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Exegetical Commentary on John 2

OUTLINE:

    3 A The Book of the Seven Signs (2:1 - 12:50)

      1. Water changed into wine (2:1-11)

      2. Cure of the nobleman’s son (4:46-54)

      3. Cure of the paralytic (5:1-18)

      4. Feeding of the multitude (6:6-13)

      5. Walking on the water (6: 16-21)

      6. Cure of the man born blind (9:1-7)

      7. Resurrection of Lazarus (11:1-45)

      1 B The early months of Jesus’ public ministry: from Cana to Cana (2:1-4:54)

        1 C Water into Wine: the first Sign at Cana in Galilee (2:1-11)

        2 C To Capernaum (2:12)

        3 C To Jerusalem: the first Passover (2:13-3:36)

          1 D Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22)

          2 D A Public Response to Jesus: Trust without Trustworthiness (2:23-25)

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Buse, I., “The Cleansing of the Temple in the Synoptics and in John,” ET 70 (1958/59): 22-24.

Derrett, J. D. M., “Water into Wine,” Biblische Zeitschrift 7 (1963): 80-97.

Epstein, V., “The Historicity of the Gospel Account of the Cleansing of the Temple,” Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 55 (1964): 42-58.

Hodges, Z. C., “Problem Passages in the Gospel of John, Part 2: Untrustworthy Believers—John 2:23-25,” Bib Sac 135 (1978): 139-52.

Howard, W. F., “The Position of the Temple Cleansing in the Fourth Gospel,” ET 44 (1933): 84-85.

Lightfoot, R. H., “Unresolved New Testament Problems—The Cleansing of the Temple in St. John’s Gospel,” ET 60 (1948/49): 64-68.

DETAILED EXEGETICAL NOTES:

    3 A The Book of the Seven Signs (2:1 - 12:50)

      1 B The early months of Jesus’ public ministry: from Cana to Cana (2:1-4:54)

        1 C Water into Wine: the first Sign at Cana in Galilee (2:1-11)

2:1 th'/ hJmevra/ th'/ trivth/—this is probably a reference to the 3rd day after the last recorded events, the call of Philip and Nathanael (1:43-51). An interesting point is that if one does take the events of chapter 1 to fill the first week of Jesus’ public ministry, and as such to constitute a parallel with Genesis 1 (the old creation versus the new creation) then the wedding at Cana would take place on the 7th day.

We should probably not push the symbolism of the 7th day too far, but it is worth considering. Gen 2:2-3 states that “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” [NIV]. In later rabbinic thought [post-NT] the age of the world was divided up into 6 millennia. The 7th millennium was to be the Age of Messiah. Something similar may be behind Heb 4:9, “There remains yet a Sabbath rest for the people of God.”

KanaV th'" Galilaiva" This was not a very well-known place. It is mentioned only here, in 4:46, and 21:2, and nowhere else in the New Testament. Josephus (Life 86) says he once had his quarters there. Probable location: present day Khirbet Cana (14 km north of Nazareth) or Khirbet Kenna (7 km northeast of Nazareth).

2:1-2 We have no clue to the identity of the bride and groom, but in all probability either relatives or friends of Jesus’ family were involved; the presence of Mary and the invitation to Jesus and his disciples suggests this, as does the attitude of Mary in approaching Jesus and asking him to do something when the wine ran out.

Note: Mary, the mother of Jesus, is never mentioned by name in the Fourth Gospel. The connection between Mary and the ‘beloved disciple’ at the foot of the cross (19:26-27) may explain this silence, especially if the beloved disciple is the author of the gospel (as we believe).

2:3 levgei hJ mhvthr tou' =Ihsou' proV" aujtovn On the backgrounds of this miracle J. D. M. Derrett, an expert in Oriental law, points out among other things the strong element of reciprocity about weddings in the Ancient Near East: it was possible in certain circumstances to take legal action against the man who failed to provide an appropriate wedding gift.58 The bridegroom and family here might have been involved in a financial liability for failing to provide adequately for their guests.

Was Mary asking for a miracle? There is no evidence that Jesus had worked any miracles prior to this (although this amounts to an argument from silence). Some think Mary was only reporting the situation, or (as Calvin thought) asking Jesus to give some godly exhortations to the guests and thus relieve the bridegroom’s embarassment.

