What is the meaning of the six stone jars at the wedding in Cana?

The miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana comes early in John’s gospel, in John 2.1–11, and it offers us a first taste of John’s remarkable ability in story-telling, where he combines an intense attention to realistic detail with powerful evocation of the scene. In 11 short verses, we are taken into both the reality and the emotion of the event, so it is no wonder that the story is so well known that (like ‘walking on water’) is has become something of a cultural trope.

We have become used to reading John’s gospel on two levels, the literal and the symbolic, and so it is not surprising that we should be alert to anything that might suggest symbolic significance in this story. Already John the Baptist has proclaimed Jesus as the symbolic ‘lamb of God’ (so we are not surprised when we later read that Jesus dies in John’s chronology at the time of the sacrifice of the Passover lambs), and the first disciples ask Jesus ‘Where are you staying?’ (John 1.38) using the word later translated ‘abiding’, which becomes a symbolic term for the incorporation of the faithful disciple in the presence of God through Jesus. The Cana episode is introduced with one of John’s characteristic temporal markers: ‘on the third day…’ (John 2.1). Mark Stibbe and C K Barrett disagree on whether this implies the wedding takes place on the sixth or seventh day of the narrative so far, as indicated by the cumulation of temporal markers:

Day 1John 1.19John’s testimony to the Jewish leaders
Day 2John 1.29‘the next day’John’s declaration of Jesus as lamb of God
Day 3John 1.35‘the next day’The disciples seek Jesus
Day 4John 1.43‘the next day’Jesus leaves for Galilee
Day 5The Sabbath?
Day 6John 2.1‘on the third day’The first day of the week?

(If ‘the third day’ implies and interval of two days between this and the previous event, then we are on to Day Seven in this ‘week’ of Jesus’ ministry.) But Stibbe and Barrett do agree on the significance of the phrase ‘on the third day’, anticipating the day of resurrection, the first day of the week and the first day of the new creation brought about by Jesus’ dying and rising again. Stibbe takes this further, and sees the wedding itself as presaging the eschatological wedding banquet of God with his people (compare Rev 19.7–9). We find this double meaning repeatedly as the gospel unfolds: Nicodemus, dimly grasping Jesus’ teaching, meets him in the twilight in chapter 3, whilst the woman by the well sees the light of the world by the light of the noonday sun in chapter 4; in John 9.7 the man born blind in chapter 9 is sent to the Pool of Siloam (which means ‘sent’, of course!); and when Judas goes out to betray Jesus ‘it was night!’ (John 13.30).

So it is not surprising that many readers interpret the six stone water jars symbolically. Barrett comments:

It is possible although by no means certain that the number six is symbolic. Six, being less by one and seven, the number of completeness and perfection, would indicate that the Jewish dispensation, typified by its ceremonial water, was partial and imperfect. (p 191)

Augustine goes much further, connecting the six jars with the six ages of the world up to the time of Jesus:

But observe what Himself says, The things which were written in the law, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me. And we know that the law extends from the time of which we have record, that is, from the beginning of the world: In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth. Genesis 1:1 Thence down to the time in which we are now living are six ages, this being the sixth, as you have often heard and know. The first age is reckoned from Adam to Noah; the second, from Noah to Abraham; and, as Matthew the evangelist duly follows and distinguishes, the third, from Abraham to David; the fourth, from David to the carrying away into Babylon; the fifth, from the carrying away into Babylon to John the Baptist; Matthew 1:17 the sixth, from John the Baptist to the end of the world. Moreover, God made man after His own image on the sixth day, because in this sixth age is manifested the renewing of our mind through the gospel, after the image of Him who created us; Colossians 3:10 and the water is turned into wine, that we may taste of Christ, now manifested in the law and the prophets. Hence there were there six water-pots, which He bade be filled with water. Now the six water-pots signify the six ages, which were not without prophecy. And those six periods, divided and separated as it were by joints, would be as empty vessels unless they were filled by Christ. Why did I say, the periods which would run fruitlessly on, unless the Lord Jesus were preached in them? Prophecies are fulfilled, the water-pots are full; but that the water may be turned into wine, Christ must be understood in that whole prophecy. (Tractates on John 9.6)

And in popular preaching, this symbolic number is hard to resist. The Jewish system of the law is all about ritual; it separates people into the clean and the unclean, and so dehumanises them; and Jesus comes to do away with the lot.

