Turning Water into Wine, 1-11

2:1 Now on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2:2 and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. 2:3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.” 2:4 Jesus replied, “Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.” 2:5 His mother told the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

On the third day – John completes his account of the happenings during this momentous week at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jn 1:43-51 refers to the fifth day, then there was a 6th day (presumably in travel), and then comes this seventh day. It was probably a Wednesday, for that was the usual day for a wedding.  Some commentators, however, think that the wedding occurred on the 6th day of the narrative so far.

Bearing in mind the symbolism that is so prevalent in John’s Gospel, we can agree with Barrett and others that ‘the third day’ anticipates the day of Jesus’ resurrection.

Jesus’ mother was there – John nowhere refers either to himself or to Mary by name. Remember that Mary was entrusted to John’s care and became like a mother to him, Jn 19:26f. We can surmise from this passage that Mary was a friend or even a relative of the bride or groom. It is also to be noted that Joseph is not mentioned at all: the most probable explanation is that he was deceased.

Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding – The disciples are those mentioned in the previous chapter: Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and one other (probably John himself). So Jesus was present at, and took part in, a marriage feast. He is concerned about all aspects of our lives, and social relationships and family celebrations can alike be graced by his presence and blessed by his approval. There is a time to eat, to drink, to laugh, and to be joyful, notwithstanding the prevailing poverty and sadness around us. Only let these things be kept in their rightful place.

When the wine was gone – marriage feasts like the one referred to here were important and joyous occasions, and might last up to a week. It would be a serious embarrassment for the wine to run out. ‘For a Jewish feast wine was essential. “Without wine,” said the Rabbis, “there is no joy.” It was not that people were drunken, but in the East wine was an essential. Drunkenness was in fact a great disgrace, and they actually drank their wine in a mixture composed of two parts of wine to three parts of water. At any time the failure of provisions would have been a problem, for hospitality in the East is a sacred duty, but for the provisions to fail at a wedding would be a terrible shame for the bride and the bridegroom. That indeed would have been a humiliation.” (William Barclay)

Lincoln explains: ‘To run out of wine was not simply a social embarrassment but entailed a serious loss of family honour, suggested a lack of cooperative friends and had dire implications for the web of reciprocal obligations in which a person was involved.’

Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine” – Jesus’ mother is never named in this Gospel, possibly to avoid confusing her with various other women of the same name. Exactly what she hoped that Jesus would do is unclear. What is clear is that she believed that he could do something. On the one hand, it is unlikely that Mary expected her son to perform some kind of miracle, for v11 states that the present miracle was the very first (contrary to some far-fetched apocryphal stories about Jesus’ childhood). On the other hand, it is probably that Joseph had died by this time, and that Mary had learned to rely on her eldest son. See also v5.

“Woman” – NIV softens the address (“Dear woman”), which is simply ‘woman’ in the original.

Most commentators are keen to state that this would have been a perfectly normal form of address at the time.  It is clear that no impatience or discourteousness is intended, as is apparent in the parallel expression in Jn 19:26, which is obviously most tender and loving. Cf. Jn 20:15.  As Bruner remarks, ‘We would love to have heard Jesus’ tone of voice here as in so many other places in the Gospels.’

On the other hand, the fact that Jesus does not refer to Mary as ‘Mother’ does call for comment: it may be that now, at the outset of his public ministry, he is encouraging her to see him in a new way, a way that transcends the physical and social ties of parenthood and sonship.  Lincoln says that this would not have been a usual form of address between a son and his mother, and does suggest ‘distancing’.

Then again, given the significance of the contexts both here (cf. Jn 2:11) and in Jn 19:26, we may even be correct in finding an allusion to the promise concerning ‘the seed of the woman’ in Gen 2:15 (but see also Jn 4:21 and Jn 20:15, where our Lord addresses other women as ‘woman’).

“Why do you involve me?” – this is firm, but not brusque.

Barclay’s “Let me handle this in my own way” is too informal, paying insufficient attention to the explanatory comment which follows.

Harris (Navigating Tough Texts, p75): [Mary is] ‘clearly expecting and hoping that he would use his miraculous powers so that the hosts would be spared embarrassment. His response is (literally), “Woman, what (is there) to me and (at the same time) to you?” That is, “Your concern and mine are different,” or “What has this concern of yours to do with me?” The right time for him to act in accord with his Father’s will had not yet arrived.’

“My time has not yet come” – Jesus was not prepared to deviate from his God-given plan. Jesus’ ‘time’ was, perhaps, the time of his public manifestation. This did, indeed, reach a certain stage in v11, but was to further unfold according to the divine plan and purpose, Jn 12:23,32.

O’Day remarks: ‘His words are not an act of rudeness to his mother…but are an important assertion of Jesus’ freedom from all human control.’ (Women’s Bible Commentary)

It is curious that Jesus seems to utter a rebuttal to Mary, but then proceeds to perform the miracle anyway.  One explanation is that, since it appears from v9 that it was the bridegroom’s responsibility to provide the wine, Mary was, in effect, asking Jesus to act as bridegroom that day.  Jesus replies that the time has not come for him to assume his role of bridegroom.  Isa 24:7,8,11 (telling of lack of wine) and Isa 25:6-8 (telling of the provision of wine in abundance) suggest an eschatological background to the symbolism at work here.  See this by Ian Paul.

“Do whatever he tells you” – Mary knows that Jesus can be trusted, even when the outcome is as yet unknown. See v3.

2:6 Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 2:7 Jesus told the servants, “Fill the water jars with water.” So they filled them up to the very top. 2:8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the head steward,” and they did. 2:9 When the head steward tasted the water that had been turned to wine, not knowing where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom 2:10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine when the guests are drunk. You have kept the good wine until now!”

Six stone water jars…used by the Jews… – John explains the purpose of these large containers for the benefit of his non-Jewish readers, cf Mk 7:3-4.

