Wine and Jesus’ 1st Miracle at Cana
Compiled by Michael G. Maness
Comments by Michael G. Maness
NOTES FROM BIBLICAL SCHOLARS
I. Barnes’s Notes on the New Testament
II. Adam Clarke’s Commentary
III. Exhaustive Strong’s Concordance Definitions
IV. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament
V. B. W. Johnson’s The People’s New Testament (1891)
VI. J. W. McGarvey & Philip Y. Pendleton’s The Fourfold Gospel (1914)
VII. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
VIII. John Calvin (1509-1564) Commentary on John
IX. George Whitefield (1714-1770) Excerpt from Sermon 36 The Marriage of Cana
X. Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) Excerpts on Wine from Sketches of Jewish Social Life
XI. Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883)
A. Excerpt from Chapter I—From the Manger in Bethlehem to the Baptism in the Jordan
Comments by Michael G. Maness
From the eleven sections below, the wine used at the miracle of Cana was that common to Palestine in the 1st century. Barnes doubts that it was fermented, yet he does not account for the how they were intoxicated. There appears no reason to doubt the fermentation, to some degree, in that such was far more common. And according to Edershein, Palestine as all Roman provinces were taxed, what taxes included a portion of their produce of wine, and you did not ship grape juice instead of wine as your tax payment to Rome. Strangely, even the great reformer, John Calvin, comments on the miracle turning the water into wine with no comment on verse 10, about how intoxicated the guests may have been. The Greek word indicates a degree of intoxication, and a somewhat numbness to appreciate the finer qualities of a God-created vintage, which turns the whole passage into absurdity if there was no difference or if we are talking about mere grape juice.
George R. Beasely-Murray, in his Word Biblical Commentary on John, relates a serious study without mention to a distinction between grape juice and wine that intoxicates; he assumes the miraculous wine is the kind that intoxicates when used in abundance. Moreover, he says that the miracle is a "sign" of the glory of Christ—wine is better than water, a greater gift. The "sign" was to show forth how Christ would make available "the wine of the kingdom of God" to the whole world (John 12:30-31) and even "sheds light on the time of the Church as well as on the historic ministry of Jesus"; hence,
For this reason the gift of wine instead of water was crucially important for the earliest readers of this Gospel. They must grasp the superiority of the Son of God and his gift to the mediator of the old covenant and its gifts (John 1:17). It is their privilege to rejoice in the possession of the life of the kingdom of God, and to persist in their adherence to its Lord and Giver in face of those who champion the old order and glory in its mediator. Of this gift every celebration of the Eucharist is a standing in reminder.
The gift of wine is a gift of life, as it sooths the rigors of a hard life. There were very few folks in the New Testament who totally abstained from fermented wine, and there is no direct prohibition in the New Testament—only a prohibition from excessive drinking. There were self-righteous people in the New Testament, too, who tried to degrade Jesus with accusations of associating "winebibbers, a friend of publicans and sinners" (Mat. 11:10, Lk. 7:34), doubtless because he consumed more wine than they did; yet we are likewise confident that Jesus did not drink beyond "winebibber" excess of Proverbs 23:20. The wine making was as much an art then as it has been for thousands of years, and there is no reason to doubt that the wine produced by Jesus was the very best vintage that the world has ever seen, even intoxicating if used in excess.
Should a Christian consume alcohol? There is no biblical prohibition, and Jesus did convert water into wine after a larger group of wedding guest had consumed enough to not fully appreciate the quality of Jesus’ wine. Can a Christian consume Nightquil? Be allowed a sedative for medical surgery? Of course, no Christian today advocate the total abstinence from all forms of drugs, especially since there is no total prohibition in the Bible. The argument against total abstinence from recreational use comes from a secondary and implied source, that in part is somewhat cultural, where the Christian strives to make his Christian witness such that does not cause a weaker person to stumble. That is an individual preference and an individual devotion that cannot be mutated into a categorically biblical prohibition. The only biblical prohibition on alcohol is that against strong drink and excessive drinking, and today that can apply to the excessive use of any drug.
The real question is whether a Christian can be allowed to socially drink in America. It certainly is permissible to totally abstain from all alcohol. And some Christians find no problem with a social drink in America and Europe. The question is for the individual to decide, and that includes a group of individuals—like a specific church—that may choose to abstain because of their convictions. But it is not Christian or biblical to declare that all use of alcohol (or any drug) is against the Bible or non-Christian in and of itself. The Bible only warns against excess.
NOTES FROM BIBLICAL SCHOLARS
I. Barnes’s Notes on the New Testament
John 2:6 – [Six water-pots of stone] Made of stone; or, as we should say, stoneware. [After the manner] After the usual custom. [Of the purifying] Of the "washings" or ablutions of the Jews. They were for the purpose of washing the hands before and after eating (Matt 15:2), and for the formal washing of vessels, and even articles of furniture, Luke 11:39; Mark 7:3-4. [Two or three firkins] It is not quite certain what is meant here by the word "firkins." It is probable that the measure intended is the Hebrew "bath," containing about 7 ½ gallons.
John 2:7 – [With water] This was done by the servants employed at the feast. It was done by "them," so that there might be no opportunity of saying that the disciples of Jesus had filled them with wine to produce the "appearance" of a miracle. In this case there could be no deception. The quantity was very considerable. The servants would know whether the "wine" or "water" had been put in these vessels. It could not be believed that THEY had either the power or the disposition to impose on others in this manner, and the way was therefore clear for the proof that Jesus had really changed what was known to be water into wine. [To the brim] To the top. So full that no wine could be poured in to give the appearance of a mixture. Further, vessels were used for this miracle in which wine had not been kept. These pots were never used to put wine in, but simply to keep "water" in for the various purposes of ablution. A large number was used on this occasion, because there were many guests.
John 2:8 – [Draw out now] This command was given to the servants. It showed that the miracle had been performed immediately. As soon as they were filled the servants were directed to take to the governor of the feast. Jesus made no parade about it, and it does not even appear that he approached the waterpots. He willed it, and it was done. This was a clear exertion of divine power, and made in such a manner as to leave no doubt of its reality. [The governor] One who presided on the occasion. The one who stood at the "head" or upper end of the table. He had the charge of the entertainment, provided the food, gave directions to the servants, etc.
John 2:9 – [And knew not whence it was] This is said, probably, to indicate that his judgment was not biased by any favor, or any lack of favor, toward Jesus. Had he known what was done, he would have been less likely to have judged impartially. As it is, we have his testimony that this was REAL wine, and of so fine a body and flavor as to surpass that which had been provided for the occasion. Everything in this miracle shows that there was no collusion or understanding between Jesus and any of the persons at the feast.
John 2:10 – [When men have well drunk] This word does not of necessity mean that they were intoxicated, though it is usually employed in that sense. It may mean when they have drunk sufficient, or to satiety; or have drunk so much as to produce hilarity, and to destroy the keenness of their taste, so that they could not readily distinguish the good from that which was worse. But this cannot be adduced in favor of drunkenness, even if it means to be intoxicated; for,
1. It is not said of those who were present "at that feast," but of what GENERALLY occurred. For anything that appears, at that feast all were perfectly temperate and sober.
2. It is not the saying of Jesus that is here recorded, but of the governor of the feast, who is declaring what usually occurred as a fact.
3. There is not any expression of opinion in regard to its "propriety," or in approval of it, even by that governor.
4. It does not appear that our Saviour even heard the observation.
5. Still less is there any evidence that he approved such a state of things, or that he designed that it should take place here. Further, the word translated "well drunk" cannot be shown to mean intoxication; but it may mean when they had drunk as much as they judged proper or as they desired, then the other was presented. It is clear that neither our Saviour, nor the sacred writer, nor the speaker here expresses any approval of intemperance, nor is there the least evidence that anything of the kind occurred here. It is not proof that WE approve of intemperance when we mention, as this man did, what occurs usually among men at feasts.
[The good wine] This shows that this had all the qualities of real wine. We should not be deceived by the phrase "good wine." We often use the phrase to denote that it is good in proportion to its strength and its power to intoxicate; but no such sense is to be attached to the word here. Pliny, Plutarch, and Horace describe wine as "good," or mention that as "the best wine," which was harmless or "innocent" - poculo vini "innocentis." The most useful wine - "utilissimum vinum" - was that which had little strength; and the most wholesome wine - "saluberrimum vinum" - was that which had not been adulterated by "the addition of anything to the ‘must’ or juice." Pliny expressly says that a good wine was one that was destitute of spirit (lib. iv. c. 13). It should not be assumed, therefore, that the "good wine" was "stronger" than the other: it is rather to be presumed that it was milder.