But the words, and the reply of Jesus in verse 4, seem to imply more. It is not inconceivable that Mary, who had probably been witness to the events of the preceding days, or at least was aware of them, knew that her son’s public career was beginning. She also knew the supernatural events surrounding his birth, and the prophetic words of the angel, and of Simeon and Anna in the Temple at Jesus’ dedication. In short, she had good reason to believe Jesus to be the Messiah, and now his public ministry had begun. In this kind of context, her request does seem more significant.

2:4 guvnai (Jesus’ reply to his mother): According to Liddell-Scott-Jones the vocative is “a term of respect or affection”.59 It is Jesus’ normal, polite way of addressing women (Matt 15:28, Luke 13:12; in John, 4:21, 8:10, 19:26 and 20:15). But it is unusual for a son to address his mother with this term. The custom in both Hebrew (or Aramaic) and Greek would be for a son to use a qualifying adjective or title.

Is there significance in Jesus’ use here? Most likely. It probably indicates that a new relationship exists between Jesus and his mother once he has embarked on his public ministry. He is no longer or primarily only her son, but the “Son of Man”. This is also suggested by the use of the same term in 19:26 in the scene at the cross, where the Beloved Disciple is “given” to Mary as her “new” son.

tiv ejmoiVV kaiV soiv, guvnai… (literally, “What to me and to you, woman?”) This phrase is a semiticism. The Hebrew expression in the Old Testament had two basic meanings:

(1) When one person was unjustly bothering another, the injured party could say “What to me and to you?” meaning, “What have I done to you that you should do this to me?” Examples: Judges 11:12, 2 Chr 35:21, 1 Kings 17:18.

(2) When someone was asked to get involved in a matter he felt was no business of his, he could say to the one asking him, “What to me and to you?” meaning, “That is your business, how am I involved?” Examples: 2 Kings 3:13, Hosea 14:8.

Meaning (1) implies hostility, meaning (2) merely disengagement. Meaning (2) is almost certainly to be understood here as better fitting the context (although some of the Greek Fathers took the remark as a rebuke to Mary; I feel such a rebuke is unlikely).

ou[pw h{kei hJ w{ra mou In the immediate context the meaning is clearly “It is not yet time for me to act.” But John uses w{ra with greater significance: see the following Note.

A Note on the Use of w{ra in the Gospel of John:

The word w{ra (literally, “hour”; NET “time”) occurs in the Gospel of John in 2:4, 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28, 29; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:25; and 17:1. It is best seen as a reference to the special period in Jesus’ life when he is to leave this world and return to the Father (13:1); the hour when the Son of man is glorified (17:1). This is accomplished through his suffering, death, resurrection (and ascension—though this is not emphasized by John). 7:30 and 8:20 imply that Jesus’ arrest and death are included. 12:23 and 17:1, referring to the glorification of the Son, imply that the resurrection and ascension are included as part of the “hour”. In 2:4 Jesus’ remark to his mother indicates that the time for this self-manifestation has not yet arrived; his identity as Messiah is not yet to be publicly revealed.

2:6 livqinai uJdrivai e}x Significantly, these stone jars held water for Jewish purification rituals. The water of Jewish ritual purification becomes the wine of the new Messianic Age (on the Messianic Age, cf. chronology of chapter 1 and the note above at 2:1).

It may also be, after the fashion of Johannine double meanings, a reference to the wine of the Lord’s Supper. A number have suggested this, but there does not seem to me to be anything in the immediate context which compels this; it seems more related to the frequency of references to the sacraments which a given exegete sees in the gospel as a whole.

Each of the pots held 2 or 3 metrhtai. A metrhth'" (literally, “measure”) was approximately 9 gallons (39.39 liters); thus each jar held 18-27 gallons (78.8-118.2 liters) and the total volume of liquid involved was 108-162 gallons (472.7-709 liters)!