Ian Paul writes:

‘Stone vessels were of significant interest in the first century, since the purity laws in Leviticus were interpreted to mean that pottery vessels made by a human production process could become ritually unclean, and would then have to be smashed. But stone vessels were deemed to be from the earth, and so could not themselves become unclean, and were therefore highly valued. But they could only be made on a large scale under Roman occupation, since the Romans brought with them the technology for fashioning stone vessels, since they themselves were interested in making columns and other stone parts of buildings.
‘The archaeological record shows an explosion of production of stone vessels, starting in the mid-first century BC, reaching its height in the first century AD, but coming to an abrupt end in AD 70 when the temple was destroyed by the Romans at the end of the first Jewish War. This demonstrates, for example, that the mention of large stone water vessels in John 2 proves that the account depends on someone who was familiar with life in Galilee prior to AD 70, and Richard Bauckham has demonstrated (from inscriptional evidence) that Cana was home to one of the 24 priestly families who took turns to perform their duties in the temple for two weeks each year—so that the wedding might well have taken place in a house connected with the temple where there was a particular concern for purity.’
Symbol or history?

Given the extensive symbolism in John’s Gospel, Barrett thinks that ‘It is possible although by no means certain that the number six is symbolic. Six, being less by one and seven, the number of completeness and perfection, would indicate that the Jewish dispensation, typified by its ceremonial water, was partial and imperfect.’

Augustine went much further, by maintaining that the six jars symbolise the six ages from the beginning of the world until the coming of Christ.  With the coming of the age of Christ, all that the former ages stood for is done away with.  They are but water compared to wine.

As Ian Paul remarks, there are many problems with this approach.  For one thing, Christ and the apostles present OT revelation in general, and the law in particular, in a much more favourable light than this – see Mt 5:17; 1 Cor 15:3f.  Within John’s Gospel itself, a positive account is given of the Jewish heritage (Jn 4:22).  For another thing, there is no hint in the narrative itself of such symbolism.  The 6 six jars are filled with wine; a seventh is not added.  In the climax of the story, the contrast is not between the water and the wine, but the fact that the best wine has been kept until last.  In Jn 1:16, the grace of the gospel is contrasted with the grace of law, and not with legalism.

The Burnt House in Jerusalem. Note the six large stone jars!

While recognising the interest in symbolism shown in John’s Gospel, Ian Paul (drawing on the work of Richard Bauckham) highlights the historical aspects of this episode.  First, the jars, being made of stone, were not subject to the impurity laws outlined in Lev 11:32-35.  This suggests that the incident took place in a priestly household.  Second, the jars were difficult to make, being constructed out of a single piece of stone.  A quarry and workshop for making such articles has been found near Cana.  Their construction required the use of a Roman lathe, of the kind used to make stone columns.  This latter fact points to the period of the Roman occupation of Judea and Samaria.  Thirdly, although these jars were expensive, archaeological evidence indicates that they were used in the working parts of the house.  Fourthly, 1 Chron 24:7-18 sets out the requirements for the 24 priestly ‘courses’, each one of which was to serve for a period of two weeks.  A number of lists have been discovered in synagogues from the NT period, and these lists include the names of the towns associated with each priestly course.  Cana is listed as one of the towns in which priestly families lived.  No towns founded after AD70 are mentioned in these lists.

Paul concludes:-

‘Put together with the role of stone jars, it looks quite likely (though of course not provable) that the wedding in Cana was taking place in the house of this priestly family, which accounts for the presence of jars themselves because of the family’s concern for ritual purity. And why, then, does John record that there were six? Because, as in the picture of the Burnt House above, that is how many there happened to be!’

“Fill the jars with water” – the point is emphasised that at the time of the miracle, the jars contained nothing but water.

Undesigned coincidence.  Why were the jars not already full of water?  This probably occurred at a later stage of the meal, and as Mk 7:3 incidentally informs us, Jews washed their hands very frequently.

The master of the banquet – either the head waiter or an honoured guest.

“You have saved the best till now” – And so an acute embarrassment is transformed into a happy triumph, the bridegroom having not only sufficient wine but also being complimented on its unusually high quality.

Although a very large quantity of excellent wine was miraculously produced, no indication (apart from the tasting by the master of the banquet) is given of how much was actually consumed.  The emphasis, then, is on the copiousness of the miracle, rather than its effects on those attending the celebration.

‘John’s account of Jesus’ conversion of such a large quantity of water into wine at a wedding feast is one way of announcing that the kingdom of God, the eschatological time of salvation, had arrived in the presence of the long-awaited Messiah. Jesus shows himself to be the Son of God come down from heaven bringing the blessing of the eschatological age symbolized by abundant wine. The miracle of Cana allowed Jesus to manifest his glory* to his disciples and evoke their belief (Jn 2:11; cf. 1:14).’ (D.F. Watson, DJG, art. ‘Wine’)

Here is a representative teetotalitarian objection:

‘It is pertinent to ask, Is it not derogatory to the character of Christ and the teachings of the Bible to suppose that He exerted his miraculous power to produce…wine which inspiration had denounced as “a mocker,” as “biting like a serpent,” and “stinging like an adder,” as “the poison of dragons,” “the cruel venom of asps,” and which the Holy Ghost had selected as the emblem of the wrath of God Almighty? Is it probable that He gave that to the guests after they had used the wine provided by the host, and which, it is claimed, was intoxicating?’ (William Patton, Bible Wines)
Moderation, not abstinence

‘It seems utterly impossible, on any fair and honest interpretation, to reconcile the passage before us with the leading principles of what is commonly called “Teetotalism.” If our Lord Jesus Christ actually worked a miracle in order to supply wine at a marriage feast, it seems to me impossible, by any ingenuity, to prove that drinking wine is sinful. Temperance in all things is one of the fruits of the Spirit. An intemperate man is an unconverted man. Total abstinence from fermented liquors is in many cases most useful and desirable. But to say, as many do say, that to drink any fermented liquor at all is “a sin,” is taking up ground that cannot be maintained in the face of the passage before us, without wresting the plain meaning of Scripture, and charging Christ with abetting sin.’ (Ryle)

2:11 Jesus did this as the first of his miraculous signs, in Cana of Galilee. In this way he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

The first of his miraculous signs – ‘The summary speaks of “the signs” (with the definite article), as if the writer knows of them as a specific set of events from which a selection can be made, and the word “beginning” obviously implies that we will hear more of them (see Jn 4:54, “And this Jesus did again as a second sign when he came from Judea to Galilee”).’ (Michaels)

As for the objection that Jesus performed many miracles between the ‘first’ and the ‘second’, see comment on Jn 4:54.

