The account of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding of Cana is a well-known story from the Gospel of John. When commenting upon this passage, many focus on the exceptional quality of the wine that Jesus produced, while others prefer to highlight the enormous quantity, which, based on the size of the six stone water jars mentioned in John 2:6, would have amounted to somewhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine (roughly the equivalent of 600 to 900 bottles). But in my opinion, the most noteworthy aspect of this famous story relates not to the quantity or quality of the wine, but rather to its historical reality.
The Gospel According to John purports to be an eyewitness account of the life of Jesus. The author actually makes this clear in chapter 19 as he relates significant details related to the crucifixion. “He who saw it has borne witness,” he says, “his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth” (John 19:35). Then, at the end of his narrative, he re-emphasizes this same point: “This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true” (John 21:24). Cambridge scholar Richard Bauckham unpacked the significance of these texts on a recent episode of The Humble Skeptic podcast. In his thinking, “ancient readers would have found [the Gospel of John] making a claim to be historical literature, not a kind of theology dressed up as a story.” Bauckham then went on to point out that,
There’s a lot of language of “witness” and “testimony” scattered through the Gospel, and of course, the last witness is the beloved disciple himself, the author of the Gospel…So many scholars have thought for various reasons this cannot be written by an eyewitness, so they’ve tended to say that the last couple verses of the Gospel don’t really mean what they say, but I think it says rather clearly that this is the disciple who wrote these things.¹
What’s odd, however, is that in his eyewitness account, John describes Jesus as a person who performed numerous signs and wonders, such as we find at the wedding of Cana. Admittedly, the idea of someone turning water into wine sounds more like the stuff of myths and legends, but John repeatedly assures us that his testimony is true — that these things really happened. That claim of course doesn’t make his report true, but it does help us to understand what’s at stake. You see, if Jesus actually turned water into wine (2:7-11), walked on water (6:19), gave sight to the blind (9:1-7), raised the dead (11:1-44), and all the other things spoken of him throughout the Fourth Gospel, then he was unlike anyone who has ever lived, and all of us would do well to pay careful attention to his words—whatever our creed or worldview happens to be. But if these things were not true of Jesus, then John’s Gospel is not merely a fictional account, but should be set aside as a false report—a work of deception.
Shane Rosenthal | “Water into Wine?” | June 6, 2023
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