Were there drunk people at the wedding when Jesus turned water into wine?

Some co-workers and I were opining on the second chapter of John in a recent bible study that I participated in, when I uttered my contentious observation that the feast governor’s speech in John 2:10 seems to imply that there were intoxicated people at the wedding. Most of the bible study participants disagreed with my observation and instead claimed that there was no such implication given by the verses in question. Now, in a logic course that I took a while back, I remember the instructor saying that If you cannot translate an English sentence into a proposition’s categorical form then you really don’t know what the sentence means. This does make sense if you think about it; after all, a proposition is the simplest unit of thought. When you convert what is being said into propositions, you are clarifying and simplifying the contents of each sentence.

Based upon the above admonition, I have decided to translate the pertinent verses into categorical form:

Lets first observe John 2:9-10,

When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man [that gives a feast] at the beginning [of the feast] does set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk [literally, have “become intoxicated”], then that which is worse [is put forth]: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
(John 2:9-10)

The “governor of the feast” mentions three propositions, allow me to paraphrase them:

(1) Every feast-giver sets forth their best wine at the beginning of the feast
(2) Every feast-giver sets forth their worst wine AFTER the guests are intoxicated
(3) You are a feast-giver that has set forth his best wine now (AFTER the guest are intoxicated).

Pay close attention to the second and third proposition. Just so we understand what is being said, I will put the last two propositions into categorical form:

(2) ALL feast-givers ARE feast-givers-that-serve-thier-worst-wine-after-the-guest-are-intoxicated
(3) ALL feast-givers-at-the-John-Chapter-Two-Wedding ARE feast-givers-that-serve-thier-best-wine-after-the-guest-are-intoxicated

The intent of the feast’s governor is to explain to the bridegroom that his wine-serving etiquette is in contrast to the norm. In doing so, he sets the last two propositions in contrast to one another. That the majority of the propositions uttered by the feast’s governor discuss intoxication are inescapable. Specifically, the last proposition makes no sense if by the word “now” the governor does NOT mean “after the guest are intoxicated.” As the feast-giver (i.e. the bridegroom) if the word “now” was used to mean sometime BEFORE the guest were intoxicated, my reply to the third proposition would be: “Hey, what’s the big deal, it’s still early in the feast and the guest are not yet intoxicated; this is exactly when I should put forth my good wine.”  On the other hand, if the governor of the feast says the above three propositions in spite of the fact that folks aren’t intoxicated then it makes his utterances seem foolish or at least unnecessary.

Ironically, a Hindu co-worker of mine, when asked about his understanding of John 2 concurred with my comprehension of the verses. In fact, he reasoned that this particular wine serving etiquette mentioned by the feast’s governor is no longer strategical if there is no expectation that the guest would be affected by some level of intoxication to the point of not caring that inferior wine was now being served. Still, when folks insist that a biblical sentence doesn’t say something that it clearly does, it makes you wonder what other places in Scripture that they’re imposing their sentiments upon. Eisegesis is defined as the personal interpretation of a text (especially of the Bible) using your own ideas instead of those emanating from the text itself. That is why I put the sentences into categorical form, so it becomes easier to see if eisegesis is committed.

One lingering question here that apparently caused one or more bible study participants to go against the clear meaning of the text is: does the act of turning water to wine make Jesus complicit in the furthering of drunkenness (assuming that the feast’s governor was accurate in his assertion)?  Obviously this is an irrational question. This is similar to asking if God can create a stone that is too big for Himself to lift. What makes both of these questions irrational is that God’s defining traits (i.e. Holiness, Omnipotence) contradict the logical predicates of both sentences in question. Moreover, since according to Scripture (i.e. 1 Timothy 6:15 ) God is potentate—a ruler unconstrained by law—it is therefore not possible for Him to break a law, which is precisely what is meant when we say that someone has committed a sin.  Everything God does is not only considered righteous by definition; but is actually the standard for righteousness when those actions are understood in the proper context. It is thus impossible for our Holy God to be complicit in sin, the same way it is impossible for our Omnipotent God to not be omnipotent, the same way it is impossible for the color green to have a sound. These sentences violate the law of non-contradiction and are thus unsuitable for us to ponder. We must be careful to not ask or entertain questions that are irrational so as to not give these questions legitimacy.