2:8 ajntlhvsate Because the verb ajntlevw is normally the one for drawing water from a well, some (e.g. Westcott) have insisted that the water taken to the chief steward was drawn not from the water-pots but from a well. But according to Liddell-Scott-Jones the word is related to a[ntlo", “bilge-water,” and the first meaning is “to bale out a ship.”60 The verb is used quite generally of drawing water, and it even has figurative senses. Therefore, there is no linguistic reason for insisting on a well as the source of this water. R. Brown thinks those who advance this suggestion are really uncomfortable with such a large quantity of water (see 2:6) being changed to wine; perhaps he is right.61

A Note on the Purpose of the Narrative: Changing the Water into Wine

Many questions are unanswered in the account as John presents it. The conversation between Jesus and his mother appears incomplete. Did she persist in her request in spite of his initial refusal? What did she expect Jesus to do? Catholics have often appealed to this passage to support the power of Mary’s intercession. But this is certainly not the point intended by the author of the Gospel as the reason he includes the account in the narrative.

The author gives the point of the story, as far as he is concerned, in 2:11. He tells us what the sign accomplished: through it Jesus revealed his “glory” and his disciples believed in him. Thus, the first sign has the same purpose that all the following signs will have: revelation about the person of Jesus. Scholarly interpretations to the contrary, John does not put primary emphasis on the replacing of the water for Jewish purification, or on the change from water to wine, or even on the resulting wine. John does not focus on Mary and her intercession, nor on why she made the request or whether she pursued it further after Jesus’ initial response. John does not focus on the reaction of the master of the feast or the bridegroom. The primary focus, as for all the Johannine stories, is on Jesus as the One sent by the Father to bring salvation to the world. What shines through is his dovxa, and the only reaction emphasized is that of his disciples when they believed in him.

But this raises one major interpretive question which we need to attempt to answer: how did the miracle at Cana reveal the dovxa of Jesus?

This may be answered under 2 categories:

(1) How would the miracle at Cana reveal the dovxa of Jesus to the intended readers of the gospel, in the context of the developing narrative? and

(2) How did the miracle reveal the dovxa of Jesus to the disciples who were witnesses of it?

As for (1), the Evangelist informs his readers in 2:11 that this was the beginning of signs, and by this indicates that the incident at Cana is to be connected with what follows in the Book of the Seven Signs (2:1-12:50). (For a listing of the signs, see the outline at the beginning of this chapter.)

R. Brown states:

…one of the themes of Part II (chs. ii-iv) is the replacement of Jewish institutions and religious views; and Part iii (chs. v-x) is dominated by Jesus’ actions and discourses on the occasion of Jewish feasts, often again by way of replacing the motif of the feasts. Jesus is the real Temple; the Spirit he gives will replace the necessity of worshiping at Jerusalem; his doctrine and his flesh and blood will give life in a way that the manna associated with the exodus from Egypt did not; at Tabernacles, not the rain-making ceremony but Jesus himself supplies the living water; not the illumination in the temple court but Jesus himself is the real light; on the feast of Dedication, not the temple altar but Jesus himself is consecrated by God. In view of this consistent theme of replacement, it seems obvious that, in introducing Cana as the first in a series of signs to follow, the evangelist intends to call attention to the replacement of the water prescribed for Jewish purification by the choicest of wines. This replacement is a sign of who Jesus is, namely the one sent by the Father who is now the only way to the Father. All previous religious institutions, customs and feasts lose meaning in his presence.62

But (2) how are the disciples who were present supposed to have seen the manifestation of Jesus’ glory without the benefit of seeing the replacement theme worked out in the entire earthly ministry of Jesus?

Brown again states:

…some of the symbols are familiar and meaningful scriptural symbols that would have been known to the disciples. The dramatic action is set in the context of a wedding; in the OT (Isa liv 4-8, lxii 4-5) this is used to symbolize the messianic days, and both the wedding and the banquet are symbols on which Jesus drew (Matt viii 11, xxxii 1-14; Luke xxii 16-18). The wedding appears as a symbol of messianic fulfillment in another Johannine work, Rev xix 9. Another symbol at Cana is the replacement of water with choice wine, better than the wine the guests had been drinking. In the Synoptic tradition, seemingly in the context of a wedding feast (Mark ii 19), we find Jesus using the symbolism of new wine in old wineskins in order to compare his new teaching with the customs of the Pharisees. …Thus the headwaiter’s statement at the end of the scene, “You have kept the choice wine until now,” can be understood as the proclamation of the coming of the messianic days. In the light of this theme Mary’s statement, “They have no wine,” becomes a poignant reflection on the barrenness of Jewish purifications, much in the vein of Mark vii 1-24.63