The wine referred to here was doubtless such as was commonly drunk in Palestine. That was the pure juice of the grape. It was not brandied wine, nor drugged wine, nor wine compounded of various substances, such as we drink in this land. The common wine drunk in Palestine was that which was the simple juice of the grape. We use the word "wine" now to denote the kind of liquid which passes under that name in this country—always containing a considerable portion of alcohol not only the alcohol produced by fermentation, but alcohol "added" to keep it or make it stronger. But we have no right to take that sense of the word, and go with it to the interpretation of the Scriptures. We should endeavor to place ourselves in the exact circumstances of those times, ascertain precisely what idea the word would convey to those who used it then, and apply that sense to the word in the interpretation of the Bible; and there is not the slightest evidence that the word so used would have conveyed any idea but that of the pure juice of the grape, nor the slightest circumstance mentioned in this account that would not be fully met by such a supposition.
II. Adam Clarke’s Commentary
John 2:8 – [Governor of the feast.] The original word, architriklinoo, signifies one who is chief or head over three couches, or tables. In the Asiatic countries, they take their meals sitting, or rather reclining, on small low couches. And when many people are present, so that they cannot all eat together, three of these low tables or couches are put together in form of a crescent, and some one of the guests is appointed to take charge of the persons who sit at these tables. Hence, the appellation of architriclinus, the chief over three couches or tables, which in process of time became applied to the governor or steward of a feast, let the guests be many or few; and such person, having conducted the business well, had a festive crown put on his head by the guests, at the conclusion of the feast. See Ecclesiasticus 32:1-3. It is very common for the Hindus to appoint a person who is expert in conducting the ceremonies of a feast to manage as governor. This person is seldom the master of the house.
[And they bare it.] A question has been asked, "Did our Lord turn all the water into wine which the six measures contained?" To which I answer: There is no proof that he did; and I take it for granted that he did not. It may be asked, "How could a part be turned into wine, and not the whole?" To which I answer: The water, in all likelihood, was changed into wine as it was drawn out, and not otherwise. "But did not our Lord by this miracle minister to vice, by producing an excess of inebriating liquor? "No; for the following reasons:
1. The company was a select and holy company, where no excess could be permitted. And,
2. Our Lord does not appear to have furnished any extra quantity, but only what was necessary.
"But it is intimated in the text that the guests were hearty intoxicated before this miraculous addition to their wine took place; for the evangelist says, methusthoosin, when they have become intoxicated." I answer:
1. It is not intimated, even in the most indirect manner, that these guests were at all intoxicated.
2. The words are not spoken of the persons at that wedding at all: the governor of the feast only states that such was the common custom at feasts of this nature; without intimating that any such custom prevailed there.
3. The original word bears a widely different meaning from that which the objection forces upon it.
The verbs muthuskoo and methuoo, from methee wine, which, from metathuein, to drink after sacrificing, signify not only to inebriate, but to take wine, to drink wine, to drink enough: and in this sense the verb is evidently used in the Septuagint, Gen 43:34; Song 5:1; 1 Macc. 16:16; Hag 1:6; Ecclesiasticus 1:16. And the Prophet Isaiah, Isa 58:11, speaking of the abundant blessings of the godly, compares them to a watered garden, which the Septuagint translates, hoos keepos methuoon, by which is certainly understood, not a garden drowned with water, but one sufficiently saturated with it, not having one drop too much, nor too little.
III. Strong’s Concordance Definitions
NT:3182 – methusko (meth-oos’-ko); a prolonged (transitive) form of NT:3184; to intoxicate: KJV - be drunk (-en).
NT:3183 – methusos (meth’-oo-sos); from NT:3184; tipsy, i.e. (as noun) a sot: KJV - drunkard.
NT:3184 – methuo (meth-oo’-o); from another form of NT:3178; to drink to intoxication, i.e. get drunk: KJV - drink well, make (be) drunk (-en).
IV. Robertson’s Word Pictures in the New Testament
John 2:10 – When men have drunk freely hotan methusthoosin. Indefinite temporal clause with hotan and first aorist passive subjunctive of methuskoo. The verb does not mean that these guests are now drunk, but that this is a common custom to put "the worse" ton elassoo, the less, the inferior wine last. It is real wine that is meant by oinos here. Unlike the Baptist, Jesus mingled in the social life of the time, was even abused for it (Matt 11:19 = Luke 7:34). But this fact does not mean that today Jesus would approve the modern liquor trade with its damnable influences. The law of love expounded by Paul in 1 Cor 8-10 and in Rom 14-15 teaches modern Christians to be willing gladly to give up what they see causes so many to stumble into sin.
V. B. W. Johnson’s The People’s New Testament (1891)
John 2:10 – Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine. The language of the ruler is sportive, but still he states a custom. The best wine was offered when the appetite of the guests was sharpest and most critical. Have well drunk. Not intoxicated, but have drunk considerable. Satan gives his good wine first; so the drunkard finds it; so did the prodigal son. Afterwards he gives the bitter; red eyes, pain, hunger, wretchedness. Thou hast kept the good wine until now. What meaneth Christ making wine? In Palestine there were three kinds of wine: 1. Fermented wines, which, however, were very unlike our fiery liquors, and contained only a small per cent of alcohol. These were mixed with two or three parts of water. The fermented, at first mild, and then diluted with water, was only intoxicating when used in enormous quantities. 2. The unfermented juice of the grape. 3. An intoxicating drink called "new wine" in @Acts 2:13. Whedon says: "We see no reason for supposing that the wine of the present occasion was that upon which Scripture places its strongest interdict  (@Prov. 20:1; 23:31; Isa. 22:13), rather than that eulogized as a blessing (@Psa. 104:15; Isa. 55:1). Even adopting the view that it was fermented wine, it was totally unlike the fiery and undiluted drinks sold as wines in saloons, used in many families, offered at hotels and wine parties, and even poured out at communion tables. In the use of the usual wine of Palestine there is not the slightest apology for drinking as a beverage the alcoholic drinks which are the curse of our times. With regard to them the only safe rule is "to touch not, taste not, handle not."
VI. J. W. McGarvey & Philip Y. Pendleton’s The Fourfold Gospel (1914)
John 2:10 – and saith unto him, Every man setteth on first [when the taste is sharpest, and most critical] the good wine [the adjective "good" refers rather to flavor than to strength]; and when men have drunk freely [The ruler was no disciple of Jesus, and he speaks in the merry spirit of the world. He gives his own experience as to the habits of feasts, and his words give no indication that those present indulged to excess], then that which is worse: thou hast kept the good wine until now. [It is part of Christ’s system to reserve the best until the last. Sin’s first cup is always the sweetest, but with God that which follows is ever superior to that which has preceded it. As to the bearing of this miracle upon the question of temperance, the New Testament elsewhere clearly condemns the immoderate use of wine, and as these condemnations proceed from Christ we may rightly conceive of him, as in this instance, doing nothing contrary thereto. The liquors of this land in the strength of their intoxicating properties differ so widely from the light wines of Palestine that even the most moderate use of them seems immoderate in comparison. In creating wine Jesus did no more than as Creator and Renewer of the earth he had always done. From the beginning God has always so created or replenished the earth as to allow the possibility of excess.]
VII. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary
John 2:10 – The beginning of Moses’ miracles was turning water into blood, @exodus 7:20 ; the beginning of Christ’s miracles was turning water into wine; which may remind us of the difference between the law of Moses and the gospel of Christ. He showed that he improves creature-comforts to all true believers, and make them comforts indeed. And Christ’s works are all for use. Has he turned thy water into wine, given thee knowledge and grace? it is to profit withal; therefore draw out now, and use it. It was the best wine. Christ’s works commend themselves even to those who know not their Author. What was produced by miracles, always was the best in its kind. Though Christ hereby allows a right use of wine, he does not in the least do away his own caution, which is, that our hearts be not at any time overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, @luke 21:34 . Though we need not scruple to feast with our friends on proper occasions, yet every social interview should be so conducted, that we might invite the Redeemer to join with us, if he were now on earth; and all levity, luxury, and excess offend him.
