This is HARDLY a comprehensive New Testament blog, though that is something I would like to do some day. But inasmuch as the LDS Gospel Doctrine course of study is New Testament this year, I wanted to at least have a venue where I could post some links, resources, excerpts from other things I have written, and, as the title suggest, "thoughts."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

John 3 and the Rest of John 4

I have already treated John 4:46–54 in my post introducing the miraculous signs in John.

John 3 and 4:1–45 appear in the section of the Book of Signs called The First to Second Cana Miracles (2:1–4:54). In that post I outlined this scripture block as follows:
  • First Sign: Water to Wine at the Wedding at Cana (miracle story, 2:1–11)
  • Jesus Goes to Capernaum (narrative transition report, 2:12)
  • Jesus at the First Passover (2:13–25)
  • Discourse on the New Birth: Dialogue with Nicodemus (diaglogue, 3:1–21)
  • The Baptist’s Final Witness (discourse, 3:22–36)
  • Jesus Leaves Judea (narrative transition report, 4:1–3)
  • Discourse on the Water of Life: Dialogue with the Samaritan Woman at the Well (dialogue, 4:4–42)
  • Jesus Returns to Galilee (narrative transition report, 4:43–45)
  • Second Sign: Healing the Nobleman’s Son in Cana (miracle story, 4:46–54)
What follows consists of some basic, schematic notes on this material, focusing on the two dialogues.

Discourse on the New Birth: Dialogue with Nicodemus (John 3:1–21)

John La Farge, Visit of Nicodemus to Christ (1880)
Nicodemus coming secretly and at night
  • represents his "being in the dark," not understanding fully Jesus or his mission
Being born again/anew/from above
  • Chapter 3 begins and ends with anōthen, “from above, anew” (KJV “again”)
  • anōthen can be translated temporally as “again,” but it is properly a spatial adverb, suggesting the source or origin of the new birth, i.e., “from above.” Compare this with the preferred Book of Mormon expression, “from above”
"Except a man be born of water and of the spirit"—different interpretations of the new birth, including “watery-spirit”
  • ex hydatos kai pneumatos: in Greek, the two objects of the preposition ex are anarthrous, meaning they lack definite articles.This links them closely together, even suggesting that this is a case of hendiadys, a “one through two” construction. Rather than being just “of the water and of the spirit” (notice that the second “of” in the KJV is italicized as a translator’s insertion and "the" before Spirit should be as well), it might mean “except a man be born of watery-spirit.” See “Blood and Water” excerpt below for the Johannine equivalence of spirit and water.
  • Implication: While Johns 3:5 is commonly used as a proof text to suggest the importance of baptism (being born of the water) and the sanctification that can come after receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost (being born of the Spirit), focusing only on this meeting can keep us seeing other potential Johannine meanings. In particular, in John 7 and 19, we will consider how this may refer to a very particular new birth, the resurrection, which is a spiritual birth in a very specific sense. Unlike the physical birth, which is a birth of mortal flesh and blood, the resurrection is a birth of immortal flesh and divine spirit.
The Son “being lifted up”
  • The crucifixion, and perhaps ascension (though this is not described in John), are the means by which the Son of Man which came down from heaven returns to heaven.
  • Jesus compares this to the serpent being raised in the wilderness
  • Compare 2 Nephi 27:14–16
“For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16–17)

