The miracle of Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana is the first of Jesus’ miracles recounted in the Gospel of John, and as such it marks a decisive moment in the story of Jesus’ divinity. But there are several mysterious details about the story which are worthy of closer analysis, not least the matter of where ‘Cana’ exactly was.
The miracle is told of in John 2:1-11. Jesus, his mother, and his disciples attend a wedding in the village of Cana. When the wine runs out at the feast, Jesus turns water into wine, thus demonstrating his divinity to his disciples.
Let’s take a closer look at the ‘water into wine’ miracle by analysing what John tells us.
Jesus turning water into wine: summary
In John chapter 2 verses 1-11, we are given an account of the marriage at Cana, where the miracle takes place.
John tells us that there was a marriage ‘in Cana of Galilee’ and ‘the mother of Jesus’, i.e., the Virgin Mary, was present. Jesus and his disciples were also ‘called’ to the marriage. At the wedding, they ran out of wine and Jesus’ mother told him that they’d run out, implying that he could perhaps … help out.
Jesus replied rather sharply: ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.’ In other words, ‘woman, what am I going to do with you? You’re hopeless! I’m not ready to announce my divinity to the world’ (i.e., by performing a miracle and magicking up some wine in public).
But Jesus seems to have come round. Mary told the servants at the wedding, whatever her son tells them to do, they should do it.
There were six water pots made out of stone. Jesus told the servants to fill them up with water, and they did so. Then he told them to fetch the governor or ‘ruler’ (i.e., the steward) of the feast. They did so.
The ruler of the feast tasted the water, and realised that it was wine. He couldn’t say where it had come from, but the servants knew (and probably smiled to themselves, as they realised what Jesus had done). The steward of the feast then called the bridegroom and congratulated him for keeping ‘the good wine’ back until this point in the feast.
Jesus turning water into wine: analysis
The miracle at Cana is often imagined (by people who know vaguely of the story but have never read what the Bible actually says about it) as a public demonstration of Jesus’ divinity. But this act is, we should note, performed only with the utmost reluctance – Jesus even shouts at his mother for persuading him to turn the water into wine, after all! – and kept secret from the majority of guests at the wedding. Jesus’ disciples know the truth, as do the servants, but it is clearly stated by John that the groom publicly gets the credit for the wine, and the governor or steward in charge of the feast doesn’t suspect that Jesus is behind it.
As such, the miracle is very different from one performed later in Jesus’ ministry: the feeding of the five thousand (as it is commonly known) which we have previously analysed here. By that point, Jesus is on the run after John the Baptist’s death and has amassed a vast following: a whole crowd which gathers around him to hear what he has to say. There, Jesus performs his miracle – making the loaves and fishes feed every man, woman, and child present – in front of the multitude so there can be no doubt as to his divinity.
Cana is remembered now for one thing and one thing only: the fact that, according to John, Jesus turned water into wine there. But where Cana was is a mystery. We know it was somewhere in Galilee, that part of Palestine where Jesus was preaching at the time, and several possible sites have been proposed, including Kafr Kanna, Khirbet Qana in Lower Galilee, Reineh in Lower Galilee, and Qana in Upper Galilee. Of these, the authors of the Dictionary of the Bible propose Khirbet Qana as the true identity of ‘Cana of Galilee’, which would have been so named to distinguish it from a ‘Kanah’ in the Old Testament, in the Book of Joshua. (Joshua’s Kanah was probably near Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon.)
The name Cana is thought to be from the Hebrew or Aramaic for ‘reeds’, but even that we cannot be sure about. Outside of John’s gospel, Cana isn’t mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Nathanael, one of Jesus’ disciples whom only John mentions, came from Cana, and later in John’s gospel we are told that Jesus healed a nobleman’s son at Capernaum, shortly after Jesus had returned to Cana (John 4:46).
Whatever the truth, it’s probable that Cana was a few miles north of Nazareth, the place where Jesus grew up and where he first began to preach his teachings. Since the miracle of turning the water into wine is widely regarded as Jesus’ first miracle, it seems appropriate that it would happen at an event not far from Jesus’ home, while he was with his mother. Whilst later miracles often take place with a gathering of Jesus’ followers assembled around him, at this stage the crowd is there to witness the marriage of two other people, and the opportunity for Jesus’ miracle arises naturally from a catering oversight.