There are multiple problems with this kind of reading. Theologically, we need to reflect on the origin of ‘the law’. In the OT, it is clearly seen as a gift from God—so in this reading we must believe that Jesus is doing away with a nasty, dehumanising system which originated with God himself. Canonically, there is a difficulty posed by Jesus’ insistence that he ‘has not come to do away with the law, but to fulfil it’ (Matt 5.17), and by Matthew and Paul’s insistence (strongly implied by all the other gospels) that Jesus’ life and ministry ‘fulfilled’ or was ‘according to’ the Scriptures (1 Cor 15.3–4)—a belief that marks out canonical from non-canonical texts. Within John’s gospel, despite the language of ‘the Jews’ (John 2.6), we find a very Jewish message which insists on the primacy of Jewish understanding (‘salvation is from the Jews’ John 4.22) and which centres around the Jewish pilgrim feasts. And in this narrative, absolutely nothing whatever is made of the number six—most notably, Jesus changes the water into wine within the six jars, and does not add a seventh. If we are to take the six as symbolising the apparent ‘incompleteness’ of Jewish belief prior to Jesus, then Jesus’ completion of it involves using what is already there—and not adding anything to it! Reading carefully, we also notice that the climax of the story is not the contrast between water and wine—but that the best wine has been kept until last. Just as John 1.16 (now rightly translated) talks of Jesus bringing grace (the grace of the gospel) in place of grace (the grace of the law)—and not grace in place of legalism—so this miracle compares Jesus with the law as the best wine following good wine.

In his fascinating paper given last week at the Tyndale New Testament Study Group, Richard Bauckham brought two other factors into play in reading this story historically. The first relates to the stone water jars themselves, about which much has been written in scholarship in recent years. There are several things to note.

First, the importance of stone vessels is that they are not subject to the impurity laws in Lev 11.32–35 which demand that clay vessels which become unclean must be smashed. So though they are much more expensive to make in the first place, in the long term they are more economic because they can be used repeatedly, even if they come into contact with things which are ceremonially unclean. So their presence indicates either that we are in a priestly household, or at least a household concerned with purity.

Second, these very large vessels are very difficult to make, since they must be carved from a single piece of stone. A quarry and workshop producing stone vessels was recently discovered not far from Cana in lower Galilee. But the technology to produce large vessels needed the kind of lathes that were used by the Romans in making stone columns—so these large stone vessels indicate quite a specific time period of the Roman occupation of Judea and Samaria. Thus John’s mention of them is pointing to a particular and limited historical period.

Thirdly, because these items were expensive, it was thought that they might be ostentatious luxuries which were put on display—and in fact you can see from the examples in the picture above that they were finely made, with a consistent and sophisticated design around the rims, for example. But archaeological evidence, particularly from the Burnt House in Jerusalem (a first century dwelling destroyed in the Roman siege of 70 AD) shows that the large stone jars (qalal in Hebrew) were in the working areas of the house. In other words, they had a practical importance, rather than being for display.

But Richard added another dimension to this discussion. In 1 Chron 24.7–18 are listed the 24 ‘priestly courses’ or divisions (Hebrew mishmar) which set out the pattern of duties of the priests through the year, which each ‘course’ doing duty for two weeks each. Although there is some doubt in scholarship as to whether this was a historical reality in the time of the first temple, or an idealised reconstruction by the writer of Chronicles after the destruction of the temple and the exile, the pattern became important in the Second Temple period—and in fact allows us to determine the approximate date when Jesus was born. But why would such a schedule be so important if all the priests lived in Jerusalem? In fact they didn’t, and so this schedule allowed them to know when to travel to the city to complete their duty. A number of inscriptions have been found in synagogues from the period (and later) which list these divisions, include the names of the towns related to each division, and include an additional column of names, which Richard argues are the particular families within the divisions who lived in the various towns listed, and so were the ones actually travelling to perform their duties.