Symbolism of Blood and Water (excerpt from “And the Word Was Made Flesh: An LDS Exegesis of the Blood and Water Imagery in John,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 1 (2009), 51, 53–55, 57)
Both blood and water provide powerful images in the first half of the Gospel of John.  Although instances of blood and water in John can be taken separately, a comprehensive, exegetical approach[1] to the gospel suggests a consistent, overarching imagery with water turning to wine—symbolic perhaps of blood—at Cana in John 2:1–11; water and spirit being the source of the new birth in 3:1–21; water “springing up to everlasting life” in 4:4–42; Jesus’ blood as a source of life in the Bread of Life Discourse of 6:26–59; and rivers of living water flowing from those who believe in Jesus in 7:37–39.  Critical to understanding this symbolism is the sign of blood and water streaming from Jesus’ side as he hangs from the cross in 19:34–45, where it becomes apparent that they are symbols of Jesus’ dual nature: his ability as a mortal to lay down his life as an offering for sin, but his continuing divine ability to work “the infinite and eternal atonement” and become the source of eternal life for those who accept him. This symbolism resonates with Latter-day Saints understanding the nature and role of Jesus Christ.
With the powerful statement, “and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” John 1:14 lays out the incarnational theology of his gospel.  Jesus was not just a man but the divine logos who was veiled in flesh during the time that he lived (eskēnōsen, literally “pitched his tent”) among men, recalling how Jehovah lived among Israel in the wilderness Tabernacle (which throughout the Septuagint and the book of Hebrews was a skēnē or “tent”).[2]  This verse, echoed in D&C 93:11, receives further explication in Restoration scripture, including 1 Nephi 11:12–33 that portrays in the context of a visionary experience the concept of the condescension in christological categories.  In 1 Nephi 11:12–20, the person of Jesus is described in incarnational terms—namely the premortal Jesus Christ, conventionally identified in LDS theology as the divine Jehovah who took upon himself a mortal body of flesh and blood (11:20–25; cf. Mosiah 15:1–4), whereby he became both the mortal son of Mary and the divine Son of God, the Eternal Father.  Then, in 1 Nephi 11:26–33, the work of Jesus is portrayed through his ministry among the children of men and ultimately in his death on the cross for the sins of the world.[3]  Between these two pericopes lies the interpretive centerpiece of the vision of the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi.  This centerpiece describes Christ as the Love of God, the Tree of Life, and as the Fountain of Living Waters, the latter being particularly important for the imagery of blood and water in the Gospel of John (11:21–25).
While the prologue of John does not explicitly connect the incarnate Word with blood, John 1:13 does contrast those who are born of God with those who are born only of blood and the will of the flesh, suggesting that the first birth is one of flesh and blood.  Later in the fourth gospel the second birth is described in terms of water and spirit (e.g, John 3:3–5).  Thus the prologue’s emphasis on the Word becoming flesh connects the incarnation with blood, and in LDS exegesis flesh and blood together consistently refer to living, albeit mortal, bodies (Ether 3:8–9; see Leviticus 17:11–14; Sirach 14:18–19; 1 Corinthians 15:50), as contrasted with “flesh and bone,” that can refer to immortal, resurrected bodies (D&C 129:1–2; 130:22).[4]  Accordingly, the image of blood is associated with life but specifically with the life of flesh and hence with mortality, whereas water, also a source of life, is frequently associated with spirit, as in John 7:39, where streams of living water are explicitly identified as his spirit.[5]  The correlation of blood with mortality on the one hand and water with spiritual—even divine or eternal—life  on the other can be consistently applied throughout John, and this has important implications for these symbols as they appear in some of the most important discourses of the Johannine Jesus.
Water and Spirit

Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus on the New Birth (3:1–36) further develops the dichotomy between fleshand implicitly bloodon the one hand, and water and spirit on the other.  While John 3:5 is used as a proof text by Latter-day Saints supporting the ritual necessity of water baptism and the subsequent receiving of the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Greek text of this verse makes an important, close connection between water and spirit inasmuch as in the phrase ex hydatos kai pneumatos, the nouns for water and spirit are anarthrous (that is, appearing without definite articles) and are governed by a single preposition.[6] All men, having been born of flesh and blood, must now be born again, this time of water and spirit, for “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6).  Significant for Johannine christology is the fact that the earthly birth of Jesus, as the only begotten, was of both, the Word being clothed in flesh through the Incarnation.

Discourse on the Water of Life (4:4–42)

