a scourge of small cords εκσχοινιων, of rushes, rather, which he found strewed on the ground. This circumstance, seemingly slight, was inserted to show that the instrument could not be the cause of so wonderful an effect as is here mentioned. He drove them all out — Namely, out of the court of the temple; both the sheep and the oxen — Though it does not appear that he struck even them, much less any of the men. But a terror from God, it is evident, fell upon them. And poured out the changers’ money — Upon the ground; and overthrew the tables — At which they were sitting. And said to them that sold doves, Take these things hence — Greek, ταυτα, the cages wherein the pigeons were exposed to sale, pointing to them. Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise — Make not the temple, which is dedicated to the worship of God, a place for carrying on low traffic. It is remarkable, that the guilty persons did not offer to make the least resistance; probably, a consciousness of guilt restrained them, or the wonderful things which Jesus had performed at this festival, though not recorded, with the influence of Christ’s miraculous power on their minds, made them afraid to resist him. Nevertheless, in the apprehension of the disciples, he exposed him self to great danger, by turning out a body of factious men, whom the priests and rulers supported. On this occasion, therefore, they called to mind, Psalms 69:10, The zeal of thy house hath eaten me up — Imputing their Master’s action to such a concern for the purity of God’s worship, as the psalmist of old was animated by. The truth is, it certainly was an evidence of a very extraordinary zeal indeed; a zeal nothing inferior to that for which the prophets were famed.


Verses 18-22

John 2:18-22. Then answered the Jews — “A fact so public and remarkable as that just mentioned, could not but immediately come to the knowledge of the priests and rulers of the Jews, whose supreme council sat in a magnificent chamber belonging to the temple;” some of them, therefore, said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing thou doest these things — That is, to prove thyself authorized and commissioned to do them? This they ask because it belonged only to the magistrate, as being God’s minister and vicegerent, or to a prophet, to reform abuses in God’s worship. The authority of the magistrate they knew Christ had not, for acting as he had done; and if he alleged that he acted as a prophet, they require him to give them proof of his being such, by some miracle or prediction, to be accomplished before their eyes. But was not the thing itself a sufficient sign? His ability to drive so many from their posts, without opposition, was surely a proof of his authority to do it: he that was armed by such a divine power, must have been armed with a divine commission. The truth is, they required a miracle to confirm a miracle! This unreasonable demand Jesus did not think proper to grant them; but refers them to the miracle of his resurrection: which, however, he does in such obscure terms, as prejudiced minds could not understand, till the prediction was cleared and explained by the event. Jesus answered, Destroy this temple — Pointing probably to his body, which, with the greatest propriety, he called a temple, on account of the divinity residing in it. By a like figure of speech, the apostle calls the bodies of believers the temples of God. When Christ said, Destroy this temple, he meant, You will be permitted to destroy it, and you will destroy it: for at the very beginning of his ministry he had a clear foresight of all his sufferings, and of his death at the end of it; and yet he went on cheerfully in his work. Observe, reader, our Lord spake thus to them in parables because they were willingly ignorant, and shut their eyes against the clear light issuing from his life, his doctrine, and his miracles. For they that will not see shall not see; but shall stumble and fall, and be broken, and snared, and taken, Isaiah 8:14-15. Accordingly, the figurative speech here used by our Lord, proved such a stumbling-block to them, that it was produced in evidence against him at his trial, to prove him a blasphemer, Matthew 26:60-61. Had they, in humility, asked him the meaning of what he said, he would have informed them, and it would have been a savour of life unto life to them; but they resolved to cavil, and it proved a savour of death unto death. They that would not be convinced were hardened, and the manner of the expression of this prediction occasioned the accomplishment of the prediction itself. In his saying, In three days I will raise it up — Our Lord not only foretold his resurrection, but that it should he effected by his own power. There were others that were raised at different times from the dead, but Christ was the only person that ever raised himself! They, supposing that he spake of the temple in which they were standing, replied, Forty and six years was this temple in building — Dr. Lightfoot computes that it was just forty-six years from the founding of Zerubbabel’s temple, in the second year of Cyrus, to the complete settlement of the temple service, in the thirty- second year of Artaxerxes. The original expression, however, ωκοδομηθη ο ναος ουτος, instead of, was this temple in building, is translated by Doddridge, Heylin, and Worsley, hath been building, “proceeding on the supposition, that those who made this reply alluded to the additional buildings which the temple had received, and which had been begun by Herod, and continued by those who succeeded him in the government of Judea, to the time then present. But let it be observed, that the Jews never did, nor do to this day, speak of more than two temples possessed by their fathers; the first built by Solomon, the second by Zerubbabel. The great additions made by Herod, were considered as intended only for decorating and repairing the edifice, not for rebuilding it; for, in fact, Zerubbabel’s temple had not then been destroyed. Nor need we, I think, puzzle ourselves to make out exactly the forty-six years spoken of. Those men were evidently in the humour of exaggerating, in order to represent to the people as absurd what they had immediately heard advanced by our Lord. In this disposition, we may believe, they would not hesitate to include the years in which the work was interrupted, among the years employed in building.” — Campbell. But he spake of the temple of his body — And therefore they were entirely mistaken as to the sense of what he said; When, therefore, he was risen from the dead — Just on the third day after his crucifixion; his disciples remembered that he had said this — Which, when they heard him utter it, they did not at all understand; and they believed the Scripture, &c. — As they believed the Scriptures, which predicted the Messiah’s death, so they believed the more firmly in their Master on account of this prophecy, which, by foretelling his resurrection so long beforehand, rendered that event, when it happened, a most illustrious proof of his mission from God. Dr. Campbell translates the clause, They understood the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had spoken; observing, that the word πιστευειν, in the sacred writers, sometimes signifies, not so much to believe, as to apprehend aright. “In this sense, it is once and again employed by this writer in particular. It is not intimated here, that the disciples did not, before this time, believe the Scriptures, or their Master’s word: but that they did not, till now, rightly apprehend the meaning of either, in relation to this subject. Another instance of this application of the verb πιστευω, we have John 3:12.”


Verses 23-25

John 2:23-25. When he was in Jerusalem, in the feast-day — Or rather, during the feast, as εν τη εορτη, should undoubtedly be translated: that is, during all the days of the solemnity; many believed in his name — Were inwardly persuaded that he was the Messiah, or, at least, that he was a teacher sent from God; when they saw the miracles which he did — This, as well as John 3:2; John 4:45, plainly refers to some miracles wrought by Christ, the particulars of which are not transmitted to us. But Jesus did not commit himself unto them — Did not repose such confidence in the sincerity of their profession of faith in him, or in their fidelity, courage, or wisdom, as to discover himself to be the Messiah. Because he knew all men — Had perfect knowledge of their dispositions; and needed not that any should testify of man — To give him any information concerning the character of any man, though ever so much a stranger to him; for he knew what was in man — By an immediate and unerring penetration, he knew what was in the heart of every man; and consequently knew, that those people had such gross notions of the Messiah’s kingdom, that there was no room for him to confide in them: or, he knew that the faith of many of them had not yet advanced to a full conviction; and foresaw that they would quickly fall off, when they found he was rejected by the great men, and did not erect a secular empire. Let us learn hence, not rashly to put ourselves into the power of others. Let us study a wise and happy medium, between universal suspiciousness, and that easiness and openness of temper which would make us the property of every pretender to kindness and respect.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on John 2:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/john-2.html. 1857.

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Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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