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John 1 describes in some detail Jesus calling his first five disciples - Andrew, Simon, Philip, Nathanael and presumably John. John 2 1-2 says that Jesus' mother was at the wedding and Jesus was there with his disciples. So there were six followers of Jesus at the wedding (his mother and five disciples), and six jars filled with the new wine.

This seems to be another one of John's 'sevens'. Jesus commanded the six jars to be filled with water at the wedding, and then turned the water into wine. In the same way Jesus filled his six followers (the number six can represent humanity) with the new wine of the Kingdom. He is the perfect seventh 'jar', from which all the other jars are filled.

The passage here forms a beautiful contrast with Jeremiah 13; 12-14 where people are also referred to as jars of wine. In the Jeremiah passage the people described were the prophets, priests and the kings who sat on David's throne, as well as all the people of Jerusalem. They were all sentenced to destruction.

At the wedding at Cana one man, who was a prophet, priest and the king who would sit on David's throne, filled jars with a wine of blessing instead of destruction. It was as if the old wine of God's judgement a ran out at the wedding, and was replaced with the new wine of His blessing.

I wonder if this, the first sign that Jesus did, set the pattern for the rest of Jesus' ministry - he filled the 12, then the 70, then the 3,000 at Pentecost. And these people, like the jars of new wine filled to the brim at the wedding, (John 2:7) went on to share the new wine they carried with others, spreading the gospel of the Kingdom far and wide.

Incidentally the amount of wine Jesus created (approximately 150 gallons) was enough to give 3,000 people a good measure. Could it be that Jesus was looking all the way to Pentecost when he created the wine?

This all makes sense to me, but I've not seen this referenced anywhere else, so I would be curious to know if other people see this as well?

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  • NO - such a connection is only possible IF the Scripture makes such a connection. No such connection is made.
    – Dottard
    Mar 13, 2021 at 9:22
  • John also notes that they caught 153 fish. Can't we just recognise that sometimes he specified some numbers because that's how many there were, without any deeper meanings?
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 14, 2021 at 0:46
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    I like this kind of connection and believe it is a completely valid approach. I also think there are other allusions as well. Just make sure that the certainty level in your reads is not too high. John frequently seems to allude to scripture and it would certainly have been in the minds of his jewish readers.
    – Gus L.
    Mar 22, 2021 at 12:59
  • @curiousdannii Augustine recognised 153 as T(17) [ Sermones 250.3, 251.7] and interpreted 17 as meaningful here.
    – user59096
    Nov 2, 2023 at 17:58
  • @Thermion Because of your germane comment I was able to locate this paper: drmsh.com/TheNakedBible/… "John's" interest in numerology seems to be traceable back to the scroll of Jubilees, which organized all of Jewish history as a series of sevens. Jubilees is part of the Ethiopic canon, but the West did not appreciate its relevance: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Jubilees
    – Ruminator
    Nov 3, 2023 at 0:34

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At this point, I can't say what the six stands for, but this is the symbolism of the jars within their context of John's Gospel. John does make the point that there were six jars, but note that these jars were for purification washing.

 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification,... (John 2:6a, ESV)

John had previously compared Jesus' earthly ministry to Moses.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ... 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14,16–17, ESV)

This was the first of seven miracles John recorded as signs of Jesus being the Messiah. This signs somewhat parallel the ten plagues in Egypt as far as purpose; the ten plagues, God superiority of the Egyptian gods, the seven signs, Jesus is the Messiah, Son of God. The first plague was changing water to blood. In the last supper Jesus used wine representing his blood. We are cleansed by his blood. Thus the jars for cleansing.

I hope this helps you find an answer.