There is always something important about the first in a series; and this first miracle, be it noted, was performed, not in Jerusalem, but in Galilee; not amongst the high and mighty, but in the presence of ordinary people. Various words are used in the NT of miracles: the word ‘sign’ is often used by John, and its purpose is to draw our attention away from the thing performed to the one who performs it, and to encourage us to see through the physical deed to the underlying spiritual principle. Therefore John adds,

He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him – The five disciples were led to a deeper and more settled appreciation of who he was. The light was dawning in their hearts. The day was coming when they would be able to confess, Jn 1:14, ‘We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’

This was ‘a miracle of pure abundance and grace—nothing life-threatening was at stake here, as will be the case in many of Jesus’ healing miracles. This miracle illustrates the celebration of the prologue, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”’ (O’Day, Women’s Bible Commentary)

John, in recording this miracle, undoubtedly wants us to see something deeper in it. Hence his use of the word ‘sign’. And the deeper message surely relates to the transforming power of Jesus. ‘He changes the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity, the water of Christlessness into the wine of the richness and the fulness of eternal life in Christ, the water of the law into the wine of the gospel’ (Morris). And the transformation is abundantly generous, both in quantity, v6 and quality, v10. Cf. Jn 1:16.

‘”Signs” are precisely what the Johannine miracles are, for in very concrete, physical ways they point to the deep and crucial truth about Jesus (and God), namely, that he is the absolutely unique Son of God who descended from heaven to reveal the Father and through whose “lifting up” on the cross, resurrection and return to the Father believers receive the Holy Spirit and thus eternal life. The signs, in other words, point to the present glory of the exclusive mediator of eschatological salvation and also portend the salvation to be enjoyed by the beneficiaries of the completion of his messianic work.’ (cf. Jn 7:37-39) (DJG)

People tend to be troubled more by the nature-miracles than the healing miracles.  But to rationalise, for example, the changing of water into wine into a practical jest (the water remaining as water all the time, and everyone knowing it) is ludicrous, and utterly inconsistent with the statement about ‘the first of signs’ manifesting Jesus’ glory.

The following reasons have been suggested for this being the first of Christ’s miracles:-

  1. To bless the first of God’s ordinances with the first of Christ’s miracles
  2. To follow with a feast Christ’s recent experience of a fast.
  3. To show that although he would not turn stones into bread to satisfy Satan, he would willingly turn water into wine to show forth his own glory.
  4. As the first miracle by man was one of transformation, Ex 7:9, so was the first miracle by the Son of man.
  5. To contrast the ministry of John the Baptist, who kept to a strict diet, with that of Christ.

‘For John the miracles are all “signs.” They point beyond themselves. This particular miracle signifies that there is a transforming power associated with Jesus. He changes the water of Judaism into the wine of Christianity, the water of Christlessness into the wine of the richness and the fulness of eternal life in Christ, the water of the law into the wine of the gospel.’ (Leon Morris)

‘The term sign is used more often by John than by the other Gospel-writers. It indicates a miracle viewed as a proof of divine authority and majesty. Hence, it leads the attention of the spectator away from the deed itself to the divine Doer. Often, too, the sign, a work of power in the physical realm, illustrates a principle that is operative in the spiritual realm; that which takes place in the sphere of creation points away from itself to the sphere of redemption.’ (Hendriksen)

Some modern scholars, of course, scorn the idea that a genuine miracle took place at all. ‘The difficulty of believing that St John intended us to take it literally is not the mere size of the miracle involved…but rather its somewhat unreasonable character. We must frankly face the difficulty that to create such a quantity of good wine “when men have drunk freely” is hardly an act of common sense, and makes a poor “beginning of miracles” for the Good Teacher of the Christian tradition.’ (Alan Richardson, The Miracle-Stories of the Gospels, 121).

‘The miracles of Jesus in the canonical gospels are sober, restrained, unsensational and spiritually significant…Moreover, they are evenly distributed through the four gospels and their sources, so that they are widely attested; the time elapsing between the public ministry of Jesus and the publication of the gospels was not long enough for the development of legends; and many eyewitnesses would have been wtill alive to refute (if the stories were not true), for example, the restoration to Malchus of his right ear and the Bartimaeus of his eyesight.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 387)

Cleansing the Temple, 12-22

2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there a few days. 2:13 Now the Jewish feast of Passover was near, so Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

His mother and brothers – His ‘brothers’ would likely be his half-brothers, children of Mary and Joseph.  We learn in Jn 7:5 that they did not believe in him.

Did Mary bear other children?

Mt 1:24f  ‘He took his wife, but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he named Jesus.’

Mt 13:55f  ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas? And aren’t all his sisters here with us?’

Jn 2:12 ‘After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there a few days.’

Traditional Roman Catholic teaching denies that Mary had any children other than Jesus.  This has been its official teaching (and that of the Greek Orthodox church) since the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451.  However, the belief was widely held in the early church, and proponents included Jerome, Gregory of Nyssa and others.

Dating from the 2nd century, the Proevangelium of James repeatedly mentions the perpetual virginity of Mary, the assumption being that Jesus’ brothers are sons of Joseph from a previous marriage.

Referring to the Proevangelium of James, Brittany E. Wilson (Women’s Bible Commentary, art. ‘Mary and her Interpreters’) comments:

‘In this noncanonical Christian text, Mary is both the main character and the paragon of sacred purity. Not only is she miraculously conceived to the delight of her parents Anna and Joachim, but Mary remains a virgin before, during, and after Jesus’ birth. This emphasis on Mary’s chastity and perpetual virginity is probably due in part to Jewish polemic that identified Mary as a harlot who conceived Jesus out of wedlock. Regardless of its apologetic function, however, this influential second-century text had a huge impact on understandings of Mary that can still be felt to this day.’

According to Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Catholics believe that

‘Mary was a Virgin before, during and after the Birth of Jesus Christ…Mary bore her son without any violation of her virginal integrity…Mary gave birth in miraculous fashion without opening of the womb and injury to the hymen, and consequently also without pains.’ (Quoted in Geilser and MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, p300).


