To the fast or to the wedding feast?

Charlton Heston as John the Baptist as seen in “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965).

Why does the Gospel According to John have Jesus calling three disciples and attending the wedding at Cana after his baptism, when the synoptic Gospels according to Matthew, Mark and Luke all have Jesus “immediately” being driven by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 3:1-4:11; Mark 1-13; Luke 3:1-4:12)? This seeming discrepancy was recently brought to my attention. After a little homework, I’d like to share with you what I discovered about John 1:19-2:25 and how this pericope is reconciled with the synoptic narratives of Jesus’ baptism and temptation. First, let’s read the passage in question. Passages relevant to chronology or paralleling the synoptic narratives are highlighted either in bold or italics:

                And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.

                (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

                Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

                So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man. (John 1:19-2:25 ESV)

You see? It seems upon a quick reading of this passage that after Jesus’ baptism, instead of immediately being driven into the desert to be tempted by the devil, John rather has Jesus calling disciples, attending a wedding, cleansing the Temple and keeping the feast of Passover. But is this really what is going on? Look at John 1:19-34 a little more carefully…

John and the Synoptics Reconciled

It is true that the three synoptic gospels contain the narrative of Jesus’ baptism “immediately” followed by his departing for the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It is also true that John chapter one contains some language shared by the synoptics’ baptism narratives, and it even contains a reference to the Spirit in the form of a dove descending and remaining on Jesus, which is what happened upon his baptism at the hands of John. But the big difference between the John narrative and those of the synoptics is the fact that in John’s gospel, the account of Jesus’ baptism is not given.

 John 1:19-28 is John testifying to the priests and Levites sent by the Pharisees, which testimony contains some of the same language as is found in the synoptic baptism accounts. Then John 1:29-34 present the events of the day after John the Baptist’s testimony to the leaders from Jerusalem. Watch the action carefully: Jesus approaches, John announces his Messianic identity and then he “bears witness” that he saw the Spirit like a dove descend on him.

  Nowhere does it say that it was on this day that John baptized him, nor does it say that John saw the Spirit descend on him on that very day, but in his dramatic announcement to his followers upon Jesus’ arrival, he informed them that he had seen the Spirit descend on him when he had baptized him in the past. This means that Jesus had been baptized by John some 40+ days prior to this. So the baptism and temptation in the wilderness takes place prior to John’s opening narrative which begins in John 1:19 (verses 1-18 are simply introduction).

  Therefore, the days which follow this account—calling disciples for two days and the third day going to the wedding at Cana—do not contradict the eyewitness accounts contained in the synoptic gospels.

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One response

  1. John,

    I throughly and thoroughly enjoyed reading that. Sometimes we allow feelings and emotions produced by winds blowing through the air in our head, airheads, and because of this allowance we miss the plain meaning of the verses in question.

    Just for another exercise, have you counted the “three” passovers accounted for and covered in John’s Gospel?

    I count three and using the same discipline as you do producing this post, one has to conclude that John, after some time had passed between experiencing Jesus firsthand historically, giving his prima facia account of his experiences, he recounts those experiences in the Gospel according to John from which you make plain this post.

    It is all in the point of view the writer writes from basis the experiences they experienced that clears up any confusion if one will take it to the level you take it to to understand what is confusing in the four Gospel accounts.

    I remember having strong feelings rise up inside me one day during the time when I was giving my account of a traffic accident that I was eye witness too. I first listened to another eye witness give their version of what they saw. Their conclusion was different than mine although we both saw the same traffic accident at exactly the same time.

    After seeing the accident I jotted down exactly what I recall seeing before running out of the office to render aid. The accident happened a block from where I was. Unbeknown to me there was another eye witness. This eye witness saw the exact same thing I saw at exactly the same time I saw it. However, they were looking east while walking from west to east on a sidewalk along one street that goes into the intersection where the collision happened. I was in an office on the second floor looking south out the window and down at the colliding vehicles.

    What I saw I saw and I wrote down what I saw immediately before going out to the scene of the collision. What this other eye witness saw was from ground level and this eye witness had something I didn’t have working to enhance what they saw. They had their hearing.

    Both of us gave our first hand accounts of the accident to the Traffic Cop who was there gathering the eye witness accounts of the accident.

    What I saw was a car “run” a red light and cause the accident. What the other person “heard” and saw was someone speeding up and entering into the intersection just as the controlled intersection lights were changing. Technically the one and the other ran the red light, one just before it changed and the other as it changed and that “moment in time” was caught by both eye witnesses at the moment of the change.

    So, this one eye witness heard a car accelerate while the light was red but because of the angle the person could see what the driver could see that the other light had changed from green to yellow indicating a change to red was coming and green was going to happen thus making it sensible to accelerate into the intersection. Unfortunately there was a collision between the cars.

    What I saw was a car accelerating on a yellow light turning red. I saw the yellow light turn to a red light and thought the driver “made it” into the intersection while the light was yellow.

    What the other eye witness saw was a red light turn green but after the car entered into the intersection and watched the collision happen, too.

    We both thought the car we saw was at fault based on the experience we saw.

    I do not know what the outcome was and who the Traffic Cop faulted. Both drivers were reacting to the changing lights, each one from their perspective, one entering the intersection when it was yellow changing to red and the other when it was changing from red to green.

    Both the Gospels and the Epistles as well as some of the Old Testament accounts give eye witness accounting of people ruling and incidents that happened that are not exactly identical just similar.

    What we need to receive is the same “witness” and “anointing” of the One True God, the Holy Spirit, who authored the Bible through those chosen to write it so that these conflicts within the Written Word do not conflict but conform to the Unity of the Spirit and His Word!

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