VIII. John Calvin – 1509-1564, Theologian & Reformer
Commentary on John
Note—Calvin does not comment on verse 10,
about how drunk they may or may not have been
John 2:6 – And there were there six water-pots of stone. According to the computation of Budaeus, we infer that these water-pots were very large; for as the metreta f46 (metrhth<v) contains twenty congii, each contained, at least, a Sextier of this country. f47 Christ supplied them, therefore, with a great abundance of wine, as much as would be sufficient for a banquet to a hundred and fifty men. Besides, both the number and the size of the water-pots serve to prove the truth of the miracle. If there had been only two or three jars, many might have suspected that they had been brought from some other place. If in one vessel only the water had been changed into wine, the certainty of the miracle would not have been so obvious, or so well ascertained. It is not, therefore, without a good reason that the Evangelist mentions the number of the water-pots, and states how much they contained.
It arose from superstition that vessels so numerous and so large were placed there. They had the ceremony of washing, indeed, prescribed to them by the Law of God; but as the world is prone to excess in outward matters, the Jews, not satisfied with the simplicity which God had enjoined, amused themselves with continual washings; and as superstition is ambitious, they undoubtedly served the purpose of display, as we see at the present day in Popery, that every thing which is said to belong to the worship of God is arranged for pure display. There was, then, a twofold error: that without the command of God, they engaged in a superfluous ceremony of their own invention; and next, that, under the pretense of religion, ambition reigned amidst that display. Some Popish scoundrels have manifested an amazing degree of wickedness, when they had the effrontery to say that they had among their relics those water-pots with which Christ performed this miracle in Cana, and exhibited some of them, f48 which, first, are of small size, and, next, are unequal in size. And in the present day, when the light of the Gospel shines so clearly around us, they are not ashamed to practice those tricks, which certainly is not to deceive by enchantments, but daringly to mock men as if they were blind; and the world, which does not perceive such gross mockery, is evidently bewitched by Satan.
John 2:7 – Fill the water-pots with water. The servants might be apt to look upon this injunction as absurd; for they had already more than enough of water. But in this way the Lord often acts towards us, that his power may be more illustriously displayed by an unexpected result; though this circumstance is added to magnify the miracle; for when the servants drew wine out of vessels which had been filled with water, no suspicion can remain.
John 2:8 – And carry to the master of the feast. For the same reason as before, Christ wished that the flavor of the wine should be tried by the master of the feast, before it had been tasted by himself, or by any other of the guests; and the readiness with which the servants obey him in all things shows us the great reverence and respect in which he was held by them. The Evangelist gives the name of the master of the feast to him who had the charge of preparing the banquet and arranging the tables; not that the banquet was costly and magnificent, but because the honorable appellations borrowed from the luxury and splendor of the rich are applied even to the marriages of the poor. But it is wonderful that a large quantity of wine, and of the very best wine, is supplied by Christ, who is a teacher of sobriety. I reply, when God daily gives us a large supply of wine, it is our own fault if his kindness is an excitement to luxury; but, on the other hand, it is an undoubted trial of our sobriety, if we are sparing and moderate in the midst of abundance; as Paul boasts that he had learned to know both how to be full and to be hungry, (<500412>Philippians 4:12.)
John 2:11 – This beginning of miracles. The meaning is, that this was the first of Christ’s miracles; for when the angels announced to the shepherds that he was born in Bethlehem, (<420208>Luke 2:8,) when the star appeared to the Magi, (<400202>Matthew 2:2,) when the Holy Spirit descended on him in the shape of a dove, (<400316>Matthew 3:16; <410110>Mark 1:10; <430132>John 1:32,) though these were miracles, yet, strictly speaking, they were not performed by him; but the Evangelist now speaks of the miracles of which he was himself the Author. For it is a frivolous and absurd interpretation which some give, that this is reckoned the first among; the miracles which Christ performed in Cana of Galilee; as if a place, in which we do not read that he ever was more than twice, had been selected by him for a display of his power. It was rather the design of the Evangelist to mark the order of time which Christ followed in the exercise of his power. For until he was thirty years of age, he kept himself concealed at home, like one who held no public office. Having been consecrated, at his baptism, to the discharge of his office, he then began to appear in public, and to show by clear proofs for what purpose he was sent by the Father. We need not wonder, therefore, if he delayed till this time the first proof of his Divinity. It is a high honor given to marriage, that Christ not only deigned to be present at a nuptial banquet, but honored it with his first miracle. There are some ancient Canons which forbid the clergy to attend a marriage. The reason of the prohibition was, that by being the spectators of the wickedness which was usually practiced on such occasions, they might in some measure be regarded as approving of it. But it would have been far better to carry to such places so much gravity as to restrain the licentiousness in which unprincipled and abandoned men indulge, when they are withdrawn from the eyes of others. Let us, on the contrary, take Christ’s example for our rule; and let us not suppose that any thing else than what we read that he did can be profitable to us.
IX. George Whitefield – 1714-1770, Methodist Revivalist
Excerpt from Sermon 36 The Marriage of Cana
The governor does indeed say, "When men have well drunken," but it no where appears that they were the men. Is it to be supposed, that the most holy and unspotted Lamb of God, who was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, and who, when at a Pharisee’s house, took notice of even the gestures of those with whom he sat at meat; is it to be supposed, that our dear Redeemer, whose constant practice it was to tell people they must deny themselves, and take up their crosses daily; who bid his disciples to take heed, lest at any time their hearts might be over-charged with surfeiting and drunkenness; can it be supposed, that such a self-denying Jesus should now turn six large water-pots of water into the richest wine, to encourage excess and drunkenness in persons, who, according to this writer, had indulged to pleasure and cheerfulness already? Had our Lord sat by, and seen them indulge, without telling them of it, would it not be a sin? But to insinuate he not only did this, but also turned water into wine, to increase that indulgence; this is making Christ a minister of sin indeed. What is this, but using him like the Pharisees of old, who called him a glutton, and a wine-bibber? Alas! how may we expect our dear Lord’s enemies will treat him, when he is thus wounded in the house of his seeming friends? Sirs, if you follow such doctrine as this, you will not be righteous, but I am persuaded you will be wicked over-much.
But God forbid you should think our Lord behaved so much unlike himself in this matter. No, he had nobler ends in view, when he wrought this miracle. One, the evangelist mentions in the words of the text, "to show forth his glory," or to give a proof of his eternal power and godhead.
Here seems to be an allusion to the appearance of God in the tabernacle, which this same evangelist takes notice of in his first chapter, where he says, "The Word (Jesus Christ) was made flesh, and dwelt (or, as it is rendered in the margin, tabernacled) amongst us." Our dear Lord, though very God of very God, and also most perfect and glorious in himself as man, was pleased to throw a veil of flesh over this his great glory, when he came to make his soul an offering for sin. And that the world might know and believe in him as the Savior of all men, he performed many miracles, and this in particular; for thus speaks the evangelist, "This first," &c.
This then was the chief design of our Lord’s turning the water into wine. But there are more which our Lord may be supposed to have had in view, some of which I shall proceed to mention.
SECONDLY, he might do this to reward the hose for calling him and his disciples to the marriage. Jesus Christ will not be behind-hand with those who receive him or his followers, for his name’s sake. Those who thus honor him, he will honor. A cup of cold water given in the name of a disciple, shall in no wise lose its reward. He will turn water into wine. Though those who abound in alms-deeds, out of a true faith in, and love for Jesus, may seem as it were to throw their bread upon the waters, yet they shall find it again after many days. For they who give to the poor out of this principle, lend unto the Lord; and look, whatsoever they lay out, it shall be repaid them again. Even in this life, God often orders good measure pressed down and running over, to be returned into his servants bosoms. It is the same in spirituals. To him that hath, and improves what he hath, for the sake of Christ and his disciples, shall be given, and he shall have abundance. Brethren, I would not boast; but, to my master’s honor and free grace be it spoken, I can prove this to be true by happy experience. When I have considered that I am a child, and cannot speak, and have seen so many of you come out into the wilderness to be fed, I have often said within myself, what can I do with my little stock of grace and knowledge among so great a multitude? But, at my Lord’s command, I have given you to eat of such spiritual food as I had, and before I have done speaking, have had my soul richly fed with the bread which cometh down from heaven. Thus shall it be done to all such who are willing to spend and be spent for Christ or his disciples; for there is no respect of persons with God.
