The Gospel of John famously records Jesus’ first miracle as changing water into wine (John 2:1-11). This transformation occurs at a wedding in Cana that predates Jesus’ public ministry (John 2:1-2). Jesus’ mother, Mary, alerts him that the supply of wine is exhausted, an egregious faux pas by the standards of the day (John 2:3-5). The text then interrupts the narrative to direct the reader’s attention to six water pots resting nearby (John 2:6).
Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. (John 2:6 NASB)Translators describe these containers as “stone water jars” (CEV, ESV, HCSB, NIV, NLT, NRSV), “stone waterpots” (ASV, NASB), “waterpots of stone’ (KJV, NJKV), “stone jars” (RSV) or “stoneware water pots” (MSG).
Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) locates:
The jars stood there: this means either in the dining room itself (Roland Deines [b. 1961] 1993:274) or, perhaps more likely, in a passage near the courtyard where the well would be (Ritva H. Williams [b. 1960] 1997:685-86). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 96)This notification marks the preparation of the miracle phase of the story (John 2:6). Marianus Pale Hera (b. 1974) interprets:
The narrator...establishes the setting for Jesus to act. He tells the audience about the presence of six water jars there in the scene (John 2:6). The phrase “for the purification rituals of the Jews” explains why the jars are there (ἐκει). (Hera, Christology and Discipleship in John 17, 65)Jesus instructs the servants to fill the six receptacles with water and then proceeds to transform their contents into wine (John 2:7-10). The story, unique to John’s gospel, concludes with a notation that this act marks the first of Jesus’ “signs” (John 2:11).
The specifications regarding the water pots stand out as they garner an inordinate amount of press (John 2:6). In fact, the only thing that John describes in detail at the entire wedding is these seemingly innocuous water receptacles. The reader is presented with far more information than would be thought necessary: their number, material, purpose and capacity.
Mark Frost (b. 1950) observes:
The story itself is brief [John 2:1-11]. The author is sparing in detail...except when he describes the water jars [John 2:6]. He focuses our attention on the jars long enough to point out considerable detail. Six–count them–six jars. Made of stone, not clay. The twenty-to-thirty gallon jumbo size. Most significantly, we’re told that they were the kind the Jews used for ceremonial washing. These jars were all about religious activity–exclusively so. Thus, the story implicitly poses the question, “What if someone could transform our religious activity into the exquisite joy of fine wine?” (Dave Fleer [b. 1953] and Dave Bland [b. 1953], “He Always Had Some Mighty Fine Wine”, Preaching John’s Gospel: The World It Imagines, 100)The water pots pique the reader’s interest. Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) comments:
John...provides a piece of scenic detail with enough prevision to provoke speculation about intent. There were six stone [or stoneware, hard-baked clay] water jars unattended there in accord with the purification [rites] of the Jews with the capacity to hold up to two or three measure (John 2:6). (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 57)The tantalizing note has captured the attention of interpreters throughout the centuries (John 2:6). Mark Edwards (b. 1962) canvasses:
Bede [672-735] derives the purification as a Pharisaic rite like the washing of hands at Mark 7:3 (Thomas Aquinas [1225-1274] 1997:83). John Chrysostom [347-407] (Homily 21.2) objects that wine would never have been stored in such a vessel. Isaac of Stella [1100-1169] argues that, as the week contains the seventh day apart from the days of labour, so the six vessels represent the insufficiency of human striving; the two measures stand for the dual sense of Scripture, and the old wine for the wisdom of the Gentiles, which causes them to ‘reel like drunken men’ (1979:88, 85, citing Psalm 106:27). (Edwards, John Through the Centuries, 100)Some have construed this detail as one of multiple evidences in John’s gospel of an eyewitness account. D. Moody Smith (b. 1931) notes:
The Gospel gives the impression of “things seen” [John 3:32] (details such as six water pots [John 2:6], the whip of cords [John 2:15], Jesus’ fatigue at the well [John 4:6], and others). (Smith, John Among the Gospels, 175)Thomas R. Schreiner (b. 1954) inventories:
Numerous minor details in the Gospel suggest eyewitness remembrance: the six water pots in Cana (John 2:6), the naming of Philip and Andrew (John 6:7), the barley loaves at the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:9), the detail that the disciples rowed out twenty-five to thirty stadia (John 6:19), the odor that filled the house when Mary anointed Jesus’ body for burial (John 12:3), Peter’s beckoning of the Beloved Disciple (John 13:24), the reaction of the soldiers to Jesus’ arrest (John 18:6), the name of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10), the weight of embalming spices (John 19:39), the knowledge of the disciples’ reactions (John 2:11, 24, 6:15, 61, 13:1), and the catch of 153 fish (John 21:11). These details do not prove that the author was an eyewitness, but they are consistent with such a view. (Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, 82-83)This particular brand of specificity is typical of the fourth gospel. Paul N. Anderson (b. 1956) educates:
A[n]...aspect of spatial knowledge in the Fourth Gospel involves the use of measurements and references to particular distances and weights within the narrative. Before the sea crossing, the boat was twenty-five or thirty stadia from the shore (three or four miles; John 6:19); Bethany was fifteen stadia (just under two miles; John 11:18) from Jerusalem; the boat at Jesus’ postresurrection appearance was two hundred pēchōn from shore (a hundred yards; John 21:8); the six water jars held two or three metrētas each (twenty or thirty gallons; John 2:6). Likewise, the weight of the spices to embalm Jesus was one hundred pounds (John 19:39); the cost of the bread would be two hundred denarii (eight months of wages; John 6:7); and the cost of the perfume at the anointing of Jesus would be three hundred denarii (a full year’s wages; John 12:5). (Anderson, The Riddles of the Fourth Gospel: An Introduction to John, 204)The jars’ presence is in conjunction with “the Jewish custom of purification” (John 2:6 NASB). Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) acknowledges:
Why jars for purification are present is not clear [John 2:6]. They may have been used for cleansing of utensils in preparation for the wedding or filling basins for hand washing, in which case the number and size of the empty jars could be an index to the number of guests. John’s underscoring that these are according to Jewish practice may point to conformity to Judean practice in the Galilee and may signify a response to Southern polemic. Judeans thought that Galileans did not keep their high standards of purity. (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 57)Leon Morris (1914-2006) conjectures:
The half dozen represented a good store of water for carrying out the kind of purification of which we read in Mark 7:1-4. Before the meal servants would have poured water over the hands of every guest. If there was a large number of guests a good deal of water would have been needed. John does not elaborate, but says enough for his Greek readers to understand why so much was provided. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 160)D.A. Carson (b. 1946) connects:
In the context of a wedding feast, perhaps the ritual washing of certain utensils and guests’ hands is especially in view (cf. Mark 7:3-4; for the regulations on washing cf. Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] 1.695-705), but if so John sees this as representative of the broader question of the place of all ceremonial washings (cf. John 3:25). Their purpose provides a clue to one of the meanings of the story: the water represents the old order of Jewish law and custom, which Jesus was to replace with something better (cf. John 1:16). (Carson, The Gospel According to John (Pillar New Testament Commentary, 173)The jars are comprised of stone (Greek líthinos, John 2:6). This stone composition, as opposed to earthenware, directly relates to the purpose of purification (John 2:6).
Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) informs:
The jars were made of stone...because stone was not itself considered to contract uncleanness (Ronny Reich [b. 1947] 1995; cf. Roland Deines [b. 1961] 1993:29-34; John Christopher Thomas 1991b:162-65). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 96)Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) explain:
Stone water jars were preferable for holding water for purification since clay pots had to be destroyed if they were contaminated by contact with the carcass of an unclean animal (Leviticus 11:33). (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 69)Gerard Sloyan (b. 1919) surmises:
Stone jars (John 2:6) would have required less purification than jars of baked clay. Their non-porosity made a great difference to the laws of purity. (Sloyan, John (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 35)Leon Morris (1914-2006) contrasts:
Clay pots could become unclean, and if this happened they must be destroyed (Leviticus 11:33). But some vessels did not become unclean (Mishnah Kelim 10:1; Mishnah Parah 3:2). (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 160)The caveat regarding the use of stone jars during purification stems from tradition and is not explicitly stated in the Old Testament. Jey J. Kanagaraj (b. 1948) clarifies:
The use of “stone jars” for purification is mentioned not in Leviticus 11:32-38, but in the Mishnah, a Rabbinic text of the second century that reflects the life situation of the late first century (Mishnah Kelim 5:11; Mishnah Besah 2:3). (Kanagaraj, John (New Covenant Commentary Series), 22)C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) traces:
Stone, unlike earthenware, did not itself contract uncleanness. This is explicitly stated by Maimonides [1135-1204], and seems to be borne out of earlier evidence (see Hermann Leberecht Strack [1848-1922] and Paul Billerbeck [1853-1932] II, 406). Stone vessels are accordingly especially suitable for water used for purification purposes. (Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 191)Insight into these receptacles has deepened in recent times. James H. Charlesworth (b. 1940) studies:
Most commentators, intent on understanding the meaning of the pericope in which Jesus turned water into wine (John 2:1-11), have missed the importance of an oblique aside made by the evangelist: “Six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons” (John 2:6). Now, with the Temple Scroll, the longest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls, we possess a pre-70 C.E., firsthand insight into the regulations and specifications for purification. A house and everything within it, especially valuable commodities stored in pottery vessels, become impure when one who is ritually unclean enters...11QTemple 50:10-19...Excavations in the upper city of Jerusalem have unearthed large stone vessels, like the ones the evangelist notes in passing; all of them antedate the destruction of 70 and caused the excavator Nahman Avigad [1907-1992] to report, “we were astonished by the rich and attractive variety of the stone vessels.” Hence, the evangelist, who was most likely a Jew, and probably his fellow Jews–not only his sources–possessed considerable knowledge about Jewish purification rights. We now know from other areas of research that the stipulations for purification developed considerably from the time of Herod the Great [73-4 BCE] in 37 B.C.E. until the destruction of the Temple in 70 C.E. (R. Alan Culpepper [b. 1946] and C. Clifton Black [b. 1955], “The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Gospel according to John”, Exploring the Gospel of John: in honor of D. Moody Smith [b. 1931], 67-69)The archaeological record is replete with specimens which corroborate John’s account (John 2:6). Carsten Claussen (b. 1966) apprises:
Archaeologists have found such jars at many Jewish sites in Palestine, Judea, Galilee, and the Golan. They appear during the reign of Herod the Great [73-4 BCE] and quickly disappear after 70 CE. While they are widespread in Palestine, they are almost absent in the Diaspora. Recently, a few small vessels have also been found at Khirbet Cana. The jars mentioned in John 2:6-7 can be identified with large vessels, which were turned on a lathe. They could contain about 100 liters each. The Mishnah calls them kallal. Jonathan L. Reed [b. 1963] rightly stresses that, due to their sophisticated production technique, they were “luxury items.” Such luxurious jars are virtually absent in peasant villages like Capernaum, but rather frequent in rich urban sites like Sepphoris. The reader is again impressed by this rather luxurious wedding feast, crowned by an incredible 600 liters of wine, of excellent quality, in rather expensive stone vessels. (James H. Charlesworth [b. 1940] and Petr Pokorný [b. 1933], “Turning Water to Wine: Re-reading the Miracle at the Wedding in Cana”, Jesus Research: An International Perspective (Princeton-Prague Symposia Series on the Historical Jesus), 95)Archaeologist Nahman Avigad (1907-1992) recounts:
The discovery of stone vessels became a routine matter in our work, for whenever we approached a stratum of the Second Temple period, and a building which was burnt during the destruction of the city in AD 70 began revealing itself, they invariably made an appearance as well. Thus, even in the absence of other specific chronological cues, we were often able to date a structure as Herodian solely on the basis of the presence of even a single stone vessel—or even mere fragments. (Avigad, “A Depository of Inscribed Ossuaries in the Kidron Valley”, Israel Exploration Journal 12 (1962), 174)The reason stone vessels can be used in the dating of artifacts is because they represent a very specific period in the evolution of liquid storage.
Hydrologist Francis H. Chapelle (b. 1951) chronicles:
There is no lack of archaeological evidence for the use of stoneware urns as water-storage devices in the ancient world. But there is documentary evidence as well, sometimes coming from unexpected sources. In the Gospel of John, for example, the first miracle that Jesus performs is turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana [John 2:1-11]...This passage gives just the briefest hint of the role that water-storing urns played in Jewish households, and it simply confirms what archaeologists find when they excavate sites in the Middle East...The urns of Cana are an example of one of the most important water-storing technologies in human history...The introduction of glassy glazes essentially perfected the oil-, wine-, and water-storing capabilities of stoneware. It was not long before the use of these glazes, however, led to the development of a brand-new material for storing liquids. The new material was glass. (Chapelle, Wellsprings: A Natural History of Bottled Spring Waters, 69)In referencing the purification ritual, the Jews reenter the gospel’s focus (John 2:6). Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) notifies:
For readers unfamiliar with Palestinian Jewish custom, the narrator...adds the explanatory aside that the these jars were there “in keeping with the cleansing ritual of the Jews [John 2:6].” (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 96)Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) understands:
Keeping “the Jews” in his narrative space and time as he does, the Evangelist allows the reader to understand that the story about Jesus, with its denouement, takes place in “Jewish” space and time. His story is to be a Jewish story. The use of the phrase “of the Jews” in John 2:6 and John 2:13 does more, however, than simply identify Jesus’ story as a Jewish story. The usage allows the reader to gain a glimpse of the relationship between Jesus and Jewish space and time. The jugs that were available for the Jewish rites of purification are employed by Jesus as vessels in which Jesus makes available the abundance of first-quality wine that symbolizes the surfeit of gifts given at the (messianic) nuptials. (Reimund Bieringer [b. 1957], Didier Pollefeyt [b. 1965] and Frederique Vandecasteele-Vanneuville [b. 1972], “Speaking of the Jews: ‘Jews’ in the Discourse Material of the Fourth Gospel”. Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel, 159-160)Many scholars have connected the water jars with Judaism as a whole. Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) introduces:
The mention of Jewish purification (required by law) may subtly reinforce the contrast drawn by the evangelist between the law given through Moses (John 1:17) and the new messianic provision by Jesus (Adolf Schlatter [1852-1938] [1948:69] cites John 13:10). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 97)Frederick Dale Bruner (b. 1932) expounds:
The water jars themselves may have been mentioned for symbolic reasons. C.H. Dodd [1884-1973], The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, 299, believes that they “stand for the entire system of Jewish ceremonial observance — and by implication for religion upon that level, wherever it is found, as distinguished from religion upon the level of alētheia [“truth”]...Thus the first of [Jesus’] signs already symbolizes the doctrine [“the law was given through Moses; (deep) Grace and (deep) Truth came through Jesus Christ],” John 1:17. On the same page (note 2), Dodd cites Origen [184-253]’s Commentary on John, 13:62, 277-78: “And truly before Jesus the Scripture was water, but from the time of Jesus it has become wine to us.” C.K. Barrett [1917-2011], The Gospel according to St. John, 192, believes John intends symbolism in the jars: “This incident illustrates at once the poverty of the old dispensation with its merely ceremonial cleansing and the richness of the new, in which the blood of Christ is available both for cleansing (John 1:29) and for drink (John 6:53). If the initial reference to the water jars is to the supercession of Judaism, Rudolf Bultmann [1884-1976]  is right [Barrett concludes] to generalize: the water ‘stands for everything that is a substitute for the revelation, everything by which man thinks he can live and which yet fails him when put to the test.’” Comparably, Raymond E. Brown [1928-1998], The Gospel according to John 1:105. Ernst Haenchen [1894-1975], John 1:179, gives a helpful summary: “In the older rites of purification man attempted to make himself clean before God. But now, in the ‘hour,’ comes the new, the new hour of God: man does not take his own impurity away; ‘the Lamb of God’ does [that] (John 1:29, 36).” (Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, 139)This reading is far from unanimous. John A. Dennis (b. 1962) objects:
I take issue with Frédéric Manns [b. 1942]’s interpretation of the Cana symbolism: “Jean a l’intention de montrer l’imperfection de la loi juive” (L’Evangile à lumière du Judaïsme [Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Analecta 33; Jerusalem: Franciscan Press, 1991], 103). This assessment is followed by Mary L. Coloe [b. 1949] , God Dwells with Us, 69: “At the wedding of Cana, the six jars of water point to the inadequacy of Israel’s religious institutions, an inadequacy now brought to perfection by the coming of the true bridegroom.” There is nothing in the text that would support this kind of over-expectation. The text, with its symbolism, simply argues that Jesus is bringing the expectations of the messianic age to their intended climax. There is a sense in which these Jewish expectations do not reach their intended fulfillment until the messianic age, which for John is the advent of Jesus, but this idea is not substantially different from other Jewish messianic expectations, namely, that only in the messianic era will the expectations reach their climax. The difference between John’s view and other Jewish views is clear: in Jesus the Messiah the hopes and promises engendered by the Prophets are being fulfilled. The language of “inadequacy” is misleading therefore. (Dennis, Jesus’ Death and the Gathering of True Israel: The Johannine Appropriation of Restoration Theology in the Light of John 11:47-52, 166)Peter-Ben Smit (b. 1979) advises:
It seems...preferable not to read too much into the apparent emphasis on the Jewish character of the six stone vessels in John 2:6, as it is part of John’s style to refer to anything Jewish as explicitly Jewish without necessarily characterizing it negatively. As neither “Jewishness” nor purification are of central importance in John 2:1-11, the note that these large stone vessels belong to Jewish rites, should be taken as explanatory. The same might be true of the note as a whole: its function is simply to explain why the vessels are there. (Jan Krans, Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte [b. 1963], Smit and Arie Zwiep [b. 1964], “Alternative Patronage in John 2:1-11?”, Paul, John, and Apocalyptic Eschatology: Studies in Honour of Martinus C. de Boer [b. 1947], 154)Reading the ceremonial jars as representative of Judaism can even be dangerous. Lamar Williamson, Jr. (b. 1926) cautions:
Some interpreters, focusing on the six stone jars for the Jewish rites of purification (John 2:6) have seen here a story about the changing of the water of Jewish ritual into the wine of the gospel. The theme of the rejection of Judaism and its replacement by Christianity (supersessionism), so common to much patristic biblical interpretation, has led to unspeakable atrocities against the Jewish people through the centuries. In the text, “the miracle is...neither a rejection nor a replacement of the old, but the creation of something new in the midst of Judaism.” In today’s world, a supersessionist interpretation of the text is inappropriate, even inexcusable. (Williamson, Preaching the Gospel of John: Proclaiming the Living Word, 27-28)If one chooses to connect the water pots with the religion they serve, it is worth remembering that Jesus does not destroy the jars but rather recommissions them (John 2:6-10).
