Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Numbering of John's Miracles

            The Gospel of John is a wonderful text to study and to learn from. It is not grouped in with the Synoptic Gospels mostly because the material is widely considered to be so different. Some signs, wonders, and miracles are recorded in this Gospel that uniquely highlight the ministry and person of Jesus Christ.
            One of these is found in John 4:46-52, where a dying child was healed by Jesus from a distance, and the deadly fever had left him completely. In verse 54, it is said, “This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee. (KJV)” However, this raises an issue. First, the numbering of the second miracle (that began in John in this work) seems to be amiss. In Jesus is said to do multiple miracles in Jerusalem; this raises the question of how this was the second miracle. Secondly, in order to avoid a contradiction, should the order of the material be changed or reversed?
            It is the contention of this paper that the miracles of and are two of a set of those miracles performed in Cana and are not chronologically out of order. This paper will cover an overview of three scholarly commentaries. Further, they will be compared and contrasted with one another. Finally, their arguments will all be analyzed and critiqued.
Carson’s Commentary
                        D.A. Carson addresses the issue in his commentary. First, he tackles the issue of John 2:11 and the turning the water into wine in Cana. He makes the point that the Greek word αρχην may only carry the meaning of “primary.”[1] In this case, Carson says the sign would only be the major turning point of his ministry, and not necessarily carry any numerical significance in and of itself. In fact, he maintains, “What is clear is that this first sign is linked with the summary statement of the purpose of the book . . . In both places, the disciples saw and believed.”[2]
            This first sign in priority then would not, at least for Carson, necessitate that is speaking of a second sign (for this particular sign does not necessarily fit into the sequence). Carson marks a distinction here with these miracles from those that came before in Cana and after in John 4. The distinction is that there were those who believed on Jesus in the latter, and in this chapter (the former) the faith was “spurious.”[3] This would mark the category distinction of why the miracle in Jerusalem did not count as the second miracle or sign even though it came chronologically earlier than the sign in John 4.
            Carson’s contention is that this miracle, hearkening back to Cana (v. 46) is pointed out purposefully. Carson elaborates, saying, “John provides several allusions to ch. 2, as if he is self-consciously completing an inclusion.”[4] He mentions the “explicit numbering of the miracles to draw attention to the closing circle.”[5] Carson makes this explicit by pointing out in verse 54 it is the second sign done in Galilee. A type of source criticism whereby this portion of the Gospel should be reordered is unwarranted on the basis of the numerical structure being discontinued after this numbering.[6]
Carson’s Argument Analyzed/Critiqued
            Carson’s argument is well-done in its logical implications. First, one can examine his stating of the Jerusalem miracle () relating differently to the Galilee miracles. This holds some weight since no number is assigned to this. Surely, if these were random collections or fragmented pericopes the reader would nonetheless encounter a number. This would more readily identify its place within the narrative. This shows chronology is not a concern with respect to the miracles or signs as an entire group.
            Next, his explanation for the curing of the deathly-ill boy in as being second is equally well-done. Carson explains the second miracle as being second in the series of the ones performed in Galilee.[7] This explains the numbering of these two. As Carson says, “The fact that the remaining signs . . . are not enumerated stands against” the idea that the miracles are out of order.[8]
            This compares to Morris’ commentary on the subject by utilizing the same logic: “This cannot mean the second of all Jesus’ signs, for in John has spoken of other signs . . . John has described two signs and both took place after a visit to Judea.”[9] It also accords with Morris in that the sign was used to “elicit faith.”[10] It does not seem to differ from Morris’ solution (even if Morris emphasizes other features. It accords with Moloney’s theory in that this miracle hearkens back to the wedding at Cana, but differs in that Moloney seems to emphasize the literary structure over the actual events and their results.[11]
Morris’ Commentary
            Leon Morris has much of the same basic opinion that D. A. Carson holds. Morris holds that the two stories of and are emphasized or chosen for their discussion of the true faith of those involved.[12] For Morris, the idea is that John is bringing these stories together to contrast directly with the illegitimate faith shown to Christ in and the miracles at Jerusalem. The true faith of the man is demonstrated by John’s mentioning of the lack of faith in chapter 2 (cf. -25).
            He is also careful to point out the literary significance of the positioning of the miracles in John’s narrative. He claims, “[In ] There was a transformation in things (water into wine); here life is given to a boy as good as dead.”[13] The progression of miracles from lesser to greater seems almost intuitively to lead ultimately to the cross. In a footnote, Morris points out that the grammatical construction of the Greek is different than one would expect. The words are τουτο παλιν δευτερον σημειον εποιησεν, meaning “This he did as a second sign.”[14] This may indicate the signs done for Cana, as in “this he did as a second sign for Cana of Galilee (cf. ).”
Morris’ Argument Analyzed/Critiqued