Bloch, Samaritan Woman at the Well
Setting the scene: Jesus wearied, apparently hungry, and acts thirsty
  • But the Incarnate Word never drinks or eats!
John 4:7–14, “There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water:
  • 5 husbands (previous gods of Samaritans), living with a man but not in a covenant relationship (Samaritan devotion to YHWH?)
  • Samaritan view of Messiah: a teacher like Moses
Symbolism of Living Water (cf. 1 Nephi 11:24–25)
  • For Jews: flowing, ritually pure water
  • In Greek: hydōr to zōn was water giving or characterized by life
  • Water must be drawn from a well or cistern, this water “springs up to eternal life [zōēn aiōnion]”
“Water Springing Up into Everlasting Life” (excerpt from “And the Word Was Made Flesh: An LDS Exegesis of the Blood and Water Imagery in John,” Studies in the Bible and Antiquity 1 (2009), 58–9)
In the discourse with the Samaritan woman at the well about the Water of Life (John 4:1–42), the presence of a woman (gynē) and the symbolism of drawing water connect this pericope with the miracle at Cana.  There Jesus had instructed to “draw out” water from the pots, using a word (antlēsate) commonly employed for drawing water as from wells.[7] Here, after Jesus told the Samaritan woman that he could give her “living water” (John 4:10), she noted that the well was deep and that he had nothing with which to draw its water (antlēma). Jesus’ famous response then connected both water and himself with a different quality of life than that sustained by earthly water: “Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).
Water "flowing from rocks" at Tel Dan
The expression hydōr zōn for living water in Classical and New Testament Greek can refer to flowing water fit to drink, which later, rabbinic teaching remembered as being water considered pure for ritual purposes (Mishnah Mikvaoth 1:1–8).[8]  Compared to the water of cisterns or even wells, the Samaritan woman certainly found this type of water preferable, but the participle zōn can also refer to that which is life-producing or offers life.[9]  Likewise, while the woman at first concentrated on the fact that because the water was “springing” or “bubbling up,” she would not need to expend the effort to draw it as she did for the water at the well, the participle used here (hallomenou) has deeper connotations.  In fact, hallomai is used only here to refer to the action of water; elsewhere it refers to the leaping or jumping of human beings.  Nevertheless, in the Septuagint it is used in connection with the spirit of God as it falls upon Samson and Saul (Judges 14:6, 19; 15:4; 1 Samuel 10:10).[10]  Interpretations of the living water that Christ gives include Jesus’ revelation and teaching on the one hand or the Spirit as imparted by Jesus on the other; this latter idea is explicit in John 7:38–39.[11]
Nevertheless, the complete phrase “well of water, springing up into everlasting life” may refer to Jesus himself as the source of both spirit and life.  In this regard, Old Testament references to Yahweh as the “fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9) and “the spring of living water” (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13)[12] find support in LDS scripture in 1 Nephi 11:25: “And it came to pass that I beheld that the rod of iron, which my father had seen, was the word of God, which led to the fountain of living waters, or to the tree of life; which waters are a representation of the love of God; and I also beheld that the tree of life was a representation of the love of God.”  In the vision of Nephi, Jesus is the paramount example of the love of Godwhich, of course, finds a parallel in John 3:16–17and the fruit of the tree, which is defined as the “greatest of all the gifts” in 1 Nephi 15:36.  This seems to refer to the gift of eternal life itself (D&C 14:7).  Likewise, Jesus, the fountain of living waters, gives those who come to him life— not just the kind of mortal life that physical water sustains but rather spiritual, eternal life.

Rushing water from the headwaters of the Jordan River at Tel Dan

[1] Exegesis consists of a close reading of a scriptural text that seeks to “lead out” its original meaning by understanding its historical, literary, and theological context.  For a basic review of the exegetical method and how Latter-day Saints may consider using it, see Eric D. Huntsman, “Teaching through Exegesis: Helping Students Ask Questions of the Text,” Religious Educator 6.1 (Winter 2005), 107–126.  

[2] BDAG, “skēnos” and “skēnoō,” 929.  See also Brown, The Gospel According to John (2 vols.; The Anchor Bible 29–29A; New York: Doubleday, 1966), 29–35; F.F. Bruce, The Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 37–42; Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 82–93; Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman, and Thomas A. Wayment, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 133.

[3] LDS commentators frequently identify this division as representing the Condescension of God the Father (11:12–20) on the one hand and the Condescension of God the Son (11:26–33) on the other (e.g., Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987], 77–85; Monte Nyman, I, Nephi, Wrote This Record [Orem, Utah: Granite, 2003], 140–149). This division sees the act of God’s becoming the father of Jesus Christ as an act of condescension on his part while Jesus’ dwelling on earth, associating with the poor and afflicted, being rejected and judged, and ultimately submitting to death as his condescension.  Given the high christology of John, Mosiah 15, and D&C 93, referring to the incarnation portrayed in 1 Nephi 12–20 as the Condescension of the Father and the Son is probably appropriate, given that the divine Word condescended to become the man Jesus.

