Module 3


On completion of this module it is expected that you will be able to:


In the previous module we looked at the first days of Jesus, and found that, by the end of John 1:1-51 the first disciples had made a great deal of progress in coming to understand who Jesus was, but that something more was asked from them in 1:50-51. In this module, a study of John 2:1-25, we will concentrate upon the way the writer provides an answer to the question raised for the reader at the end of 1:1-51: "What more is required for authentic Johannine belief?" First we will look at the overall structure and message of this section of the Fourth Gospel (2:1-4:54) and then we will concentrate on two episodes within this section, the first miracle at Cana (2:1-12) and the cleansing of the Temple (2:13-25).

From Cana to Cana (2:1 - 4:54)

The storyteller wants his readers to link two accounts of miracles performed by Jesus at Cana (2:1-12; 4:46-54). Notice that 2:1-12 begins, "On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Then, as he begins the second Cana story he comments: "Then he came again to Cana in Galilee where he had changed the water into wine" (4:46). As he ends the story he comments: "Now this was the second sign that Jesus did after coming from Judea to Galilee."

But the reader also approaches the reading of 2:1-4:54 with 1:19-51 in mind. That reading experience raises a serious question: what kind of faith is needed to commit oneself totally to all that Jesus has come to reveal? Once this question is seen to be at the centre of John's unfolding story, then the response of the Mother of Jesus in 2:1-11 and the royal official in 4:46-54 sets the atmosphere, for the rest of the narrative.

Both the Mother of Jesus and the royal official trust completely in the efficacy of the word of Jesus. Even though the Mother of Jesus is rebuked (see 2:4), she simply says to the attendants: "Do whatever he tells you" (2:5). Similarly, the royal official is rebuked (see 4:48), but as Jesus promises health to his son, "the man believed the word Jesus spoke to him and started on his way" (4:50). An unconditional acceptance of the "word of Jesus" is evident in the two examples of faith which frame the narrative.

We now need to look at what happens in the story between these two examples of unquestioning response to the word of Jesus. There are six indications of possible reactions to the word of Jesus.

Notice that all the characters in this series of responses to the word of Jesus come from the world of "the Jews." The author is telling the readers that a journey from no faith to true faith is possible within that world. This is important. In Module 1 we pointed out that there was a difficulty in the way the Fourth Gospel speaks of "the Jews." There we pointed out that we must not take that term to mean the Jewish people. Here we see one of the many examples in the Gospel where Jewish people, the Mother of Jesus and John the Baptist, come to perfect faith.

Once this cycle of a journey from no faith to partial faith to true faith among Jewish characters in the story is completed, we find that a parallel journey starts again in the experience of the Samaritan woman and the Samaritan villagers.

Stories of a journey of faith from no faith to true faith in the non-Jewish world have been told. This episode is immediately followed by the second Cana miracle, and thus we find that there have been two movements from no faith, through partial faith into complete faith. But there is more to it. The Mother of Jesus (2:1-12) is a Jew and the Royal official (4:46-54) is a Gentile. Jesus' Mother's example is followed by stories which tell of the possibility of faith within Judaism, and the example of the Royal official is preceded by stories which tell of faith outside Judaism.

If the first days of Jesus closed with the reader wondering what kind of faith is called for by Jesus; we now have the answer: a complete and unconditional trust in the efficacy of the word of Jesus, that is, in his person and in everything he has come to reveal. Such a journey is universally possible. Both Jew and Gentile have come to express their unconditional trust in the word of Jesus.

Exercise 3.1. Structure and message of John 2:1-4:54.

F. J. Moloney, "From Cana to Cana (Jn 2:1-4:54) and the Fourth Evangelist’s Concept of Correct (and Incorrect) Faith," Salesianum 40 (1978) 817-43. Reading 3.1.

See also Moloney, The Gospel of John, 63-65. Using Moloney’s study of John 2:1-4:54 in Salesianum answer the following questions:

  1. How do the two stories of Cana (2:1-12; 4:46-54) relate to one another?
  2. What is their function in the story?
  3. Trace the themes dealt with between the two Cana stories: the cleansing of the Temple, the conversation with Nicodemus, the witness of the Baptist, the Samaritan woman and the Samaritan villagers.
  4. Describe the essential elements of authentic Johannine belief.
  5. What are the factors which are obstacles to authentic belief?
  6. Is response to the word of Jesus the only issue of importance to this section of the Gospel?
  7. List experiences from your own life, or your experience of other people’s lives, which show that the Johannine understanding of authentic belief addresses contemporary Christianity.

