§ 3. The miracle at Cana

Critique of the Gospel of John
by Bruno Bauer



§3 The miracle at Cana.



1) The introduction to the miracle.

When the wine ran out during the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus called the attention of his mother to it, not in the way that one guest usually reminds another in such cases that it is time to leave *), but to the servants she immediately says, what he tells you to do, i.e. even if the slightest commands were unusual, follow them. So she does not expect Jesus to provide wine for the guests in the usual way, but she is prepared for extraordinary preparations for a miracle.

*) Nevertheless, Bengel explains the words of Mary in this way: velim discedas. it ceteri item discedant, antequam penuria patefiat.

So the mother of Jesus is expecting a miracle. How does she come to this so easily? She has not yet seen her Son perform any miracles, since the evangelist explicitly states that the Lord performed the first sign at Cana. Or did she foresee, as the apologists say, remembering the signs and wonders that glorified the birth of the Lord, that her Son would now perform something great? But why now of all times? And does she only foresee the coming event according to the message she has received, is she not rather convinced that it will happen, and does she not prepare the servants for it in this sense? But Jesus could not have told her beforehand that he would perform a miracle at the wedding and that he would perform this particular miracle, for the mother’s remark that the wine had run out was only meant to draw the Lord’s attention to a circumstance that had happened by chance.


But the Lord does not like his mother to tell him what to do and to interfere in his affairs. Woman, he says, what have I to do with you? It is in vain that the apologists endeavour to take away the harshness of this form of address, and that Hemsen, for example, says that the word “woman” has “here the quite ordinary sense of a form of address *). A form of address! What kind of address it is, that is what matters, and the word “woman” always denotes the utmost alienation when spoken to the mother, because it removes the definite relation to the mother, makes the filial relation disappear, and instead sets the general relationship according to the sex. Bengel therefore explains the address more correctly in the sense of the evangelist when he says that it should indicate that the Lord was not involved in the natural side and feeling of the family relationship. **) But this reveals to us the inhuman transcendental harshness of the form of address and how impossible it is that he should have spoken in this way who never wished to renounce the duty of fulfilling “all justice, thus also the justice of the family relationship. Hase ***) is also quite right in assuming that “the historian has preserved Jesus’ answer in order to express his independence from family relationships. As if the truth wanted to take revenge, Hase, although he first describes the answer as Jesus’ words, must at the end let the historian express Jesus’ supposed independence. Indeed, Jesus himself cannot speak in this way, since we cannot ascribe to him such a fearful jealousy for the appearance of his independence, a jealousy that went on to extreme harshness against his mother.

*) Die Authentie der Schriften des Evangelisten Johannes p. 82.

**) Ne matrem quidem noverat secundum earnem.

***) Das Leben Jesu. 1835. p. 107.


In this respect, such a rude dismissal contradicts the way of the Lord, as he never refuses help when asked, let alone in such a harsh manner. Directed towards the mother, however, this harshness would exceed all bounds. Of course, the evangelist also gives a motive why the Lord did not respond to the mother’s admonition: his hour had not yet come. According to his presupposition, as he understood the mother’s admonition, Bengel can make it easiest for himself if he understands the hour to which the Lord refers as the time for departure *). But how could the Lord so exclusively call the time that would have been the end of their gathering for all the guests his hour? Would it not have been necessary for the author to emphasise that this conversation between Jesus and his mother was about the hour of departure? But “my hour” has such a solemn sound that we should not assume, even with Lücke, Olshausen and many others, that the Lord means the right time for the performance of the miracle. We would then have to assume the impossible, that the Lord had already told the mother that he would perform this particular miracle on this feast day. Rather, the hour of the Lord is called throughout the Fourth Gospel the time in which the work of salvation is completed, i.e. the time of suffering. Augustine is therefore closer to the mark when he really goes back to that time, which in the exclusive sense is called the hour of the Lord, and means with reference to 19:26, that the Lord wants to say that he will not have anything to do with his mother before the hour of his death *). But this explanation too must be rejected outright, since it completely overlooks the relationship to the requested miracle, for in the context of the report those words can only mean: now I cannot respond to your admonition about the wine, but when my hour has come, then I will bring the miraculous wine. But it is evident that these words of the Lord are just as unhistorical as the preceding admonition of the Mother.

*) Hora faciendi, quod innuis, i. e. Discedendi.