‘We, dearly beloved brothers, without any hesitation or questioning must be aware and confess that not only the blessed Mother of God, but also Joseph, the most blessed witness and guardian of her chastity, always remained wholly aloof from the conjugal act; and further, that those who after the customary manner of the Scriptures are called our Savior’s brothers or sisters were not their children but their relatives.’ (ACCS)

Luther, Calvin and Zwingli all believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.


‘She was a virgin before the birth of Christ (ante partum) and remained one at the birth (in partu) and after the birth (post partum),” even going so far as to affirm that “it neither adds nor detracts from faith. It is immaterial whether these men were Christ’s cousins or his [half-] brothers p 302 begotten by Joseph.’ (Quoted by Geisler and MacKenzie)

Calvin (on Mt 13:55) –

‘It was, we are aware, by the wonderful purpose of God, that Christ remained in private life till he was thirty years of age. Most improperly and unjustly, therefore, were the inhabitants of Nazareth offended on this account; for they ought rather to have received him with reverence, as one who had suddenly come down from heaven. They see God working in Christ, and intentionally turn away their eyes from this sight, to behold Joseph, and Mary, and all his relatives; thus interposing a veil to shut out the clearest light. The word brothers, we have formerly mentioned, is employed, agreeably to the Hebrew idiom, to denote any relatives whatever; and, accordingly, Helvidius displayed excessive ignorance in concluding that Mary must have had many sons, because Christ’s brothers are sometimes mentioned.’

and on 1 Cor 9:5 –

‘In the first place, he brings forward the Apostles He then adds, “Nay, even the brethren of the Lord themselves also make use of it without hesitation — nay more, Peter himself, to whom the first place is assigned by consent of all, allows himself the same liberty.” By the brethren of the Lord, he means John and James, who were accounted pillars, as he states elsewhere. (Galatians 2:9.) And, agreeably to what is customary in Scripture, he gives the name of brethren to those who were connected with Him by relationship.’

and on Gal 1:19 –

‘Who this James was, deserves inquiry. Almost all the ancients are agreed that he was one of the disciples, whose surname was “Oblias” and “The Just,” and that he presided over the church at Jerusalem. Yet others think that he was the son of Joseph by another wife, and others (which is more probable) that he was the cousin of Christ by the mother’s side: but as he is here mentioned among the apostles, I do not hold that opinion. Nor is there any force in the defense offered by Jerome, that the word Apostle is sometimes applied to others besides the twelve; for the subject under consideration is the highest rank of apostleship, and we shall presently see that he was considered one of the chief pillars (Galatians 2:9). It appears to me, therefore, far more probable, that the person of whom he is speaking is the son of Alpheus.’

Commenting on Mt 1:25, Calvin cautions against speculation –

‘This passage afforded the pretext for great disturbances, which were introduced into the Church, at a former period, by Helvidius. The inference he drew from it was, that Mary remained a virgin no longer than till her first birth, and that afterwards she had other children by her husband. Jerome, on the other hand, earnestly and copiously defended Mary’s perpetual virginity. Let us rest satisfied with this, that no just and well-grounded inference can be drawn from these words of the Evangelist, as to what took place after the birth of Christ. He is called first-born; but it is for the sole purpose of informing us that he was born of a virgin. It is said that Joseph knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: but this is limited to that very time. What took place afterwards, the historian does not inform us. Such is well known to have been the practice of the inspired writers. Certainly, no man will ever raise a question on this subject, except from curiosity; and no man will obstinately keep up the argument, except from an extreme fondness for disputation.’

(See here for the source of these quotes from Calvin)

The Geneva Bible notes and Matthew Poole allow for (but do not insist upon) the possibility that ‘cousins’ or other ‘near kinsmen’ are meant.

The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary, on Mt 13:55, surveys the options without coming to a definite interpretative decision:

‘An exceedingly difficult question here arises—What were these “brethren” and “sisters” to Jesus? Were they, First, His full brothers and sisters? or, Secondly, Were they his step-brothers and step-sisters, children of Joseph by a former marriage? or, Thirdly, Were they His cousins, according to a common way of speaking among the Jews respecting persons of collateral descent? On this subject an immense deal has been written; nor are opinions yet by any means agreed. For the second opinion there is no ground but a vague tradition, arising probably from the wish for some such explanation. The first opinion undoubtedly suits the text best in all the places where the parties are certainly referred to (ch. 12:46, and its parallels, Mark 3:31, and Luke 8:19; our present passage, and its parallel, Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14). But, in addition to other objections, many of the best interpreters, thinking it in the last degree improbable that our Lord, when hanging on the cross, would have committed His mother to John if He had had full brothers of His own then alive, prefer the third opinion; although, on the other hand, it is not to be doubted that our Lord might have good reasons for entrusting the guardianship of His doubly widowed mother to the beloved disciple in preference even to full brothers of His own. Thus dubiously we prefer to leave this vexed question, encompassed as it is with difficulties.’

Perhaps surprisingly, Ryle – a staunch Protestant – thinks that

‘there is no good ground for supposing that these were our Lord’s brethren according to the flesh, and that Mary ever had any other son after our Lord’s miraculous birth.—For one thing, it is well known to every careful reader, that the word “brethren” is applied in the Bible to many relatives besides those whom we call “brethren.” Abraham says to Lot, “We be brethren,” (Gen 13:8,) though Lot was his nephew. Mishael and Elzaphan were called the “brethren” of Nadab and Abihu, though they were only cousins. (Lev 10:4.)—Jacob said “to his brethren” gather stones (Gen 31:46); yet they were his sons and servants.—For another thing, it is quite possible that Joseph might have had children by a former marriage, before he was espoused to Mary; and these children, we can well understand, would be called our Lord’s “brethren.”—In the last place, we know that the Apostle James was called our “Lord’s brother,” (Gal 1:19,) and yet we are distinctly told that he was the son of Alpheus or Cleophas, the husband of the virgin Mary’s sister. It is therefore most probable that “brethren” in the verse before us means “cousins,” some of whom believed on our Lord, though others did not. (Jn 7:5.)’