[4] “After the resurrection from the dead our bodies will be spiritual bodies, but they will be bodies that are tangible, bodies that have been purified, but they will nevertheless be bodies of flesh and bones, but they will not be blood bodies, they will no longer be quickened by blood but quickened by the spirit which is eternal and they shall become immortal and shall never die . . .” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1917, 63).

[5] See Brown, GJ, 324 n. 39, and Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John (Sacra Pagina 4; Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 253 and 257 n. 39, both of which cite Jewish precedents for the association of water and spirit.

[6] Brown, GJ, 131, who also points out the close parallel here with Matthew 1:20, “what is begotten in her [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit.”

[7] BDAG, “antleō,” 91; Brown, GJ 100.

[8] See Morris, 230.  While the ritual uses of water were overwhelmingly concerned with purification, see the interesting case of the “bitter” waters of Numbers 5:11–31.

[9] BDAG, “zaō,” 424–426, notes in definition 4a that the participle is used figuratively with the water of a spring in contrast with stagnant water, which is hydōr nekron.  Definition 5, however, associates it with things and persons that communicate divine life.

[10] Brown, GJ, 178–180.

[11] Brown, GJ, 178–180.

[12] Morris, 231.

On the Book of Signs, Miracles in John, and the First Two Signs in Particular (John 2:1–11 and 4:46–54)

Maybe I have missed it, but as I have scanned the Gospel Doctrine New Testament Study Guide and lesson manual, it seems that John 2 did not "make the cut" when the somewhat chronological, somewhat harmonizing approach to Jesus' ministry was being put together. So in connection with this week's lesson, which treats John 3-4, I want to share one common schema for the first half of the Gospel of John. I will then provide a simple outline of John 2

Most of this post, however, will be drawn from some of my published discussions on the role of miraculous signs in John, particularly the sign of changing water to wine. I am then taking the second sign from the end of chapter 4 out of order, because of its connection with the first sign.

I will put some of my notes on chapter 3 and the rest of chapter 4 in a separate post.

The gospel of John begins with a poetic prologue, the Logos Hymn, that sets the ministry and sacrifice of Jesus into a greater, cosmological scheme. Following the approach of the late Father Raymond Brown, a noted Johannine scholar, the body of the Fourth Gospel is divided into two parts: the ministry of Jesus, which reveals the identity of the Word made flesh through discourses, dialogues, and particularly seven important miraculous signs, and the salvific suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lamb of God. It then concludes with an epilogue, seemingly composed later.

Here is the simple outline, expanded only for the first half of the body, which we began to treat in last week’s post and continue with this and the next post: 
Prologue (the Logos Hymn; 1:1–18)
 The Book of Signs (1:19–12:50)

  • Initial Days of the Divine Revelation (1:19–2:11)
  • First to Second Cana Miracle (2:1–4:54, overlaps with initial days)
  • Jewish Feasts and Their Replacements by Christ (5:1–10:42)
  • Raising of Lazarus and its aftermath (11:1–12:50)

The Book of Glory (Passion and Resurrection Narratives; 13:1–20:31)
 Epilogue (21:1–25)

“Signs” in John
Preferred Johannine term for “miracles”: sēmeia or “signs
  • John was very selective in the miracles or signs that he recorded, although he knew of many (John 20:30–31, 21:25) 
  • John as narrator refers to them as sēmeia; Jesus usually refers to them as erga, or “works” 
  • These were selected for what they told about Jesus

On the signs, here is an excerpt from The Miracles of Jesus, 135–36:

            As is so often the case, the gospel of John stands apart from the Synoptic gospels.  As discussed in the introduction and in the list of terms for miracles above, John consistently uses the terms sēmeion, “sign,” or ergon, “work,” for the miracles of Jesus rather than the regular Synoptic term dynamis, meaning “powerful deed.”[1]  In the case of both terms, this seems to be a result of the high christology of John.  Miracles are not just a personal blessing for the recipients; above all, as signs they signify or point to something about Jesus.  Likewise, just as the Father worked in creation, Jesus works in the act of “re-creation,” whether it be through miracles of healing and restoration or the still greater miracle of overcoming sin and death.  John makes these christological points by being surprisingly selective in the miracles that he chooses to relate: in the first half of his gospel, John features only seven signs, but they so inform and shape the text that the section of John comprising Chapters 2–11 is often known as “The Book of Signs.”  John includes one final miracle in John 21:4–14 in the astonishing catch of 153 fish.