The abundance of wine…now becomes intelligible. One of the consistent OT figures for the joy of the final days is an abundance of wine (Amos ix 13-14; Hos xiv 7; Jer xxxi 12). Enoch x 19 predicts that the vine shall yield wine in abundance; and in II Bar xxix 5 (a Jewish apocryphon almost contemporary with the Fourth Gospel) we find an exuberantly fantastic description of this abundance: the earth shall yield its fruit ten thousandfold; each vine shall have 1000 branches; each branch 1000 clusters; each cluster 1000 grapes; and each grape about 120 gallons of wine [cf. the quantity of wine in John 2! —my note ]. (Irenaeus Adv. Haer. v 33:3-4…attributes this passage to Papias of Hierapolis who is intimately associated with the early traditions about John.)

Through such symbolism the Cana miracle could have been understood by the disciples as a sign of the messianic times and the new dispensation, much in the same manner that they would have understood Jesus’ statement about the new wine in the Synoptic tradition. [emphasis mine]

        2 C To Capernaum (2:12)

2:12 Verse 12 is merely a transitional note in the narrative (although Capernaum does not lie on the direct route to Jerusalem from Cana). Nothing is mentioned in John’s gospel at this point about anything Jesus said or did there (although later his teaching is mentioned, see John 6:59). From the synoptics we learn Capernaum was a center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry and might even be called “his own city” (Matt 9:1). The nobleman whose son Jesus healed (John 4:46-54) was from Capernaum. He may have heard Jesus speak there, or picked up the story about the miracle at Cana from one of Jesus’ disciples. We can only speculate.

As far as the reference to Jesus brothers, the so-called Helvidian view is to be preferred (so called after Helvidius, a fourth century theologian). This is the view that the most natural way to understand the phrase is as a reference to children of Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus. Other views are that of Epiphanus (they were children of Joseph by a former marriage) or Jerome (they were cousins). The tradition of Mary’s perpetual virginity appeared in the second century and is difficult to explain (as R. Brown points out) if some of her other children were prominent members of the early church (e.g. James of Jerusalem). But this is outweighed by the natural sense of the words.

        3 C To Jerusalem: the first Passover (2:13-3:36)

          1 D Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (2:13-22)

2:13 KaiV ejgguV" h toV pavsca tw'n =Ioudaivwn This is first of at least three (and possibly four) Passovers mentioned in John’s Gospel. If we assume the Passovers appear in the Gospel in their chronological order (and if H. Hoehner’s date of a.d. 33 for the crucifixion is accurate), this would be the Passover of the spring of a.d. 30, the first of Jesus’ public ministry. There is a clear reference to another Passover in 6:4, and still another Passover in 11:55 (mentioned again in 12:1, 13:1, 18:28, 39, and 19:14). The last one would be the Passover of a.d. 33. There is a possibility that 5:1 also refers to a Passover, in which case it would be the second of Jesus’ public ministry (a.d. 31), while 6:4 would refer to the third (a.d. 32) and the remaining references to the final Passover at the time of the crucifixion.

It is entirely possible, however, that we are not intended to understand the Passovers occurring in the Fourth Gospel as listed in chronological sequence. If (as we have suggested) the material of the Fourth Gospel originally existed in the form of homilies or sermons by the Apostle John on the life and ministry of Jesus, the present arrangement would not have to be in strict chronological order (it does not explicitly claim to be). In this case the Passover mentioned in 2:13, for example, might actually be later in Jesus’ public ministry than it might at first glance appear. This leads us, however, to a discussion of an even greater problem in the passage, the relationship of the Temple cleansing in John’s Gospel to the similar account in the synoptic gospels:

A Note on the Cleansing of the Temple (2:13-17):

Is this the same event as the synoptic gospels describe, or a separate event?