THIRDLY, Our Lord’s turning the water, which was poured out so plentifully, into wine, is a sign of the plentiful pouring out of his Spirit into the hearts of believers. The holy Spirit is in scripture compared unto wine; and therefore the prophet calls us to buy wine as well as milk, that is, the spirit of love, which fills and gladdens the soul as it were with new wine. The apostle alludes to this, when he bids the Ephesians "not to be drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled with the Spirit." And our Lord shows us thus much by choosing wine; to show forth the strength and refreshment of his blood, in the blessed sacrament. I know these terms are unintelligible to natural men, they can no more understand me, than if I spoke to them in an unknown tongue, for they are only to be spiritually discerned. To you then that are spiritual do I speak, to you who are justified by faith, and feel the blessed Spirit of Jesus Christ working upon your hearts, you can judge of what I say; you have already (I am persuaded) been as it were filled with new wine by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit. But alas! you have not yet had half your portion; thee are only earnests, and in comparison but shadows of good things to come; our Lord keeps his best wine for you till the last; and though you have drank deep of it already, yet he intends to give you more: He will not leave you, till he has filled you to the brim, till you are ready to cry out, Lord, stay thine hand, thy poor creatures can hold no more! Be not straitened in your own bowels, since Jesus Christ is not straitened in his. Open your hearts as wide as ever you will, the Spirit of the Lord shall fill them. Christ deals with true believers, as Elijah did with the poor woman, whose oil increased, to pay her husband’s debts; as long as she brought pitchers, the oil continued. It did not cease till she ceased bringing vessels to contain it. My brethren, our hearts are like those pitchers; open them freely by faith, and the oil of God’s free gift, the oil of gladness, the love of God through Christ, shall be continually pouring in; for believers are to be filled with all the fullness of God.
FOURTHLY, Our Lord’s turning water into wine, and keeping the best until last, may show forth the glory of the latter days of his marriage feast with his church. Great things God has done already, whereat millions of saints have rejoiced, and do yet rejoice. Great things God is doing now, but yet, my brethren, we shall see greater things than these. It is meet, right, and our bounden duty, to give thanks unto God, even the Father; for many righteous men have desired to see the things which we see, and have not seen them; and to hear the things which we hear, and have not heard them. But still there are more excellent things behind. Glorious things are spoken of these times, "when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." There is a general expectation among the people of God, when the partition-wall between Jew and Gentile shall be broken down, and all Israel be saved. Happy those who live when God does this. They shall see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven. They shall not weep, as the Jews did at the building of the second temple. No, they shall rejoice with exceeding great joy. For all the former glory of the Christian church shall be nothing in comparison of that glory which shall excel. Then shall they cry out with the governor of the feast, "thou hast kept thy good wine until now!"
X. Alfred Edersheim – 1825-1889, Church Historian
Excerpts on Wine from Sketches of Jewish Social Life
But the Roman taxation, which bore upon Israel with such crushing weight, was quite of its own kind—systematic, cruel, relentless, and utterly regardless. In general, the provinces of the Roman Empire, and what of Palestine belonged to them, were subject to two great taxes--poll-tax (or rather income-tax) and ground-tax. All property and income that fell not under the ground-tax was subject to poll-tax; which amounted, for Syria and Cilicia, to one per cent. The "poll-tax" was really twofold, consisting of income-tax and head-money, the latter, of course, the same in all cases, and levied on all persons (bond or free) up to the age of sixty-five—women being liable from the age of twelve and men from that of fourteen. Landed property was subject to a tax of one-tenth of all grain, and one-fifth of the wine and fruit grown, partly paid in product and partly commuted into money.
The wine for use in the Temple was brought exclusively from Judaea, not only because it was better, but because the transport through Samaria would have rendered it defiled. Indeed, the Mishnah mentions the names of the five towns whence it was obtained. Similarly, the oil used was derived either from Judaea, or, if from Peraea, the olives only were brought, to be crushed in Jerusalem.
We are now in Galilee proper, and a more fertile or beautiful region could scarcely be conceived. It was truly the land where Asher dipped his foot in oil (Deu 33:24). The Rabbis speak of the oil as flowing like a river, and they say that it was easier in Galilee to rear a forest of olive-trees than one child in Judaea! The wine, although not so plentiful as the oil, was generous and rich. Corn grew in abundance, especially in the neighbourhood of Capernaum; flax also was cultivated. The price of living was much lower than in Judaea, where one measure was said to cost as much as five in Galilee. Fruit also grew to perfection; and it was probably a piece of jealousy on the part of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that they would not allow it to be sold at the feasts in the city, lest people should forsooth say, "We have only come up in order to taste fruit from Galilee" (Pes. 8 b).
Money-changers were allowed to charge a fixed discount for light money, or to return it within a certain period, if below the weight at which they had taken it. A merchant might not be pressed to name the lowest price, unless the questioner seriously intended to purchase; nor might he be even reminded of a former overcharge to induce him to lower his prices. Goods of different qualities might not be mixed, even though the articles added were of superior value. For the protection of the public, agriculturists were forbidden to sell in Palestine wine diluted with water, unless in places where such was the known usage. Indeed, one of the Rabbis went so far as to blame merchants who gave little presents to children by way of attracting the custom of their parents. It is difficult to imagine what they would have said to the modern practice of giving discount to servants. All agreed in reprobating as deceit every attempt to give a better appearance to an article exposed for sale. Purchases of corn could not be concluded till the general market-price had been fixed.
XI. Alfred Edersheim – 1825-1889, Church Historian
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (1883)
A. Excerpt from Chapter I:
From the Manger in Bethlehem to the Baptism in the Jordan
The great Palace was the residence of King and Court, with all their following and luxury; in Antonia lay afterwards the Roman garrison. The Temple called thousands of priests, many of them with their families, to Jerusalem; while the learned Academies were filled with hundreds, though it may have been mostly poor, scholars and students. In Jerusalem must have been many of the large warehouses for the near commercial harbour of Joppa; and thence, as from the industrial centres of busy Galilee, would the pedlar go forth to carry his wares over the land. More especially would the markets of Jerusalem, held, however, in bazaars and streets rather than in squares, be thronged with noisy sellers and bargaining buyers. Thither would Galilee send not only its manufactures, but its provisions: fish (fresh or salted), fruit [a Maaser. ii. 3.] known for its lusciousness, oil, grape-syrup, and wine. There were special inspectors for these markets, the Agardemis or Agronimos, who tested weights and measures, and officially stamped them, [b Baba B. 89 a.] tried the soundness of food or drink, [c Jer. Ab. Z 44 b; Ab. Z. 58 a.] and occasionally fixed or lowered the market-prices, enforcing their decision, [d Jer. Dem 22 c.] if need were, even with the stick. [e Yoma 9 a.] [2On the question of officially fixing the market-price, diverging opinions are expressed, Baba B. 89 b. It was thought that the market-price should leave to the producer a profit of one-sixth on the cost (Baba B. 90 a). In general, the laws on these subjects form a most interesting study. Bloch (Mos. Talm. Polizeir.) holds, that there were two classes of market-officials. But this is not supported by sufficient evidence, nor, indeed, would such an arrangement seem likely. 3 That of Botnah was the largest, Jer. Ab. Z. 39 d.] Not only was there an upper and a lower market in Jerusalem, [f Sanh. 89 a.] but we read of at least seven special markets: those for cattle, [g Erub. x. 9.] wool, iron-ware, [h Jos. War v. 8. 1.] clothes, wood, [i Ibid. ii. 19. 4.] bread, and fruit and vegetables. The original market-days were Monday and Tuesday, afterwards Friday. [k Tos. Baba Mets. iii.] The large fairs (Yeridin) were naturally confined to the centres of import and export, the borders of Egypt (Gaza), the ancient Phoenician maritime towns (Tyro and Acco), and the Emporium across the Jordan (Botnah). Besides, every caravansary, or khan (qatlis, atlis,), was a sort of mart, where goods were unloaded, and especially cattle set out [l Kerith. iii. 7;] for sale, and purchases made. But in Jerusalem one may suppose the sellers to have been every day in the market; and the magazines, in which greengrocery and all kinds of meat were sold (the Beth haShevaqim), [m Makhsh. vi. 2] must have been always open. Besides, there were the many shops (Chanuyoth) either fronting the streets, or in courtyards, or else movable wooden booths in the streets. Stangely enough, occasionally Jewish women were employed in selling. [a Kethub. ix. 4] Business was also done in the resturants and wineshops, of which there were many; where you might be served with some dish: fresh or salted fish, fried locusts, a mess of vegetables, a dish of soup, pastry, sweetmeats, or a piece of a fruit-cake, to be washed down with Judaean or Galilean wine, Idumaean vinegar, or foreign beer.
