Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Sign of the Hour

Below is a rough translation and some initial notes regarding John 2:1-11, the Revised Common Lectionary gospel reading for the second Sunday after Epiphany. The first twelve chapters of John’s gospel are sometimes called – for good reason – the ‘book of signs.’ I suspect it could be called – for equally good reasons – the ‘book of hours.’ Both terms come into play in this story.

1 Καὶ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ γάμος ἐγένετο ἐν Κανὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, καὶ ἦν μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἐκεῖ:
And on the third day a wedding took place in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there;
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being  2) to become, i.e. to come to pass, happen  
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. WHEN? I am curious about the “third day” reference. This is the only time that John uses the term, since he does not have the passion predictions that the synoptics share, each of which refer to Jesus rising on the third day. Prior to this story, John has used the phrase, “the next day ...” three times in c.1 – vv. 29, 35, and 43. So ... the “third day” of what?
2. WHERE? Cana of Galiliee: In Jn. 4:46-54 Jesus returns to Cana, where the narrator specifically remembers the sign of turning water into wine. He heals the dying son of a royal official, which the narrator says is the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee.
3. WHO? The mother of Jesus. Since John has no birth narrative, this is our introduction to his family. To this point, we only know him as Jesus of Nazareth. In v.12, Jesus, his mother, his brothers, and his disciples will go to Capernaum for a few days. It doesn’t appear to me that Jesus’ mother is ever named, although she is mentioned quite a few times. Joseph is named, in 6:42, but not his mother. There are other Marys – the sister of Lazarus and Martha, the Magdalene – who are mentioned often.

 2 ἐκλήθη δὲ καὶ Ἰησοῦς καὶ οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν γάμον.
Yet Jesus also was invited and his disciples to the wedding. 
ἐκλήθη: API 3s, καλέω 1) to call  1a) to call aloud, utter in a loud voice  1b) to invite  2) to call i.e. to name, by name 

 3 καὶ ὑστερήσαντος οἴνου λέγει μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ πρὸς αὐτόν, Οἶνον οὐκ ἔχουσιν.
And the wine having run out the mother of Jesus says to him, “They have no wine.” 
ὑστερήσαντος: AAPart, gms, ὑστερέω, 1) behind  1a) to come late or too tardily  ... to be in want of, lack  2) to suffer want, to be devoid of, to lack (be inferior) in  excellence, worth 
ἔχουσιν: PAI 3p, ἔχω, 1) to have, i.e. to hold
1. This is a very interesting set up to what follows. The fact that they ran out of wine is not stated directly by the narrator. It is given indirectly in a passing phrase, and then stated directly by Jesus’ mother. Only, she does not say, “They have no wine. Fix it!” - unless, in that culture, when a mother says “They have no wine” it means “fix it!”

 4[καὶ] λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ὥρα μου.
[And] Jesus says to her, “What to me and to you, woman?  My hour does not arrive yet.” 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἥκει: PAI, 3s, ἥκω, 1) to have come, have arrived, be present  2) metaph.  2a) to come to one, i.e. to seek an intimacy with one, become his follower: to come upon one (unexpectedly)  2b) to come upon one, of things endured 
1. If I were to address my mother as “Woman” in this way, I’d need healing shortly thereafter, because that kind of disrespect would not be tolerated. I get the feeling that this response from Jesus sounds much sassier than it should because of cultural differences. I wonder if we substitute “Ma’am” “Señora” or “Milady” for “woman,” maybe we would be closer to the respectful tone that is intended.
2. There is no verb in Jesus’ question to his mother. There is the pronoun Τί – which has been interpreted as an interrogative pronoun ever since someone added the punctuation to the text and chose a question mark. Otherwise, Τί is often interpreted as “this.” And there are two other pronouns, ἐμοὶ and σοί, which are in the same dative case – “to me and to you.” I can understand why various translations add a verb – usually “is” – to make this question work (e.g. “What is this to you and me?”).  
3. Most translations make the question an oppositional question between Jesus and his mother. The most extreme may be the KJV: “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” While this is grammatically questionable – if the dative σοί is “to thee,” then the equally dative ἐμοὶ should to “to me” – it is influenced by the point of the second sentence in this verse. Jesus’ time has not yet come – that is why he questions his mother. By itself, the question might sound like “This has nothing to do with us.” But, with the second sentence, the issue is not that someone else’s ‘wine fail’ is not their business, but that Jesus is not ready to address matters like this yet.
4. Of course, it is far from clear what “my hour does not yet come” means. But, references to “the hour” are important in John. Here are some of them and they are worth studying:
·      4:21-23: Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. ... But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.
·      5:25-28: ‘Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. ... Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out....”
·      7:30: Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come.
·      8:20: He spoke these words while he was teaching in the treasury of the temple, but no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.
·      12:23: Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’ 
·      12:27: ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.’
·      13:1: Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
·      16:2: Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. 
·      16:4: But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
·      16:21: When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come.
·      16:25: ‘I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but will tell you plainly of the Father.
·      17:1: After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
5. From these references, one can see that “the hour” is a significant idea in John’s gospel. It is not necessarily a specific unit of chronological time as much as a fulfillment of the right time. Together they give a picture of the right time for Jesus to be revealed, to suffer and die, and to be glorified.

