Marriage at Cana

The transformation of water into wine at the Marriage at Cana or Wedding at Cana is the first miracle attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of John.[1][2] In the Gospel account, Jesus, his mother and his disciples are invited to a wedding, and when the wine runs out, Jesus delivers a sign of his divinity by turning water into wine.

The "Wedding Church" in Kafr Kanna, Israel, a pilgrimage site believed by many Christians to be the site of the biblical marriage

The location of Cana has been subject to debate among biblical scholars and archaeologists; multiple villages in Galilee are possible candidates.

Biblical account

John 2:1-11 states that Jesus was at a wedding (Seudat Nissuin) in Cana with his disciples. Jesus' mother (unnamed in John's Gospel) told Jesus, "They have no wine," and Jesus replied, "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." His mother then said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2:3-5). Jesus ordered the servants to fill containers with water and to draw out some and take it to the chief steward (waiter). After tasting it, without knowing where it came from, the steward remarked to the bridegroom that he had departed from the custom of serving the best wine first by serving it last (John 2:6-10). John adds that: "Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and it revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him" (John 2:11).


The Wedding Feast takes place in Cana shortly after the call of Philip and Nathanael. According to John 21:2, Cana was Nathanael's hometown.[3]

Although none of the synoptic Gospels mentions the marriage at Cana, Christian tradition based on John 2:11 holds that this is the first public miracle of Jesus.[4] It is considered to have symbolic importance as the first of the seven signs in the Gospel of John by which Jesus' divine status is attested, and around which the gospel is structured. Jesus will later return to Cana, where John 4:46-54 describes him healing a Capernaum official's young son; the second sign in John's Gospel.[3]

The story has had considerable importance in the development of Christian pastoral theology. Fulton J. Sheen thought that it is very likely that it was one of Mary's relatives who was being married. This would mean Mary and her relatives would be embarrassed if they appeared inhospitable by running out of wine, giving Mary a reason to ask Jesus to intervene. Sheen further suggests that as Jesus showed up with additional guests, they may have contributed to the wines running short.[5] When his mother advises Jesus that their hosts are running out of wine, he says "Woman, what has this to do with me?" Sheen sees an echo of the Protevangelium of Genesis 3:15 "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers", marking the commencement of Jesus' redemptive ministry.[5] Jesus will again address her as "Woman" in John 19:26, when he entrusts his mother to his disciple John, "“Woman, behold, your son.”[3]

The gospel account of Jesus being invited to a marriage, attending, and using his divine power to save the celebrations from disaster are taken as evidence of his approval for marriage and earthly celebrations. It has also been used as an argument against Christian teetotalism.[6]

Interpreted allegorically, the good news and hope implied by the story are in the words of the steward of the Feast when he tasted the good wine, "Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now" (John 2:10, RSV). This could be interpreted by saying simply that it is always darkest before the dawn, but good things are on the way. The more usual interpretation, however, is that this is a reference to the appearance of Jesus, whom the author of the Fourth Gospel regards as being himself "the good wine".[7] According to Bill Day, the miracle may also be interpreted as the antitype of Moses' first public miracle of changing water (the Nile river) into blood. This would establish a symbolic link between Moses as the first saviour of the Jews through their escape from Egypt and Jesus as the spiritual saviour of all people.[8]

Some commentators have speculated about the identity of the unnamed bridegroom. One tradition, represented by Thomas Aquinas among others, holds that the bridegroom was St John the Evangelist himself. Bishop John Spong suggests in his book Born of a Woman that the event was the wedding of Jesus himself to Mary Magdalene.[9] In 1854, at a time when polygamy was an element of mainstream practice of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Latter-day Saint elder Orson Hyde made a similar suggestion, arguing that Jesus was a polygamist and that the event at Cana was his wedding to Mary Magdalene, Martha and Mary of Bethany.[10][11][12] However, the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene is usually dismissed by scholars as pseudohistorical.[13]

Studying Jesus in comparative mythology, the story of the transformation of water into wine bears some resemblance to a number of stories that were told about the ancient Greek god Dionysus, who among others was said to fill empty barrels that had been left locked inside a temple overnight with wine.[14] However, scholars generally agree that the Gospel of John was written by a community of Jewish Christians who had recently been excommunicated by the local synagogue for recognising Jesus as the Messiah, making unlikely the possibility that the Gospel was influenced by ancient Greek mythology.[15] The idea that the image of Jesus was influenced by ancient pagan mythology is usually dismissed by scholars as a fringe theory.[16]

Geography and archaeology

Kafr Kanna
Khirbet Qana
Ain Qana

The exact location of "Cana in Galilee" (Greek: Κανὰ τῆς Γαλιλαίας, Kana tēs Galilaias) has been subject to debate among scholars.[17] Modern scholars maintain that since the Gospel of John was addressed to Jewish Christians of the time, it is unlikely that the evangelist would mention a place that did not exist.

