Revisiting the Wedding at Cana in Galilee: it’s Not About the Wine, it’s About the Miracle
A joyful wedding celebration occurred in a village in Cana, and a special guest was in attendance: Jesus. Unbeknownst to the Jews, the longed-for Messiah was in their midst. This exciting chapter in John’s gospel account has become the topic of much debate about whether or not drinking wine is permitted or prohibited for Christians. The Greek word for wine, oinos, serves as the foundation for both ends of the debate–does this word mean fermented, or can it also be non-fermented? Did they drink grape juice at their wedding, and Jesus supplied them with more fresh juice from the vine?
Articles, lectures, Bible studies, and sermons are given, centering on the cultural background of how wine was consumed. Still, I believe both sides have missed the significant impact of this beautiful account in John chapter 2. While studying the historical and cultural context of the process of wine is beneficial, it should not find its place in this grand revelatory event.
Here are a couple of perspectives to keep in mind when reading this chapter:
#1 This was Jesus’ first miracle performed that revealed His glory
Culturally speaking, wine was a dominate and most consumable substance in Ancient Rome. Historian Will Durant had this to say about it in his book Caesar and Christ:
Olive orchards were numerous, but vineyards were everywhere, beautifully terraced on the slopes. Italy produced fifty famous kinds of wine, and Rome alone drank 25,000,000 gallons per year—two quarts per week for each man, woman, and child, slave or free. Most wines were produced by capitalistic organization—by large-scale operations financed from Rome (emp. added) .
This aromatic liquid was a normal custom for all people to drink--so much so that it was ingrained in their daily lives. At the wedding, wine served as the main ingestible item of this celebration. So here is the Lord, using this beverage to serve as His first miracle that gets everyone in attendance stirred up.
There wasn’t anything fermented or unfermented about the wine–there was something miraculous about it; this extraordinary event of simple tasting sobered the people up, made them aware of its distinct otherworldly taste, caused Jesus’ disciples to believe in Him, and most importantly revealed His glory (John 2:11). The word “glory” in the Greek in this context means “the absolute perfect and personal excellence of Christ and virtue of His nature.” Here was God’s glorious presence before His creation, taking over the substance to redirect the focus on Him. His nature and excellence opened the eyes of some of the disciples there.
#2 The heart condition of an individual can be revealed when one goes beyond the context
When studying God’s word, we must be honest and examine our hearts before reading. If we’re not careful when approaching the word of God, we could promote our interpretations or seek permission to perform certain practices or even prohibitions that can lead to strict rule-following rather than living in freedom in Christ. As a result, our heart condition becomes revealed. In this instance of Jesus’ miracle at the wedding, the common belief for wine advocates is “Jesus turned water into wine; the word wine in Greek always means fermentation, so we’re permitted to drink.” I would like to redirect the perspective that the miracle performed by Jesus was not to cause speculation or debates about whether or not wine is permissible–the subject of drinking has its place, but not in this glorious moment (for a study on wine, read this previous article I wrote on social drinking). To seek permission to drink wine is similar to the idea that the multitudes of people who followed Jesus during that time did so because of the food they received from Him rather than following Him because of who He declared Himself to be through His miracles. Jesus said to the crowd,
“I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you” (John 6:26, 27, NLT).
The crowd missed the complete point of His miracles because they sought what they could get out of the Lord; it was a mentality of self-fulfillment. Instead of spending our energy debating this passage to determine whether we can drink, focus on the fact that the Lord’s glory was revealed before humanity through this act, solidifying that Emmanuel has truly come to restore, free, and deliver His creation. It’s not about the wine, dear friends; it’s about His glory manifested through the miracle.
 Durant, Will & Ariel. “CHAPTER XV: Rome at Work A.D. 14-96.” Caesar and Christ, vol. iii, Simon Und Schuster, New York, 1944, p. 98. The Story of Civilization.