Ian D. Mackay (b. 1936) characterizes:
John’s changing of water to wine reflects his more positive, fulfillment approach to the Jewish religion - the six purification water parts are not destroyed but filled with something ‘absolutely’ superior [John 2:6-10]. (Mackay, John’s Relationship with Mark: An Analysis of John 6 in the Light of Mark 6-8, 97)The text also notes the quantity of the water pots: There are a half dozen of these vessels present at the wedding (John 2:6). This number represents an abundance.
Bruce J. Malina (b. 1933) and Richard L. Rohrbaugh (b. 1936) brief:
Most village families would have had no more than one such jar (which held about twenty gallons), hence the presence of six stone jars may indicate that others have been borrowed from neighbors for the occasion. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, 69)Kenneth E. Bailey (b. 1930) concurs:
If we reject allegory and assume an authentic detail in John 2:6, we would have there an illustration of jars gathered from the neighbors for the large gathering. The average family would have only one. (Bailey, Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke, 123)C.H. Dodd (1884-1973) footnotes:
In early Christian art the six waterpots regularly balance the five, or seven, loaves in symbolic allusions to the Eucharist. (Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel, 224)Some have read the number six allegorically. Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) mentions:
The number six may signify incompletion or labor. Six is the number of days God works before resting on the Sabbath [Genesis 1:1-31]. (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 57)When the numeral is associated with incompleteness it is also connected with Judaism. Leon Morris (1914-2006) discusses:
Some commentators find symbolism in the number six [John 2:6]. The Jews saw seven as the perfect number, and six accordingly was short of perfection and thus lacking, incomplete. The six pots are then held to symbolize Judaism as imperfect. There may be something in this, but a strong objection is that the narrative contains nothing that would symbolize completeness, which would surely be required to correspond to the incomplete. Jesus does not create or produce a seventh pot. (Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), 160-61)Francis J. Moloney (b. 1940) deliberates:
Along with many others, C.K. Barrett [1917-2011] rejects this suggestion, as he claims Jesus does not create a seventh jar to bring the number to perfection (The Gospel according to St. John, 191). This misses the point. The narrator merely wishes to indicate that Judaism, along with its rituals, falls short of fullness. On this, see Marie-Émile Boismard [1916-2004], Moïse ou Jésus; Essai de Christologie Johannique (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, 84; Leuven: University Press, 1988) 56. The good wine (John 2:10) created by openness (John 2:5: the mother) and obedience to the word of Jesus (John 2:7-8: the attendants) provides that fullness. (Moloney, Belief in the Word: Reading John 1-4, 85)Some have seen the entire story as pertaining to incompleteness (John 2:1-10). Joseph A. Grassi (1922-2010) connects:
These two verses [John 2:6-7] have a strong emphasis on filling or completion. The number six...is a familiar symbol of incompletion in the bible [John 2:6]. The jars themselves hold an enormous quantity of water, but they are still far short of their capacity. At Jesus’ order they are filled [John 2:7]. The execution of the command is carefully noted: “they filled them to the brim [John 2:7]”. Jesus brings them to overflowing capacity. The Greek of John 2:6 literally reads that the jars held from two to three measures [John 2:6]. The work of Jesus is to fulfill the Father’s design to give the Spirit without any measure: “It is not by measure that he gives the Spirit” (John 3:34). The Pentecostal account in Acts also emphasizes this filling by the Spirit: “They were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:4); they were filled or drunk with new wine (Acts 2:13); it is the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh (Acts 2:17); it is an overflowing gift that goes out from the disciples to believers in the crowd; Peter tells them that if they repent and believe, they will receive the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38). (David E. Orton, “The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11): A Pentecostal Meditation?”, The Composition of John’s Gospel: Selected Studies from Novum Testamentum, 127)Throughout the centuries, expositors have made use of the number six (John 2:6). Ray E. Atwood (b. 1966) documents:
An interesting interpretation that Bernard [of Clairvaux, 1090-1153] uses, typical of medieval preachers, is the symbolic meaning of the six stone water jars at the Wedding Feast of Cana (John 2:6). Bernard explains them in terms of six steps of repentance (since they were used for purification): (1) sorrow for sin; (2) confession of sin; (3) the generous giving of alms; (4) forgiving those who sin against us; (5) the mortification of our flesh; and (6) new obedience (Bernard, In Epiphania, Sermo V, 4)...In another sermon, this one for monks, Bernard interprets the water jars as symbolizing: (1) chastity, (2) fasting, (3) manual labor, (4) keeping of vigils, (5) silence, and (6) obedience (Bernard, In Epiphania Sermo VI, 7). (Atwood, Masters of Preaching: The Most Poignant and Powerful Homilists in Church History, 170)The six stone water pots each have a capacity of two to three measures (John 2:6). This has been rendered “two or three firskins” (ASV, KJV) which most contemporary translations convert to “twenty or thirty gallons (CEV, ESV, HCSB, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NRSV, RSV). Though the six vessels may not have been uniform, each represents a warehouse club size, larger than most modern kegs. This abundance might be characterized by the Coneheads as “mass quantities”.
