The Life of the Lord Jesus Christ

By Johann Peter Lange

Edited by Rev. Marcus Dods







the marriage at cana

(Joh 2:1-11)

On the third day, says the Evangelist, without defining the time more exactly, there was a marriage at Cana. We cannot well find this more exact definition in the nearest preceding datum, because one such special reference has to be given. The general statement, ‘on the third day,’ leads us to expect that the first and second have been enumerated. And so, in fact, we find it. The Evangelist reckons from the day when Jesus returned from the wilderness to the Baptist, which followed the day on which John the Baptist at the Jordan had borne that great testimony to Jesus. At that time Jesus was still concealed, although He stood in the midst of Israel. But from this time, the Evangelist wishes us to understand, He became manifest in a quick succession of mighty works of the revelation and recognition of His glory.

On the next day after the testimony of the Baptist, Jesus returned from the wilderness, and the Baptist publicly and solemnly pointed to Him as the Messiah of Israel (ver. 29). The following day John repeated this demonstration, which induced Andrew, John, and Peter to join themselves to Jesus as His first disciples (ver. 35). But on the third day the spiritual power of the Lord gained two new followers of importance, Philip and Nathanael (ver. 44). This is reckoned the third day since the return of Christ from the wilderness, and the same day on which the marriage feast at Cana in Galilee began, which soon led to a fresh glorification of Jesus.1

On the day, therefore, when this marriage feast began, Jesus set out from the first travelling station in the Jordan valley, in order to go to Galilee. As it took Him two days to reach Cana, the marriage feast when He arrived had already lasted two days. The men of Galilee who had now become His disciples, and had no more to do with John in Perea, were naturally His fellow-travellers, not only as disciples and friends, but as going homewards. They came with Him to Nazareth, where they did not find the mother of Jesus, as she was now at Cana beyond Nazareth, at the marriage feast with her friends.2 Thither Jesus was now invited with His disciples.3

The mother of Jesus was certainly well aware of the significance of her Son’s visit to the Baptist, and met His return home with joyful anticipation. Doubtless the family circle at Cana, where the marriage feast was held, shared in the same sentiments. It so happened that the duration of the feast had been prolonged,4 and that the bridegroom, in the glow of excitement, had suddenly issued invitations for an additional number of guests—invitations which were totally unconnected with the first formal arrangements of the feast, and which as a bold outgush of Christian presentiment went far beyond the calculations of the Jewish mind. But soon the true friend of Mary and of the Lord had to repent of this open-heartedness as an act of imprudence. The wine began to run short; and with the approaching deficiency the festive mood of the worthy couple seemed likely to be extinguished. The Jewish mind, which also regulated conduct in the strictest legal manner, caused those who were thus depressed to feel their perplexity as a fearful burden. The mother of Jesus was initiated into the domestic trouble.

‘They have no wine!’ Thus Mary deplored confidentially to her Son the distress of the family. Some explain the words as meaning that Mary meant to call upon the Lord to perform a miracle at once. Others imagine that she wished to intimate that it was time for Him and His disciples to take their departure.5 Sagacious expositors! Might not a religious disposition generally, to say nothing of female tenderness, lead her to lament to the benevolent Lord a want of her own or of others, without prescribing to Him the way and manner of rendering help? And in this, indeed, Mary’s female excellence was conspicuous, that she vented her sorrow in such a spirit, resigned and not prescribing.

