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B. W. Johnson
The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)



      "On the third day" after the events narrated in the closing portion of the last chapter there occurred the first exercise of miraculous power on the part of the Savior. The scene was Cana of Galilee, the northern district of Palestine, to which he had returned immediately after the witness of John (Chap. 1:43).

      1. And the third day there was a marriage. It is well known that the marriage ceremonies of the Jews began at twilight. It was the custom in Palestine

                        "To bear away
The bride from home at blushing shut of day,"

covered from head to foot in her flowing veil, garlanded with flowers, and dressed in her fairest robes. She was heralded by torchlight, with songs and music and dances, and led to the bridegroom's home. She was attended by the maidens of her native village, and the bridegroom came to meet her with his youthful friends.--Farrar. Lightfoot says that among the Jews virgins were married on the fourth day of the week (Wednesday) and widows on the fifth day. The feast was at the home of the bridegroom after the marriage and was a joyous occasion, sometimes prolonged for a number of days (see Gen. 29:27 and Judges 14:14). In Cana of Galilee. The site is not certainly known. Dr. Robinson thinks it was a place, now called Kana, twelve miles north of Nazareth. Geikie also holds the same view. It is now a ruin and has not been inhabited for a considerable period. Farrar thinks it was a place called Kenna, five miles northwest of Nazareth. The mother of Jesus was there. John never mentions her by name. As Joseph is not mentioned, after the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old, he was probably dead. It is supposed from the presence of Mary, the great interest she exhibited and the degree of authority shown in commanding the servants, that the family where the marriage took place was related to her.

      2. Both Jesus and his disciples were invited. He now had disciples, those called in the few days before, John, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael. As the invitation of Jesus is named apart from that of Mary it was probably sent after he and his disciples had returned to Galilee.

      3. And when they wanted wine. The Revision says, "When the wine failed." From some cause, perhaps from a larger number of guests than was expected, the wine gave out. "None but those who know how sacred in the East is the duty of lavish hospitality, and how passionately the obligation to exercise to the utmost it is felt, can realize the gloom which this incident would have thrown over the occasion, or the misery and mortification it would have caused to the wedded pair. They would have felt it to be, as in the East it is still felt to be, an indelible disgrace."--Farrar. It has been supposed that this deficiency was due to the presence of the disciples of Jesus, who had been invited after all the preparations were made. The mother of Jesus saith to him, They have no wine. [44] The solicitude of Mary could hardly be expected from one not a relative, but why did she appeal to Jesus? In part, because it was natural to speak to him in her perplexity, and in part, likewise, because she hoped he would meet the difficulty. She knew who he was, and could not doubt his ability to do what had been done for the widow's cruse of oil (1 Kings 17:14). Perhaps, also, she felt that the failure of the supply was due to his bringing his five disciples. If his "hour was come," why should he not create the supply needed?

      4. Woman, what have I to do with thee? These words in our language sound harsh and almost rude, but the term rendered woman was so respectful that it might be addressed to the queenliest, and so gentle that it might be spoken to those most tenderly loved. It is used by servants to queens, and Christ uses it when he, from the cross, commends his mother to the care of John. The time, too, had come for Jesus to act no longer as Mary's son; henceforth earthly ties of blood were not to bind him. "Whosoever did his will," the same was to be "mother and sister and brother." This is implied in his question. Mary must understand that, henceforth, he is the Son of man and the Son of God, rather than her son, and under her authority. Chrysostom says, "The answer is not that of one rejecting his mother, but of one who would show her that, having borne him, would avail nothing, were she not faithful," and St. Augustine adds: "As much as to say, thou art not the mother of that in me which worketh miracles." This language, partly a rebuke to Mary, shows very plainly that the Catholic fiction of Mary being immaculate, the "Queen of Heaven," and "the Mother of God," is all nonsensical. Mine hour is not yet come. The hour of his full manifestation, as the divine King of Israel. If his mother was rebuked for attempting to direct him in the days of his flesh, how absurd to address her as if she had the right to command him on the throne of glory!--Wesley.

