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Only True God asked a question about the meaning of the word ἀρχῇ in John's Gospel outside of the Prologue.

This answer claims all but one of the uses of ἀρχῇ after the Prologue, show "the overwhelming emphasis is on the new beginning."

Here is the first use of ἀρχῇ after the Prologue:

This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. (John 2:11)

Obviously, the New Testament portrays the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ as transforming event which initiates an eschatological age. However, is it reasonable to conclude John is placing emphasis on a new beginning or is he simply using the word to state this miracle was the beginning as in the first of multiple signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee?

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  • What I'm saying is that the use of 'arche' in John's Gospel proper wrt Jesus is exclusively about things related to a new (non-Genesis) beginning. It's about how John uses the word 'arche', not about whether that Greek word ought to be translated as 'beginning' or 'first' in specific cases. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 22:02
  • @OnlyTrueGod That is not a reasonable understanding of the answer you accepted. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 22:13
  • Can you rephrase? Don't follow you. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 4:13

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The term ἀρχή (arche) is always used with a clue about what beginning is being referenced. In the Gospel of John, outside the prologue, the word is used six times as follows"

  • John 2:11 - This was the beginning of the signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and He revealed His glory. And His disciples believed in Him. [Here, ἀρχή (arche) means the beginning of Jesus miracles.]
  • John 6:64 - But there are some of you who do not believe." (For Jesus knew from the beginning who are those not believing, and who it is who will betray Him.) [Here, ἀρχή (arche) means the beginning of Jesus' teaching and ministry.]
  • John 8:25 - Therefore they were saying to Him, "Who are You?" Jesus said to them, "Just what I am saying to you from the beginning. [Here, ἀρχή (arche) means the beginning of Jesus talking about this subject.]
  • John 8:44 - You are of your father the devil, and you desire to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not stood in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he might speak falsehood, he speaks from the own; for he is a liar, and the father of it. [Here, ἀρχή (arche) means the beginning of Satan.]
  • John 15:27 - And you also bear witness, because you are with Me from the beginning. [Here, ἀρχή (arche) means the beginning of the disciples association with Jesus, ie, from the start of His ministry.]
  • John 16:4 - But I have said these things to you, so that when their hour might have come, you may remember that I said them to you. Now I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. [Here, ἀρχή (arche) means the beginning of the disciples association with Jesus, ie, from the start of His ministry.]

Again, in John 2:11 indicates the start of Jesus "signs" or miracles. This is confirmed by the use of the demonstrative pronoun, "this" (Ταύτην) in the original.

As further confirmation we have the reference in John 4:54, again with the demonstrative pronoun "this (Τοῦτο, different case from above but same word).

This is now again the second sign that Jesus did, having come out of Judea into Galilee.

APPENDIX - Seven "signs" of Jesus in the Gospel of John

The usual list 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 5000 men (~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, highlighted above)
  • the seven unpredicated “I am” statements (John 4:26, 6:20, 8:24, 28, 58, 13:19, 18:5-8); see “I AM”.
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There may be significance in noting the purpose of the signs Jesus performed, starting with the first one that marked the beginning of his ministry. This took place at the wedding in Cana, where Jesus turned water into the best of wine.

John's account notes this as the beginning of the signs that Jesus did. But perhaps the important part of the sentence is the latter half which adds that (by this) he manifested his glory, "and his disciples believed in him".

Note the progression - Jesus' signs manifested his glory, causing others to believe, and to believe in him.

Note the difference when others saw his miraculous signs, or asked him to perform some sign, but for the wrong reasons. They wanted miraculous signs, but they did not 'want' Jesus. They claimed that they would believe if they got what they asked for, yet Jesus refused, saying their desire was that of a wicked and adulterous generation (Matthew 12:39). They wanted signs for the sake of signs - not what those signs were pointing to - the promised Messiah in their midst. They were unbelievers in the glory of Jesus, and even if he obliged and performed a miracle just to impress them (which he would never do) that would not have the same result as in John 2:11, where the disciples saw the glory of Jesus through that sign, and believed in him.

A sign points to something. It is not the sign that matters - it is only if the person sees what the sign points to that the sign serves its purpose. This is shown with the beginning of the signs Jesus performed, through every last one of them. The glory of the Lord was evident in those signs, so that all who saw that saw Jesus, and put their faith in him.

The answer to your question, then, is that John 2:11 speaks of the beginning of the signs Jesus did. It is as simple as that, and the verse itself simply states that.

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    I have upvoted this, because I should have included this point as part of my own "two signs" theory. In both cases, the message was the necessity of faith. Commented Mar 23, 2023 at 15:40
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The only verse in which the exact word "ἀρχῇ" (dative feminine singular) is found which does not have "beginning" is Luke 20:20 where in the KJV it is translated as "power." All other occurrences--two in John, one in Acts, one in Philippians--translate this as "beginning." None of them says "first."

There is no indication in the Greek for it being a specific kind of beginning. It would be irresponsible to translate the word as something other than what it means just because one feels it fits the situation better. Translators who do this are not translating, they are interpreting--or paraphrasing.

When John says "this beginning of miracles," he makes it clear both that Jesus had not yet performed a miracle prior to this and that other miracles later followed. So we can interpret or infer that this was the first of Jesus' miracles. But the fact that it was the first one does not mean that John means "first" when saying "ἀρχῇ." In fact, to the contrary, what might seem like an unusual wording here should tip us off to a deeper significance or connection with something else in the Bible that we should understand.

Had John meant to say "first," he could have used the word "πρῶτος" as he does in John 1:41; 5:4; 8:7; 20:4; and 20:8. That is the Greek word for "first", and it can also mean "chief" or "principal" or "best".

Conclusion

The answer is both: John is speaking of the beginning of the signs as a new occurrence within Jesus' ministry--something that had not happened previously.

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I go for a slightly modified version of your second suggestion.

The RSV translates this verse as "first of his signs".

In fact John's gospel only has two counted signs, the second one (identified as such in ch4 v54) being in Capernaum. Ch 4 v46 introduces the second story, immediately after stating that Jesus had just returned to Cana in Galilee "where he had made the water wine". So the two stories are associated together very closely.

So my answer to your question is that John is saying "This was the first of two signs".

For what it's worth, my theory on why just the two signs are counted is that one is to be understood as "for the Jews" and the other one "for the Gentiles", which covers the world.

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  • +1 Nice insight on the two signs, one for the Jews and one for the Gentiles. Although it’s not obvious the second man was a Gentile. Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 22:15
  • Yes, the "Gentile" connection is oblique and open to criticism. It is based on the fact that the appeal in the equivalent synoptic story, which John's readers are likely to know, comes from a centurion Commented Mar 20, 2023 at 23:12
  • If John is making the point of only two signs, which follows the literal use of "sign" I would suggest the Jew-Gentile parallel is a secondary aspect. The primary is the world of nature and the world of man. Jesus showed authority with two signs. The first turning water into wine (the natural world) and the second healing someone simply by speaking (the world of man). The Jew-Gentile signs which is likely a correct understanding, is secondary due to the element of uncertainty in how John describes the man in the second sign. He could be a Gentile or Jew and so represents all men. Commented Mar 21, 2023 at 23:53

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