We think that this esteemed writer has shown that his opinion is ‘possible’, but not that it is ‘probable’.  Ryle appears to be following a traditional, and unscripturally prudish approach.

Some (to quote Ott again)

‘note that the fact that the dying Redeemer entrusted His Mother to the protection of the Disciple John (John 19:26), “woman, behold thy Son,” presupposes that Mary had no other children but Jesus.’

But, as Geisler and MacKenzie point out:

‘The fact that Jesus commended his mother to John at the cross need not imply that he had no brothers but only that they were not present, so he could not turn the responsibility over to them. Besides this, Jesus’ brothers were not at this time believers (cf. John 7:5), so it was important that Mary be left in good spiritual hands.’


‘Pope Siricius (A.D. 384–399)…argued that it would be horrifying to think of another birth issuing from the same virginal womb from which the Son of God was born.’

One suspects that it is this (misplaced) horror, rather than biblical evidence or sanctified reasoning, which is the main driver in the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity.  Referring to a work by Elliot Miller and Kenneth Samples, Geisler and MacKenzie remark:

‘Since there is nothing defiling about sexual relations within marriage (Heb. 13:4), to suggest that Christ would not want to be conceived in a womb that would later conceive other humans is to take away from the glory that God would afterward give him for his voluntary humility in becoming human (Phil. 2:9–11).’

Morris (cited by Bruner) summarises the three answers given by the early church:-

  1. the Helvidian answer (after the fourth-century theologian Helvidius), that Mary was not perpetually a virgin and that Jesus’ brothers were the later natural children of Joseph and Mary (citing Matt. 1:25 and Luke 2:7 in evidence; Matt. 1:25 reads, “but [Joseph] had no marital relations with her until [heōs] she had borne a son,” NRSV); Luke 2:7: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son,” NRSV).
  2. the Epiphanian answer (after Epiphanius, another fourth-century theologian), that the brothers were children of Joseph by a former marriage;
  3. the Jeromian answer (after Jerome, a late-fourth- early-fifth-century Father) that the children were Jesus’ cousins.

We agree with Morris that ‘the Helvidian view is much the most probable.’

Concerning the notion that Mary remained a virgin during the birth of Jesus, Geisler and MacKenzie respond:

‘First, the fact that Mary “brought forth” Jesus at his birth does not indicate that it was miraculous. Rather, this is the normal way to indicate that, in the absence of a birthmaid, she delivered her own child.
‘Second, all the descriptions of Christ’s birth indicate a normal birth, such as “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4); “brought forth” (Luke 2:7); “delivered” (Luke 2:6); “birth” (Matt. 1:18); “born” (Matt. 2:2).
Third, the Bible does not use any of the normal words for a miracle (sign, wonder, power) when speaking of Jesus’ birth, only of his conception (cf. Isa. 7:14 and Matt. 1:18–23).
‘Fourth, it diminishes the humanness of the incarnational event to posit a miracle at the point of Jesus’ birth rather than his conception, as the Bible does. As the God-man, Jesus was human in every way possible apart from sin (Heb. 4:15).
‘Fifth, the idea of a miraculous birth of Christ, without coming through the birth canal or causing pain, is more Gnostic than Christian. It is more like an event found in a second- or third-century apocryphal book than a first-century inspired Book.’
(Paragraphing added)

The text that refer to Jesus’ family almost always imply that his brothers and sisters were actual brothers and sisters, and not cousins.  For example:

Mt 13:55  ‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? And aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?’

Geisler and MacKenzie comment:

‘For one thing, “brothers” and “sisters” are mentioned in the context of the family with the “carpenter’s son” and “mother,” which clearly indicates they are immediate blood brothers. For another, the Greek term for “brother” (adelphos) here is the normal word for “blood brother.” In fact, there is no a single example where adelphos is used for “cousin” in the New Testament. There is a word for “cousin” (anepsios), as in Colossians 4:10, where Mark is described as “the cousin [anepsios] of Barnabas.” But this word is not used in Matthew 13 or in any passage referring to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. Finally, the words “brother” and “sister” are used many other times in the New Testament in a family connection, always meaning a literal blood brother or sister (Mark 1:16, 19; 13:12; John 11:1–2; Acts 23:16; Rom. 16:15).’

If, as some speculate, the ‘brothers and sisters’ were from a previous marriage of Joseph, then,

‘Joseph’s oldest son would have been heir to David’s throne and not Jesus, but the Bible affirms that Jesus was the heir (Matt. 1:1).’

The contributor to ISBE (1st ed., art. ‘Mary’) suggests two further lines of thought:

1. Even if it could be shown that Mary had no other children than Jesus, this does not prove her virginity (perpetual or otherwise).
2. ‘If Mary was married to Joseph and Joseph to Mary in appearance only, then they were recreant to each other and to the ordinance of God which made them one. How a Roman Catholic, to whom marriage is a sacrament, can entertain such a notion is an unfathomable mystery. The fact that Mary was miraculously the mother of the Messiah has nothing to do with the question of her privilege and obligation in the holiest of human relationships. Back of this unwholesome dogma are two utterly false ideas: that the marriage relationship is incompatible with holy living, and that Mary is not to be considered a human being under the ordinary obligations of human life.’

On the meaning of the word ‘adelphos‘, Murray Harris (Navigating Tough Texts) comments that

‘In the OT, it can on occasion refer to male “relatives” of various degrees of genealogical closeness (e.g., Gen 13:8; 29:12).’

But in the NT, the main uses are

1. A member of the Christian community, a “brother” in Christ (e.g., Rom 16:23; 1 Cor 1:1).
2. Those with a close spiritual affinity with Jesus (e.g., Matt 12:49–50; 25:40; Mark 3:33–35; Luke 8:21; Heb 2:11–12), especially his disciples (e.g., Matt 28:10; John 20:17).
3. Males from the same womb of a particular woman (Matt 12:46–47; 13:55; Mark 3:31–32; 6:3; Luke 8:19–20; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 9:5; Gal 1:19).

Other Greek words were available to indicate different family relationships:

‘If the brothers of Jesus were simply his male relatives, there was a Greek word to convey this—syngenēs, meaning “relative,” “someone belonging to the same family,” “kinsman” (used in Mark 6:4). If the brothers were simply cousins, again a special word was available—anepsios, “cousin” (used in Col 4:10 in reference to Mark, the cousin of Barnabas).’