Why are these lists so important? Firstly, because they have a good claim to indicating actual historical practice at the time of Jesus, not least because no towns established after 70AD are included. They all date from the Hasmonean period, when priestly families settled throughout the country. Secondly (something I pointed out and Richard agreed with), these lists show the connections between Galilee and Jerusalem, with the priestly families settled in the region providing a link with the temple. This is important given John’s focus on Jersusalem—and Richard’s argument that John’s gospel was not written by John the apostle, brother of James, but by someone based in Jerusalem, which account for the focus on Jerusalem throughout the gospels, in contrast to the focus on Galilee in Mark, and the importance of the pilgrim festivals. Thirdly, Cana is listed as one of the 24 towns in which priestly families lived.

Put together with the role of stone jars, it looks quite likely (though of course not provable) that the wedding in Cana was taking place in the house of this priestly family, which accounts for the presence of jars themselves because of the family’s concern for ritual purity. And why, then, does John record that there were six? Because, as in the picture of the Burnt House above, that is how many there happened to be!

Although there is much symbolism in John’s gospel, we are increasingly realising that there is also much history. Why does John note (in John 5.2) that the Pool of Bethesda has five stoa (colonnades or porticos)? Until the 19th century, there was no evidence outside of John’s Gospel for the existence of this pool; therefore, scholars argued that the gospel was written later, probably by someone without first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, and that the ‘pool’ had only a metaphorical, rather than historical, significance. But when the site was excavated, it was discovered that it did indeed have five colonnades—not in a pentagon, but as a rectangle with one colonnade crossing the middle. And why does John note (John 5.5) that the man had been there for 38 years? Probably simply because he had.

When reading John, and the other gospels, we need to be alert to their symbolism. But we also need to take them with their full historical seriousness too—as previous generations have often failed to do.

Next year’s Tyndale New Testament Study Group will take place on Wednesday 26th to Friday 28th June 2019 in Cambridge, and we will be exploring issues of orality and writing in the first century and the formation of the New Testament canon. Put it in your diary—I look forward to seeing you there!

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75 thoughts on “What is the meaning of the six stone jars at the wedding in Cana?”

  1. Good stuff and new angles on a familiar subject. But please don’t wreck my lifetime work explaining why there were 153 fish!

    • 6 is the number of men, the water being turned to wine in the stone pots represents Christ’s blood being shed. The water although naturally gives life but being at a wedding nay seems plain and lacking. Yeshua’s turning of this is that he gives us that Life water as we are the stone pots (6 number of man) after receiving Christ which his servants administer the pouring out of the wine. The guests can receive joy and blessing in celebration. Because of his blood. There is a seventh pot Which is Christ the one who turned the water to wine. For he is that stone that builder rejected. He is that Rock which the water was hued from in Moses’ time. Yeshua gives the Master of the house a drink first not only because it’s customary. But also that it represents him presenting his shed blood to the Father. As the father would be pleased that the best is saved for last!
      Also, 5 is the number of grace, its no wonder that there are 5 columns that John records. This isn’t just for historical purposes all things written in the Bible have 3dementional meanings. Litteral, symbolic and coded. The columns number reflects the grace aspect and an angel came to the pool of Shiloh because of grace. This is why Yeshua told the man to wash there and he would be saved from his uncleaness. It’s not as if Christ couldn’t do it without the pool. But he was symbolizing and coding a message. That the man is saved by Grace sent. Grace and truth came through Yeshua! Shilo means sent forth!

      • Very intriguing. I agree the pots represent something significant like the number of man, but it also could be the number of creation; the pots were used during sacrifice for the water of purification. Wonderful subject. Truly enjoyed your insights.

          • Hello Ian,
            Regarding your statement that you don’t see any relation at all, I wish to state that the relation is found in the number 6. You first asked how do you know that 6 is the number of man? The Bible, being its own expositor, states it. Not only was man made on day 6–significant because God could have created everything in one instant–but Revelation explicitly states that 666 “is the number of a man.”

            I hope that this helps.

            Regarding the symbolic interpretation, I agree with Jenious Seth Bell that everything is symbolic. Why? Because God is an exceptional writer. All writers include details that add to the meaning of their story. God is extremely selective in his words. This is why this story has only 11 verses . Some of Jesus’s most famous parables are told in one sentence. Remarkable! If He inspired John to mention that there were six waterpots, then it is because of its significance. True that sometimes the “use” of a piece of Biblical information will only be understood by an archeologist, a historian, a biologist, a businessman or an astronomer, but it is always intentionally included. Since this was a common house (even if the house of a priest), we can eliminate the idea that the “six” has historical significance, unlike in the example of the archeologically dug out columns of the Pool of Bethesda.
            There happened to be six waterpots and twelve disciples. How many servants were there? How many guests? If you were to quickly analyze every single story, you would notice that most information is not there, only carefully selected information is found in the accounts.