Locations which are candidates for historical Cana are:

  • Kafr Kanna, in Galilee
  • Khirbet Qana, also called Kenet-l-Jalil, also in Galilee
  • Ain Qana, Southern Lebanon
  • Qana, Southern Lebanon.[18]

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1914, a tradition dating back to the 8th century identifies Cana with the modern Arab town of Kafr Kanna, in Galilee, about 7 km (4.3 mi) northeast of Nazareth, Israel.[19] Other suggested alternatives include the ruined village of Khirbet Qana, also called Kenet-l-Jalil, about 9 km (5.6 mi) further north, and Ain Qana, in Southern Lebanon, which is considered to be a better candidate on etymological grounds. Some Lebanese Christians, especially Lebanese Maronites, believe the southern Lebanese village of Qana to have been the actual location of this event.[20]

In the journal Biblical Archaeology Review, Michael Homan argues that many biblical scholars have misinterpreted early texts, translating to 'wine' when the more sensible translation is 'beer'.[21] However, this has been dismissed by other writers, who point out that the Greek oinos always means wine, and that the word sikera was available if the gospel author wanted to refer to barley beer.[22][23][24]

In art

Depictions of Marriage at Cana are numerous in art history.


Saint Columba of Iona supposedly performed an identical miracle when he served as a deacon in Ireland under Finnian of Movilla, replenishing the supply of sacramental wine for a Mass.[26]

See also


  1. van der Loos, Hendrik (1965). The Miracles Of Jesus. Brill Archive. p. 590. GGKEY:ZY15HUEX1RJ.
  2. Royster, Dmitri (1999). The Miracles of Christ. St Vladimir's Seminary Press. p. 71. ISBN 978-0-88141-193-5.
  3. Winstanley, Michael T. (2008). Symbols and Spirituality: Reflecting on John's Gospel. Don Bosco Publications. pp. 8–. ISBN 978-0-9555654-0-3.
  4. Towner, W. S. (1996). "Wedding". In P. J. Achtermeier (ed.). Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. San Francisco: Harper. pp. 1205–1206.
  5. Sheen, Fulton J. (1952). "The Marriage Feast At Cana, in The World's First Love".
  6. Geisler, N. L. (1982). "A Christian Perspective on Wine-Drinking". Bibliotheca Sacra. 49.
  7. Smith, D. M. (1988). "John". In Mays, J. L. (ed.). Harper's Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper. pp. 1044–1076.
  8. Day, Bill (1997). The Moses Connection in John's Gospel. Mariner. ISBN 0-9662080-0-5.
  9. Spong, John Shelby (1992). Born of a Woman. Harper. pp. 187–199.
  10. Hyde, Orson (6 October 1854), "Conference message", Journal of Discourses, 2: 82
  11. Abanes, Richard (2007). Inside Today's Mormonism. p. 239. ISBN 0-7369-1968-6.
  12. Roberts, E (2011). A Disparity in Doctrine and Theology. p. 54. ISBN 1-4497-1210-X.
  13. Ehrman, Bart D. (2004). Truth and Fiction in The Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know about Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine. USA: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-518140-1.
  14. Pollmann, Karla (2017). "Jesus Christ and Dionysus: Rewriting Euripides in the Byzantine Cento - Oxford Scholarship". Oxford Scholarship Online. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198726487.001.0001.
  15. Hurtado, Larry W. (2005). How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus. Wm. B. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0-8028-2861-3.
  16. Ehrman, Bart D. (2012-03-20). Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth. Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-208994-6.
  17. Charlesworth, James H. (2006). Jesus and Archaeology. Wm. B. Eerdmans. pp. 540–541. ISBN 978-0-8028-4880-2.
  18. Freedman, David Noel; Allen C. Myers, eds. (2000). Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Amsterdam University Press. p. 212. ISBN 978-90-5356-503-2.
  19. Ward, Bernard (1908). "Cana" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  20. Salameh, Rima (29 January 1994). "Lebanese Town Lays Claim To Jesus Christ's First Miracle". Tulsa World. Retrieved 21 June 2021 via Associated Press.
  21. Homan, Michael M. (2010). "Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?". Biblical Archaeology Review.
  22. Kneale, Stephen (November 23, 2016). "Did Jesus actually turn water into beer?". Building Jerusalem.
  23. Rao, Bandari Prabhakar (April 14, 2010). The Missiological Motifs of the Miracles of Jesus Christ. ISPCK. ISBN 9788184650259.
  24. Saarnivaara, Uuras (April 29, 2008). Can the Bible Be Trusted?: Old and New Testament Introduction and Interpretation. Wipf and Stock. ISBN 9781556356995.
  25. "Bruiloft te Kana". Retrieved 2020-09-28.
  26. Adomnan of Iona (1995). Life of St Columba. Penguin.
Marriage at Cana
Preceded by
Return of Jesus to Galilee
New Testament
Succeeded by
Jesus and Nicodemus
John 03:01–21
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