The Jewish feast of Passover was near – This chronological marker would appear to fix the timing of John’s account of the Temple cleansing near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.  If, however, the Fourth Gospel is based on a series of sermons or homilies, then there might be less implication of strict chronological order.  See the NET translation note.

2:14  He found in the temple courts those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers sitting at tables. 2:15 So he made a whip of cords and drove them all out of the temple courts, with the sheep and the oxen. He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 2:16 To those who sold the doves he said, “Take these things away from here! Do not make my Father’s house a marketplace!” 2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will devour me.”

Kruse suggests several motives behind Jesus’ actions here:-

  1. ‘the temple, Jesus claimed, was his Father’s house. God is his Father, and the temple authorities had allowed God’s house to become a house of merchandise, thus dishonouring his Father.
  2. his Father’s house was intended to be a place of prayer, but the temple authorities, by allowing these activities to be carried out in the court of the Gentiles, had turned it into a marketplace. Jesus’ objection was not to the buying and selling or the money changing themselves, but to the fact that these things were practised in the temple [Cf. Mk 11:17]…Jesus’ anger, then, was aroused because the one place where people from other nations could pray had been turned into a noisy market.
  3. the evangelist may have intended his readers to see in Jesus’ action a fulfilment of OT prophecies. In Zechariah 14:21 the prophet speaks of a day when ‘there will no longer be a Canaanite (rsv ‘trader’) in the house of the Lord Almighty’.
  4. the whole episode demonstrates that Jesus was concerned for the purity of temple worship, not its abolition at that time.’ (Numbering added)

What is zeal? ‘Numb 25:2:’Phinehas has turned my wrath away, while he was zealous for my sake.’ Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger; it carries forth our love to God, and our anger against sin in an intense degree. Zeal is impatient of God’s dishonour; a Christian fired with zeal, takes a dishonour done to God worse than an injury done to himself. Rev 2:2. ‘Thou canst not bear them that are evil.’ Our Saviour Christ thus glorified his Father; he, being baptized with a spirit of zeal, drove the money-changers out of the temple. Jn 2:14-17. ‘The zeal of thine house has eaten me up.’ (Thomas Watson)

When (and how many times) did Jesus cleanse the Temple?

According to John 2:12-22, Jesus cleansed the Temple near the beginning of his public ministry.  The Synoptists, however, record a cleansing during the last week of his earthly ministry (Mt 21:10–17; Mk 11:15–19; Lk 19:45–46).

John records a temple cleansing at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  So, was the one cleansing (and, if so, was it at the beginning or the close of his ministry)?  Or were there two cleansings?

Here are the main alternatives:-

(a) A few think that John’s chronology is correct.  The Synoptic writers could not include the account earlier, because they do not record Jesus’ earlier visits to Jerusalem, and only mention the Passover during which he was crucified.

Wright (in his popular work on John’s Gospel) is sympathetic to this view:

‘In favour of putting the incident at the beginning, as John does, is the fact that Matthew, Mark and Luke don’t have Jesus in Jerusalem at all during his adult life, so the final journey is the only place where it can happen. John, however, has Jesus going to and fro to Jerusalem a good deal throughout his short career. And if he had done something like this at the beginning, it would explain certain things very well: why, for instance, people came from Jerusalem to Galilee to check him out (e.g. Mark 3:22; 7:1), and why, when the high priest finally decided it was time to act, they already felt they had a case against him (John 11:47–53).’

Sceptical scholars suppose that the authorities, having been alerted by the cleansing recorded by John, would have been on their guard against any further such disruption.  They therefore insist that only one cleansing could have taken place.

(b) Many think that the Synoptic chronology is correct.  John may have brought forward his account for theological, symbolic or literary reasons.  John, it is said, is concerned with the deeper meaning of the events he records, and feels free to rearrange them.  According to this view, ‘the ministry is launched by an affirmation of Jesus’ renewal of the worship of Israel and his claim to be the new locus, as the Risen One, of all commerce between God and humanity’ (Milne who, however, appears to support view (c) below).  However, the clear indications of time suggest that John has not altered the chronology to suit his own purposes.

Harper’s Bible Commentary: ‘In all probability John has moved an event from the passion week to the beginning of the narrative. Such a move would fit his tendency to set out at the beginning matters or events that in the other Gospels take place later (e.g., the confession of Jesus as Messiah). Jesus comes to the Temple of Jerusalem, the very heart of the Israelite nation and religion, at the outset of his ministry and there confronts its authorities. Their forthcoming hostility is adumbrated, and his own death and resurrection are revealed by the testimony of Scripture and Jesus’ own pronouncement.’

Barrett thinks that John’s account draws on that of Mark, but that the fourth evangelist moves the incident for theological reasons.

According to Beasley-Murray,

‘there is reasonably widespread agreement now that: (i) the event happened only once, not twice (at the beginning and end of the ministry of Jesus); (ii) it took place in the last week of the life of Jesus; (iii) the Fourth Evangelist had no intention of correcting the timing of the event, but set his account at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus to highlight its significance for understanding the course of the ministry.’

This account, transposed to the beginning of John’s Gospel,

‘provides a vital clue for grasping the nature and the course of our Lord’s work, his words and actions, his death and resurrection, and the outcome of it all in a new worship of God, born out of a new relation to God in and through the crucified-risen Christ.’

For Klink,

‘an overt attack on the temple arrangements for sacrifice is far more readily understandable historically as part of the culmination of Jesus’ public mission and as the event that sealed the decision to have him arrested.’