 5 λέγει μήτηρ αὐτοῦ τοῖς διακόνοις, Ο τι ἂν λέγῃ ὑμῖν ποιήσατε.
His mother says to the servers, “That which he might say to you, do.” 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγῃ: PASubj, 3s λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ποιήσατε: AAImp, 2pl, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
1. Jesus’ mother’s command to the servers implies that a) When she said “They have no wine,” she meant “Fix it!” and b) when Jesus responded as he did, his mother did not accept that as a “no.” We seriously need facial expressions for this story. The pursed lips, arched eyebrows and slight nods would say volumes. 
2. While we do not have facial expressions, we do have grammar at our disposal, which in Jesus’ mother’s words are subjunctive. The subjunctive mood signifies the possible, not the definite. My guess is that Mary’s words do not imply that Jesus might or might not tell the servers to do something. I think the subjunctive mood (represented by the word “might” in my translation) means that Mary has no idea what Jesus will tell them. Or, we could say that the subjunctive mode implies contingency, so what is contingent is not whether Jesus will say something but what he will say. 
3. I love how - the way this story is told - Mary brings the servants into the action and Jesus follows suit. Other miracles or "signs" of Jesus don't need the employ of servers, but Mary's mother sets that direction for this sign. 

 6 ἦσαν δὲ ἐκεῖ λίθιναι ὑδρίαι ἓξ κατὰ τὸν καθαρισμὸν τῶν Ἰουδαίων κείμεναι, χωροῦσαι ἀνὰ μετρητὰς δύο τρεῖς.
Yet six stone water jars were there being situated according to the purification of the Jews, each yielding two or three measures.   
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
κείμεναι: PMPart, nfp, κεῖμαι, 1) to lie  1a) of an infant  1b) of one buried  1c) of things that quietly cover some spot  1c1) of a city situated on a hill  1d) of things put or set in any place, in ref. to which we often  use "to stand"  1d1) of vessels, of a throne, of the site of a city, of grain  and other things laid up together, of a foundation 
χωροῦσαι: PAPart, nfp, χωρέω, 1) to leave space (which may be filled or occupied by another), to make room, give place, yield  1a) to retire  1b) metaph. to betake one's self, turn one's self 
1. An interpretive question arises whether one should translate “two of three measures” into a contemporary equivalent and, if so, what that would be. I prefer the KJV “two or three firkins,” but that might be even more obscure than “two or three measures.” The Greek word, μετρητὰς, has this explanation (via “At Athens the usual liquid measure containing 33½ English quarts or 8⅜ English gallons. (Eng “firkin” equal to 9 gallons).”
2. The point would be that these are large vessels, not small communion-size pitchers, since they were intended for sourcing a ritual washing, and not for serving into cups.
3. In my experience, I think of a pila that we use in El Salvador for washing hands, dishes, and clothes. They are large containers. One does not actually immerse hands, or dishes into the pila water, but one draws water into another vessel and washes there, so that soap and dirt do not get into the pila. Then the pila water remains clean for all uses and not contaminated by use. In communities with well-drawn water and not running water, that kind of purified container is necessary to minimize the effort. 

 7 λέγει αὐτοῖς Ἰησοῦς, Γεμίσατε τὰς ὑδρίας ὕδατος. καὶ ἐγέμισαν αὐτὰς ἕως ἄνω.
Jesus says to them, “Fill the water jars with water,” and they filled them all up.
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Γεμίσατε: AAImperative, 2pl, γεμίζω,  1) to fill, fill full 
ἐγέμισαν: AAI 3pl, γεμίζω, 1) to fill, fill full 
1. Presumably the jars would have been depleted somewhat by the ritual cleansing of the guests already. The process of re-filling them could be laborious, depending on where the nearest water source is.

 καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ἀντλήσατε νῦν καὶ φέρετε τῷ ἀρχιτρικλίνῳ: οἱ δὲ ἤνεγκαν.
And says to them, “Now, draw out and carry to the head of the table.” Then they carried.
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἀντλήσατε: AAImp 2pl, ἀντλέω, 1) to draw out of a ship's bilge-water, to bale or pump out  2) to draw water 
φέρετε: AAImp 2 pl, φέρω, 1) to carry   1a) to carry some burden   1a1) to bear with one's self   1b) to move by bearing; move or, to be conveyed or borne,
ἤνεγκαν: AAI 3pl of φέρω
1. The term ἀρχιτρικλίνῳ generates great translations: “Governor of the feast” (KJV) “Master of the feast” (ESV), “Master of the banquet” (NIV), “Chief steward” (NRSV), and my favorite, “Director of the apartment” (YLT). The prefix ἀρχι, means ‘ruler’ or ‘head’ of some sort. Apparently, the stem τρικλίνῳ, literally means ‘three couches.’ Hence, ‘the ruler of the dining room’ might work also. The question seems to be whether this is a top-level service role or a guest of honor. (In my opinion - The compliment that he pays the bridegroom would be a lot more impressive coming from Don Corleone than Mr. Carson. Let the reader who watches too many movies and television shows understand.)

ὡς δὲ ἐγεύσατο ἀρχιτρίκλινος τὸ ὕδωρ οἶνον γεγενημένον, καὶ οὐκ ᾔδει πόθεν ἐστίν, οἱ δὲ διάκονοι ᾔδεισαν οἱ ἠντληκότες τὸ ὕδωρ, φωνεῖ τὸν νυμφίον ἀρχιτρίκλινος
Then when the head of the table tasted the water that had become wine, and is not having known from where, but the servers who had drawn the water having known, the head of the table addresses the bridegroom,
ἐγεύσατο: AMI 3s, γεύομαι, 1) to taste, to try the flavor of 
γεγενημένον: PerfPPart, ans, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
ἐστίν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
ᾔδει: PluperfectAI, εἴδω, to see, the other to know.
ᾔδεισαν: PluperfectAI, 3s/3pl, εἴδω, to see, the other to know.
ἠντληκότες: PerfPPart, nmpl, ἀντλέω, 1) to draw out of a ship's bilge-water, to bale or pump out 
φωνεῖ: PAI 3s, φωνέω, 1) to sound, emit a sound, to speak 
1. Such tenses in this verse! It is a great verse when one has the present, aorist, perfect, and pluperfect tenses all together. The point of the tenses is to connect the real-time players with what had just taken place prior to the tasting and speaking.
2. It is intriguing to me that the sign itself – water into wine – is referred to in passing. (If I were grading John’s essay, here is where I would put in red ink the marginal note: Introduce, then refer. Alas.) The point – I suppose – is that as significant as the “sign” is (see v.11), the actual “miracle” (not John’s word) is not the point. The significance is the point. The details of when the liquid transmogrified from water into something entirely different is left up to the readers’ imaginations. That it happened: yes. How it happened: no. What it means: absolutely.

 10 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Πᾶς ἄνθρωπος πρῶτον τὸν καλὸν οἶνον τίθησιν, καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθῶσιν τὸν ἐλάσσω: σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἶνον ἕως ἄρτι.
And he says to him, “Every person serves the good wine first, and when they are drunk, the inferior; You have retained the good wine until last. 
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
τίθησιν: PAI 3s, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down  1b1) to bend down  1b2) to lay off or aside, to wear or carry no longer  1b3) to lay by, lay aside money  1c) to set on (serve) something to eat or drink 
μεθυσθῶσιν: APSubj, 3 pl μεθύω, 1) to be drunken  2) metaph. of one who has shed blood or murdered profusely 
τετήρηκας: Perfect AI, 2s, τηρέω, 1) to attend to carefully, take care of  1a) to guard  1b) metaph. to keep, one in the state in which he is  1c) to observe  1d) to reserve
1. An interpretive question of this story is the significance of the sign. Let me explore some possibilities that I have heard, read, and probably said myself over the years.
·      It might be enough to say that Jesus turned water into wine for the sake of a marriage feast and at the insistence of his mother.
·      One might focus on the miracle itself, interpreting “sign” as a miracle that proves that Jesus is the Son of God. I worry that this approach gives too much credence to magic and ignores the fact that John does not dwell at all on the ‘miracle.’
·      Some interpreters have noted how deeply embarrassing the faux pas of running short of wine would be for this couple and their host. It would not just be a scene from “Cana’s Funniest Videos,” but a true burden in a culture where honor and shame play a significant role. But, the idea that Jesus would rescue the wedding hosts may seem too trivial to be the first ‘sign’ of the messiah.
·      Others take an allegorical approach to the story, where everything symbolizes something, or a more measured approach where there is a single central allegory – such as ritual cleansing being transformed into the cup of salvation.
·      The “head of the table” started the allegorical process with his enigmatic words. This signifying wine is better than the original and it is contrary to habit that one would save the better for last. Are those just observations or indications of a deeper meaning?
·      One might wonder if the initial words, “on the third day,” invite us to think of this story as a resurrection story. Perhaps it is about Jesus’ resurrection (hence the reference to “the hour”) or the resurrected life in general. What if resurrection is to life as we know it, as fine wine is to inferior wine?