*) Weisse, evang. Gesch. II, 281.Aug. in Joan. ev. tract. VIII, c. 9 says: quia genuisti informitatem meam, timc te cognoseam, cum ipsa infirmitas pendcbit in cruce. When, by the way, the Lord, pointing to the standing favourite disciple, says to his mother from the cross: “Woman, behold, your son!”, this address does not cancel out the above explanation of the use of the word woman, as Hemsen (loc. cit.) thinks, The harshness enters into the above address through the fact that the Lord at the same time rejects a request of the mother. But what both forms of address have in common is that the master lifts the mother out of the family relationship with him. In both cases he no longer regards her as his mother; therefore: “Woman!”


The words that Jesus and the mother exchanged with each other must also have been spoken later, because the mother, when she asked the Lord to perform a miracle, would not have said it aloud so that anyone but Jesus could hear. It had to be done so quietly that even a disciple sitting nearby could not hear it. The words to the servants can also only be thought of as a quiet hint, if the whole company was not to be put in suspense beforehand: but how could the servants then understand a hint in a matter of which they had no idea?


The question of the origin of this dialogue is easily answered. There is something offensive in the miracle itself, insofar as it serves to satisfy desire. If the company itself, when there was no wine and they still wanted to drink, had asked the master to perform the miracle, the offence would have been increased and the purpose of the social pleasure would have been too naked. Under these circumstances it must have seemed more fitting and harmless if a woman had asked for a miracle, which again none of the women could do with less suspicion of a selfish intention than the mother of the Lord. But she could so surely expect and presuppose what would happen, because the evangelist had the miracle in mind and could also grant the mother of Jesus the certainty that it would be performed. Her invitation was for him the lever with which he set the following in motion.

This request, however, seemed to involve an inconsistency. The Lord might otherwise perform his miracles at the request of others, without such an occasion being the cause of a discreditable connotation: here such a reason seemed to be there. For the words of the Mother, who is already certain of success, do not contain a request but an admonition, and if the Lord then performed the miracle without further ado after Mary’s request, it seemed that he had followed the authority of the Mother. But now he was to appear in his glory, which the evangelist had to guard jealously and let the Lord reject any appearance of external authority *).

*) Calvin, Comm. on the Gospel of John, explains the evangelist’s view correctly: Christus periculo occurrit, ne alio quam oportet trahatur matris dictum, quasi ex ejus praescripto miraculum postea ediderit.


We have already seen that the meaning of the Lord’s words, “My hour has not yet come,” is none other than this: only when the time of completed suffering and glorification has come will I pour out the true miracle wine. As soon as we understand the words in this only correct sense, their true meaning is immediately betrayed, and the hint of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, which lies visibly in them, now, after having been misunderstood for so long, emerges unmistakably. Although the fourth evangelist does not report the institution of the Lord’s Supper himself, he does know it, and he lets the Lord reflect on the enjoyment of his flesh and blood. As the Lord speculates in this later passage about the necessity of this partaking, so he prophesies here at Cana about the gift of the true miraculous wine, which he will give to his own in his time. But it was impossible for the Lord to speak of this gift so early on, since he could not assume that the mother would understand him even remotely.

Now we can no longer be surprised at the instruction which the Mother of Jesus gives to the servants. For she could very easily find out that the servants would have something to do here, since the evangelist only had to lend her his knowledge of what followed. Nor could she turn to her son’s words that his hour had not yet come, since they came only from the evangelist, who satisfied his desire for a prophecy in them and, when he had satisfied it, forgot that they had to tell the mother not to pursue the Lord with her desire. On the contrary, the evangelist needed the mother so that the arrangements for the miracle, which the Lord would later make, could be made all the more easily by the servants. The servants were to be prepared for Jesus’ seemingly strange request *).

*) Is this not true apologetics, which turns the biblical text into its opposite? “Withdrawing herself, says Olshausen, Mary now refers the servants to the divine Son”. That is a beautiful retreat, when after the hard rebuke of the Lord she still gets involved in the matter and even draws the servants into it, who now also had to expect that the Lord would soon do something special!


But the Lord would not have been allowed to perform the miracle if he had said: My hour has not yet come. But the evangelist intervenes, he wants to report this miraculous deed and all the inappropriate speeches that precede it cannot dissuade him from this intention.

2) The purpose of the miracle.

The evangelist strongly emphasizes that it was the first sign that the Lord performed at Cana, that he revealed his glory and that the disciples believed in him. Accordingly, he seems to consider the ultimate purpose of the miracle, in accordance with his maxim, to be the production of faith, so that in and of itself, as the breaking of natural laws, it would not have achieved its essential purpose. However, this view cannot cause us any lasting offense when we inquire about the purpose of this miracle, as it belongs solely to the pragmatism of the author.