The other accounts of the cleansing of the Temple are Matt 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; and Luke 19:45-46. None are as long as the Johannine account. The fullest of the synoptic accounts is Mark’s. John’s account differs from Mark’s in the mention of sheep and oxen, the mention of the whip of cords, the word kermatisth'" for “money-changer” (the synoptics use kollubisth'", which John mentions in 2:15), the “pouring out” of the money (2:15), and the command by Jesus “Take these things from here.” The word for “overturned” in John is ajnastrefw, while Matthew and Mark use katastrefw (Luke does not mention the moneychangers at all). The synoptics all mention that Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 followed by Jer 7:11. John mentions no citation of scripture at all, but says that later the disciples remembered Ps 69:9. John does not mention, as does Mark, Jesus’ prohibition on carrying things through the Temple (i.e., using it for a short-cut). But the most important difference is one of time: In John the cleansing appears as the first great public act of Jesus’ ministry, while in the synoptics it is virtually the last.

The most common solution of the problem, which has been endlessly discussed among New Testament scholars, is to say there was only one cleansing, and that it took place, as the synoptics record it, at the end of Jesus’ ministry. In the synoptics it appears to be the event that finalized the opposition of the high priest, and precipitated the arrest of Jesus. According to this view, John’s placing of the event at the opening of Jesus’ ministry is due to his general approach; it was fitting ‘theologically’ for Jesus to open his ministry this way, so this is the way John records it.

Some have overstated the case for one cleansing and John’s placing of it at the opening of Jesus’ public ministry, however. For example William Barclay, The Gospel of John, states: “John, as someone has said, is more interested in the truth than in the facts. He was not interested to tell men when Jesus cleansed the Temple; he was supremely interested in telling men that Jesus did cleanse the Temple” (loc. cit., emphasis mine).

But this is not the impression one gets by a reading of Johns gospel: he seems to go out of his way to give details and facts, including notes of time and place. To argue as Barclay does that John is interested in truth apart from the facts is to set up a false dichotomy.

Why should one have to assume, in any case, that there could have been only one cleansing of the Temple? This account in John is found in a large section of non-synoptic material. Apart from the work of John the Baptist—and even this is markedly different from the references in the synoptics—nothing else in the first five chapters of John’s gospel is found in any of the synoptics. It is certainly not impossible that John took one isolated episode from the conclusion of Jesus earthly ministry and inserted it into his own narrative in a place which seemed appropriate according to his purposes. But in view of the differences between John and the synoptics, in both wording and content, as well as setting and time, it is at least possible that the event in question actually occurred twice (unless one begins with the presupposition that the Fourth Gospel is non-historical anyway).

In support of two separate cleansings of the Temple, it has been suggested that Jesus’ actions on this occasion were not permanent in their result, and after (probably) 3 years the status quo in the Temple courts had returned to normal. And at this time early in Jesus’ ministry, he was virtually unknown. Such an action as he took on this occasion would have created a stir, and evoked the response John records in 2:18-22, but that is probably about all, especially if Jesus’ actions met with approval among part of the populace. But later in Jesus’ ministry, when he was well-known, and vigorously opposed by the high-priestly party in Jerusalem, his actions might have brought forth another, harsher response.

It thus appears possible to argue for two separate cleansings of the Temple as well as a single one relocated by John to suit his own purposes. Which then is more probable? On the whole, more has been made of the differences between Johns account and the synoptic accounts than perhaps should have been. After all, the synoptic accounts also differ considerably from one another, yet I am not aware of anyone who has posited four cleansings of the Temple as an explanation for this!

While it is certainly possible that the Evangelist did not intend by his positioning of the Temple cleansing to correct the synoptics timing of the event, but to highlight its significance for the course of Jesus ministry, it still appears somewhat more probable to me that John has placed the event he records in the approximate period of Jesus’ public ministry in which it did occur, that is, within the first year or so of Jesus’ public ministry. The statement of the Jewish authorities recorded by the Evangelist (tesseravkonta kaiV e}x e[tesin oijkodomhvqh oJ naoV" ou|to") would tend to support an earlier rather than a later date for the Temple cleansing described by John, since 46 years from the beginning of construction on Herod’s Temple in ca. 19 BC would be around AD 27. This is not conclusive proof, however, because such an early date is still problematic for an AD 33 date for the crucifixion (see the note below on 2:20). We must now consider the purpose of the Evangelist in including the account of the cleansing of the Temple where he did.

A Note on the Purpose of the Narrative: Cleansing the Temple

This time we may look first at what the original audience (disciples and Jewish leaders) may have understood from Jesus’ statements and actions, followed by the way John as Evangelist has incorporated this account into the narrative.