Besides, gluttony appears to be just as serious a sin as drunkenness (Proverbs 23:20-21, Deuteronomy 21:20) and yet no one is tempted to ask if Jesus contributed to the potential gluttonous actions of those who were present during the miraculous feeding of the five thousand men. Christ multiplied 2 fishes and 5 loaves of bread to the point that there were 12 baskets full of leftovers after everyone was full (Matthew 14:13-21).

So, the Scriptures and logic ensure us that Jesus, Who is God, could never be complicit in sin. It is however also interesting that commentators want to assure us that it was a big deal in Christ’s milieu for a wedding ceremony to run out of wine.

Dr. David Guzik says the following:

This was a major social faux pas. “To fail in providing adequately for the guests would involve social disgrace. In the closely knit communities of Jesus’ day such an error would never be forgotten, and would haunt the newly married couple all their lives.” (Tenney) Additionally, wine was a rabbinical symbol of joy. Therefore “to run out of wine would almost have been the equivalent of admitting that neither the guests nor the bride and groom were happy.” (Boice)

Dr. Bob Utley says:

Apparently Mary was helping with the arrangements for the wedding. This can be seen in (1) her ordering the servants (cf. Joh_2:5) and (2) her concern over the refreshments (cf. Joh_2:3).

In summary, with the mitigating context that the Johanine marriage details afford us, combined with our adherence to rationality, we are certain that even if there were intoxicated persons at the ceremony, the miracle that Jesus reluctantly performed at the behest of His mother was nothing but a good act.

The second issue that was raised during the bible study has to do with the reply that Jesus gave Mary when she asked Him to rectify the “lack of wine” problem.

Consider the following passage:

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
(John 2:1-4)

Reading through many commentaries, the two most common interpretations of Jesus’ response are:

(a) Is there anything [thought-wise that] we have in common?

(b) What does that have to do with us?

Many folk in our bible study thought the second interpretation was in scope while I opted for the first. This response of Christ’s is actually a Hebraic idiom that has other usages in the bible. When one examines the other usages of this idiom in the scriptures (Jdg_11:12; 2Sa_16:10; 2Sa_19:22; 1Ki_17:18; 2Ki_3:13; 2Ch_35:21; Mat_8:29; Mar_1:24; Mar_5:7; Luk_4:34; Luk_8:28) it becomes clear that the first interpretation is in scope and not the second. As Dr. Henry Morris puts it:

This question [by Christ] was not disrespectful but somewhat sad. Literally, Jesus said: “Woman what to me and to thee?” meaning, “Is there anything we have in common?” The Lord rebuked drunkenness (e.g., Luke 21:34), yet His mother not only seemed to tolerate it but now was asking for still more wine for the already drunken guests. Mary should have remembered [t]hat her son’s mission was not to meet temporal (and questionable) social needs, and certainly not to encourage sinful behavior, but rather to “save His people from their sins.”

In concluding my commentary on the second issue, I leave you with this somewhat related excerpt from J.C. Ryle:

The words of rebuke to Mary clearly show that she erred and was as fallible as any other woman. The Lord rebuked her because He did not want her to interfere with Him and His work. “She erred here, perhaps from an affectionate desire to bring honor to her Son, as she erred on other occasions. The words before us were meant to remind her that she must henceforth leave our Lord to choose His own times and modes of acting. The season of subjection to her and Joseph was over. The season of His public ministry had at length begun. In carrying on that ministry, she must not presume to suggest to Him. The utter contrariety of this verse to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church about the Virgin Mary is too palpable to be explained away. She was not without error and sin, as Romish writers have dared to assert, and was not meant to be prayed to and adored. If our Lord would not allow His mother even to suggest to Him the working of a miracle, we may well suppose that all Roman Catholic prayers to the Virgin Mary, and especially prayers entreating her to ‘command her Son,’ are most offensive and blasphemous in His eyes.”

5 thoughts on “Were there drunk people at the wedding when Jesus turned water into wine?

    • James says:

      I’m currently completing a blog called “How many different times is Jesus referred to as God in the Bible?” where I list over 25 different times that the Bible refers to Him as God. However, for now I will provide you with a couple:

      (1) John 1:1-3, 14 state:
      In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God, the same was in the beginning with God, all things were made by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

      This is a very strong assertion that Jesus is God. The eternal Word, who was to be made man (John_1:14), is God (not merely “a god” as some have alleged), and is the same God who created heaven and earth in the beginning. In fact, He is the only “true God” (1Jo_5:20), who was there “in the beginning.” – Dr. Henry Morris, The New Defenders Study Bible.