The Lord answered her, ‘That is My concern, not thine, O woman!’ Or, in other words, Let Me alone, leave that to Me, thou troubled, tender-hearted one!6

He added, ‘My hour is not yet come.’ His hour was His own time, as the Father determined it, for acting or suffering by the occasion and in His own mind, in opposition to the hour which was marked out for Him by the approval of men.7 Therefore this reference to His hour was a consolatory assurance to His mother that He was certain of the right moment for the right result. Hence also Mary could intimate to the servants, who knew that the wine was running short, and in their position would be most of all uneasy, that they had only to do whatever Jesus told them. This language by no means implied the promise of a miracle, of which she herself knew nothing yet, but the tranquillizing power of an unshaken confidence, which expected that at the right time He would certainly obviate the difficulty as a trustworthy adviser and helper. Now there were standing in the house six water-pots of stone, containing two or three baths8 apiece. They were set apart for the purpose of the Jewish rites of cleansing. These vessels Jesus commanded the attendants to fill with water, and then to draw the liquor from them and take it to the governor9 of the feast. They did so. But their doing so leads us to infer the existence of a wonderfully elevated tone of feeling in the whole household. If even the servants exhibited such unreserved confidence in the words of Jesus, we may admit that the festive feeling had resolved itself into a deep devotion to His person, and a blessed experience of the fulness of His Spirit and His love. The whole company were now gradually raised above their ordinary state of feeling, as at a later period the three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. In the element of this state of feeling Christ changed the water into wine.10 The governor of the feast tasted the new beverage without knowing whence it came. It was another, more generous wine than that which he had drunk at first, as he testified to the bridegroom with unfeigned pleasure. Thou hast reversed the ordinary custom, he said to him: every man at the beginning sets forth good wine, and when they have drunk enough, that which is inferior; but thou hast kept the good wine till now.11 We cannot suppose that the governor of the feast wished to find fault openly with the earlier wine which had been furnished by the bridegroom. When, therefore, he praised the new wine as the good, he bore testimony to it as a peculiar and most generous kind of wine, and to the elevation of feeling with which he drank it. Thus Christ transported a circle of pious and devoted men to heaven, and gave them to drink from the mysterious fountain of His highest life-power. He showed how in His kingdom want vanishes in the riches of His love—water in the wine of His wonder-working divine power—the common pleasure of conviviality in the intoxication of delight which is connected with the first enjoyment of the vision of His glory. It was no nectar, but a divine beverage, into which the water was changed. The work, therefore, was the signal of His world-transforming heart-power; and thus the beginning of His miracles, the first sign by which He manifested His glory. His disciples were already devoted to Him by faith; but now their faith gained such a new impulse, that John could describe it as a new era in their life of faith in the words, ‘And His disciples believed on Him’ (Joh 2:11).12



1. According to Wieseler (Chronol. Synops. 252), the beginning of the Passover (the 15th of Nisan in the year 781)13 which Jesus, according to Joh 2:12, attended a few days after the marriage at Cana, fell on the 30th of March. If now, Wieseler remarks, He came, according to the Jewish custom, on the 10th of Nisan to Jerusalem, and if we reckon three or four days for the journey thither, He must have set out from Capernaum not later than March 21. Moreover, some days must be reckoned backwards, which he spent at Capernaum. Add to this the undetermined sojourn of Christ at Cana; but which was probably only one day, at the most two days; and then, lastly, the three glorious days of the first victory of Christ after His return from the wilderness. It is, indeed, not necessary to suppose, with Wieseler, that His stay at Capernaum occupied the remainder of March. Let us also reckon some days after the return of Christ from the wilderness to the marriage at Cana, as the aforesaid critic has done (see Wieseler, p. 252). Thus we need not go beyond March into February in order to reach the moment when Nathanael probably was reposing under the shade of the fig-tree. Probably the deputation to John was planned in the Sanhedrim, in consequence of the fresh influx of pilgrims for baptism, which commenced in the spring of the year 781.