Klink continues:

‘In their reconstruction of the history of composition of the Fourth Gospel a number of scholars plausibly suggest that at an earlier stage the temple incident was associated with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem in chapter 12 but was removed to make room for the Lazarus story, which in this narrative provides the chief motive for Jesus’ arrest. In any case, as it now stands in the final version of the Gospel, the account still retains clear links with the passion narrative. Verse 17 has an implicit reference to Jesus’ death and its citation of Ps. 69 is from a psalm extensively quarried by the early church for scriptural witness to the passion. Jesus’ saying in v. 19 is a version of a saying which has an important role in Mark and Matthew in their accounts of the Sanhedrin trial and the crucifixion. It appears, then, that, as with a number of other features of the Fourth Gospel, theological rather than historical concerns have shaped the narrative’s presentation and in this case determined the place of the temple incident in the plot. Placing the temple incident at the beginning helps to structure the whole narrative of Jesus’ public mission in terms of a major confrontation between his claims and the views of official Judaism.’

Michaels (UBCS) notes that the reference to the Passover in Jn 2:13 is similar to that in Jn 11:55.  He regards this is evidence that the cleansing actually took place at the beginning of Passion week, and that John has deliberately separated the Triumphal Entry from the Temple Cleansing, so that each now stands at the head of the two main sections of the Fourth Gospel (Jn 2:13-11:54; and Jn 11:55-21:25).

Blomberg (Historical Reliability of the New Testament) comments on the view that John has relocated this episode for thematic purposes.  He agrees that this is possible, in view of the fact that John’s earlier chronological markers (John 1: 29, 35, 43; 2: 1), and so on, are here absent.

On the question of John’s willingness to adjust chronology for theological reasons, scholars tend to claim, as key supporting evidence, that he brings move forward the crucifixion by one day.  But this claim is itself contestable.

(c) But some  take the view that there were two temple cleansings.  Morris, Osborne, Tasker, Mounce, Kostenberger, Hendriksen, Carson, Bock, Blomberg adopt, or at least incline, to this view.  In this case, the second (recorded by the Synoptists, took place two or three years after the first.  The first cleansing did not form a part of the tradition that they were drawing on.

This was the dominant view in pre-critical times.  In modern times, however, many scholars dismiss this as a possibility.  According to Chapple, ‘C. H. Dodd went so far as to call it a ‘puerile expedient,’ although he used slightly less caustic terms in his subsequent study of John: ‘The suggestion that the temple was twice cleansed is the last resort of a desperate determination to harmonize Mark and John at all costs.”

Even some conservative scholars have roundly dismissed this possibility.  Borchert (NAC), for example, writes that ‘the familiar argument of two cleansings is a historiographic monstrosity that has no basis in the texts of the Gospels.’  France (on the Gospel of Mark): ‘the suggestion, still sometimes met as an attempt to “harmonise” Mark and John, that it happened twice is about as probable as that the Normandy landings took place both at the beginning and the end of the Second World War.’

However, this possibility should be taken seriously, for a number of reasons:-

(i) Both accounts are given their own chronological markers.

(ii) Apart from the references to John the Baptist, there is no Synoptic material at all in the first five chapters of John’s Gospel.  This consideration adds to the likelihood that these are two distinct events.

(iii) Although both accounts begin similarly, there are a number of differences between the Synoptic and Johannine accounts.  Morris points out that apart from the central act, they bar little resemblance, and only have five words in common.  Blomberg: ‘Only John speaks of cattle, sheep, a whip of cords, and coins. The key sayings attributed to Jesus are entirely different- a protest against commercialism (v. 16) and a cryptic prediction of his death and resurrection (v. 19). A different Old Testament passage is cited (v. 17- Ps. 69:9) and different questions on the part of the Jewish leaders appear (vv. 18, 20). The synoptic accounts, in contrast, focus on the combination of quotations from Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (a house of prayer vs. a den of robbers).’

(iv) Milne argues that both accounts are contextually credible: ‘At the beginning, Jesus sees the worship of the nation through eyes newly kindled by the call of God and his nascent sense of mission. As the newly authorized Messiah King, he moves energetically to confront Israel’s apostasy and recall it to a new submission to God (Mal. 3:1f.). At the end of the ministry Jesus comes, in the shadow of his looming self-sacrifice, to declare the final bankruptcy of a religion which has turned its back on its high and holy destiny in the interests of self-aggrandizement and empty legalism.’  John’s account helps to explain the early hostility towards Jesus’ ministry (Jn 5:18).

(v) A further indication that the two accounts are complementary is the fact that Mt 26:61/Mk 14:58 refers to a saying of Jesus which is not recorded anywhere previously in the Synoptic Gospels, but is found in Jn 2:19.

(vi) The objection (of Keener and others) that it would be ‘unlikely’ that Jesus would cleanse the temple in such a dramatic way, and then be allowed to do it again (having re-visited the temple several times in between) must be regarded as rather conjectural.  Morris: ‘At the time indicated in John Jesus was quite unknown. His strong action would have aroused a furor in Jerusalem, but that is all. The authorities may have well been disinclined to go to extremes against him, especially if there was some public feeling against the practices he opposed [and, we might add, some public support for him, Jn 2:23]. It was quite otherwise at the time indicated by Mark.’

(vii) We should not be surprised that both occurred at the time of Passover, since Jesus would be most likely to visit Jerusalem then (Carson).

(viii) ‘An early temple cleansing helps explain historically why Jesus faced hostility early in his ministry (5:18). In addition, Jesus’ common practice of withdrawing (3:22; 6:15; 7:9-10; 8:59; 10:40) makes it historically plausible that he could have continued his ministry for two or three years after an initial temple cleansing.’ (Holman Apologetics Commentary)

(ix) ‘Randolph Richards has analyzed the events in terms of ancient cultures of honor and shame. It is conceivable that the first incident in John 2 occurred in a comparatively small corner of the temple so that the authorities did not immediately intervene but waited to see if a sign like the one they understood Jesus to have predicted would occur. When it did not, they would assume he was sufficiently shamed, in public, not to be any further danger. But if two or three years later he performed something similar, it showed him to be without shame, unaffected by social constraint, and therefore potentially dangerous.[ 517] If Jesus spoke something like 2: 19 that long before his trial and execution, it is also easier to understand how his words could have been garbled and misconstrued as in Mark 14: 58 and parallel.’ (Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament)

2:18 So then the Jewish leaders responded, “What sign can you show us, since you are doing these things?” 2:19 Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” 2:20 Then the Jewish leaders said to him, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and are you going to raise it up in three days?” 2:21 But Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body. 2:22 So after he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the scripture and the saying that Jesus had spoken.

