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What did John mean by “second sign” (δεύτερον σημεῖον) in John 4:54?

This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (John 4:54, ESV)

Τοῦτο [δὲ] πάλιν δεύτερον σημεῖον ἐποίησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλθὼν ἐκ τῆς Ἰουδαίας εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν. (John 4:54, NA27)

That an official came from Capernaum asking Jesus to heal his son seems to indicate that Jesus already had a reputation as a healer. Thus, it seems unlikely that Jesus healed no one since he changed the water into wine (John 2:11).

  1. Roberson explains this as the second sign in Cana, but Jesus performed many in Jerusalem:

The second sign that (δευτερον σημειον [deuteron sēmeion]). No article, simply predicate accusative, “This again a second sign did Jesus having come out of Judea into Galilee.” The first one was also in Cana (2:1ff.), but many were wrought in Jerusalem also (2:23).

Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 4:54). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

Bryant writes the same thing:

Since John 2:23 and 4:45 mentioned more than two miracles done by Jesus, this healing of the official’s son could not be accurately called Jesus’ second miraculous sign; so say several commentators. This is to overlook the contents of these several statements about miracles by Jesus. John meant here “the second miraculous sign that Jesus performed in Cana.”

Bryant, B. H., & Krause, M. S. (1998). John (Jn 4:54). Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co.

This is again the second miracle. The word is “sign” in the Greek. He had wrought other miracles in Judea, but this was the second wrought in Galilee. The seat of the first was Cana; the Lord was at Cana when he wrought the second, but the subject of it was at Capernaum.

Johnson, B. W. (1886). John: the New Testament commentary, vol. III (p. 83). St. Louis, MO: Christian Board of Publication.

  1. Lange writes that second sign marks Jesus’ second return to Galilee, not his second miracle. Although, note in his explanation, he recognizes that the grammar puts δευτερον with σημειον.

This sign Jesus wrought as the second, etc., Πάλιν is not to be connected with δεύτερον, nor to be referred to ἐποίησεν by itself, but to the statement that Jesus had returned from Judea to Galilee. Jesus had meantime done many other miracles, even in Capernaum; this miracle marks His second return to Galilee, as the miracle at Cana had marked the first. He brought healing with Him at once, and it went out from Him even in distant results.

Lange, J. P., & Schaff, P. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: John (p. 174). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

  1. John records seven signs, but indicates that Jesus did much more (John 21:25). Is John saying this is the second sign he recorded?

The designation of this as “the second sign that Jesus did” is a further hint (cf. 2:11) that the reader is to observe the number of signs, seven, recorded in the Gospel.

Goodspeed, E. J. (1917). The Gospel of John (p. 11). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

How should we understand John’s meaning of “second sign?”

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The Gospel of John appears to use "σημεῖον" (= sign or omen) in the sense of "miraculous sign". (Several versions say this explicitly, eg KJV, CEV, GNT, NET, KJV2000, DRB, WBT, etc.) Ellicott observes (on John 2:11):

It is important to note here that St. John uses only once, and that in our Lord's test of the courtier, and connected with "sign" (John 4:48), the word which represents "miracle," "wonder," "portent," and that he nowhere uses the word which represents "powers" or "mighty works." For him they are simply "works," and these "works" are "signs." … This gives the key, then, to the selection of "miracles" by St. John, and to their interpretation. He gives those which mark stages of fuller teaching. They are "signs" of a new revelation, and lead to a higher faith.

The usual list (eg, NAB Introduction to John's Gospel) of Jesus' seven "signs" includes:

  1. Turns water to wine (John 2:1-11)
  2. Heals a Royal official’s son (John 4:43-54)
  3. Heals a disabled man at Bethesda pool (John 5:1-47)
  4. Feeds ~20,000 people (John 6:1-15)
  5. Walks on Water (John 6:16-24)
  6. Heals a blind man (John 9 & 10)
  7. Resurrects Lazarus (John 11:1-57)

I would also suggest that after Jesus' death, there were three more "faith confirming" miracles, namely,

  • Jesus' own resurrection (John 2:19, 22, 10:17, 18, 20:1-18, 21:14)
  • Jesus' appearance to disciples in the locked upper room (John 20:19-30)
  • The miraculous catch of fish (John 21:1-21)

This is part of John's overall well-structured approach to his Gospel that includes such other features as

  • the seven predicated "I am" statements (The Bread of Life, John 6:35-51; the Light of the world, John 8:12; the Door of the sheep, John 10:7-9; the Good Shepherd, John 10: 11-14; the Resurrection & Life, John 11:25; the Way, Truth & Life, John 14:6; the Vine, John 15:1-5)
  • the seven unpredicated statements (John 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 28, 58, 13:19, 18:5-8)
  • A series of incidents selected that reflect a walk into the temple (lamb, water, bread, light, etc)

There are more but this gives a good idea. Now, back to the "second sign". Why does John use the word "sign/omen/portent" rather than the more usual word for (say) miracle or wonder? Further, why does he record just seven miracles/signs before Jesus' death. I believe there are several reasons for this:

  • I believe, based on some of the other data above that John used this device (as well as others) to give better literary structure and form to his Gospel
  • Each of these "signs" (there were many others as John says, John 20:30) was used as a specific teaching point and a dramatic turning point in the story - observe the carefully constructed progress in the Jesus path to the cross. (There is no space here to develop this idea further.)

In this latter sense, each miracle truly became an "omen" in the story development because it was connected to what came before and what might follow.

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