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Although it is hard to say whether the six jars represent six specific disciples, there may be reason to consider the jars as representative of humanity in general or the disciples of Christ in particular:

  • So they will hang on him all the glory of his father’s house, the offspring and the descendants, all the least of vessels, from bowls to all the jars. (Is 22:24)

As the first of Jesus’ signs, the wedding at Cana is intriguing because of how different it is from all of Jesus’ other miracles. The OP’s question and interpretation prompts me to think about the symbolism in this story. Although not a parable, this story includes many of the prominent symbols of the New Testament. The wedding, the bridegroom, the stone, the jars, the water, the wine, the servants, etc. - each of these elements, whether singly or in combination, seem to point to something beyond itself.

Once I began thinking about the symbolism embedded in this account, the hard part has been how to stop. There seems no end to the connections that can be made. Almost every word seems to recall something from the past or foreshadow things that have yet to come. The OP’s interpretation focuses on the theme of multiplication and the spreading of the Gospel message. For me, what stands out is the symbolism of the water and wine, and the theme of transformation.

The setting is a wedding banquet, where there is “no more wine.” On one level, the wine represents the life of the banquet. Considered at a deeper level, wine, or “the blood of the grapes” (Gen 49:11), represents the life of the spirit; and the absence of wine represents a state of spiritual thirst and sin.

Mary says, “Do whatever he tells you.” She directs the servants to listen to and obey Jesus' words. By extension, her words can be seen as a plea to the servants of God to hear and obey the words of the Gospel. They echo statements from elsewhere in the text:

  • “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared. Be attentive to him and obey his voice (Ex 23:20-21)
  • While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!” (Lk 17:5)

Jesus tells the servants to “fill the jars with water.” Considering Mary’s words and how the water is poured and drawn leads me to think that the water represents the words of the Gospel. Consider that the servants of God have been pouring and drawing the words of the Gospel ever since and will continue to do so for generations to come.

Once the jars that are set for purification have been filled to the brim, the water is turned into wine. This miracle symbolizes the transformative and life giving power of the words of the Gospel acting in the soul of those who listen and obey:

  • The words that I have spoken to you are spirit, and are life. (Jn 6:63)
  • Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. (Jn 6:68)

Furthermore, when we consider that Jesus himself is the Word of God (Jn 1:14), then another level of meaning opens up. The transformation of the water into wine then becomes a foreshadowing of the hour when the wine will become the blood of Christ, the blood of the new covenant that is poured out for the forgiveness of sins:

  • And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Mt 26:27-28)

As the first of the seven signs recorded by John, the miracle at Cana seems to be a roadmap for Jesus’ ministry, and the overflowing wine, 25-30 gallons times six, serves to fulfill the words of the OT:

  • “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when the reaper will be overtaken by the plowman and the planter by the one treading grapes. New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills, (Amos 9:13)
  • He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. (Gen 49:11)
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I agree there is a lot of symbolism embedded in this miracle. Including the very 1st miracle of creation occurring in 6 days (6 jars). Water becoming wine and and appearing aged (the Earth isn't as old as it appears). Mary tells them (do as He says).He is creator, messiah, the word. All these are expressed in this miracle so we can realize He is fully God and man. His name is above all names. He sits at the right hand of the Father. The Holy Spirit has been given to us who are blessed to be children of God so we will understand,because not everyone can. Reference; Bible study for over 40 years.

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I recently had a discussion on another site regarding Jewish numerology, and in my research I came to the conclusion that the significance of numbers to Jews was no more than what the numbers themselves suggest, as in four being the number of seasons, the number of corners of the earth and so on. The number twelve, for example, would have associations with the number of moons in the year, sort of, and so on. In fact, when the Roman cabal was deciding on their canon, Eusebius insisted that there be four gospels because, well, you have twelve disciples like the twelve months so of course you want four gospels, to represent the four seasons. As my Vietnamese friend says, "Eusebius smaaahrt!"

The point being, that Jews thought in "round numbers," not in numerological codes (any more than the rest of us): Numbers and Numerals.

However, Ethiopic Christianity included the scroll of Jubilees, and it very specifically saw Jewish history as a history of sevens and fifties. I'll simply point you to Book of Jubilees rather than reproduce it here.

For those eager to understand the Revelation, Jubilees is a good place to start.