A far more serious difficulty presents itself when, apart from the pragmatism of the evangelist, we consider the miracle for itself. The miracle is otherwise always beneficial in that it removes a natural deficiency. But what the Lord is said to have done at Cana does not aim at the beneficial removal of a natural evil, but only at refreshing the interrupted desire. Ever since apologetics was embarrassed by the discovery of this contradiction, it has endeavoured to find an inner purpose in the miracle at Cana which would make it appear to be more than a casual expedient. Olshausen, who has completed these efforts, now says that the Lord’s purpose was to lead his disciples, who had formerly followed the Baptist, the man who lived in the rough desert and did not drink the fruit of the vine, into a freer position. He had already achieved this purpose if he took them into society and its freer movement and led them out of the desert to the pleasures of a wedding feast. In doing so, he would have already shown them clearly enough that it was not in harmony with his spirit if one wanted to close oneself off from the cheerfulness of life. Olshausen also assuages this objection *). The Lord had wanted to balance out the contrast between the austere life in which the disciples had previously been caught up and the enjoyment to which they were now led, and to suppress “all possible censuring judgements that wanted to stir in their hearts” through the miracle. But in this way the miracle again becomes only a formal means. If the disciples thought that the stern seriousness of the Baptist and the cheerfulness of the Lord were really a contrast that would have made them misunderstand their new Master, Jesus had to explain it more clearly, or if he wanted to do it by means of the miracle, he would have had to express this purpose at the same time by a postscript, otherwise the treatise itself, which is supposed to lie in the miracle, would have missed its effect or would have been completely incomprehensible. If the fourth evangelist was one of the disciples whom the Lord wanted to influence by the miracle, then he at least proves that with him the means worked unsuccessfully or was not necessary. To him the miracle is nothing but the revelation of that glory which he sees in all other miracles of the Lord in the same way. And where is the proof that in the minds of the disciples any reproachful judgements came to the fore? The Lord would have acted very rashly and, what is more, with a wasteful use of the most violent means, if he had sent a miracle against “possible” judgements of this kind before they had even forced themselves forward. But if he had seen from the real statements of the disciples that such judgements were indeed being raised in their hearts, then he would have had to repudiate them differently, just as he rebuked those who reproached him for not living as strictly as the Baptist (Matth. 9:14-17). The purpose of the instruction could not have been fulfilled in the miracle.

*) Comm. II, 75. 76.


In general, however, we must not conduct teleological observation too prosaically if we do not want to expose ourselves to the danger of subordinating the principle of utility to the miraculous activity of the Lord. Already in the contemplation of nature we are not permitted this prosaic limitation; we would, for example, only consider wine in a one-sided way if we only wanted to understand it in relation to man and not in itself as the highest manifestation of the spiritual in the plant world. Similarly, at least, we could regard the miracle at Cana as an end in itself, and the act itself as a rejoicing in creation, as an exaltation over what was pressing, sick and suffering, an exaltation which was no injustice to the Lord.


If one wants to understand the report mythically, then only the words of the Lord, “My hour has not yet come,” are to be considered. According to the evangelist’s view, the Lord is supposed to point to the time of suffering in which he will perform the true miracle witness: how, then, can this prophecy reveal the ideal meaning of the account? if the transformation of the water into wine were a prelude to the distribution of that wine at the Last Supper? Even without the correct explanation of these words of the Lord, de Wette has come to the conclusion that it would be most analogous to regard this giving of wine as a counter-image of the giving of bread and both as corresponding to the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper *). But this explanation is not really sufficient, since it leaves it unclear why wine, which is obtained by transformation, should occur in this prelude to the Lord’s Supper. This cannot be based on the fact that wine is also given in the Lord’s Supper, which is no longer the direct wine, but the blood of the Lord; for the transformation theory was not developed as early as one would then have to assume. If the report had only been written as a prelude to the institution of the Lord’s Supper, it would have had immediate appeal as a myth and would have been more widespread than it really is. Then it must also have been more closely related to the legend of the multiplication of the loaves as an image of the giving of the bread of the Lord’s Supper and, if the latter narrative was mythical, it must have originated in the same circle with it and have always existed together with it. Since this is not the case either, the account would have to be a purely literary product of the fourth evangelist, but then again the relationship to the giving of wine at the Last Supper would have to prevail in it.

*) ibid. p. 37.

On the contrary, however, this relation appears only once, only as if lost, and even only in such a way that the miraculous deed itself appears against it as an inconsequence.


Thus the mythical explanation cannot be carried out with complete certainty. The Synoptics, of course, know nothing of this miracle, but the reason for their silence may also lie in the fact that the congregation’s perception of this feature of the Lord’s life did not know how to find it and that it now gradually receded in their memory. But even if the miracle were the historical core of the report, it must not be overlooked that the evangelist did not give a pure account of the idea of the whole, especially that he did not adequately introduce the miracle.


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