            In addition to these eight miracle stories, John includes two references to the power of the clearly divine Jesus: he passes through an hostile mob in the temple unseen (John 8:59) and causes those in the arresting mob to fall over backwards by the simple but powerful words “I am he,” which were possibly illustrative of his true identity as the divine “I Am” or YHWH (John 18:6).  John also includes two summaries mentioning other signs (sēmeia) of Jesus.  Interestingly, in all of these miracle accounts, John includes no exorcisms, perhaps because for him the real and final defeat of Satan was accomplished on the cross and not through individual contests with Satan or his demons.[2]

The Seven Signs in the Gospel of John

1          Water into Wine (2:1–11)
2          Healing of Nobleman’s Son (4:46–54)
3          Healing of the Lame Man at the Pool of Bethesda (5:1–18)
4          Feeding of the 5,000 (6:1–15)
5          Walking on Water (6:16–21)
6          Healing of the Man Born Blind (9:1–41)
7          Raising of Lazarus (11:1–57)
The greatest sign, the resurrection of Jesus!

·        An astonishing catch of 153 fish after the Resurrection (John 21:14–14)

From Cana to Cana (John 2:1–4:54)

The second section of the Book of Signs, the First to Second Cana Miracle (John 2:1–4:54, overlaps with initial days), can be outlined as follows:

  • First Sign: Water to Wine at the Wedding at Cana (miracle story, 2:1–11)
  • Jesus Goes to Capernaum (narrative transition report, 2:12)
  • Jesus at the First Passover (2:13–25)
  • Discourse on the New Birth: Dialogue with Nicodemus (3:1–21)
  • The Baptist’s Final Witness (discourse, 3:22–36)
  • Jesus Leaves Judea (narrative transition report, 4:1–3)
  • Discourse on the Water of Life: Dialogue with the Samaritan Woman at the Well (4:4–42)
  • Jesus Returns to Galilee (narrative transition report, 4:43–45)
  • Second Sign: Healing the Nobleman’s Son in Cana (miracle story, 4:46–54)
References to Cana at the beginning and ending of this section create a literary inclusio, or frame. My interpretation of the first two signs Jesus performs stresses the power, and purpose, of the Divine Word that has become flesh. With the first sign the evangelist teaches that the Word—which in the first instance created (or organized) and now re-creates (or reorganize)—has become the Incarnate Word. In the second sign the Incarnate Word heals, signifying that Jesus has come to redeem fallen creation; this time the reorganization is seen in the healing of the nobleman’s son, which is a type of returning creation to its correct state.

Turning Water into Wine (John 2:1–11)

(excerpt from The Miracles of Jesus, 15–19)

The gospel of John specifically identifies the changing of water to wine as “the beginning of miracles (Greek, sēmeia)” in Jesus’ public ministry (John 2:11a).  Though rendered as “miracles” in the King James Version, the Greek word sēmeia actually means “signs.”  As a sign, this miracle, like other miracles in John’s gospel, is more than simply a powerful or amazing act: it is, above all, a sign or symbol of a greater truth about Jesus and his message.  This truth was understood by his earliest disciples who were present at Cana; the sign “manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him” (John 2:11b).[3]

The Roman Catholic church in the Arab town of Kafr Kanna
According to the account preserved only in John 2:1–11, Jesus and some of his early disciples were invited to a wedding feast in a small Galilean town that has been identified with either Khirbet Qânâ, nine miles north of Nazareth, or, more traditionally, with Kefr Kenna, just under four miles to the northeast of Jesus’ hometown (see Starting Galilee Early with my Family and scroll down below the Nazareth Historical Village to the section of the blog post called "Cana").[4]  During the course of the festivities, the mother of Jesus informed him that the wine for the feast has run out, an occurrence that would cause great embarrassment to the newly married couple and their families.  Mary, who is never directly named in John, did not explicitly ask Jesus to intervene, nor did he immediately act to resolve the problem.  She did, however, instruct the servants to do whatever Jesus asks, and he subsequently directed them to fill six large stone water pots with water.  He then told them to draw from them and give it to the master of ceremonies.  When they did so, the water had inexplicably become wine, finer than any expected.  Jesus’ actions, whether motivated by his mother’s implied request or his own compassion for the newly married couple, reveal his loving concern and willingness to help even though “his hour” had not yet come (John 2:4)