B. Chapter IV—The Marriage Feast in Cana of Galilee,
the Miracle that is "A Sign"
At the close of His Discourse to Nathanael, His first sermon, Jesus had made use of an expression which received its symbolic fulfilment in His first deed. His first testimony about Himself had been to call Himself the ‘Son of Man.’ [a St. John i 51.] [1 For a full discussion of that most important and significant appellation ‘Son of Man,’ comp. Lucke, u. s. pp. 459-466; Godet (German transl.) pp. 104-108; and especially Westcott, pp. 33-35. The main point is here first to ascertain the Old Testament import of the title, and then to view it as present to later Jewish thinking in the Pseudepigraphic writings (Book of Enoch). Finally, its full realisation must be studied in the Gospel-history.] We cannot but feel that this bore reference to the confession of Nathanael: ‘Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel.’ It is, as if He would have turned the disciples from thoughts of His being the Son of God and King of Israel to the voluntary humiliation of His Humanity, as being the necessary basis of His work, without knowledge of which that of His Divinity would have been a barren, speculative abstraction, and that of His Kingship a Jewish fleshly dream. But it was not only knowledge of His humiliation in His Humanity. For, as in the history of the Christ humiliation and glory are always connected, the one enwrapped in the other as the flower in the bud, so here also His humiliation as the Son of Man is the exaltation of humanity, the realisation of its ideal destiny as created in the likeness of God. It should never be forgotton, that such teaching of His exaltation and Kingship through humiliation and representation of humanity was needful. It was the teaching which was the outcome of the Temptation and of its victory, the very teaching of the whole Evangelic history. Any other real learning of Christ would, as we see it, have been impossible to the disciples, alike mentally, as regards foundation and progression, and spiritually. A Christ: God, King, and not primarily ‘the Son of Man,’ would not have been the Christ of Prophecy, nor the Christ of Humanity, nor the Christ of salvation, nor yet the Christ of sympathy, help, and example. A Christ, God and King, Who had suddenly risen like the fierce Eastern sun in midday brightness, would have blinded by his dazzling rays (as it did Saul on the way to Damascus), not risen ‘with kindly light’ to chase away darkness and mists, and with genial growing warmth to woo life and beauty into our barren world. And so, as ‘it became Him,’ for the carrying out of the work, ‘to make the Captain of Salvation perfect through sufferings,’ [a Hebr. ii. 10.] so it was needful for them that He should veil, even from their view who followed Him, the glory of His Divinity and the power of His Kingship, till they had learned all that the designation ‘Son of Man’ implied, as placed below ‘Son of God’ and ‘King of Israel.
This idea of the ‘Son of Man,’ although in its full and prophetic meaning, seems to furnish the explanation of the miracle at the marriage of Cana. We are now entering on the Ministry of ‘The Son of Man,’ first and chiefly in its contrast to the preparatory call of the Baptist, with the asceticism symbolic of it. We behold Him now as freely mingling with humanity, sharing its joys and engagements, entering into its family life, sanctioning and hallowing all by His Presents and blessing; then as transforming the ‘water of legal purification’ into the wine of the new dispensation, and, more than this, the water of our felt want into the wine of His giving; and, lastly, as having absolute power as the ‘Son of Man,’ being also ‘the Son of God’ and ‘the King of Israel.’ Not that it is intended to convey, that it was the primary purpose of the miracle of Cana to exhibit the contrast between His own Ministry and the asceticism of the Baptist, although greater could scarcely be imagined than between the wilderness and the supply of wine at the marriage-feast. Rather, since this essential difference really existed, it naturally appeared at the very commencement of Christ’s Ministry. [1 We may, however, here again notice that, if this narrative had been fictitious, it would seem most clumsily put together. To introduce the Forerunner with fasting, and as an ascetic, and Him to Whom he pointed with a marriage-feast, is an incongruity which no writer of a legend would have perpetrated. But the writer of the fourth Gospel does not seem conscious of any incongruity, and this because he has no ideal story nor characters to introduce. In this sense it may be said, that the introduction of the story of the marriage-feast of Cana is in itself the best proof of its truthfulness, and of the miracle which it records.] And so in regard to the other meaning, also, which this history carries to our minds.
At the same time it must be borne in mind, that marriage conveyed to the Jews much higher thoughts than merely those of festivity and merriment. The pious fasted before it, confessing their sins. It was regarded almost as a Sacrament. Entrance into the married state was thought to carry the forgiveness of sins. [a Yalkut on 1 Sam. xiii. 1 vol ii. p. 16 d.] [1 The Biblical proofs adduced for attaching this benefit to a sage, a bridegroom, and a prince on entering on their new state, are certainly peculiar. In the case of a bridegroom it is based on the name of Esau’s bride, Machalath (Gen. xxviii. 9), a name which is derived from the Rabbinic ‘Machal,’ to forgive. In Jer. Biccur. iii. p. 65 d, where this is also related, it is pointed out that the original name of Esau’s wife had been Basemath (Gen. xxxvi. 3), the name Machalath, therefore, having been given when Esau married.] It almost seems as if the relationship of Husband and Bride between Jehovah and His people, so frequently insisted upon, not only in the Bible, but in Rabbinic writings, had always been standing out in the background. Thus the bridal pair on the marriage-day symbolised the union of God with Israel. [2 In Yalcut on Is. lxi. 10 (vol. ii. p. 57 d Israel is said to have been ten times called in Scripture ‘bride’ (six times in Canticles, three times in Isaiah, and once in Jeremiah). Attention is also called to the ‘ten garments’ with which successively the Holy One arrayed Himself; to the symbolic priestly dignity of the bridegroom, &c.] Hence, though it may in part have been national pride, which considered the birth of every Israelite as almost outweighing the rest of the world, it scarcely wholly accounts for the ardent insistance on marriage, from the first prayer at the circumcision of a child, onwards through the many and varied admonitions to the same effect. Similarly, it may have been the deep feeling of brotherhood in Israel, leading to sympathy with all that most touched the heart, which invested with such sacredness participation in the gladness of marriage, [3 Everything, even a funeral, had to give way to a marriage-procession. or the sadness of burial. To use the bold allegory of the times, God Himself had spoken the words of blessing over the cup at the union of our first parents, when Michael and Gabriel acted as groomsmen, [b Ber. R. 8.] and the Angelic choir sang the wedding hymn. [c Ab. deR. Nath. iv.] So also He had shown the example of visiting the sick (in the case of Abraham), comforting the mourners (in that of Isaac), and burying the dead (in that of Moses). [d Sot. 14 a.] Every man who met it, was bound to rise and join the marriage procession, or the funeral march. It was specially related of King Agrippa that he had done this, and a curious Haggadah sets forth that, when Jezebel was eaten of dogs, her hands and feet were spared, [e 2 Kings. ix. 35.] because, amidst all her wickedness, she had been wont to greet every marriage-procession by clapping of hands, and to accompany the mourners a certain distance on their way to the burying. [f Yalkut on 2 Kings ix 35, vol. ii. p. 36 a and b.] And so we also read it, that, in the burying of the widow’s son of Nain, ‘much people of the city was with her.’ [g St. Luke vii. 12.]