See Mt 26:61.  Ramsey Michaels comments that the emphasis falls not on the destruction of the temple, but rather on its rebuilding: “If you destroy this temple, I will rebuild it in three days”.  The response recorded in the following verse confirms this.  However, the form of the verb does imply that it is those whom Jesus is speaking to who will ‘destroy’ his body.  Jesus is saying, in effect, “Do your worst, and see what happens”.

“This temple has been under construction for forty-six years” – Herod’s temple was still incomplete.  This would date the present incident to 27AD.

An alternative translation would be ‘This temple was built forty-six years ago’.

“Are you going to raise it up in three days?” – Kruse says that the singular pronoun ‘you’ is emphatic, suggesting that they intended to mock Jesus.

‘The temple in which they then were was that which was commonly called the second temple, built after the return of the Jews from Babylon. This temple Herod the Great commenced repairing, or began to rebuild, in the eighteenth year of his reign-that is, sixteen years before the birth of Christ (Jos. Ant., b. xv. 1). The main body of the temple he completed in nine years and a half (Jos. Ant., xv. 5, 6), yet the temple, with its outbuildings, was not entirely complete in the time of our Saviour. Herod continued to ornament it and to perfect it even till the time of Agrippa (Jos. Ant., b. xx. ch. viii. _ 11). As Herod began to rebuild the temple sixteen years before the birth of Jesus, and as what is here mentioned happened in the thirtieth year of the age of Jesus, so the time which had been occupied in it was forty-six years. This circumstance is one of the many in the New Testament which show the accuracy of the evangelists, and which prove that they were well acquainted with what they recorded. It demonstrates that their narration is true. Impostors do not trouble themselves to be very accurate about names and dates, and there is nothing in which they are more liable to make mistakes.’ (Barnes)

They believed the scripture – Possibly Psa 69:9 (quoted in Jn 2:17) is meant.

Kruse comments ‘In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter cites Psalm 16:8–11 as the scripture fulfilled when Jesus was raised from the dead (Acts 2:24–28), Philip uses the passage about the death of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 53:7–8 (LXX) to proclaim Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:30–35), and Paul cites Psalm 2:7 (Acts 13:33); Isaiah 55:3 LXX (Acts 13:34) and Psalm 16:10 LXX (Acts 13:35) as scriptures that foreshadow the resurrection of Jesus.’

‘As Jesus superseded Moses (Jn 1:17: ‘the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’) and the blessings of the kingdom supersede the ceremonial washings of the old covenant (as exemplified in the miracle at Cana), so now the temple of Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God is superseded by Christ himself. His body is the new temple, the place where God was now making himself present. (Later the church as the body of Christ assumes this role.)’ (Kruse)

As Ryle remarks, instruction that seems to fall on deaf ears is not necessarily lost for good.  ‘There is often a resurrection of sermons, and texts, and instruction, after an interval of many years. The good seed sometimes springs up after he that sowed it has been long dead and gone. Let preachers go on preaching, and teachers go on teaching, and parents go on training up children in the way they should go. Let them sow the good seed of Bible truth in faith and patience.’

Jesus at the Passover Feast, 23-25

2:23 Now while Jesus was in Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover, many people believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs he was doing. 2:24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people. 2:25 He did not need anyone to testify about man, for he knew what was in man.

Many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing… – John reminds us that Jesus did many miracles which are not specifically recorded, Jn 20:30; 21:25. Nicodemus refers to these in Jn 3:2.

…and believed in his name – Obviously an intellectual assent, a recognition that Jesus was a great prophet, rather than a heartfelt, saving belief. There is a vital difference between the two. The former is the kind of belief that Simon Magus had, Acts 8:13,18-23.

We see here both the purpose and the limitations of miraculous signs. They draw attention to the power and grace of God, but do not in themselves form a basis for saving faith.

Jesus would not entrust himself to them – A remarkable twofold use of ‘pisteuo’ here: many trusted him (v23), but he was not entrusting himself (i.e. the fulness of his self-revelation; his cause) to them. ‘Jesus of all people will not be misled by outward professions of loyalty which do not involve true repentance and heart commitment.’ (Milne)

He knew all men – he knew their hearts, and in the case of these admirers, knew that they were like the stony ground, and their faith shallow and temporary. The omniscience which is testified to here is a divine attribute, 1 Sam 16:7; 1 Chron 28:9; Jer 17:10; Mk 2:8; Jn 16:30-31.

He did not need man’s testimony about man – he did not need people’s approval. He travelled his own path, unswayed by transitory applause of men. Let us likewise learn not to set too much store by the approval or applause of men. Lk 6:26.

He knew what was in a man – The rabbis had taught that there were seven things hidden from man, including ‘what is in the heart of his neighbour.’ However, Jesus’ penetrating gaze looked right into a person’s heart. Here is a bold assertion of Christ’s divine omniscience. (cf. 1 Kings 8:39) ‘Some men of genius can read men better than others, but not in the sense meant here’ (Robertson). Our Lord did not need to be told about people, he required no references or testimonials, because he knew all about them already. ‘He knew all men, not only their names and faces, as it is possible for us to know many, but their nature, dispositions, affections, designs, as we do not know any man, scarcely ourselves. He knows all men, for his powerful hand made them all, his piercing eye sees them all, sees into them. He knows his subtle enemies, and all their secret projects; his false friends, and their true characters; what they really are, whatever they pretend to be. He knows them that are truly his, knows their integrity, and knows their infirmity too. He knows their frame.’ (Henry)

Human nature has not changed

The last 100 years have seen amazing activity and progress in the human sciences (i.e. anthropology, psychology, social psychology, sociology, self-awareness, counselling, and so on). And yet human nature remains as much an enigma and a problem as it ever has been. And so it will remain until we humbly accept Christ’s infallible insight, which asserts on the one hand a basic moral flaw (we pollute God’s temple; we refuse him his rightful worship; we cannot be trusted); and on the other hand an infinite value (his mission was motivated not only by zeal for his Father’s glory, but but a deep love for his people; this concern leads to his desire to establish true worship in anticipation of that which will be offered in the new world, Rev 21:22 22:6). (On this, see Milne, 73-74)