Jo-Ann A. Brant (b. 1956) considers:
It is not clear if the total volume is two to three measures or if each jar holds that amount, making the total twelve to eighteen measures [John 2:6]. A measure is about nine English gallons, so whatever the volume it is copious. (Brant, John (Paideia: Commentaries on the New Testament), 57)Gerald L. Borchert (b. 1932) calculates:
This segment of the story begins with a notation that there were present six large stone jars used in Jewish water purification rites, each capable of containing between two and three measures (John 2:6), each measure by calculation being roughly between eight and nine gallons. Each jar therefore contained somewhere between sixteen and twenty-seven gallons (the NIV “twenty to thirty gallons” in very close). Obviously these six jars could contain an immense amount of water (Borchert, John 1-11 (New American Commentary), 156)The Greek term for measures is metrētēs (John 2:6). C.K. Barrett (1917-2011) develops:
In classical usage the μετρητής was a measure equivalent to the ἀμφορεύς, a liquid measure of ‘1½ Roman amphorae or nearly nine gallons’ (Henry G. Liddell [1811-1898] and Robert Scott [1811-1887] s.v. ἀμφορεύς). In the Septuagint μετρητής renders the Hebrew בת (bath) an almost identical measure. Each waterpot therefore contained 18-24 gallons; say 120 gallons in all. (Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 192)Merrill C. Tenney (1904-1985) updates:
The combined capacity of the waterpots was about 150 gallons. Reckoning a half pint to a glass, these vessels would contain about 2400 servings of wine—certainly enough to supply a large number of people for several days. In quality and quantity the new-made wine more than satisfied the needs and taste of those who attended the feast. (Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief, 83)These pots would be heavy when filled. A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds meaning that the jar’s contents alone measure between 166.8-250.2 pounds.
Robert L. Deffinbaugh (b. 1943) imagines:
We would have to agree that these stone waterpots would be heavy when empty, and even heavier yet when full (the weight of the water alone in a full pot would be about 200 pounds). It does not appear Jesus intended for the servants to carry these pots away, dump them, refill them, and then carry them back. They are far too heavy for this, especially when filled with water. (Deffinbaugh, That You Might Believe: Study on the Gospel of John, 66)Given the brimming state of these water pots, the amount of wine produced is excessive (John 2:7). Gail R. O’Day (b. 1954) and Susan E. Hylen (b. 1968) reveal:
The quantity and capacity of the stone jars...is unusual, even for a large wedding, and their description enhances the extravagance of the miracle (John 2:6). Jesus turns an abundance of water into wine. (O’Day and Hylen, John (Westminster Bible Companion), 36)The sheer volume could also serve to validate the miracle. Beauford H. Bryant (1923-1997) and Mark S. Krause (b. 1955) discern:
Their total content was...from 120 to 180 gallons [John 2:6]. Jesus had the servants of the feast fill them completely with water [John 2:7]. No one could therefore say that Jesus’ power was limited so that he could perform on only one or two of the jars. Likewise, he had each jar filled to its brim, so no one could assert that some magic potion was added by him to the water. When God performs a special work he does an adequate job of it! (Bryant and Krause, John (College Press NIV Commentary), 73)Some have seen the vessels’ immense capacity as suggestive of the wealth of the wedding party. Andreas J. Köstenberger (b. 1957) suspects:
A large number of wedding guests must be accommodated for the course of an entire week of festivities. “The fact that there were servants, and more than one, indicates that the family was in at least comfortable if not opulent circumstances” (Lyman Abbott [1835-1922] 1879:30; cf. Roland Deines [b. 1961] 1993:25 n.39). (Köstenberger, John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), 96-97)Such excess is typical of John’s gospel which in modern parlance depicts Jesus exercising a “go big or go home” mentality. Robert Kysar (1934-2013) reads:
Their capacity suggests the enormity of the wonder about to be performed [John 2:6]. While John narrates fewer wonder stories than his canonical colleagues, each of his is remarkable by virtue of the extent of the wonder (e.g., the blind man of chapter 9 has been blind from birth [John 9:1, 2, 3]; in chapter 11 Lazarus has been dead for three days [John 11:17, 39]). (Kysar, John (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament), 46)Graham H. Twelftree (b. 1950) agrees:
The most obvious feature of the miracle stories in the Fourth Gospel is that they are few and take up little space. Yet they dominate the Fourth Gospel because they are spectacular and relatively uncommon. The Cana story of water into wine is a miracle of immense proportions: six jars of twenty or thirty gallons of water each are turned into wine (John 2:6). The paralytic at Bethesda had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years but was immediately made well merely by Jesus’ word (John 5:5, 9). The story of Lazarus is self-evidently stupendous, not least because he had been in the tomb four days (John 11:39). (Robert T. Fortna [b. 1930] and Tom Thatcher [b. 1967], “Exorcisms in the Fourth Gospel and Synoptics”, Jesus in Johannine Tradition, 137-38)Carsten Claussen (b. 1966) supports:
Six stone water jars full of the best wine are certainly more than one may deem necessary [John 2:6], and the fact that the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftover pieces from the five barley loaves suggests that this multiplication surely went over the top as well [John 6:13]. Similarly, the 153 large fish of John 21:11 was certainly more than the seven disciples and Jesus needed as their “daily bread”. Clearly, in the fourth gospel there is not only one “miracle in the service of luxury”—as David Friedrich Strauss [1808-1874] once commented on the wine miracle at Cana (1860, 2:585)—but at least three of them. (Francisco Lozada, Jr. [b. 1965] and Tom Thatcher [b. 1967], “The Role of John 21: Discipleship in Retrospect and Redefinition”, New Currents Through John: A Global Perspective, 63)As is often Jesus’ habit, scarcity is answered with abundance.
The excess of wine has often been seen as an early indicator of Messianic fulfillment. Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) reminds:
The prophets had foretold of an abundance of wine in messianic days; and the abundance of wine at Cana [John 2:6-7]...would bring these prophecies to mind and point to the messianic nature of Jesus’ mission. In this messianic framework the wine represents his wisdom and teaching. (Brown, The Gospel and Epistles of John: A Concise Commentary, 29)Richard A. Burridge (b. 1955) annotates:
The prodigious amount has invited comparisons between Jesus and the Greek god of wine, Dionysus. Various stories are told of bowls being miraculously filled with wine in his temple at Elis, or of a fountain flowing with wine in his temple at Andros. In fact, we do not need to go so far afield for inspiration. The prophet Amos uses the images of ‘the mountains dripping with sweet wine and the hills flowing with it’ for the great Day of the Lord to come, and similar examples of wine as a sign of so-called ‘messianic abundance’ can be found in other Hebrew prophets (Amos 9:13; Hosea 14:7; Jeremiah 31:12). Isaiah looks forward to the Lord giving a huge party, ‘a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines’(Isaiah 25:6) and likens God’s rejoicing over his people to a wedding (Isaiah 62:4-5). Jesus uses this image of a wedding banquet for the kingdom of heaven in his parable of a marriage feast and those who refused the invitation (Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:15-24), and he likens himself to the bridegroom in Mark 2:19. All of this, says the fourth evangelist, is being inaugurated in the here and now as Jesus begins his ministry at this wedding feast in Cana [John 2:1-11]. (Burridge, John (Daily Bible Commentary: A Guide for Reflection and Prayer), 48)Mavis M. Leung (b. 1970) reinforces:
The act of Jesus miraculously converting six jars of water into choice wine (John 2:1-10), within a festive ambiance, evokes the Jewish hopes for a messianic era. In both biblical and extra-biblical Jewish traditions, profuse wine is a motif associated with eschatological bliss (e.g., Isaiah 25:6; Jeremiah 31:12; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13-14; Hosea 14:7; Sibylline Oracles 3:620-23, 744-49). The image of copious wine appears in Jacob’s blessing to Judah in Genesis 49:8-12, a text that is read messianically in Second Temple Judaism (cf. 4Q252 V, 1-7; 1QSb V, 29; Targum Onqelos Genesis). In II Baruch 29:5-7, the messianic age is characterized by the delightful boon of abundant wine (cf. I Enoch 10:9). During the first and second Jewish revolts (66-70 CE, 132-135 CE), which were to some extent incited by royal-messianic ambitions, various symbols pertinent to wine (e.g., vine, grape, and wine cup/pitcher) were minted on Jewish coins. In view of the “wine” symbol’s messianic associations and John’s stated intent (John 20:30-31), the Cana “sign most probably has the function of authenticating Jesus’ messiahship. (Leung, The Kingship-Cross Interplay in the Gospel of John: Jesus Death as Corroboration of His Royal Messiahship, 82-83)Jesus’ converting water into wine provides an early glimpse into his power (John 2:1-11). John characterizes it as a “sign” (John 2:11) and this marker points to Jesus’ true identity: the Messiah, the long awaited Christ.