2. From the History of the Life of Jesus by Von Ammon, we learn many interesting particulars respecting the wines of the ancients, especially those of the Hebrews. One fact especially is brought forward, that the Jews had inspissated and spiced liqueur-wines, like the Greeks and Romans,—vinous substances which required to be mixed with a large quantity of water. After these preliminary observations, Von Ammon remarks, that Jesus changed these water-pots into wine-vessels, in order to show ‘a delicate attention to the newly-married couple.’ The wine He presented to them was better and stronger than the weak and diluted liquor which in their straitened circumstances they had previously offered their guests, yet not unmixed, but less abundantly watered; on account of its agreeable and superior vinous quality, it found great favour with the master of the feast. ‘But what happened in the interval, whether the water-pots were empty and soon filled up to the brim, we do not know,’ &c. Such theology as this veils from our inquisitive gaze the mysteries of a public-house, but leaves us with strange forebodings.

3. According to Dr Von Baur, in his essay on the composition and character of John’s Gospel, in Zeller’s Theol. Jahrbücher, the history of the marriage at Cana is to be viewed as an allegory, in which the relation of Christ to John is represented. ‘Why should this not be granted, if water with perfect propriety is to be taken as the element and symbol of the Baptist, that by the wine is to be understood the high pre-eminence of the Messiah above His forerunner, and by the change of water into wine the transition and advance from the preparatory stage of the Baptist to the Messianic agency and glory?’ On the mental prejudice, which is not in a state to grasp the historic reality of evangelic ideas, see the First Book of this work, vol. i. p. 96. Certainly the allegorists understand things after a very peculiar fashion, who regard reality as so trivial that history will vanish at once from their view wherever they can see a conceit glimmering, while they perform a splendid counter-miracle to that of Cana, namely, that of changing the wine of evangelical reality into the water of vapid conceit.14

4. Among other things, it has been objected to the miracle at Cana: ‘Moreover, miracles are always beneficial because they remove a natural defect; but what the Lord is said to have done at Cana did not aim at the removal of a natural evil, but only to reanimate an interrupted pleasure’ (Strauss, ii. 211). Maier in his commentary on this passage (John 2) justly points out, that the same critics bring into comparison the other miraculous narratives in the Gospels, of which they deny collectively the objective truth; therefore they assume a point of comparison which on their stand-point does not exist. This belongs to the long catalogue of those self-contradictions of the critics, who put us in mind of the history of Susanna.



1) There is no reason for breaking through so definite a succession of dates from the first to the third day by an intercalation of days which rests on mere conjecture. It does not follow from ver. 40 that Peter was not brought to Christ till the day following. If the question, ‘Where abidest Thou?ʼ meant, ‘Where dost Thou pass the night?’ then, by the words, ‘They abode with Him that day,’ the fact is indicated that they passed the night at His lodgings, [Meyer, Lichtenstein, and most recent expositors, count from the beginning of the journey into Galilee, ver. 43, which is certainly the most natural interpretation, Luthardt, without any distortion of the narrative, arranges a succession of seven well-defined days, so that the Lord’s ministry begins, as it ends, with seven days whose events are specifically mentioned. See Andrews’ Life of our Lord, p. 135.—ED.]

2) Compare Robinson's Palestine, ii, 346, and Helmuth’s Map of Palestine after Robinson, But it is a question, whether, according to Tholuck’s Commentary on this passage, p. 98 (Clark’s Tr, 1860), the road for Jesus to Capernaum and Bethsaida went through Cana ; also, whether Mary had arrived there from Capernaum. — [See also Robinson's pithy reply (iii. 109, note) to De Sauley, who advances the claims of Kefr Kenna. Compare Thomson’s Land an Book, 425. Ewald (Christus, p. 170, note) agrees with Robinson in supposing that Kana el Jelil is not only identical in name with the village of the narrative, but is also identical in position. It lies about 12 miles north-west of Nazareth,—ED.]

3) A clear passage is obscured when it is fancied that it can be made clearer by taking the aorist ἐκλήθη in the sense of the pluperfect. It was now that Jesus was invited, when the marriage feast had already begun, ‘The singular indicates that the invitation of His disciples was only a consequence of his own invitation, Compare Adalb, Meier's Commentar über das Evang. Johannes, i. 247.