      5. Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. The words of Mary to the servants show: 1. That the family where the wedding took place were in comfortable circumstances; 2. That Mary had some right to direct, being probably a relative; 3. That she understood from the manner of the reply, more than from the words, that Jesus would relieve the difficulty in some way.

      6. There were set there six water-pots of stone. These water-pots were to supply water for the washings usual at feasts (see Mark 7:4). The Jews were regarded ceremonially unclean if they did not wash both before and after eating. This was done in a formal manner, and was, with the washing of cups, pots and brazen vessels, a ritual observance on which the Pharisees laid great stress. The six water-pots, on this occasion, each held two or three firkins, meaning, it is supposed, the Hebrew bath, a measure of seven and a half gallons. The pots would hold about twenty gallons each, and the whole capacity would be about one hundred and twenty gallons. [45]

      7. Jesus said, Fill the water-pots with water. Some have commented on the amount of wine made by Jesus. 1. There is no proof that he made more than was needed for the number of guests and the length of the feast, where wine was the common beverage of the people. 2. It is God's way to pour out his bounty in abundance. When the 5,000 were fed there was twelve baskets over.

      8. He said, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. They had poured in water and they took out wine. "He that had made wine that day in those six water-pots does the same every year in the vines. For as what the servants put in the water-pots was changed into wine by the operation of the Lord, just so what the clouds pour forth is changed into wine by the operation of the same law."--Augustine.

      9. When the ruler of the feast had tasted. The ruler of the feast, and the governor of verse 8th, are the same. It was customary to choose, sometimes by lot, a president who regulated the whole order of festivities. The ruler of the feast on this occasion was a guest, chosen to this honorary office. As he presided at the banquet he had known nothing of the failure of the wine, or the source from whence the new supply came. Called the bridegroom. Probably called to him across the table.

      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. After they were well filled and had entered fully into the spirit of the feast, poorer was offered. Are drunken. Not intoxicated, but have drunk considerable. The Revision says, "Have well drunk." 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. It must be borne in mind that among the Greeks and Romans and 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 laws of Zaleucus, the Locrian, put to death anyone who drank unmixed wine, except as medicine. The fermented wine, at first mild, and then diluted with water, was [46] a drink as used, that had no intoxicating power unless used in enormous quantities. 2. New wine, the fresh juice of the grape, like our new cider, not intoxicating. 3. Wines in which, by boiling the unfermented juice of the grape, or by the addition of certain drugs, the process of fermentation was stopped, and which had no intoxicating properties. We cannot surely determine which kind the Savior made here, but we agree with Whedon, who says: "We see no reason for supposing that the wine of the present occasion was that upon which Scripture places its strongest interdict, (Proverbs 20:1; 23:31; Isaiah 22:13,) rather than that eulogized as a blessing (Psalms 104:15; Isaiah 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." They are the "cup of Devils." It is a shame that anyone should pretend to quote the example of Christ as an apology for being a modern tippler.

      11. This beginning of miracles. This was the first miracle of Christ. The stories told in Catholic fables and in the Apocryphal New Testament are baseless. He had refused to make bread to feed his own hunger in the wilderness, but he was ready to supply the needs of others. A miracle is a supernatural act, in which a higher power employs, modifies, or suspends the laws of nature. Jesus did this by his own power; his apostles in his name. Peter says: "In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, arise and walk." Christ says: "Young man, I say unto thee, arise!" Manifested forth his glory. This was the first supernatural manifestation of his divine power; that he by whom all things were made controlled the powers of nature. His disciples believed in him. They already believed, but their faith was made firmer. The five named in the last chapter are meant.


      1. See how marriage is honored! God solemnized the first marriage in Eden. Christ wrought his first miracle on a marriage occasion.

      2. It is to be noted that he was not an ascetic, nor did he delight in asceticism. He not only attended the joyous festivities of the marriage feast, but he even contributed to the means of enjoyment. He would still rather see us bright, joyous and thankful, than long-faced, doleful and fault finding. His ministry was to be one of joy and peace; his sanction is to be given, not to a crushing asceticism, but to genial innocence; his approval, not to compulsory celibacy, but to a sacred union.--Farrar.

      3. The first miracle of Moses was to turn the river of a guilty nation into blood; the first of Jesus to fill the water pots of an innocent family with wine.