Six pots on the altar of the church at Kafr Kanna
John specifically describes the six large water pots used in the miracle as ones used “after the manner of the purifying of the Jews” (John 2:6).  The number six might be significant because it was one short of seven, the Jewish number of perfection and completeness.  Because stone water pots were necessary for ritual purity (Leviticus 11:33), traditional interpretations of this miracle see these pots as symbols of the larger Mosaic law and its requirements, which was incomplete until Christ came, suggesting that Jewish purification and sacrificial rituals were being replaced by the atoning blood Christ.  Wine was also a prominent element in prophetic descriptions of the future messianic banquet (see Isaiah 25:6; 55:1; Jeremiah 31:12; Joel 2:18–24; 3:18; Amos 9:13–14), so the wine which replaced the water from these pots could symbolize the new, richer blessings of the gospel that Jesus was bringing.[5]  Each of the water pots held between 20 and 30 gallons, which meant that anywhere between 120 and 150 gallons of fine wine were produced by the miracle, underscoring the theme of the abundance that Jesus and his kingdom were providing.  The fact that wine was later used by Jesus as a symbol of his blood at the Last Supper gives the miracle at Cana a particular sacramental character as well.[6] 

Latter-day Saint commentators have tended to focus on the miracle itself—that is, the actual transformation of water into wine.  Jesus’ ability to take water and transmute it into a completely different, organic compound demonstrates that he could control matter even on a subatomic level, changing some hydrogen and oxygen, for instance, into carbon and then completely reorganizing these several elements into wine.[7]  As Elder Talmage has written, “The act of transmutation whereby water became wine was plainly a miracle, a phenomenon not susceptible of explanation, far less of demonstration, by what we consider the ordinary operation of natural law . . .  [yet] miracles cannot be in contravention of natural law, but are wrought through the operation of laws not universally or commonly recognized.”[8]  Accordingly Jesus performed this miracle in accord with higher laws and powers that we cannot understand let alone exercise.  Yet Jesus performed the miracle at Cana with the same knowledge and authority that he had used in creating the world, making this miracle a clear sign that he was, in fact, the Creator.
In the wider context of the gospel of John, however, the changing of water to wine provides yet another symbol of Jesus’ divine identity.  In this gospel, water consistently serves as a symbol of spirit, divinity, and eternal life.  Likewise blood, which is frequently represented by wine, represents mortality and earthly life.  The transformation of water to wine could then symbolize the Incarnation, whereby the Divine Word—the premortal Jehovah—became the man Jesus, as earlier articulated in the gospel’s prologue, “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). The divine conception and miraculous birth by which this occurred may help to explain the prominent role of the mother of Jesus at the miracle of Cana.  She was the means, as it were, by which the spiritual Jehovah became the flesh and blood Babe of Bethlehem.[9]  Though already divine and the creator of heaven and earth, the Lord could not be complete and fulfill his atoning work until he became man.  So while the disciples clearly would have been impressed by the outward aspects of Jesus’ changing water into wine, the glory which they realized and which caused them to believe in him (John 2:11) may have been manifested in the deeper understanding of his identity symbolized by this miraculous sign.  Likewise, our faith and trust in Jesus deepens when we realize who he really is and what abundant, rich blessings he can bring.