In such circumstances, we would naturally expect that all connected with marriage was planned with care, so as to bear the impress of sanctity, and also to wear the aspect of gladness. [4 For details I must refer to the Encyclopaedias, to the article in Cassell’s ‘Bible Educator,’ and to the corresponding chapters in ‘Sketches of Jewish Social Life.’] A special formality, that of ‘betrothal’ (Erusin Qiddushin), preceded the actual marriage by a period varying in length, but not exceeding a twelvemonth in the case of a maiden. [1 Pesiq. R. 15 applies the first clause of Prov. xiii. 12 to a long engagement, the second to a short one.] At the betrothal, the bridegroom, personally or by deputy, handed to the bride a piece of money or a letter, it being expressly stated in each case that the man thereby espoused the woman. From the moment of betrothal both parties were regarded, and treated in law (as to inheritance, adultery, need of formal divorce), as if they had been actually married, except as regarded their living together. A legal document (the Shitre Erusin) fixed the dowry which each brought, the mutual obligations, and all other legal points. [2 The reader who is curious to see these and other legal documents in extenso, is referred to Dr. Sammter’s ed. of the tractate Baba Metsia (notes at the end, fol. pp. 144-148).] Generally a festive meal closed the ceremony of betrothal, but not in Galilee, where, habits being more simple and pure, that which sometimes ended in sin was avoided.
On the evening of the actual marriage (Nissuin, Chathnuth), the bride was led from her paternal home to that of her husband. First came the merry sounds of music; then they who distributed among the people wine and oil, and nuts among the children; next the bride, covered with the bridal veil, her long hair flowing, surrounded by her companions, and led by ‘the friends of the bridegroom,’ and ‘the children of the bride-chamber.’ All around were in festive array; some carried torches, or lamps on poles; those nearest had myrtle-branches and chaplets of flowers. Every one rose to salute the procession, or join it; and it was deemed almost a religious duty to break into praise of the beauty, the modesty, or the virtues of the bride. Arrived at her new home, she was led to her husband. Some such formula as ‘Take her according to the Law of Moses and of Israel,’ [a Jer. Yeb. Md.] would be spoken, and the bride and bridegroom crownedwith garlands. [3 Some of these joyous demonstrations, such as the wearing of crowns, and even the bridal music, were for a time prohibited after the destruction of Jerusalem, in token of national mourning (Sot. ix. 14). On these crowns comp. Wagenseil, Sota, pp. 965-967.] Then a formal legal instrument, called the Kethubah, was signed, [b Comp. Tob. vii. 14.] which set forth that the bridegroom undertook to work for her, to honour, keep, and care for her, [4 I quote the very words of the formula, which, it will be noticed, closely agree with those in our own Marriage Service.] as is the manner of the men of Israel; that he promised to give his maiden-wife at least two hundred Zuz [5 If the Zuz be reckoned at 7d., about 5l. 16s. 8d.] (or more it might be), [6 This, of course, represents only the minimum. In the case of a priest’s daughter the ordinary legal minimum was doubled.] and to increase her own dowry (which, in the case of a poor orphan, the authorities supplied) by at least one half, and that he also undertook to lay it out for her to the best advantage, all his own possessions being guarantee for it. [1 The Talmud (Tos. Kethub.) here puts the not inapt question, ‘How if the bridegroom has no goods and chattels?’ but ultimately comforts itself with the thought that every man has some property, if it were only the six feet of ground in which he is to be buried.] Then, after the prescribed washing of hands and benediction, the marriage-supper began, the cup being filled, and the solemn prayer of bridal benediction spoken over it. And so the feast lasted, it might be more than one day, while each sought to contribute, sometimes coarsely, [2 Not a few such instances of riotous merriment, and even dubious jokes, on the part of the greatest Rabbis are mentioned, to check which some were wont to adopt the curious device of breaking valuable vases, &c.] sometimes wisely, to the general enjoyment, [a Comp. Ber. 6 b.] till at last ‘the friends of the bridegroom’ led the bridal pair to the Cheder and the Chuppah, or the bridal chamber and bed. Here it ought to be specially noticed, as a striking evidence that the writer of the fourth Gospel was not only a Hebrew, but intimately acquainted with the varying customs prevailing in Galilee and in Judaea, that at the marriage of Cana no ‘friend of the bridegroom,’ or ‘groomsman’ (Shoshebheyna), is mentioned, while he is referred to in St. John iii. 29, where the words are spoken outside the boundaries of Galilee. For among the simpler and purer Galileans the practice of having ‘friends of the bridegroom,’ which must so often have led to gross impropriety, [b Comp. Kethub. 12 a; Jer. Kethub, i. p. 25 a.] did not obtain, [3 This, and the other great differences in favour of morality and decency which distinguished the customs of Galilee from those of the rest of Palestine, are enumerated in Jer. Kethub. i. 1, p. 25 a, about the middle.] though all the invited guests bore the general name of ‘children of the bridechamber’ (bene Chuppah). [c Comp. St. Matt. ix. 15.]
It was the marriage in Cana of Galilee. All connected with the account of it is strictly Jewish, the feast, the guests, the invitation of the stranger Rabbi, and its acceptance by Jesus. Any Jewish Rabbi would have gone, but how differently from Him would he have spoken and acted! Let us first think of the scenic details of the narrative. Strangely, we are not able to fix with certainty the site of the little town of Cana. [4 Two such sites have been proposed, that by Dr. Robinson being very unlikely to represent the ancient ‘Cana of Galilee.’.] But if we adopt the most probable indentification of it with the modern pleasant village of Kefr Kenna, [5 Comp. the memoir on the subject by Zeller in the Quarterly Report of the Palestine Explor. Fund (for 1869, No. iii., and for April 1878, by Mr. Hepworth Dixon); and Lieut. Conder, Tent-Work in Palestine, vol. i. pp. 150-155. Zeller makes it five miles from Nazareth, Conder only three and three-quarters.] a few miles north-east of Nazareth, on the road to the Lake of Galilee, we picture it to ourselves as on the slope of a hill, its houses rising terrace upon terrace, looking north and west over a large plain (that of Battauf), and south upon a valley, beyond which the hills rise that separate it from Mount Tabor and the plain of Jezreel. As we approach the little town through that smiling valley, we come upon a fountain of excellent water, around which the village gardens and orchards clustered, that produced in great abundance the best pomegranates in Palestine. Here was the home of Nathanael-Bartholomew, and it seems not unlikely, that with him Jesus had passed the time intervening between His arrival and ‘the marriage,’ to which His Mother had come, the omission of all mention of Joseph leading to the supposition, that he had died before that time. The inquiry, what had brought Jesus to Cana, seems almost worse than idle, remembering what had passed between Him and Nathanael, and what was to happen in the first ‘sign,’ which was to manifest His glory. It is needless to speculate, whether He had known beforehand of ‘the marriage.’ But we can understand the longing of the ‘Israelite indeed’ to have Him under his roof, though we can only imagine what the Heavenly Guest, would now teach him, and those others who accompanied Him. Nor is there any difficulty in understanding, that on His arrival He would hear of this ‘marriage,’ of the presence of His Mother in what seems to have been the house of a friend if not a relative; that Jesus and His disciples would be bidden to the feast; and that He resolved not only to comply with the request) but to use it as a leave-taking from home and friends, similar, though also far other, than that of Elisha, when he entered on his mission. Yet it seems deeply significant, that the ‘true Israelite’ should have been honoured to be the first host of ‘Israel’s King.’
And truly a leave-taking it was for Christ from former friends and home, a leave-taking also from His past life. If one part of the narrative, that of His dealing with His Mother, has any special meaning, it is that of leave-taking, or rather of leaving home and family, just as with this first ‘sign’ He took leave of all the past. When he had returned from His first Temple-visit, it had been in the self-exinanition of voluntary humility: to ‘be subject to His Parents’ That period was now ended, and a new one had begun, that of active consecration of the whole life to His ‘Father’s business.’ And what passed at the marriage-feast marks the beginning of this period. We stand on the threshold, over which we pass from the old to the new, to use a New Testament figure: to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.
Viewed in this light, what passed at the marriage in Cana seems like taking up the thread, where it had been dropped at the first manifestation of His Messianic consciousness. In the Temple at Jerusalem He had said in answer to the misapprehensive question of His Mother: ‘Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?’ and now when about to take in hand that ‘business,’ He tells her so again, and decisively, in reply to her misapprehensive suggestion. It is a truth which we must ever learn, and yet are ever slow to learn in our questionings and suggestings, alike as concerns His dealings with ourselves and His rule of His Church, that the highest and only true point of view is ‘the Father’s business,’ not our personal relationship to Christ. This thread, then, is taken up again at Cana in the circle of friends, as immediately afterwards in His public manifestation, in the purifying of the Temple. What He had first uttered as a Child, on His first visit to the Temple, that He manifested forth when a Man, entering on His active work, negatively, in His reply to His Mother; positively, in the ‘sign’ He wrought. It all meant: ‘Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?’ And, positively and negatively, His first appearance in Jerusalem [a St. John ii. 13-17, and vv. 18-23.] meant just the same. For, there is ever deepest unity and harmony in that truest Life, the Life of Life.