      4. The world giveth its best and richest first. At the board it spreads the [47] viands may not fail; nay, may even grow in number and improve in quality, but they soon pall on the sated appetite, and the end of the world's feast is always worse and less enjoyable than the beginning. Who has found it so of the provisions of the Savior's grace, of those quiet, soothing, satisfying pleasures, that true faith imparts? There the appetite grows with the food it feeds upon. . . . Of each new cup from the heavenly Provider we may say: "Thou hast kept the good wine even until now."--Hanna.

      5. "Let no table be spread to which He who graced the marriage feast of Cana could not be invited; let no pleasure be indulged in that could not live in the light of his countenance." Then thou wilt be an invited guest to the marriage supper of the Lamb of God. Rev. 19:9.


      12. After this he went down to Capernaum. Capernaum was situated on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the road thence was "down" from the hill country where Cana was located. His mother and brethren according to the flesh went with him, and this city became his favorite abode during his earthly ministry. The "disciples" who accompanied him were the same who were present at Cana. His mother and his brethren. Who were the brethren of our Lord who are attending his mother? Before attempting to answer this question it is well to explain that as no mention is made of the presence of Joseph after Jesus was twelve years old he is supposed by all commentators to have died before the Lord began his ministry. This seems to be confirmed by his charge to John from the cross to provide for his mother and furnish her a home. As to the brethren there have been various views. The term is used in the Bible with some latitude, as it is with us. It sometimes means kindred, cousins, those of the same race, and also the disciples of the Lord. Still it is not used with greater latitude than among us, as we apply it in till these significations, and hence the apparent meaning to an English reader of the term "his brothers" is to be taken unless there are reasons for its rejection. The expression "his brethren" occurs nine times in the Gospels and once in Acts. Of these the first three (Matt. 12:46; Mark 3:32; Luke 8:19) tell of his mother and brethren coming to speak with him; the two next (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3), mention his brothers in connection with his mother and sisters; the sixth is this passage; in three more his brethren are represented as urging him to show himself to the world, and it is stated that they did not believe on him (John 7:3). In Acts 1:14 it is said that the Apostles "continued in prayer and supplication with the women, and with his brethren." In addition, Paul (1 Cor. 9:5) speaks of "the rest of the apostles and the brethren of the Lord," and in Gal. 1:19 he speaks of "James, the Lord's brother." These passages would seem to establish beyond doubt that [48] Jesus was the first-born son of Mary, and that she had four other sons, whose names are given, besides daughters.

      To this it is objected (1) that early tradition, accepted by the Catholic and Greek churches, holds that Mary remained a virgin, and she is worshiped as the Virgin Mary. To this it may be answered that the tradition was not universally accepted in the early Church, and has none of the marks of authentic history. (2) It is urged that Jesus would not have committed Mary to the care of John if she had other sons. To this it may be replied that at that time his brethren were unbelievers (John 7:5), though after his resurrection their unbelief passed away. (3) It is further urged that they were all the Lord's cousins, the sons of a sister of Mary, also named Mary, and of Alphæus or Cleophas. This argument relies on the fact that their names were "James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon" (Matt. 13:55); while there was also a "Mary the mother of James and Joses," (Matt. 27:56) and a "James and Judas were the sons of Alphæus" (Luke 6:15). To this we answer that, (a) While Mary had a sister (John 19:25), there is no evidence that she was named Mary; nor is there any parallel case of two Jewish sisters having the same name; nor is there any evidence that she was the wife of Cleophas; (b) It could not be true that his cousins are meant because "his brethren" were not apostles, nor believers, and he had cousins who believed and were among the apostles, if this theory be correct; (c) Nor does it prove anything that the names James and Joses occur as those of the children of another Mary, as the names were very common. There are five Jameses in the New Testament, several Judes, and Josephus, who lived at this time, names twenty-one Simons, seventeen Joseses, and sixteen Judes.

