The Reason Jesus Turned Water Into Wine

The first miracle performed by Jesus was at a wedding in Cana, a village in Galilee, as opposed to another Cana in Coelo-Syria.1 Many academics believe this was a vibrant Jewish community in the lower Galilean region which included an extensive underground cave system. This was discovered by a recent archaeological dig just 8.5 miles (13.7 kilometers) from Nazareth.2 The large cavernous limestone rooms could, in my opinion, have served as a facility for religious meetings, feasts, and other special occasions and would have been perfect for such a community wedding celebration as attended by our Lord and his mother, Mary.

Also found nearby was a stone quarry which may have produced the ritually pure storage jars, similar to the description of those used for the wedding miracle. “At the very least, the discovery confirms the use of stone jars in first-century Galilee, just as the Bible describes.”3 But before we get to other specific points of the biblical story, let’s review the scripture for this study. The full description of the event consists of just eleven verses in John, chapter 2.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.

When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11, NRSV).4

Concerning Jesus’ first miracle, there are two questions commonly addressed to a pastor. The first is, “Why water into wine — wasn’t that a trivial use of his great power?” And the second question is, “Was it really wine, or just grape juice?” Well, that second question is very easy to answer, so let’s start with that one.

I’ve found most who inquire if the beverage was real alcohol are those Christians brought up in denominations preaching an anti-alcohol social attitude. Their thinking is that Jesus wouldn’t encourage such an evil habit, especially with the large amount of drink he produced. They were probably brought up with an emphasis on scripture such as Ephesians 5:18 which states, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery . . . ”

While some Christian sects may point out similar scripture to justify their point, many times they skip over other verses with a different opinion, such as Ecclesiastes 9:7 which instructs: “. . . and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God has already accepted your deeds.” (Also see: Psalms 104:14-15; Amos 9:14; Isaiah 55:1). My point is that some things are okay, but overdoing a good thing can turn out bad. God gives us free will and a person with a sincere relationship with God should know where to draw the line.

Besides, the word wine used in John 2 is ŏinŏs, a Greek word meaning, literally, fermented (alcoholic) wine.5 Other references show this word is used to describe the bursting of the wineskins indicating fermentation (Matthew 9:17, [also: Mark 2:22, Luke 5:37]) or indicating alcoholic drink (John 2:10; 1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 2:3).6 Then there is the word ‘drunk’ in verse 10; it is the Greek word mĕthuō, meaning ‘to drink to intoxication’. More could be said, but I believe this is enough evidence to indicate we are not talking about grape juice.

 

The Wedding — The Wine — The Stone Jars

Now, on with ‘why’ he did what he did. This was not a moment of demonstrating a magician’s parlor trick meant to entertain or amuse the guests. No, the meaning is much deeper and much more meaningful. Let’s closely examine what happened.

It appears that Mary (her name is not mentioned in the story) may have already been at the celebration, when Jesus and his disciples arrived. It was probably some relative’s marriage7 and she may have had some part in its organization. Such wedding festivities often lasted for a week and an entire village could have been involved.8 Although wedding imagery often appears in Jesus’ teachings, scripture mentions the wedding in Cana as the only one he actually attended.9

Jesus seemed to hesitate when his mother hinted that he should do something about the wine running out and he said, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” Although using the word “woman” in addressing his mother may seem strange to us, it was actually a polite expression in the culture at the time. And the phrase, “what concern is that to you and to me?” was a common expression in Greek which meant not a refusal, but in this case, explaining that it wasn’t yet time for his power to be revealed.10 And, just maybe, he also thought it would be too frivolous a use of his powers.

Likely, Jesus was just petitioning his mother to consider whether the request was really conducive to his divine purpose. Mary did not take Jesus’ reaction as a negative response and clearly did not believe it to be a rebuke. She knew Jesus would handle the dilemma properly.11

So, she plowed ahead by taking control of the situation and put her son in a position he could not easily escape. And Jesus, obeying his mother, did as he was asked. Likewise, he was obeying his father, too, for God knew the glory that would be revealed in that moment. With a possible nudge from his father, Jesus honored both parents, even if it appeared he acted only to appease his mother.12

Midway through the list of ten commandments (Exodus 20:12), God instructs his people to honor their father and mother. In the New Testament, Jesus stated the same (Matthew 15:4) and the disciple Peter repeats it (Ephesians 6:2). And Jesus, at the wedding in Cana, actually demonstrates it.13 Jesus had the stone jars filled to the brim, thereby making it impossible for the miracle to have been a trick or deception.14 The servants were told to draw some of the beverage and bring it to the steward for approval. The steward was like a headwaiter, whose duty was to arrange the tables, provide the food, and make available the proper drinks. He was surprised that this wine was better than what had been first served.