            Even John said that if some were to write everything Jesus did, he supposes that the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

          • Thanks—but of course it is not the same John who wrote the two texts (we don’t actually know the name of the writer of the gospel, only a traditional accreditation), and 666 in gematria is actually the number of a particular man’s name (Nero Caesar) rather than humanity in general…

          • And I wish to add a second comment to my response to Ian regarding the six waterpots representing man.

            In the Greek, we read that each “hydriai” (water pot) could hold, two or three “metretas” (39.39 liters or 8.75 gallons) for a total of 79 liters to 118.17 liters (or 17.5 gallons to 26.25 gallons). 1 liter of water, weighs approximately 1 kg (praise God for the metric system!) So the weight of the water would have been from 79 to 118 kg or 173 lbs to 259 lbs, which surprisingly corresponds to the normal weight of a man, the average weight of a man today is 200 lbs, so it coincides nicely.

            Please also note that the Holy Spirit thought it good to mention how much water was held by these water pots. It explains that there were a lot of people at the wedding. But would that alone justify this detail in such a briefly told story?

          • Another point in reply to Ian regarding the water pots.

            These vessels were made of stone. “[Y]ou also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a royal priesthood…” (1 Peter 2:5)

            This adds credence to the idea that the water pots represent man.

            Kind regards,


  2. Brian, 153 fish have taken you a lifetime? That’s just so, so slow. I’ve been putting together a thorough thesis on the 9,000 (plus) people who attended two impromptu picnics hosted by Jesus, convinced that nobody showed up twice 😉

  3. An ancient understanding of the catch of 153 fish notes that 153 is the triangular number 17 (1+2+3 ….+17), which consists of 10 + 4 + 3 and signifies the true church rests on the Ten Commandments and the Four Gospels and worships the Trinity. Plenty of RE students who study Mark’s gospel are told that the twelve baskets of pieces signifies the apostles or Israel (Mark 6.43). It didn’t occur to them that the twelve disciples were sent to collect the pieces. Number symbolism still exerts a fascination on people – maybe more so in a world of so many lotteries.

  4. My totally unhistorical view is that the previous record for catching fish in Galilee was 152, and the writer wanted to show that the disciples beat the previous record- and I am waiting for the archaeologists and historians to confirm this theory! Seriously though, I think it was because it was such a high and significant and memorable number.

  5. Well, that’s interesting. I had always thought this was saying it was a big wedding!
    Lots of water ready for the rites.

  6. Hi,

    Just wondered whether you’re familiar with Kaplan’s “The Waters of Eden”. The jars of water symbolise man. They would hold living water for a ritual mikvah. Turning the water to… blood… symbolic of the cross and/or resurrection life? 6 symbolizes man, from the 6th day of creation?

    So… Jesus/John is summarising his ministry, the man who’s blood is poured out and brings the new-kingdom-banquet-resurrection.

    All a bit loose, I know… but it feels like it’s in this kind of area to me.


  7. When asked to make up the shortfall of wine Jesus is said to declare that ‘My hour is not yet come—Jesus is nonetheless recorded as performing the miracle and when the wine is produced the master of the feast comments on its quality and assumes it is the bridegroom who has made the provision (vv. 9–10). Brant Pitre (Jesus the Bridegroom, 35–39; also: McWhirter, The Bridegroom Messiah, 57) suggests that this was in accord with the Jewish wedding tradition where it was the bridegroom’s responsibility to provide the wine (as inferred in v. 9). It follows that Mary had been, in effect, asking Jesus to act as if he was on that day the bridegroom—such an analysis would explain his enigmatic reply to her. Pitre further suggests Mary’s reference to the lack of wine is an echo of Isaiah 24:7, 9, 11—Isaiah subsequently describing a future restoration of Israel when Yahweh will ensure wine will be in abundance (Isa 25:6–8). Thus Pitre sees that the writer of the fourth Gospel, in recounting such an extravagant supply of wine, is employing contemporary Jewish marriage traditions to portray Jesus as the divine bridegroom self-consciously taking the role occupied by Yahweh in the Old Testament imagery. And I agree!