That being said, I think the numerology being considered for John's account of the Wedding of Cana is, in my notoriously humble opinion, (as is seemingly universally the case), completely misconstrued as a kindness that Jesus was providing. That's not an NT idea at all. All through John's gospel, Jews were under a ban. IE: They were the vessel of wrath of which Paul speaks. So the correct way to view this act of hatred is like What kind of wine did Jesus turn water into?

See also Why did Jesus curse a fig tree? Did he not know the flowering season for figs being the Son of God and all, or did he know and simply choose to be a jerk?

Related Exegesis "By the Numbers": Numerology and the New Testament

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Purity
The number six has significance. It is possible it refers to the number of followers at this point, but there is a more significant aspect as it is used within the context of the Fourth Gospel.

Turning wine to water is followed by Jesus cleansing the Temple. A theme of purification connects both events. The first involves pots used in Jewish purification rites carried out in the home. The second involves the Temple, the place where purification in the form of atonement takes place. The contrasts are antithetical. One is a joyous occasion with family and friends. One is somber with merchants and money changers. One is about marriage, a man and a woman who are still pure. One is about the necessity of cleansing the Temple, a place which is supposed to be pure, but isn't.

After the Temple event, Jesus proclaims His resurrection will make His body the Temple. Then Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about the need to be born again. When Jesus hears of the angst of the Pharisees over His disciples baptizing and making disciples, He goes through Samaria where He encounters a Samaritan woman. In the ensuing discussion Jesus explains true worship which will be in Spirit and Truth, not at Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem. From the perspective of the Fourth Gospel, Jesus is saying true worship will take place in His body which is wherever two or more gather in His name:

Matthew 18:20 (ESV):

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

The theme of purification is implicit in true worship. The sinless body of Jesus not only purifies man's sin; it is the place where purified people may worship in Spirit and in Truth. The Temple is supposed to be pure and a place where purification rites are carried out, but it is not pure. Jesus, who is without sin first cleanses and then replaces it. Likewise the Samaritan woman is not pure, but living water from Jesus can purify her.

Seven ὑδρία
John has described the encounter with the Samaritan woman in ways which allude to the wedding sign in Cana. The most significant is by using the same word, ὑδρία to describe the containers for water. Six ὑδρία used for purification rites and one ὑδρία is carried by the Samaritan woman. Six are filled with water which Jesus turns to wine for the wedding celebration. One is left empty for Jesus to fill with something greater than wine, living water He offers.

As with the wedding and Temple cleansing, there is an antithetic contrast. The first involves a man and woman who get married. The second, a woman living with a man she should have married. The first describes servants who fill the jars. The second describes a woman who comes to fill her jar, but doesn't. In both a woman is plays a decisive role. Jesus' mother makes the request and instructs the servants. The Samaritan woman also makes a request, Sir, give me this water... Jesus, not servants is to fill her ὑδρία.

Therefore, with respect to the number six, it points to a seventh, Jesus. If there are only six disciples in Cana, as seems likely, Jesus completes the picture. More explicit is the six pots for Jewish purification which hold wine for the wedding feast only because one greater than the Temple was invited. The complete numerical symbolism is seven: six pots which supply wine for the wedding and one pot for Jesus to fill with living water. Six men the Samaritan woman has lived with and a seventh, Jesus who offers her eternal life.

The encounter with the Samaritan is also the first of seven times in the Fourth Gospel where Jesus is described identifying Himself using the unpredicted ἐγώ εἰμι. This too has been recoded using a six plus one format:

  1. Give me to drink (4:7)
  2. “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” (4:10)
  3. ...“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (4:13-14)
  4. “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (4:16)
  5. ...“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:17-18)
  6. ...“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:21-24)
  7. ...“I Am—the one who speaks with you.” (4:26)

All of the events have been described employing a symbolic framework built on the number seven, presented as six alike and one unique. This is the same pattern used to describe the breaking of the seals, emptying the bowls, and blowing the trumpets in Revelation.

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