4) The marriage feast commonly lasted seven days, but among the poorer classes three, or even one day, See Winer, R. W. B, article ʻHochzeit;ʼ Maier, Commentar, p. 248.

5) Compare Lücke, Commentar, i, 169, [So Bengel.]

6) That this is the meaning of this much-discussed, difficult passage [on which no fewer than eight separate treatises have been written—ED.], may be inferred from the connection as well as from distinct analogies. First of all, the doubtful exclamatlon מַה־לִּי וְלָךְ is to be explained by the connection.  It occurs in 2 Sam. xvi. 10, in an address of David, evidently quite friendly to the sons of Zeruiah. (Thus Maier on the passage.) Ebrard (p. 215) translates the passage thus: ‘That is My concern; or, Leave that to Me? The appellation γύναι, Woman! was used by Jesus on the cross to His mother, according to John xix. 26, There it might be translated, Poor, tender-hearted one! Similar was the address of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, John xx. 15. In the same manner Augustus addressed Cleopatra, in Dio Cassius, Hist, li. 12 (quoted by Tholuck): θάρσει ὼ γύναι, καὶ θυμὸν ἔχε ἀγαθὸν.

7) Compare John vii. 6; Luke xxii. 53.

8) Probably John understood by this measure the Attic metretes, which was equal to the Hebrew bath, 2 Chron. iv, 5. The Attic metretes made about one and a half Roman amphorĉ: the Roman amphora was equal to five gallons. But the Roman amphora was also called metretes; and if this were intended, the total quantity would be much less, On the other band, the Babylonian and Syrian metretes was equal to one and two-thirds of the Attic metretes, or 120 sextarii. Yet neither of the latter measures is intended, but the Attic; for most of the Greeks used the Attic measure —Galen, De Monsur.e.9—and also the Jews, after the Greeks obtained the supremacy in Asia,” So Maier on the passage. According to Von Ammon’s reckoning, the gift of wine was much smaller.

9) The ἀρχιτρίκλινος, who gave orders to the servants, is to be distinguished from the συμποσιάρχης, who, according to the custom of the Greeks and Romans, was chosen by the guests, and presided over the entertainment, But if the superintendent of the servants was here intended, probably the command of Christ relative to drawing the wine reached him first of all.

10) [Tholuck and others have represented the author as maintaining that the elevated frame of mind on the part of the guests caused them to taste the water as wine. ‘This is scarcely fair, The miracles required a certain state of mind in those on whom and for whom they were wrought, but neither consisted in nor were caused by this state of mind. The author seems distinctly to maintain the objective miracle, as well as and in combination with the frame of those who were blessed by it.—ED.]

11) See De Wette, Commentar on this passage.

12) [The author might perhaps have noticed the appropriateness of the first miracle being a work of creation, thereby showing that He who came to be the Restorer was the Creator of all. This is also in keeping with the form of this Gospel, which (though there be nothing in the analogy between its opening words and the opening words of Genesis) introduces the Redeemer as the Creator coming to ‘His own.’ In proving that He is the Creator, He effectually grounds His claim to become the Restorer.—Ep.]

13) [On this date see vol. i., p. 345; see also Gresivell’s fourth and fifth Dissertations, where this Passover is determined to have been 9th April 780. A very useful table of Jewish feasts for several years is given by Greswell, vol. i, 331.—ED.]

14) [This, of course, does not hinder us from attaching an allegorical significance to the miracle, so long as we maintain its historic reality. To the Baptist’s disciples it can scarcely have failed to be significant, that out of the water-pots for the purifying of the Jaws, their new Master drew wine for the inward cheering and strengthening of man. And it is difficult to remove from our minds the idea, that in this first manifestation of His glory, when He provided wine for the marriage festivity, there is a symbol of the consummation of His glory, when He shed that blood which purchased and cleansed His bride, and furnished everlasting refreshment to them that have entered into the joy of the Bridegroom.—ED.]