Definitely, Mary played a major part in this event that changed the course of history with this request to her son at the wedding feast. She had faith in Jesus’ ability to help. She knew him as a son, she knew his power, and she trusted him. She knew he would realize she was right.15

But why use stone jars? Vessels made of stone played an integral role in the daily religious lives of the Jews during the time Jesus walked the earth. Most tableware, cooking pots, and storage jars were made of clay, but because of Jewish purity laws (see Leviticus 11:13), when these items became ritually unclean they had to be destroyed. Stone vessels, while more expensive, did not become impure (they were less permeable than clay) and were used for ceremonial washing.16

For those readers thinking there must be more to Jesus’ use of stone jugs, than just their convenient availability at the venue, consider this idea. The jars represented ritual purification, and therefore, God’s Law. Since his blood would one day represent the purification of the body and spirit in fulfillment of the law, it seemed appropriate to use them, thereby foreshadowing his death and establishment of the Church.17

 

Conclusion

This first miracle of Jesus didn’t solve a specific physical or spiritual problem at the time, and to the guests it was just a wedding celebration. But the end result was that his disciples received proof of his divinity and I’m sure that the servants did not keep this secret witness to themselves. This banquet miracle was a prelude to what would later be known as a coming Messianic banquet revealing Jesus as the heavenly bridegroom.

Read more about the marriage supper of the lamb at Revelation 19:6-10, when our Lord will return to wed the authentic members of spiritual Israel. This miracle in Cana, therefore, was not just a feat to further the wedding celebration and keep the party going, but pointed to his fundamental identity and mission.18 For an interesting article about the Marriage of the Lamb, see “Who is the Bride of Christ?” listed in References & Notes.19

The music selection for this article is performed by American country music singer, Marty Stuart. The song, ‘He Turned the Water into Wine’, was written by Johnny Cash, whom Stuart used to perform with back in the early 1980s. Selected lyrics are below and the music video link is listed in References & Notes.20

In the little Cana town the word went all around,
That he turned the water into wine.
He did, just a carpenter from Nazareth,
He turned the water into wine.

Well, he walked upon the Sea of Galilee,
He walked upon the Sea of Galilee.
Shouted far and wide he calmed the raging tide,
And walked upon the Sea of Galilee.

Copyright © 2022, Dr. Ray Hermann
OutlawBibleStudent.org

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References & Notes

  1. Vincent, Marvin Richardson, Word Studies in the New Testament, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), vol 2, pp. 79-81.
    Note: Coelo-Syria, was located in a deep gorge of the mountainous area of Asher (see territory of Asher, Joshua 19:24-31).
    “On the Mountainous Country, the Portion of Asher, between the Coast of Tyre and Sidon, and the Jordan”, (The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, (Cambridge University Press, 1850), vol. 12, p. 350. (Available online at https://www.jstor.org/stable/25228625?seq=1
  2. McCollough, C. Thomas, “Searching for Cana: Where Jesus Turned Water into Wine”, Biblical Archaeology Review, (Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington DC), November/December 2015, vol. 41, no. 6, pp. 31-37.
  3. Windle, Bryan, “Stone Vessel Factory Excavated Near Nazareth”, (Associates for Biblical Research, 24 August 2016), https://biblearchaeology.org/current-events-list/3759-stone-vessel-factory-excavated-near-nazareth
  4. All scripture quoted is from The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989). Used with permission.
  5. Strong’s Greek #3631.
    Strong, James, The New Strong’s Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996).
  6. Vine, W. E., et al., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, (Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson, 1996), vol.2, p. 677.
  7. Jamieson, Robert, et al., Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), vol. 2, p. 130.
  8. Blum, Edwin, et al., (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes, (Nashville TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), p. 1309.
  9. Mays, James Luther, (Ed.), Harper’s Bible Commentary, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 1049.
  10. “Woman, what does your concern have to do with me?” (Daily Exegesis Bible Commentary, 10 August 2018), https://dailyexegesis.blogspot.com/2018/08/woman-what-does-your-concern-have-to-do.html
  11. Barry, John D., et al., Faithlife Study Bible, (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), John 2:4-5.
  12. Bernock, Danielle, “Why Did Jesus Turn Water into Wine?” (Christianity, 1 September 2020), https://www.christianity.com/wiki/jesus-christ/why-did-jesus-turn-water-into-wine.html
  13. Bucher, Meg, “Honor Your Father and Mother: A Biblical Command We Never Outgrow”, (Bible Study Tools, 28 April 2021), https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/a-biblical-command-we-never-outgrow-honor-your-father-and-mother.html
  14. Barry, John D., et al., Faithlife Study Bible, (see above).
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ngo, Robin, “Jewish Purification: Stone Vessel Workshop Discovered in Galilee”, (Biblical Archaeology Society, 17 August 2021), https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/news/jewish-purification-stone-vessel-workshop-galilee/
  17. Turner, Reid J., “The Significance of the ‘Stone Jars’ at the Wedding in Cana”, (The Five Beasts, 8 February 2020), https://thefivebeasts.wordpress.com/2020/02/08/the-significance-of-the-stone-jars-at-the-wedding-in-cana/
  18. Norman, Kyle, “What Is the Significance of Jesus Turning Water into Wine?” (Christianity, 20 January 2022), https://www.christianity.com/wiki/jesus-christ/what-is-the-significance-of-jesus-turning-water-into-wine.html
  19. Hermann, Ray, “Who is the Bride of Christ?” (The Outlaw Bible Student, 5 October 2021), https://outlawbiblestudent.org/who-is-the-bride-of-christ/
  20. “He Turned the Water into Wine”, Artist: Marty Stuart; CD/DVD: The Gospel Music of Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives; Writer: Johnny R. Cash, (recorded NorthStar Studios, Nashville, 2014; licensed by Gaither Music Group, BMG, UMG, others), used under ‘fair use copyright’ for teaching under Section 107 of United States Copyright Act of 1976 – MUSIC VIDEO: https://youtu.be/yPc-WVWHFPs
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