      • A whole new take on the Cana Wedding:
        Suppose the groom did not want to use the “good” wine, but wanted to keep it away from the partyers. Where would he hide it? IN THE STIONE JARS OF COURSE! So when he found the good wine, he had the servants top off the stone jars with good water, and sent some out to the Governor, who , being half drunk, castigates the gropom for holding out on the good wine. Miracle , no, good detective work, yes. The lesson learned is to not ascribe explanations to miracles, but use the simple explanation first.

        • So you have to invent a groom going entirely against his culture, invent something incredibly implausible (putting wine in jars set apart for purification, and then call that ‘detective work’?

          Not very persuasive!

          • I agree with you Ian. There will always be those who refuse to believe the miracles of God. I always marvel at people’s creativeness in explaining away miracles. My favorite is when people explain away the parting of the Red Sea miracle by saying the children of Israel crossed in shallow water. If that were the case, an even greater miracle took place which produced enough water to drown Pharoah’s army!

        • Thats an assumption not a supposition…unless you knew they guy personally and had direct insight to his thinking. Good job though grasping at straws or anything in order to degrade the Deity of Christ.

    • Thanks for those thoughts Colin, its a real help to understand something that has always puzzled me and for which I have previously offered poor explanations. I think yours makes good sense of Jesus response to Mary.

  8. Hi Ian
    I was reading this passage and was thinking about the ceremonial washing jars and came across your website. Very well put together. However, I do have a couple of questions that nag in my mind.
    You said that the jars have usually been found in the working areas of a house, which makes sense. However my questions are;
    If Jesus etc were guests at the wedding, would they have been seated in the working area?
    If the jars were in the working area, why were they empty if they were used for practical purposes?
    The jars took about 450 – 696 litres to fill (lets split it down the middle and call it 573 litres). That’s an aweful amount of water for the servants to fetch and carry which would have taken more than five minutes, even if the well were very close by. And yet the servants did it in obedience to Jesus who wasn’t master of the house. Wherever they were, no-one questioned what the servants were doing.
    Maybe, the owners weren’t quite as pure as the presence of the stone jars would suggest. Maybe they were on show in an area of the house reserved for guests to make them look good and wealthy but instead the owners were more shallow.
    Maybe Jesus, in his display of grace used the empty jars to show what could be as he saw it, rather than the truth of empty ceremonial washing jars. And to oversupply was to produce “more than we could ever ask or imagine.”
    In other words, Jesus in his grace, on this occasion, didn’t see the owners as empty and “showy” but saw them as rich (not in monetary terms) and full of life. By this miracle, they would realise what Jesus had done and serve their God in their fullness.
    Just a few thoughts…

    • The text doesn’t say the jars were empty. Just that they weren’t full to the brim. Which is what you’d expect at a function where they would have been in use in a house full of people probably for several days. So the servants may have merely needed to top them up. Perhaps 30 minutes might have been enough. We don’t know of course, but the point is that they were most likely not to have been empty. The chief steward would have to ensure that this was something they did not run out of. Bad enough to run out of wine but to not be able to ritually purify guests hands or dishes- a gross dereliction of duty.

  9. The ‘Reed’ Sea was shallow and the hebrews crossed it at low tide as they were on foot; but the Egyptians had heavy horses , armour and chariots which bogged down in the mud and then the tide came up while they were too far in to escape