            Morris’ argument has already been critiqued in its essentials by examining Carson’s argument. However, a few details should be discussed. First, unlike Carson, but like Moloney, Morris here seems to stress a literary perspective. While there is nothing wrong with doing so (in fact this can lend an incredibly clear perspective sometimes), it may not be necessary to understanding the structure of the text; or just as importantly, it may be unnecessary to understanding why John referred to 4:54 as the second of the signs.
            Next, in differing from Carson, it seemed as though Morris missed a golden opportunity to link this particular sign to the ending of the book (cf. 20:30-31). Since this sign is the second in a series of signs began at Cana in , and is clearly linked by the results of believers to -31, it stands to reason is also a demonstration of the fulfilled purpose of the stated goal of the Gospel of John. However, it is worth noting that the proposed resolution by Morris (that the second sign of is not incorrect, nor out of order, but rather to be linked with only) is correct.
Moloney’s Commentary
            Moloney links the turning of water into wine in to the preceding discourse of John in chapter 1.[15] The idea is that the Logos has been revealed (see “manifested his glory” in verse 11). In this case, the believing motif can be seen since it is said here that his disciples believed on him because of this sign. Moloney agrees with both Carson and Morris when he claims that the belief generated in was not a genuine faith, thus standing in stark contrast to the miracles of Cana in and .[16]
            Moloney makes a literary structure argument for what essentially amounts to the same conclusion as the other two sources this paper consulted. He argues that the entirety of chapters 2-4 comprise a section spanning from Cana to Cana. In fact, he mentions, “This literary pattern is important . . . [and a reader] at the end recognizes an author’s use of the technique of repetition.”[17] He even goes so far as to argue that this linking together of signs was orchestrated purposefully by John in mentioning Cana at all in ![18]
            The literary idea is further expounded upon by Moloney when he discusses parallels between the wedding at Cana and the healing of the Gentile official’s son.[19] The stories follow a remarkably similar pattern as they unfold: the stating of a problem, the request of Jesus, the rebuke by Jesus, the reaction of the one rebuked, and the consequence of the faith of the person. In both cases, Moloney would say the intent is upon the signs taken together, not separately, so that it becomes almost obvious that the terminology of the “second sign” of 4:54 should not be taken as chronological to 2:23, but to 2:11.
Moloney’s Argument Analyzed/Critiqued
            Moloney’s argument may more closely resemble Morris’ than Carson’s, if only because Carson may have more theological reflection (rather than literary). However, all three sources agree on the primary message. Moloney makes this more explicit than perhaps the others when he claims, “Whatever the prehistory of the miracle stories in the Fourth Gospel, these suggestions [that there are literary reconstructions reordering the events] miss the literary function . . . in the present Gospel.”[20] Moloney also maintains, in the tradition of Morris, that the word structure of indicates this is an emphasizing or comparison to the first sign in Cana.[21]
            The idea of the miracles in Cana forming a set is quite plausible and alluring. However, the question arises: is it the most plausible explanation? A reconstructionist of the text may answer in the negative. However, Moloney utilizes the literary tools and contextual clues to answer in the affirmative.
            By pointing out the literary similarities, which are striking in and of themselves, Moloney allows the reader to view the context. The context clues offered include verse 46, which explicitly mentions the next sign occurring in Cana. The next clue is the referencing of the former miracle itself within the same verse (“Cana . . . where he made the water wine.”). Finally, verse 54 holds a bit of a clue as to the significance of the miracle. It was done in Galilee, and not Judea. This was hugely important, as it seems the author was setting the stage for understanding the context in which the miracle took place. Because of these things, Moloney’s argument may be the most comprehensive of the three.
            The miracles done in (turning the water into wine at Cana), (the miracles and signs to the Jews in Jerusalem), and (to the Gentile official’s dying son) form an interesting sequence of events. The problem seemed to be that the water into wine miracle was correctly labeled first, while the miracle was “incorrectly” labeled the second. It has been suggested that perhaps the order of the pericopes should be changed to reflect the “correct” order. However, all three of these commentaries suggested and offered reasons to believe that the best solution to this problem is to understand properly the and miracles as part of a set of Cana signs.
            When the student understand this is true from a literary, logical, and contextual standpoint, it becomes clear the signs are not out of order. One may retain the chronological order as presented in John without worrying about a contradiction. The order is correct but the context is vitally important to understanding the message of the Gospel of John. These three commentaries have captured just that.

                [1] D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991), 175.

                [2] Ibid.

                [3] Ibid., 184.

                [4] Ibid., 237.

                [5] Ibid.

                [6] Ibid., 239.

                [7] Ibid.

                [8] Ibid.

                [9] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995), 259.

                [10] Ibid., 254.

                [11] Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1998), 151.

                [12] Morris, 258.

                [13] Ibid., 259.

                [14] Ibid., n. 121.

                [15] Moloney, 69.

                [16] Ibid., 84-85.

                [17] Ibid., 151.

                [18] Ibid., 153.

                [19] Ibid., 158.

                [20] Ibid., 162-163.

                [21] Ibid.

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