      On the other hand the expression, first-born son, in Luke 2:7, implies that Mary had other and younger children, and Matt. 1:25, implies that what was true before the birth of Christ was not after. Common sense will indicate that if Mary continued a virgin, Matthew would have chosen different language. To these passages we may add the general tone of the Gospels in all the passages cited above. The "brothers" of Jesus are constantly represented as attending his mother, without a hint that they were not her children. These cogent facts cannot be set aside by a tradition or by conjectures. Alford well sums up the argument in a few words which we quote:

      1. There were four persons known as the brethren "of him," or "of the Lord," not of the number of the Twelve.

      2. That these persons are found in all places, but one or two, in immediate connection with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

      3. That not a word is anywhere dropped to prevent us from inferring that the brothers and sisters were his relations in the same literal sense that we know his mother to have been.

      4. All explanations which make them aught else than the children of his mother are mere conjectures.

      5. The silence of the Scripture narrative leaves Christians free to believe that they were real (younger) brethren and sisters of our Lord. [49]


      The Gospels are silent concerning any visit of Jesus after his twelfth year until the first passover after his ministry began. The Lord, after his baptism, the temptation, and the witness of John, had begun his work rather quietly in Galilee, but when the passover season came he joined the vast crowds who were seeking the city of David, and repaired to the national capital where popular expectation held that the Messiah would reveal himself. The following events have a fuller significance when it is borne in mind that it is the Lord's first visit to the temple after his work began. The cleansing is an assertion of his Lordship, and authority over the temple, a declaration to the religious rulers that the Holy One of Israel had come.

      13. And the Jews' passover was at hand. Observe that John writes as one far from Judea and among Gentiles. He does not say the, but the Jews' passover. For an account of the institution of this annual feast, see Exodus, chapter XII. There is no account that John the Baptist ever went to Jerusalem, but the Savior attended all the passovers but one during his ministry. A short time before he had been baptized and anointed for his ministry; since then his time had mostly been spent in Galilee. Now, first, since his work began he visited the capital of the nation and the Temple. His life had thus far been quiet, but it behooved him to assert his authority in the very center of national worship, and his collision with the corruptions of the times brought upon him immediately the antagonism of the priesthood and Pharisees. From this time onward his pathway is stormy.

      14. And he found in the temple. The Jewish worship centered in the temple. There the nation gathered at the great religious festivals; there all sacrifices were offered and the priesthood were consecrated. First there was the Tabernacle, the movable temple of the wilderness; then the temple of Solomon, destroyed at the time of the Captivity; then the second temple built by Zerubbabel; lastly, the temple of Herod, a great enlargement of the second temple, one of the most costly and beautiful buildings on the earth. It was of white marble, with roofs of cedar, and was rather a collection of buildings, courts and porches than a single building, all within the temple enclosure covering nineteen acres. The plan on the following page will give a better idea of it than any description.

      In the center was the Holy of Holies, only entered by the High Priest once a year, at the feast of the atonement; next without was the Holy Place, entered only by the priests; without the entrance of this was the Court of Israel; then the Court of Women; then still without, the Court of the Gentiles. It was in this last named court that the traffic was conducted that aroused the indignation of the Savior. Those that sold oxen and sheep and doves. These were for the sacrifices. It is stated that at the passover 200,000 paschal lambs were required, and [50]

Illustration of Temple

as the vast throngs who came from distant parts could not bring them it was needful to buy them in Jerusalem. The traffic in these and the victims required for sacrifices, oxen, sheep, kids and doves, became an enormous one. Instead of being conducted at stock-yards it was installed in the temple itself, under the eye and patronage of a venal priesthood. The Court of Gentiles, designed as a "house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:15-19), was converted into cattle stalls, filled with their ordure, and noisy with their lowing and the din of traffic. And the changers of money sitting. The Jew was required to pay for the support of the temple service a half shekel annually (Exodus 30:13; Matt. 17:24). No heathen coin could be put into the temple treasury because they usually had images upon them which the priests regarded idolatrous; the Jewish shekels were not in general circulation, and hence it was needful that the current coin be changed before the temple tax could be paid. This money brokerage had also installed itself in the temple and much gain was made by the commissions charged.