  10. Very helpful, thanks. I cannot help but see a link between this miracle and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Wine is symbolic of the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18, Acts 2:13). In the previous chapter, John draws our attention to the Holy Spirit, quoting John the Baptist “He …will baptize with the Holy Spirit”. The jars are filled to the brim, a hint of the filling of Christ in everything but also of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Is this filling perhaps a development from the previous chapter? (“From His fullness we have all received grace upon grace”; vs 16). Perhaps John 1 sets a scene for teaching on the Holy Spirit. The use of jars for ceremonial washing is interesting. Jesus did not meet expectations for the tradition of hands-washing and rejected the need for mere outward ceremonial washing (Mark 7 1-8), so his use of the jars gets our attention. Cleansing is a big theme of John’s gospel. Those who came to the festivals required ritual washing of the whole body. John emphasizes this point (John 11:55, 18:28). This was not dissimilar to baptism, a theme of chapter 1. However, Jesus tells his disciples during the last Passover that this cleansing of the whole body was not necessary in their case, as they had already been cleansed (John 13:10). He washed only their feet because he had already cleansed them by his words (John 15:3). This purification by Jesus I see as being necessary to be ready for the Holy Spirit that was to come, just as the high priest was required to be ritually cleansed to enter God’s presence in the temple. Purification was also required of the whole nation of Israel to meet the God who had invited them into a covenant relationship; Moses is instructed: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day” (Exodus 19:10–11). I wonder whether this third-day reference is a coincidence, or is it a prophetic indication that the future disciples would be cleansed by Jesus and ready for the Holy Spirit after the resurrection of Jesus? If this is so, the third day setting of the wedding at Cana may be significant. In the wedding at Cana, it was already the third day. Prophetically, the cleansing is seen as being done after the third day, and there was thus no purpose for the 6 stone jars. It reminds me of how Hebrews describes the old covenant (given at Pentecost, by the way) as weak, useless and obsolete (Heb 7:18, 8:13). We think here of the “two sins” of the broken man-made cisterns of Jeremiah 2:13, which seems to agree with Jesus’s double-fold condemnation of Mark 7, of those who merely uphold man-made traditions with their ritual washing. However, Jesus repurposes the useless jars. In the New Covenant, the old is not just done away with. Instead, a new is re-created. The old laws (interestingly, written on stone) have purpose but only in as far as they draw us to understand what it truly means to love God and our neighbour, as Jesus explains in the sermon on the mount. The old stone jars still have purpose but the purpose is not the same. Believers too are made new, new wineskins ready for the new wine, a theme of the next chapter (“You must be born again”). The strange Pentecost-type theme of John 20:22, in which Jesus “breathed on” his disciples seems to remind us of the creation account (as does John 1, by the way) in which humanity was made by God breathing into man’s nostrils (on the sixth day, no less!). John seems to conclude by pointing to a new genesis; a new man in a new creation. The new purpose of the stone jars is to be a source of joy. Of course, we know wine to represent the sacrificial blood of Jesus. The wine symbol to me thus bridges Passover (the dominant theme of John) and Pentecost (not mentioned explicitly at all by John except through hints–perhaps in respect of Jesus whose primary mission was Passover?). However, the wine of Jesus blood at Passover must surely point to the joy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and even beyond, to the marriage of Heaven. When Jesus says in this story, it is not yet his time, he clearly means (as he does elsewhere .e.g John 7:6), that his final Passover had not yet arrived; John is deliberate in wanting us to notice the Passover link in this miracle. We see this link already in the very next narrative (“it was almost time for the Jewish Passover”; John 2:13). Yet Passover and Pentecost are linked, there is a causal relationship because it is the risen saviour who, from his Father’s side, asks his father to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). He is not the Living Water but he is its source (John 7:39), and it is what he baptises with. Could it thus be that the wedding is a prophetic enactment of what it means for John’s prophecy to come true: “He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit”? We are not merely cleansed by the outward ritual of water baptism. Instead, we are cleansed by the words and sacrifice of Jesus, and this allows us to be immersed (baptised) in the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 55 is interesting here. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters.… Come, buy wine … without money and without cost.” We come for water because we are thirsty and in need of cleansing. Instead, we get wine for free and without limit!

    I’d be interested in any thoughts on these observations.

    • grape juice is called the BLOOD OF THE GRAPE. it’s the only fruit where the juice is called that. very symbolic. also it’s the fruit of the vine. he is the vine, we are the branches. and the winepress is where they tred out the grapes that produces the juice or wine. this alone would preach.