      (2) The OT says that every knee shall bow to YAHWEH, yet in the NT this verse is ascribed to Jesus the Christ
      That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
      (Philippians 2:10-11)

      I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me[YHWH] every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.
      (Isaiah 45:23)

      …we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
      (Romans 14:10-12)

      In Isaiah (Isaiah 45:23) there can be no doubt that it refers to Yahweh. The speaker expressly calls himself Yahweh, the name which is appropriate to God alone, and which is never applied to a creature; Rom_14:18. In the place before us, the words are applied by Paul expressly to Christ; compare Rom_14:10. This mode of quotation is a strong incidental proof that the apostle regarded the Lord Jesus as divine. On no other principle could he have made these quotations…The Lord Jesus being God as well as man, the account will be rendered directly to the Creator as well as the Redeemer of the world. In this passage there are “two” incidental proofs of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. “First,” the fact that the apostle applies to him language which in the prophecy is expressly spoken by “Yahweh;” and, “Secondly,” the fact that Jesus is declared to be the Judge of all. No being that is not “omniscient” can be qualified to judge the secrets of all people. – Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible

  1. michael says:

    I mean no disrespect, but in my opinion, the passages you’ve quoted aren’t times that Jesus is referred to as God. I think that your John 1 reference is the best of those you chose to prove your point, though I don’t think it does. I am no biblical scholar or expert (as you appear to be), but I thought that Isaiah 45:23 was God’s words, not Jesus’. Also, if Jesus is God, then who is the “only begotten Son” that is spoken of in John 3:16? I feel that if Jesus is God, then John 3:16 would say something like “…he gave himself, that whosoever believeth…”. My opinion is that Jesus is God’s son, and possesses attributes inherent of God, but I don’t think that God and Jesus are one and the same. I don’t want you to think that I am being malevolent or demeaning by questioning your assertion that Jesus is God; I just was hoping to have a healthy conversation, or maybe even polite debate, to help me have a deeper and better understanding of the Holy Bible. Though I have considered myself a Christian since childhood, I’ve only recently found a new passion and desire to fully comprehend the Bible. I admit that I haven’t read most of it, but I find discussions about disagreements over interpretations of the Bible are (shamefully) one of the only things that give me the motivation to really read scripture, as I suffer from depression.

    • James says:

      Michael, you first need to address the explanations that have already been given don’t you? For instance, why despite the clear teaching of John 1:1 do you persist in saying that it doesn’t refer to Jesus (the Word of God) as God; if you do not list any reason for dissenting with John 1:1 how can I help you reach a different understanding? Also it appears that you did not read the explanation given in regards to Isaiah 45:23 for if you had you would know that I am not disputing that God is the one talking in the passage; rather, I’m pointing out that the Bible in the New Testament attributes this very passage to Jesus, which leads to the good and necessary conclusion that Jesus is God. Further, the bible doesn’t say that there is a problem with Jesus being God while at the same time being the only begotten of God so why do you see a problem?

  2. digikateblog says:

    Please let me explain to you my point of view :

    I would also be happy to get a point view from anyone about my analysis of the Cana wedding.

    From my opinion the main message in all the bible is about the danger of sin :

    James 1:15
    “Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

    And Jesus said about the understanding of this: “and then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”

    As everybody knows in the Old testament covenants were signed with blood.

    In the New testament also. And the blood is represented by the wine (blood of Christ).

    We need to drink a bit of wine at the church to “sign” the new covenant from Jesus.

    This is why Jesus actually wanted that the host of the wedding to become drunk: to realise all these concepts.

    There is general concept in the Bible explaining that we need to die before to die.

    Basically by becoming drunk, people would hit a low in their life.

    And the wedding represents a rebirth for the people. They can then understand that they are here to be saved by Jesus. To become clean of all sins !

    This is why Jesus said something like: “what do you want woman?: my time is not came yet”

    The cross is not yet here for Jesus. The wedding is just the realisation of sin and then the covenant actually arrive with the cruxifaction of Jesus.

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