Jesus’ First Miracle: John 2:1–11 (NIV 2011)

Recently I received a question about Jesus’ first miracle at Cana in Galilee. This passage strikes the casual reader as somewhat unusual. Here is the passage in John 2:1–11 (NIV 2011):

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”
4 “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
11 What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Jesus puts mercy before ritual

Many of the following ideas represent my synthesis of the commentary on this passage by Craig S. Keener [The Gospel of John (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2003) 492–516].  This is currently the best commentary on John’s Gospel and ranks as one of the finest commentaries ever written.

First, this is a story of the problem-solution type. But, since Jesus is the solution to the problem, these events were certain to have major impact. This is the first of the many sign-miracles that John presents to help his readers take the same faith journey the disciples went through. The disciples of Jesus grew in faith through this miracle (John 2:11), but the miracle also begins the process that takes Jesus to his death.

The groom was in danger of a reputation-ending disaster through the lack of sufficient wine at the wedding feast. While there is no evidence that Jesus knew this family well — they probably lived about nine miles from Nazareth — the bride and groom were certainly in need of mercy.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, demonstrated her faith in Jesus by calling on him to solve the problem and also by telling the servants to do whatever Jesus said (John 2:3, 5). The quiet way Jesus works in the situation not only avoids social tragedy but also results in the groom receiving praise (John 2:9–10).

By choosing to change the water meant for Jewish ceremonial washing into wine, Jesus suggests that accepted Jewish ritual was not as important as the social acceptance of the family facing ruin. For Jesus to demonstrate his benevolence was more important than any offence taken by those committed to Pharisaic regulations. Jesus puts mercy before ritual.

The fact that Jesus created about 120–150 gallons of fine wine made it certain that this miracle could not remain under wraps for long. Indeed, the following section, John 2:12–23, demonstrates the ongoing clash in values between Jesus and the religious leaders as well as the growing response of the people to the signs Jesus was doing. In effect, the events at Cana displayed these trends in seed form. [Have no doubt that John is a literary master!]

For those interested in translation comparisons, I have commented elsewhere that the Greek wording of John 2:4 is idiomatic. A raw translation might be: “What to me and to you?” [NET Bible Notes]. The Greek text shows that Jesus questions the nature of the obligation either he or his mother might have. Strangely enough, only the New Living Translation — generally the king of paraphrase — strives to keep Mary in the picture (“that’s not our problem”). NIV 2011 reduces the joint emphasis on Mary by saying, “Woman, why do you involve me?” This is a minor point, and, since idioms require paraphrasing, it may only prove that NLT is sometimes better at achieving accuracy in that style than NIV 2011.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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2 Responses to Jesus’ First Miracle: John 2:1–11 (NIV 2011)

  1. John Hofmann says:

    The NASB says, “Woman, what does that have to do with us?” That is interesting since the NLT and NASB translations seem to get it right, and they have completely different translation philosophies.

    • Barry Applewhite says:

      Hi John! I’m glad to have your comment.
      You are correct in saying that the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New Living Translation (NLT) give roughly equivalent translations of John 2:4 even though their translation philosophies are quite different.
      NASB: “And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.’”
      NLT: “‘Dear woman, that’s not our problem,’ Jesus replied. ‘My time has not yet come.’”

      In my post I had criticized the numerous English versions that omitted Mary’s inclusion in one part of Jesus’ remarks. NASB passes that test yet retains its tendency to stick very closely to Greek word order and syntax. What I am saying is that NASB here accurately retains certain details of the Greek text while making little effort to speak with a contemporary voice.

      While it may seem strange for NASB and NLT to be in general agreement on John 2:4, there is a reason. When dealing with a Greek idiom or a Semitism — translating a Hebrew or Aramaic idiom into Greek — all translators, no matter what their translation philosophy, are forced off their usual game into an attempt to give the accurate sense while abandoning the literal words of the Greek text. These two translation teams did the best job of doing that while accurately keeping Mary in the picture.

      I confess that I did not consider NASB in my original post. In my early years, I used NASB a lot. However, since the English Standard Version (ESV) came along, I use it when I want a version that sticks closer to the original Greek wording with a bit more literary style than NASB manages.

      Thanks again for your comment!

      -Barry

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!