As we pass through the court of that house in Cana, and reach the covered gallery which opens on the various rooms, in this instance, particularly, on the great reception room, all is festively adorned. In the gallery the servants move about, and there the ‘water-pots’ are ranged, ‘after the manner of the Jews,’ for purification, for the washing not only of hands before and after eating, but also of the vessels used. [b Comp. St. Mark vii. 1-4.] How detailed Rabbinic ordinances were in these respects, will be shown in another connection. ‘Purification’ was one of the main points in Rabbinic sanctity. By far the largest and most elaborate [1 The whole Mishnah is divided into six Sedarim (Orders), of which the last is the Seder Tohoroth, treating of ‘purifications.’ It consists of twelve tractates (Massikhtoth), 126 chapters (Peraqim), and contains no fewer than 1001 separate Mishnayoth (the next largest Seder, Neziqin, contains 689 Mishnayoth). The first tractate in this ‘Order of Purifications’ treats of the purification of vessels (Kelim), and contains no fewer than thirty chapters; ‘Yadayim’ (‘hands’) is the eleventh tractate, and contains four chapters.] of the six books into which the Mishnah is divided, is exclusively devoted to this subject (the ‘Seder Tohoroth,’ purifications). Not to speak of references in other parts of the Talmud, we have two special tractates to instruct us about the purification of ‘Hands’ (Yadayim) and of ‘Vessels’ (Kelim). The latter is the most elaborate in all the Mishnah, and consists of not less than thirty chapters. Their perusal proves, alike the strict accuracy of the Evangelic narratives, and the justice of Christ’s denunciations of the unreality and gross hypocrisy of this elaborateness of ordinances. [1 Comp. St. Mark vii. 2-5; St. Matt. xxiii. 25, 26; St. Luke xi. 38, 39.] This the more so, when we recall that it was actually vaunted as a special qualification for a seat in the Sanhedrin, to be so acute and learned as to know how to prove clean creeping things (which were declared unclean by the Law). [a Sanh. 17 a.] And the mass of the people would have regarded neglect of the ordinances of purification as betokening either gross ignorance, or daring impiety.
At any rate, such would not be exhibited on an occasion like the present; and outside the reception-room, as St. John with graphic minuteness of details relates, six of those stone pots, which we know from Rabbinic writings, [2 These ‘stone-vessels’ (Keley Abhanim) are often spoken of (for example, Chel. x. 1). In Yaday. i. 2 they are expressly mentioned for the purification of the hands.] were ranged. Here it may be well to add, as against objectors, that it is impossible to state with certainty the exact measure represented by the ‘two or three firkins apiece.’ For, although we know that the term metretes (A.V. ‘firkin’) was intended as an equivalent for the Hebrew ‘bath,’ [b Jos. Ant. viii. 2. 9.] yet three different kinds of ‘bath were at the time used in Palestine: the common Palestinian or ‘wilderness’ bath, that of Jerusalem, and that of Sepphoris. [3 For further details we refer to the excursus on Palestinian money, weights, and measures, in Herzfeld’s Handelsgesch. d. Juden, pp. 171-185.] The common Palestinian ‘bath’ was equal to the Roman amphora, containing about 5 1/4 gallons, while the Sepphoris ‘bath’ corresponded to the Attic metretes, and would contain about 8 1/2 gallons. In the former case, therefore, each of these pots might have held from 10 1/2 to 15 3/4 gallons; in the latter, from 17 to 25 1/2. Reasoning on the general ground that the so-called Sepphoris measurement was common in Galilee, the larger quantity seems the more likely, though by no means certain. It is almost like trifling on the threshold of such a history, and yet so many cavils have been raised, that we must here remind ourselves, that neither the size, nor the number of these vessels has anything extraordinary about it. For such an occasion the family would produce or borrow the largest and handsomest stone-vessels that could be procured; nor is it necessary to suppose that they were filled to the brim; nor should we forget that, from a Talmudic notice, [c Shabb. 77 b. So Lightfoot in loc.] it seems to have been the practiceto set apart some of these vessels exclusively for the use of the bride and of the more distinguished guests, while the rest were used by the general company.
Entering the spacious, lofty dining-room, [4 The Teraqlin, from which the otherside-rooms opened (Jer. Rosh haSh. 59 b; Yoma 15 b). From Baba B. vi. 4 we learn, that such an apartment was at least 15 feet square and 15 feet high. Height of ceiling was characteristic of Palestinian houses. It was always half the breadth and length put together. Thus, in a small house consisting of one room: length, 12 feet, breadth, 9 feet, the height would be 10 1/2 feet. In a large house: length, 15 feet, breadth, 12 feet, the height would be 13 1/2 feet. From Jer. Kethub. p. 28 d we learn, that the bride was considered as actually married the moment she had entered the Teraqlin, before she had actually gone to the Chuppah.] which would be brilliantly lighted with lamps and candlesticks, the guests are disposed round tables on couches, soft with cushions or covered with tapestry, or seated on chairs. The bridal blessing has been spoken, and the bridal cup emptied. The feast is proceeding, not the common meal, which was generally taken about even, according to the Rabbinic saying, [a Pas. 18 b.] that he who postponed it beyond that hour was as if he swallowed a stone, but a festive evening meal. If there had been disposition to those exhibitions of, or incitement to, indecorous and light merriment, [1 Thus it was customary, and deemed meritorious, to sing and perform a kind of play with myrtle branches (Jer. Peah 15 d); although one Rabbi was visited with sudden death for excess in this respect.] such as even the more earnest Rabbis deprecated, surely the presence of Jesus would have restrained it. And now there must have been a painful pause, or something like it, when the Mother of Jesus whispered to Him that ‘the wine failed.’ [2 St. John ii. 3, A.V.: ‘when they wanted wine.’] There could, perhaps, be the less cause for reticence on this point towards her Son, not merely because this failure may have arisen from the accession of guests in the persons of Jesus and his disciples, for whom no provision had been originally made, but because the gift of wine or oil on such occasions was regarded a meritorious work of charity. [b Baba B ix.]
But all this still leaves the main incidents in the narrative untouched. How are we to understand the implied request of the Mother of Jesus? how His reply? and what was the meaning of the miracle? It seems scarcely possible to imagine that, remembering the miraculous circumstances connected with His Birth, and informed of what had passed at Jordan, she now anticipated, and by her suggestion wished to prompt, this as His Royal Messianic manifestation. [3 This is the viewof many commentators, ancient and modern.] With reverence be it said, such a beginning of Royalty and triumph would have been paltry: rather that of the Jewish miracle-monger than that of the Christ of the Gospels. Not so, if it was only ‘a sign,’ pointing to something beyond itself. Again, such anticipations on the part of Mary seem psychologically untrue, that is, untrue to her history. She could not, indeed, have ever forgotten the circumstances which had surrounded His Birth; but the deeper she ‘kept all these things in her heart,’ the more mysterious would they seem, as time passed in the dull round of the most simple and uneventful country-life, and in the discharge of every-day duties, without even the faintest appearance of anything beyond it. Only twelve years had passed since His Birth, and yet they had not understood His saying in the Temple! How much more difficult would it be after thirty years, when the Child had grown into Youth and Manhood, with still the same silence of Divine Voices around? It is difficult to believe in fierce sunshine on the afternoon of a long, grey day. Although we have no absolute certainty of it, we have the strongest internal reasons for believing, that Jesus had done no miracles these thirty years in the home at Nazareth, [1 Tholuck and Lucke, however, hold the opposite view.] but lived the life of quiet submission and obedient waiting. That was the then part of His Work. It may, indeed, have been that Mary knew of what had passed at Jordan; and that, when she saw Him returning with His first disciples, who, assuredly, would make no secret of their convictions, whatever these may have conveyed to outsiders, she felt that a new period in His Life had opened. But what was there in all this to suggest such a miracle? and if it had been suggested, why not ask for it in express terms, if it was to be the commencement, certainly in strangely incongruous circumstances, of a Royal manifestation?