  11. Here’s a shorter answer! The number six, as mentioned, indicates imperfection. When the wine ran out (John 2:3), the root of the Greek word used is hustereó, meaning “to come short”. We should recognize that! The same root word is used in Romans 3:23, describing us as having fallen short of God’s glory. It’s also used for the prodigal son who became impoverished (Luke 15:14), and the rich young, ruler, who asks “where do I still fall short?” (Matt 19:20). Our own best efforts leave us coming short and running out. Romans 3:23 also gives the solution for this crisis: “We are justified freely by grace”. The 6 jars were made full to the brim, to replace it with a better wine. As John 1:16 says: “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”. The grace of Jesus is given to deal with the imperfect. In fact, Paul uses the word “perfect” to describe this work; Jesus says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ( 2 Corinthians 9:12). Perhaps, thus, the 6 jars represent us falling short through our own imperfect efforts, while the miracle of water turning to wine in those 6 jars indicates we are made perfect from the fullness of grace we have received in Jesus.

    • Thanks, that is interesting. But I don’t find any hint of the number six signifying ‘shortfall’ in the passage. And of course the Fourth Gospel certainly does not suggest that Jewish faith is inadequate, to be replaced by faith in Jesus…

      And if ‘six’ meant insufficiency, shouldn’t Jesus have produced a seventh?

      • Well, perhaps Jesus did produce a 7th. One possibility of 6 becoming 7 is in the signs of Jesus. John hints we should expect a number of signs; turning the water into wine, he says, is the first. Mysteriously, he does not tell us exactly how many to expect. Traditionally, there are 7 signs. 6 signs are named and appear to have consensus of scholars. All 6 are foreshadowed by miracles in the Old Testament. However, there is no consensus on the 7th. Yet in the temple cleansing in the same chapter, Jesus responds to a request for a sign by prophesying his resurrection (John 2:18-19). Some scholars see this this as the 7th sign. If so, it could be a perfection of the previous 6 signs, which failed to generate true belief (John 12:37). The 7th sign has no Old Testament precedent. Only after the 7th sign, did the disciples fully believe (John 20:8-9). Could the resurrection to new life be a kind of perfection of the imperfect? Bringing the reader to life (John 20:31) and in its fullness (John 10:10) is the aim of the gospel, which the wedding story seems to be illustrating so well.

  12. Hi, I have several questions. I have been studying John 2 off and on for several years now since beginning Bible college in 2014 and here are some questions I would like opinions and insights for 2:1-6. These are more grammatical historical than theological in nature.

    Did Jewish weddings in around the time of Christ take place in the synagogue or synagogue complex areas?
    If so, were these elaborate stone pots most likely the possessions of the Cana synagogue and being used for the guests – which could have been much of the entire population of Cana? I’ve read that for some of these events the entire village would show and celebrate(?) Does larger number of attendees then shed light on the wine running out as well as the miraculous quantity Jesus produces?
    Which is more probable, that Nathaniel of Cana is the wedding connection or that Jesus’ family has the wedding connection?
    Does the third day have any remote connection with the third day of Genesis creation of the fruit and fruit producing plants?
    Thank you for any insights!

    • Thanks for these questions. My understanding is that weddings were held around the home, not the Synagogue, so the jars would have been in a house, as they are in the example from Jerusalem. But I am not an expert on Jewish weddings!

      Yes, I think these would normally have been a village-wide affair.

      I think the ‘third day’ link is more clearly an anticipation of the resurrection, rather than a look back to the creation narrative.

  13. number six is symboled for human, (on the sixth day God created men). As Jews perspective, number seven stand for the perfection.
    1, six jars of water were turned to wine present for the blessing from God which is pour out on human.
    2, Jesus would mean he is the jar which is lacked, stand for the seventh jar. it might prove for the meaning of “incarnation” the word became flesh and live among us, and “Immanuel- God with us”.

    • That’s interesting…except that there is nothing at all in the passage to suggest that Jesus ‘is the seventh jar’. He changes what is already there, rather than adding to it.

      • “…my time is not yet.”- inference to his death- blood and water from his side. Preceding that at the Passover feast he says- “…this cup is poured out for you is the new Covenant in my blood.” Therefore it is plausible for the Lord to be, or to become the Seventh Jar (symbolically), to point out, that Christ fulfilled the Law, thus by partaking of his blood we are made perfect in Him. (Very much like Christ is inferred as the ‘seventh husband’ to the Sarmatian woman at the well).
        The water in the six jars could also symbolize God’s word in man, that ultimately transforms man into something heavenly (the image of Christ). So as the water is drawn out of us, our word or testimony are like wine.