Byzantine mosaic, Kariye Camii, Istanbul, Miracle of Cana

The Royal Official’s Son (John 4:46–54; cf. The Centurion’s Servant, Matthew 8:5–13; parallel Luke 7:1–10)

(excerpt from The Miracles of Jesus, 42–44)

            According to John, the second miraculous “sign” (sēmeion) that Jesus performed was the healing of the son of a royal official (John 4:46–54; Greek basilikos; KJV, “nobleman”).  Returning from Jerusalem via Samaria, Jesus came again to Cana, where the royal official met him.  Because this was in Galilee, the “nobleman” was probably an official of Herod Antipas and thus probably Jewish.  When the official  met Jesus and asked that he heal his son, who was close to death, Jesus warned him against seeking “signs and wonders” (sēmeia kai terata), meaning portents or impressive manifestations designed to cause belief.  The royal official did not ask for such a sign; rather he simply asked that Jesus come down to his home to see what he could do for his son.  The man’s persistence led Jesus not only to agree to help him but also to announce that his son was alive—that is, that he had been healed.  Returning to his home at  Capernaum, which was not far from Herod Antipas’ new capital at Tiberias, the father found that the boy’s fever had broken at the very moment that Jesus had told him that his son would live, which led the nobleman and his entire household to believe in him. 

            The fact that the nobleman came to Jesus already believing that he could heal his son suggests that this was not actually the second miracle that Jesus had performed in his ministry.  Clearly the man had either witnessed or heard about other mighty works that Jesus had done.  Rather, in this gospel it is simply the second sign that John has elected to narrate in some detail.[10]  Because Johannine signs are more about revealing something about Jesus than they are accounts of the miraculous acts themselves, with this second “sign” John moves us from the understanding of Jesus given by the first sign to a further understanding of the Lord’s identity.  The first sign taught that Jesus was both the Creator and the Incarnate Word.  To this the second sign adds the understanding that Jesus was also the ultimate Healer.  John underscores the connection between these two signs by beginning the story of the royal official by noting that he met Jesus in “Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine” (4:46).

With the connections between creation and healing in mind, sickness can viewed as a type of the fall, by which the original, perfect creation became subject to all kinds of imperfection, especially mortality with its attendant problems of illness, age, disability, and eventually death.  As a result, the Divine Word who originally created, or organized, the world is also the one who can, as the Incarnate Word, “re-organize” or set it back in order.  This symbolism makes such healing miracles powerful symbols of the atoning mission of Jesus Christ.  Accordingly, when Jesus responded to the official by saying, “Go thy way; thy son liveth (Greek, )” (John 4:50, emphasis added), the use of the word “liveth” rather than “is healed” may be significant.  It may, in fact, intimate that this miracle is about something much greater than simply restoring good health: having “life” in the gospel of John is frequently a reference to obtaining the eternal life that Jesus came to bring.[11]

[1]Brown, “Gospel Miracles,” 180–81; Gerhardsson, Mighty Acts of Jesus, 16; Leon Morris, Gospel according to John, 607–13;  Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 224–28.

[2]Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 222–24.

[3]Brown, Gospel according to John, 1.103, “Then John tells us what the sign accomplished: through it Jesus revealed his glory and his disciples believed on him.  Thus, the first sign had the same purpose as all the subsequent signs will have, namely, revelation about the person of Jesus” (emphasis original). While this story is recorded only by John, some of its elements, such as a wedding feast (Mark 2:19; Matthew 22:1–14; 25:1–13; Luke 12:36) and importance of new wine (Luke 5:37–39), appear in the other gospels.  See Moloney, The Gospel of John, 155.

[4]Brown, Gospel according to John, 1.6; Walker, In the Steps of Jesus, 37.

[5]Moloney, The Gospel of John, 160–61; Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 191–92.

[6]Brown, Gospel according to John, 103–110, 112–118; Bruce, The Gospel of John, 68–72; Morris, The Gospel according to John, 153–64; Huntsman, “And the Word Was Made Flesh,” 55–56.

[7]Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 146–49; McConkie, Mortal Messiah, 1:453–54; 

[8]Talmage, Jesus the Christ, 148.

[9]Huntsman, Behold the Lamb of God, 3–4, and “And the Word Was Made Flesh,” 56–57.

[10]The narrative of John is, of course, difficult to harmonize with the basic storyline told by Mark, which is largely followed by Matthew and Luke.  As a result, it is possible that many of the miracles that the Synoptics tell of the early Galilean ministry had already been performed and were well-known throughout the area.  John himself notes that many in Jerusalem had begun to believe in Jesus “when they saw the miracles (sēmeia) which he did” (2:23; cf. 3:2).

[11]Twelftree, Jesus the Miracle Worker, 198–99.