On the other hand, there was one thing which she had learned, and one thing which she was to unlearn, after those thirty years of the Nazareth-Life. What she had learned, what she must have learned, was absolute confidence in Jesus. What she had to unlearn, was the natural, yet entirely mistaken, impression which His meekness, stillness, and long home-submission had wrought on her as to His relationship to the family. It was, as we find from her after-history, a very hard, very slow, and very painful thing to learn it; [2 Luthardt rightly calls it the commencement of a very painful education, of which the next stage is marked in St. Luke viii. 19, and the last in St. John xix. 26.] yet very needful, not only for her own sake, but because it was a lesson of absolute truth. And so when she told Him of the want that had arisen, it was simply in absolute confidence in her Son, probably without any conscious expectancy of a miracle on His part. [3 This meets the objection of Strauss and others, that Mary could not have expected a miracle. It is scarcely conceivable, how Calvin could have imagined that Mary had intended Jesus to deliver an address with the view of turning away thought from the want of wine; or Bengel, that she intended to give a hint that the company should break up.] Yet not without a touch of maternal self-consciousness, almost pride, that He, Whom she could trust to do anything that was needed, was her Son, Whom she could solicit in the friendly family whose guests they were, and if not for her sake, yet at her request. It was a true earth-view to take of their relationship; only, an earth-view which must now for ever cease: the outcome of His misunderstood meekness and weakness, and which yet, strangely enough, the Romish Church puts in the forefront as the most powerful plea for Jesus’ acting. But the fundamental mistake in what she attempted is just this, that she spake as His Mother, and placed that maternal relationship in connection with His Work. And therefore it was that as, on the first misunderstanding in the Temple, He had said: ‘Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?’ so now: ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ With that ‘business’ earthly relationship, however tender, had no connection. With everything else it had, down to the utter self-forgetfulness of that tenderest commendation of her to John, in the bitterest agonies of the Cross; but not with this. No, not now, nor ever henceforth, with this. As in His first manifestation in the Temple, so in this the first manifestation of His glory, the finger that pointed to ‘His hour’ was not, and could not be, that of an earthly parent, but of His Father in Heaven. [1 Godet aptly says. ‘His motto henceforth is: My Father and I.’] There was, in truth, a twofold relationship in that Life, of which none other but the Christ could have preserved the harmony.
This is one main point, we had almost called it the negative one; the other, and positive one, was the miracle itself. All else is but accidental and circumstantial. No one who either knows the use of the language, [2 Comp. the passages from the classics quoted by Wetstein in his Commentary.] or remembers that, when commending her to John on the Cross, He used the same mode of expression, [a St. John xix. 26.] will imagine, that there was anything derogatory to her, or harsh on His part, in addressing her as ‘woman’ rather than ‘mother.’ But the language is to us significant of the teaching intended to be conveyed, and as the beginning of this further teaching: ‘Who is My mother? and My brethren? And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren!’ [b St. Matt xii. 46-50.]
And Mary did not, and yet she did, understand Him, when she turned to the servants with the direction, implicitly to follow His behests. What happened is well known: how, in the excess of their zeal, they filled the water-pots to the brim, an accidental circumstance, yet useful, as much that seems accidental, to show that there could be neither delusion nor collusion; how, probably in the drawing of it, the water became best wine, ‘the conscious water saw its God, and blushed;’ then the coarse proverbial joke of what was probably the master of ceremonies and purveyor of the feast, [a Ecclus. xxxii. 1 2.] intended, of course, not literally to apply to the present company, and yet in its accidentalness an evidence of the reality of the miracle; after which the narrative abruptly closes with a retrospective remark on the part of him who relates it. What the bridegroom said; whether what had been done became known to the guests, and, if so, what impression it wrought; how long Jesus remained; what His Mother felt, of this and much more that might be asked, Scripture, with that reverent reticence which we so often mark, in contrast to our shallow talkativeness, takes no further notice. And best that it should be so. St. John meant to tell us, what the Synoptists, who begin their account with the later Galilean ministry, have not recorded, [1 On the omission of certain parts of St. John’s narrative by the Synoptists, and vice versa, and on the supposed differences, I can do no better than refer the reader to the admirable remarks of Canon Westcott, Introduction to the Study of the Gospels, pp. 280 &c.] of the first of His miracles as a ‘sign,’ [2 According to the best reading, and literally, ‘This did, beginning of signs, Jesus in Cana.’ Upon a careful review the Rabbinic expression Simana (taken from the Greek word here used) would seem to me more fully to render the idea than the Hebrew Oth. But the significant use of the word sign should be well marked. See Canon Westcott on the passage.] pointing to the deeper and higher that was to be revealed, and of the first forth-manifesting of ‘His glory.’ [3 In this, the first of his miracles, it was all the more necessary that He should manifest his glory.] That is all; and that object was attained. Witness the calm, grateful retrospect upon that first day of miracles, summed up in these simple but intensely conscious words: ‘And His disciples believed on Him.’
A sign it was, from whatever point we view its meaning, as previously indicated. For, like the diamond that shines with many colours, it has many meanings; none of them designed, in the coarse sense of the term, but all real, because the outcome of a real Divine Life and history. And a real miracle also, not only historically, but as viewed in its many meanings; the beginning of all others, which in a sense are but the unfolding of this first. A miracle it is, which cannot be explained, but is only enhanced by the almost incredible platitudes to which negative criticism has sunk in its commentation, [4 Thus Schenkel regards Christ’s answer to Mary as a proof that He was not on good terms with His family; Paulus suggests, that Jesus had brought the wine, and that it was afterwards mixed with the water in the stone-vessels; Gfrorer, that Mary had brought it as a present, and at the feast given Jesus the appropriate hint when to have it set on. The gloss of Renan seems to me even more untenable and repulsive.] for which there assuredly exists no legendary basis, either in Old Testament history, or in contemporary Jewish expectation; [1 Against this view of Strauss, see Lucke, u. s. p. 477.] which cannot be sublimated into nineteenth-century idealism; [2 So Lange, in his ‘Lifeof Christ,’ imagining that converse with Jesus had put all in that higher ecstasy in which He gave them to drink from the fulness of Himself. Similar spiritualisation, though by each in his own manner, has been attempted by Baur, Keim, Ewald, Hilgenfeld, and others. But it seems more rational, with Schweizer and Weisse, to deny the historical accuracy of the whole, than to resort to such expedients.] least of all can be conceived as an after-thought of His disciples, invented by an Ephesian writer of the second century. [3 Hilgenfeld, however, sees in this miracle an evidence that the Christ of the fourth Gospel proclaimed another and a higher than the God of the Old Testament, in short, evidence of the Gnostic taint of the fourth Gospel.] But even the allegorical illustration of St. Augustine, who reminds us that in the grape the water of rain is ever changed into wine, is scarcely true, save as a bare illustrattion, and only lowers our view of the miracle. For miracle it is, [4 Meyer well reminds us that ‘physical incomprehensibility is not identical with absolute impossibility.’] and will ever remain; not, indeed, magic, [5 Godet has scarcely rightly marked the difference.] nor arbitrary power, but power with a moral purpose, and that the highest. [6 If I rightly understandthe meaning of Dr. Abbott’s remarks on the miracles in the fourth Gospel (Encycl. Britan. vol. x. p. 825 b), they imply that the change of the water into wine was an emblematic reference to the Eucharistic wine, this view being supported by a reference to 1 John v. 8. But could this be considered sufficient ground for the inference, that no historic reality attaches to the whole history? In that case it would have to be seriously maintained, that an Ephesian writer at the end of the second century had invented the fiction of the miraculous change of water into wine, for the purpose of certain Eucharistic teaching!] And we believe it, because this ‘sign’ is the first of all those miracles in which the Miracle of Miracles gave ‘a sign,’ and manifested forth His glory, the glory of His Person, the glory of His Purpose, and the glory of His Work.
What was it like for the guests to partake of a wine created by Jesus?
What did this mean to them at that time? And then after his death and resurrection?
What does that miracle mean to you?
Compiled by Michael G. Maness