The first miracle at Cana (2:1-12)

Read John 2:1-12 very carefully, paying attention to:

the people in the story (the characters)

On the basis of your answers to these questions, trace the way this first Cana miracle story unfolds. Only when you have developed your own structure for the passage, check your conclusions with the shape of the story given in Moloney, The Gospel of John, 66. Do not feel that you must agree with what you find on that page, but be able to provide arguments for your own point of view. Look at the same features in the second Cana miracle in 4:46-54. Are there similarities in the way the story is told and in what is said? Check your conclusions with the shape of this second Cana story given in Moloney, The Gospel of John, 151.

Develop a full explanation of the setting for the miracle story in 2:1-12 in vv. 1-2, paying particular attention to the following elements in these verses: "the third day," "marriage feast," "the Mother of Jesus."

Analyse vv. 3-5, paying due attention to the initiative of the Mother of Jesus in this section of the story. What is the meaning of Jesus’ response to his Mother in v. 4b? Use a Concordance to find all the other uses of the expression "the hour" in the Fourth Gospel. What event lies behind the use of this expression? Do the words of the Mother of Jesus in v. 5 say anything about her function in the overall theological argument of the passage?

Analyse vv. 6-10, paying attention to the initiatives of Jesus. What is the significance of the six stone jars, used for the Jewish rites of purification? Notice the obedience of the servants in vv. 7-8. In the light of what you have learnt from the Prologue (1:1-18) is there any possible deeper meaning in the words "and did not know where it came from (although the servants who had drawn the water knew)" (v. 9)? Apart from the common sense of v. 10, is there a link between "the hour" of Jesus in v. 4, and Jesus’ keeping the good wine until the end?

Explain, as fully as you can, the significance of the narrator’s comment in v. 11, paying attention to the words "the first of his signs," "manifested his glory," and "his disciples believed in him." Many scholars find it difficult to link v. 12 with vv. 1-11 and they do not lead into v. 13. What do you make of v. 12? Are there any links with vv. 1-2. If so, what is the function of v. 12 in the passage as a whole.

    Exercise 3.2 Interpreting John 2:1-12

Read Moloney, The Gospel of John, 66-74, for a fuller exegesis of the passage. Do not, however, feel that the reading offered there is definitive. There may be something that you bring to the text which enriches the interpretations offered by the published commentators.


  • What is the link between marriage, wine, "the hour," the six stone jars, the good wine kept till last?
  • How do you explain the fact that Jesus initially refuses to do what his Mother suggests, but then proceeds? What is the role of the Mother of Jesus in this process?
  • Is there any possible symbolic meaning for the character of "the bridegroom"? Use your concordance to find where the expression is used again in the Fourth Gospel.
  • This is the "first sign." In 4:54 the narrator will describe the miracle of the curing of the Royal Official’s son the "second sign." Describe the relationship between these two "signs."
  • Why are miracles called "signs"?
  • Check a concordance to see when the phrase ‘the third day’ was used to introduce a significant event in the Old Testament. Can you see any link between this O.T. event and the Cana story (check Jn 2:11).
  • 3.3 The new Temple (2:13-25)

    Read John 2:13-25.

    Compare this account with the Synoptic accounts in Matt 21:12-13; Mk 11:15-19; and Luke 19:45-48.

    The recording of this event in all the Gospels suggests that this account is based on an actual event in the life of Jesus. The differences in the way the event is recorded can help us determine what each particular evangelist saw as the meaning of this event. In the Fourth Gospel this event records the first confrontation with "the Jews", and it touches on the key issue in this Gospel, namely the identity of Jesus and his relationship with Israel’s God.

    Structural Considerations:

    Exercise 3.3.1

    • What verses would you identify as an introduction, a conclusion?
    • What words or phrases are repeated?
    • How would you divide this scene into main sections?

    A Structure:

    Introduction: v. 13. The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

    Temple Cleansing: vv 14-17

    17. His disciples remembered

    Temple Logion: vv. 18-22

    22. his disciples remembered

    Conclusion: vv 23-25 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover.


    This event occurs at Passover in Jerusalem. The readers at the time of the Gospel would be aware of the following information.