If the wedding party is wealthy, what does this say of Jesus’ family’s social circle? In filling religious implements with wine is Jesus mixing the sacred and the profane? In doing so does he defile religious vessels? Why does Jesus produce so much wine? Did the wedding guests actually consume all of it? What is the greatest quantity of beverages you have seen at a celebration? What does transforming water into wine indicate about Jesus? As this miracle is borne out of circumstance, does Jesus intend symbolic meaning in its implementation?
In utilizing the stone jars, Jesus uses a “weapon of opportunity” (John 2:6). He does not simply produce wine out of thin air, an ex nihilo creation as in the creation of the world (Genesis 1:1-31). Instead, he takes what is there and works with it.
In doing this, Jesus transforms not only the contents of the water pots but also the purpose of the receptacles themselves. Thomas L. Brodie (b. 1940) contemplates:
The six stone jars which he uses had once been used for another form of re-freshment—Jewish purification [John 2:6]. In other words, for the cleansing of faults and impurities (John 2:6). Cleansing is no mean achievement, but it tends to focus on the negative. Jesus, is offering something that is overwhelmingly positive. (Brodie, The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary, 172)Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) applauds:
We are in the midst of an event which is under the law. Six great stone jars holding twenty to thirty gallons of water each stand there as a reminder of this fact [John 2:6]. The water is for the rites of purification required by the law—part of the whole ritual apparatus which is provided to keep Israel as a nation consecrated for the Lord in the midst of a world which is defiled by sin. Purification is a negative action. The water removes uncleanness but does not give the fulness of joy. What the law cannot supply Jesus will give—in superabundance. The action of Jesus is free, sovereign, and surpassing any mere rectification of a defect. It is the coming into experience of that which is really new—the “new wine” of the kingdom of God (Mark 2:22). It is an act of the overflowing majesty of the Creator. (Newbigin, The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel, 27-28)This act has an effect on the way religion will be experienced. Michael A. Daise (b. 1956) analyzes:
During the wedding at Cana, the empty stone jars at John 2:6-7 show ritual purity at that juncture to be the result of a physical rite effected by water. But, by Jesus’ vine and branches metaphor in the Farewell Discourse, “cleanness” has become the result of a verbal act effected by Jesus’ speech – “You are already clean, because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3)...The dynamic in question may be what Catherine Bell [1953-2008] labels “ritual transformation”: not the creation of new rites ex nihilo (which Bell dubs “ritual invention” ), but the modification of traditional rites into new forms and aims. Applied to the Fourth Gospel, it seems that, in the liminal period that occurs between the first Passover, when the Jesus’ ‘hour’ is introduced [John 2:4, 4:21, 23, 5:25, 28, 7:30, 8:20], and the last Passover, when it arrives, Jewish rituals are being gradually transformed into metaphorized counterparts; and these, in turn, form the framework for a new, distinctly Johannine (ritual) system. (Daise, Feasts in John: Jewish Festivals and Jesus’ “Hour” in the Fourth Gospel, 174)Jesus is a game changer on many fronts. In this instance, he begins to shift the way that religion is performed. In this regard, the method Jesus uses to change water into wine not only indicates who he is but what he has come to do. It is a fitting first sign (John 2:11).
Why does Jesus use this particular methodology when changing water into wine (John 2:6-10)? Why did Jesus not simply make the wine materialize or reuse the receptacles from the first batch of wine? What does it say of Jesus that he uses what is there as opposed to discarding it and creating something new? Would you rather fix something broken or simply replace it? When has an action epitomized the values of its actor?
“In the Talmud, it is specified how much water is needed for the rites of purification. Only about a cup of water was necessary to purify a hundred men. But here, in this story, there is well over a hundred gallons of water! That is enough water to purify the entire world!...Get it? Jesus is that purifying water which is available in enough quantity for the whole world.” - William H. Willimon (b. 1946), “Some Saw Glory”, unpublished sermon preached January 18, 1998, at the Duke University Chapel