(1) Almost certainly both the Jewish leaders and Jesus disciples understood Jesus activity as prophetic—resembling the actions of an Old Testament prophet. But what would Jesus’ words mhV poiei'te toVn oikon tou' patrov" mou oikon ejmporivou have suggested?

Zech 14:20-21 states: “In that day there will be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘HOLY TO THE LORD,’ and the cooking pots in the LORD’S house will be like the bowls before the altar. And every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in Judah will be holy to the LORD of hosts; and all who sacrifice will come and take of them and boil in them. And there will no longer be a Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts in that day.” [NASB, emphasis mine]

Zech 14:20-21, in context, is clearly a picture of the millennial (messianic) kingdom. But note the word ynunk (Canaanite). The Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon lists as a second primary meaning for this word “merchant, trader.”64

Read in this light, Zech 14:21 states that there will be no merchant in the house of the Lord in that day (the messianic kingdom). And what would Jesus’ words (and actions) in cleansing the Temple have suggested to the observers? That Jesus was fulfilling these messianic expectations would have been obvious—especially to the disciples, who had just seen the miracle at Cana with all its messianic implications.

As if this were not enough, what about the implications of the statement concerning the rebuilding of the Temple? Ezek 40-46 describes the rebuilt millennial Temple, and popular Jewish tradition (the fourteenth of the 18 Benedictions or Shemoneh Esreh, ca. AD 70-85) held that Messiah would come and rebuild the Temple (after the destruction of Herod’s Temple by the Romans).

Thus Jesus’ remarks could have been understood in terms of the messianic rebuilding of the Temple. Further evidence that this is so may be correlated from the synoptics, since in the account of Jesus’ trial in the synoptics the reference to a messianic rebuilding seems evident: when the false witnesses recalled Jesus’ statement about the Temple, the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah?” [Mark 14:61] .

Thus the original hearers would most likely have seen messianic implications in Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple and his remarks about its rebuilding.

(2) How has John, as author, integrated this into his narrative?

In 2:17, as mentioned earlier, John uses the words of Psalm 69:9 [69:10 LXX] to refer to Jesus at the cleansing of the Temple. It seems to me that this is a reflection which may have come later to the disciples (remember the point of view from which the author is writing). In any case, Psalm 69:8-9, seen as it was by apostolic Christianity as a reflection of the messianic experience, has some interesting connections with the narrative:

69:8 “I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mothers sons.”

69:9 “For zeal for Your house has eaten me up, and the insults of those who blaspheme You fall upon me.”

This is particularly interesting in relation to the mention of Jesus brothers in John 2:12, as well as also in John 7:1-5.

Verse 9b can also be applied to Jesus’ experience in the challenge and confrontation of the Jews.

But John’s theological insights into the incident go deeper—the Temple is not just the building, it is Jesus resurrected body. Compare the non-localized worship mentioned in 4:21-23, and also Rev 21:22 (there is to be no temple in the New Jerusalem; the LORD and the LAMB are its temple). John is pointing to the fact that, as the place where men go in order to meet God, the Temple has been supplanted and replaced by Jesus himself, in whose resurrected Person people may now encounter God (cf. 1:18, 14:6).

2:14 ejn tw'/ iJerw'/ —a reference to the Temple precincts or courts as opposed to the building proper (cf. 2:19 below).

touV" kermatistav" (the money-changers) —Because of the imperial Roman portraits they carried, Roman denarii and Attic drachmas were not permitted to be used in paying the half-shekel temple-tax [the portraits were considered idolatrous]. The money-changers in the Temple courts exchanged these coins for legal Tyrian coinage at a small profit.

2:15 fragevllion —a whip (note variant reading wJ" inserted before fragevllion by 66, 75, et al.). The variant reading reflects the Torah tradition accurately—what Jesus made was something like a whip. According to tradition no weapons or sticks of any kind were permitted in the temple courts.

2:18 shmei'on —not necessarily John’s usual meaning for the word, “sign-miracle,” since it occurs on the lips of Jesus’ adversaries. To them, it meant a miraculous apologetic for his actions— a mark of divine credence. Jesus never obliged such a request.