 11 Ταύτην ἐποίησεν ἀρχὴν τῶν σημείων Ἰησοῦς ἐν Κανὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας καὶ ἐφανέρωσεν τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἐπίστευσαν εἰς αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ.
Jesus did this first of the signs in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him. 
ἐποίησεν: AAI 3s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc. 
ἐφανέρωσεν: AAI 3s, φανερόω, 1) to make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown, 
ἐπίστευσαν: AAI 3p, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
1. The narrator says that this sign reveals Jesus’ glory. There are numerous references to “signs” throughout John’s gospel, including what I believe to be the original ending of the gospel in 20:30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” 
2. The significance of Cana as the spatial location of this story is just as curious to me as the significance of ‘on the third day’ as the temporal location of this story.


  1. Mark, thank you as always for your fine work with the Greek. I've been kicking around this whole "On the third day" as well. I'm wondering, since recent scholars have been talking about John paralleling the Creation narrative from Gen. 1 with Jesus as the Word in chapter 1, could this be an allusion to the third day of creation? On that day, plants and fruits appeared...just spit-balling here, but thought I'd throw it out.

    1. I have always made that connection, Anonymous. Connect back to the third day of creation, and connect ahead to the third day = resurrection. Today, I'm thinking about how Jesus' first sign, in the Gospel of John, was one of abundance. And thinking about how that ties in with his gift of abundant life.

  2. I really noticed "Cana of Galilee" framing the story for the first time in many, many years of reading it, and like you, wonder at the significance, especially when, as you note, this story is referenced again when Cana returns in chapter 4. In John, I've got to believe that has significance -- but I'm clueless as to what it might be.

  3. Deeply grateful for this. (Also appreciate the "wine fail" expression and Mr. Carson reference). I am going to spend more time on the "hour". Thank you very much!

    1. I will begin using the phrase "wine fail" at parties I go to, and expect a miraculous turn of events.

  4. Thank you for this helpful work. Does Jesus do this miracle in Cana (and John frame it) because of the tension between public and private ministry which is discussed in John 7. Cana being a safer place to do ministry until the hour is right? There is a sense of drama development here moving towards crisis though the cleansing of the temple is fairly full on!

  5. Howdy all,
    When I read this passage, there are a lot of questions hidden in the text....why the first miracle at a wedding? Why in Cana? But the one that I keep contemplating was why did Jesus have the servants fill up the jars with water first? This is Jesus...he's going to make the blind see, the lame walk...he will drive out demons and raise the dead...all without anyone's help. So, why did he have the servants fill those jugs with water first? Was it to teach us about being a servant, about trusting and obeying God, about being blessed in helping in miracles?

    1. I'm glad you brought this up. While I do not know the answers to your questions, it is the servants who have caught my imagination. They were only ones who witnessed the occurrence. Even as it is surmised that the bridegroom had left the best for last, the stewards alone knew this was not the case. I think the role of the stewards, the easily marginalized servants, is an interesting aspect of this story.

    2. It is interesting here that so much attention is given to the details of what the servants did, what the chief steward says, etc., and the fact that some water turned into wine is simply mentioned in passing. It seems that John is downplaying the part of the story that we most emphasize. And, to your point, focuses on the participation of others - namely servants - as meriting the attention.

  6. What do you think of F.F. Bruce's idea that the water turned to wine was the water drawn from the well, after the vessels had been filled . . .


If you want to leave a comment using only your name, please click the name/url option. I don't believe you have to sign in or anything like that by using that option. You may also use the 'anonymous' option if you want. Just be nice.

Blog Archive