    Passover was a major Jewish festival when pilgrims from all over Palestine and beyond would come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feast and to pay their annual Temple Tax. This tax paid for the daily public holocaust sacrifices every morning and evening, which provided a continual daily act of atonement for Israel’s sins. But this tax could not be paid with the usual Roman coins which had the head of the emperor stamped on one side. Such coins were idolatrous to Israel. It was necessary for pilgrims to change their money into Tyrian (from Tyre) coins, which did not offend Jewish law. Just before the Passover tables were set up in the Temple courtyards for the moneychangers. The animals of sacrifice were also needed in the Temple environs so that pilgrims could purchase their offering when they arrived in Jerusalem. The presence of the moneychangers and the animal buyers and sellers were therefore a normal and necessary part of Israel’s sacrificial system.

    Knowing this information the reader would realise that Jesus’ action is not merely ‘cleansing’ the Temple of improper activities, but signalling that the time of such Temple sacrifice is over. Just as the Cana miracle announced a new revelation and the perfecting of Israel’s rituals, the Temple scene is a prophetic action heralding a new means of relationship with God. Atonement sacrifices are no longer needed.

     Exercise 3.3.2

    Read J. Neusner, "Money-Changers in the Temple: The Mishnah’s Explanation," NTS 35 (1989) 287-90. Reading 3.2

    What is his understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ act?

    Confrontation with "the Jews".

    The Jewish authorities ask for a sign (v. 18). This indicates that they understand the significance of what Jesus has done but are questioning his authority. Signs are the credentials of the true prophet. Moses produced signs to show he was authorised by God (Ex 4:29-31). Jesus’ reply is nonsense to them. "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (v. 19). They understand his words only at a physical level – the Temple building of stone. Jesus’ words speak to a different level of reality. As the commentator tells us – ‘he spoke of the Temple of his body’( v. 21). The misunderstanding of Jesus’ words is a particular technique used by the evangelist. The reader who knows the entire story is meant to understand the deeper meaning and to watch ironically as the characters in the story miss the point. At this stage in the gospel you and I as readers already know that Jesus is the presence of God dwelling in our midst – he is the divine Word tabernacling with us (1:14). Then at the start of this scene, Jesus has called the Temple of Jerusalem ‘my Father’s house’ (2:16). Because of Jesus’ unique relationship with God described in the prologue(1:1-18), God now dwells in the human story in a new way. The former ways that required a special building and sacrifices are now brought to their perfection in the humanity of Jesus. Jesus himself replaces the Temple building as the sacred place where the divine and human meet.

    "The Jews" as characters in the story do not know this. They take Jesus’ words and throw them back at him.

    Jesus’ words

    "the Jews’" words
    ‘and in three days I will raise it’ ‘and you, in three days will raise it’

    In this first movement into the world of official Judaism, Jesus has found no faith. By their rejection of Jesus’ words, "the Jews" will in fact destroy the new Temple and ironically fulfil Jesus’ words. The narrative comment about the disciples remembering Jesus’ words points the reader ahead to the future death and rising (2:22). The central plot of the Gospel narrative has begun and major characters have been introduced. Jesus has been identified as the Temple or dwelling of God with us, and we know that this new Temple will be destroyed by "the Jews" and will be raised by Jesus. Exactly how this will happen is not yet known. Like a good story the plot raises questions inviting the reader to read on.

     Exercise 3.3.3

    Read: 2:23-25 and 3:1-3

    What words do you find that are used to conclude chapter 2, then re-used to introduce chapter 3?

    What do these verses suggest about the forthcoming encounter with Nicodemus?

    Read Moloney, Gospel of John. 84-87.


    Our study of the overall structure and message of John 2:1-4:54 has taken us into the public ministry of Jesus. We have seen that the author responds to the question raised by the first days of Jesus (1:19-51) by presenting a series of episodes which demonstrate a variety of ways in which one can respond to the revelation of God which takes place in the word of Jesus. We have then looked closely at the first two episodes in the "Cana to Cana" sequence of events: the first miracle at Cana and the New Temple. Our study of these episodes has indicated that the author does more in this section of the Gospel than instruct on the nature of authentic belief. We have learnt something of the Mother of Jesus, "the hour" of Jesus and its relation to the Cross, Jesus’ perfection of the rites and symbols of Israel, his function as the new Temple of God, further developing the indications we found in the Prologue (see especially 1:14, 16-17). Other themes, which will be developed further in the Gospel, have been introduced: light and darkness, "the Jews," and Jesus’ resurrection.

    Further Reading

     Module 2

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