2:19 luvsate —The imperative here is really more than a simple conditional imperative (= “if you destroy”); its semantic force here is more like the ironical imperative found in the prophets (Amos 14:4, Isa 8:9) = “Go ahead and do this and see what happens.”

2:20 Forty-six years — According to Josephus [Antiquities], work on this Temple was begun in the 18th year of Herod the Great’s reign, which would have been ca. 19 b.c. (The reference in the Antiquities is probably more accurate than date given in Wars of the Jews). Forty-six years later would be the Passover of a.d. 27. If one holds to a date of a.d. 30 for the crucifixion, this would tend to suggest that the placement of the temple cleansing in John’s Gospel, occuring as it does at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, is actually in its approximate place in the chronological sequence of Jesus’ earthly life. If one accepts H. Hoehner’s date of a.d. 33 for the crucifixion, according to the dating discussed above [see note above on the Passovers in John’s Gospel], then this is taking place around the Passover of a.d. 30. In this case it is possible that the figure of 46 years could be approximate, or could perhaps refer to the completion of the Holy of Holies rather than the beginning of construction, or Josephus’ dates for Herod could be off by several years (he disagrees with himself anyway!).

oijkodomhhvqh —a comprehensive aorist, this word sums up the whole action not yet completed—cf. a similar usage in Ezra 5:16 (LXX): “From that time until now it (the Temple) has been under construction (aorist of oijkodomevw) and is not yet finished.”

2:22 Note the point-of-view: John is writing this from the perspective of an omniscient author.

th'/ grafh'/ What is the referent? The Old Testament in general? A prophecy of Jesus resurrection (Ps 16:10)? Or an anaphoric reference to Ps 69:9 [69:10 LXX]? The latter seems best, as I take it that the disciples did not remember Ps 69:9 on the spot either. It was a later insight.

          2 D A Public Response to Jesus: Trust without Trustworthiness (2:23-25)

2:23-25 It seems clear to me that this response on the part of the multitudes in Jerusalem at the passover is to be taken as genuine belief. There is nothing in the context to suggest that the faith-response of these individuals after observing the sign-miracles [shmei'a] which Jesus had performed in Jerusalem at the feast was anything but genuine. It seems to me most natural that an unprejudiced reader of the Gospel would understand the faith of these people to be genuine. That is not the end of the matter, however.

This is a reflective insight added by the Evangelist. It serves as a transition to the Nicodemus interview, and also as a comment on the general public response to Jesus’ ministry at this time. While these might be “believers,” they had imperfectly understood the message and ministry of Jesus. The real issue here is not the genuineness of these individuals’ faith but its object and extent. The author does not elaborate, but it seems likely that these people had seen the signs and (correctly) interpreted their messianic significance. So far so good. But the plan they envisioned was not God’s plan which involved the death and resurrection of Messiah to accomplish the salvation of the world (cf. 3:17). I suspect that it was this factor in particular that Jesus was not willing to entrust to them. The crowds in their exuberance were probably about ready to try and make Jesus king, and in no way could they have accepted such a revelation about his true destiny. As a matter of fact, it is worth pointing out that Jesus had not even fully and openly entrusted himself to his own disciples at this point, so that in 14:9 he can still say to Philip, “How long have you been with me and have not known me?” Thus the individuals described here had believed in Jesus as Messiah, but the concept of Messiah they had believed in was their own, not that of Jesus. Would this faith save them? To ask this is to ask a question the text does not answer.

What about the signs which Jesus performed in Jerusalem at the passover (2:23)?

These probably included, but were not necessarily limited to, the Temple cleansing (2:13-17). In this case the crowds had correctly understood the messianic symbolism which we have discussed above. But other miracles were probably involved as well. The Evangelist tells us explicitly that Jesus did many things which he has not recorded in his Gospel (21:25).


58 J. D. M. Derrett, “Water into Wine,” Biblische Zeitschrift 7 (1963): 80-97.

59 LSJ 363 s.v. gunhv.

60 LSJ 166 s.v. ajntlevw.

61 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 100.

62 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 104. [emphasis mine]

63 Brown, The Gospel According to John, 104-105. [emphasis mine]

64 BDB 488, s.v. II. /unk.

Related Topics: Christology, Miracles