        • Thanks—that is interesting, but (ISTM) completely speculative. I don’t see any suggestion in the text either that Jesus is the seventh jar or the seventh husband (he cannot be, since the man the woman is now with is not her husband).

  14. Thank you ,as i was reading the bible the Holy spirit indicated to me to research about the six jars.Wow i thank you for this research.Am becoming a schoolar

  15. Not sure I agree with some of your comments (interpretation). God commanded ceremonial cleansing (Jewish dispensation) and you say that this was partial & imperfect? Or that He would create rites to dehumanise man? So my God is “partial”, “imperfect” or “dehumanises” His creation? Me thinks NOT.

    • I don’t think I understand your comment. I don’t find anything in Scripture which talks of ‘dispensations’. Why do you consider rituals prescribed in the OT as ‘dehumanising’?

  16. The law was partial and imperfect because it could only condemn. Hebrews says “if the 1st covenant had been faultless there is no need for the 2nd. But finding fault with the 2nd….” Romans 8:3 “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak thru the flesh, God sendi g his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh…..”

  17. wasn’t the water just applied externally for ritual cleansing? The wine of Jesus, on the other hand, enters the body and cleanses and renewes us from the insight out. This contrasts how the new covenant is better as it changes our nature (ontological change)

  18. Also, the filling of the jars represents Jesus’ fulfilling the Laws of the OT. He didn’t abolish the law but fulfilled it.

  19. The symbolism is simple and Scriptural. Six plus one is the first number pattern in the Bible. It is the number of days of creation. There is no seventh jar, just as there is no work on the seventh day.

    Yeshua fills the ordinary jars with ordinary water, and then turns it to wine. This is symbolic of the new creation. It also reminds us of being “born of water and the Spirit.” Wine stands, not for forgiveness, but for the new covenant. All four Eucharistic accounts mention covenant. Only one–because Matthew notices everything–brings in forgiveness.

    As you say, this is “grace upon grace.” It was no doubt at a priestly house, since Jesus’s mother was from the line of Aaron on her mother’s side. And the New Covenant is made through the Old.

  20. Peter
    I feel convince that Jesus said am the true Vine n being and since wine was from Vine plus water the source of water that is living so he could make the best wine. Man was made in 6th day using soil that is the pot or jar. Looking at episodes jar carried the wrong wine as preaching were during those days but when the right time came Jesus Christ change it. Jeremiah talked about jar which he also allows to fall and break it means Israel or people. Jesus also sent his two disciplines andbythat time jar was in humans hands so that he could prepare for the new covenant

  21. Interesting discussion. How big were stone jars typically in that era? The photos look like they could be 10 gallons or more. (And yes, I know that those are eyewash photos, not of the actual 6 jars.)
    I don’t recall anyone doing the math on how much wine was the result of this miracle. If they were 10 gallons each, then that’s 60 gallons, which would be enough for 240 people to drink a quart each, more than a bottle of wine now. “Wine that gladdens human hearts” Sounds like a lot of glad hearts!

  22. Thank you, very interesting conversation. I don’t know if the number 6 is symbolic, but if it does, maybe it is referring to the insufficiency of the Jewish ceremonial cleansing water. It was then replaced with the forgiving power of the sacred blood of Jesus.

    • That is quite a common view…but I cannot see anything in the text which suggests that. What is interesting in the Fourth Gospel is that there are both numbers which clearly have symbolic significance (such as the 153 fish) and other numbers (the five porticos at Bethesda) which are just there because that was the number.

  23. Really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Jesus turning water to wine. John says this was the first (beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee). Doesn’t say first ever signs, so I wonder if Mary is privy to something that we are not regarding Jesus and miracles. I have many questions but one that I’ve always wondered was, would wine stained water pots still be cerimonial clean? Would they no longer be useful for their intended purpose, making them common use from that point forward (with many related thoughts)? Can you help here? Thank you.

    • Thanks Noel. Unless this was the very first thing that Jesus did, then (according to the Synoptics) he has already healed people. I would need to read more to see where others locate the relative timescales.

      I am not sure that wine would render the jars unclean. The point about stone (unlike pottery) was that it could be washed clean, whereas pottery absorbs what is in it and so must be smashed and not used again.


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