      15. Made a scourge of small cords. The original implies that it was made of rushes, which were carried in as bedding for cattle. It was not a formidable weapon of itself; was chosen more as a symbol, and was probably not laid in violence upon any one. Drove them all out of the temple. His indignation was aroused at the desecration. As the representative of the Father he had the right to cleanse the Sanctuary, and here, first, he asserts his authority. The traffickers fled before his glance; not in terror of his scourge, or of one man whom they might have defied, but there was something about him that struck consternation; an authority, a divine majesty, a mysterious power that could not be resisted. The act was superhuman. If any one [51] doubts it let him try to clean a market of thousands of greedy traffickers with a harmless scourge, and see how soon he will bite the earth. Along with the traders he drove out their cattle, and overturned the tables of the money changers.

      16. Said unto them that sold doves. Cattle could be driven out, the money overturned, but the doves were in cages and could only be carried out, or released and lost. Christ's object was to cleanse the temple, not to destroy any one's property. Hence, he commands them to carry them out. Make not my Father's house a house of merchandise. His authority for his act is that this is his Father's house. He does not say our, but my Father, or in other words, he acts as the Son of God. His act is really a public proclamation of his divine authority. He still looks with indignation upon the desecration of his Father's House. How often still it is converted into a house of merchandise! This cleansing of the temple must not be confounded with the later one that occurred on his last visit to Jerusalem. His ministry in the Holy city very appropriately begins and ends with a protest against the desecration of the temple.

      17. His disciples remembered. As they beheld his flaming zeal and thought of the wrath that it would bring down upon him, they thought of the words in Ps. 69:9, "The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up."

      18. Then answered the Jews. I suppose that "the Jews" has an official signification as in John 1:19. As soon as they have time to recover from their surprise, the officials demand his authority for these acts. They are evidently full of resentment. The enmity that grew more and more bitter until its object was nailed to the cross, had begun. They call for a sign, some miraculous demonstration of his rights. One had just been given.

      19. Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. To the demand for a sign, made more than once during his ministry, this was his constant answer. Unbelief would do its work in destroying the temple of his body, and its argument would be overthrown by his resurrection from the dead. The temple itself was only a type of the spiritual body of Christ. His body contained within itself the spiritual temple that would be developed. It was appropriate to point to it as the temple, though the Jews did not comprehend his words. [52]

      20. Forty and six years was this temple in building. It had been forty-six years since Herod the Great had begun his work. At this time the work was not fully completed and workmen were still engaged on some of its parts. It was eighty years from the time it was begun before it was fully completed by Herod Agrippa II. A. D. 64. The Jews did not understand him, nor is it certain that he designed they should. To the obstinate and hostile unbelievers he often spoke in parables. To honest seekers for truth his language was plain and simple.

      22. When therefore he was risen from the deed his disciples remembered. They remembered and understood his words then; they did not now. Then "they believed the Scripture" which foretold his death and resurrection, though they had never understood it before.

      23. Many believed in his name when they saw the miracles. The miracles that he worked at this passover season are not recorded, but this passage affirms them, as well as John 3:2. Their belief was rather an intellectual assent that he was a divine teacher than an obedient trust in him as the Savior.

      24. He did not commit himself to them. He knew too well that theirs was not a heartfelt trust to reveal himself unreservedly to them.

      25. He know what was in man. He knew their hearts, because he possessed the divine omniscience that could fathom the depths of every heart.


      1. The Master still looks with indignation upon the conversion of the Temple into a house of merchandise. It is still done by a corrupt priesthood, a greedy ministry, or a membership who try to make gain by professed godliness. When a priesthood sells its offices, makes its set charges for absolution, extreme unction, the burial of the dead, masses and indulgences; or in Protestant churches the ministry become a set of hirelings, in the market for the highest bidder; or the membership convert the house of God [53] into a place for shows, festivals, raffles, etc., the Father's House is made a house of merchandise. There is need of the whip of small cords to scourge out the traffickers.

      2. When corruption and avarice enshrined themselves in the Jewish temple the time of its overthrow was near. Soon God departed from it and "their place was left unto them desolate." When the church becomes sordid instead of spiritual God will abandon it to destruction.

      3. The Master still knows what is in every heart. He has no need to be told what is in mine or yours, but he sees every thought and motive every day. Our lives are naked and open to him with whom we have to do.

[NTC3 44-54]

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The New Testament Commentary: Vol. III--John (1886)

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