Problem: Jesus' second sign came after many others
Verses: John 2:11, John 2:23, John 4:54; Status: Unsure

An anonymous reader sends me this problem, having seen it mentioned in Bart Ehrman's book Jesus Interrupted. In the Gospel according to John, we are told that Jesus turned water into wine. At the end of that story, we have John 2:11:

This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. (ESV)

Jesus then went from Galilee to Jerusalem, and did further signs. This is John 2:23:

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. (ESV)

So far so good. But later Jesus returns to Galilee, and healed a man's dying son. This is John 4:54:

This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. (ESV)

What stops this from being an obvious mistake is the reference to Galilee. The many signs mentioned in John 2:23 were not done in Galilee, but rather in Jerusalem. So this actually is the second sign that was done in Galilee.

However, Ehrman writes:

From the way John 4:54 gets translated, some readers have been confused into thinking that it refers only to the second sign performed in Galilee; a more appropriate translation is that this is Jesus' second sign, one that he performed after coming from Jerusalem to Galilee.

Unfortunately, not being well-versed in ancient Greek, I can't comment on this. Even the NRSV, which I generally trust not to cover up difficulties in the text, translates 4:54 in the same way as the ESV.

If Ehrman is correct, one might wonder why John has been so sloppy, apparently forgetting about the "signs" he described earlier. The answer (according to some scholars) is that John, having written his gospel, later went back to his text and revised it, introducing some inconsistencies along the way.

Updated: 2010-03-26

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