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Friday, March 16, 2012

Water into wine

John 2:1 The third day, there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus also was invited, with his disciples, to the marriage. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine.”
Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you, do it.” Now there were six water pots of stone set there after the Jews’ way of purifying, containing two or three metretes* apiece. Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” They filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the ruler of the feast.” So they took it. When the ruler of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and didn’t know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the ruler of the feast called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when the guests have drunk freely, then that which is worse. You have kept the good wine until now!” 11 This beginning of his signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. 
*2 to 3 metretes is about 20 to 30 U. S. Gallons, or 75 to 115 liters. (From the World English Bible, public domain.)
This is a remarkable story. Only John's gospel tells it. There doesn't seem to be any suggestion that this is to be taken any other way than as a history of something that Jesus did. Therefore, there are two possibilities. Either John (or someone else) made this up, or it really happened. I believe in the truth of the Bible, so I reject the first possibility. If it really happened, it was some sort of miracle.

I say some sort, because, of course, John didn't tell us exactly what Jesus did, presumably because he, John didn't know. What, then, did Jesus do? I certainly don't know, either. But I can muse about it.

Verse 6 apparently means that the capacity of these water pots was about 100 liters, not that they were filled with water already. It doesn't completely rule out that there was some water in one or more of these pots. Verse 7 indicates that the servants filled these pots, perhaps from the village well. Apparently, as the water was poured, the contents of the pots became wine.

How did Jesus do this? We don't know, of course, but however and whatever He did, it was miraculous.

The chemical formula for alcohol (ethanol -- there are many kinds of alcohol. Ethanol is the kind in alcoholic beverages) is C2H5OH. The chemical formula for water is H2O. There are no carbon atoms in pure water, and, even if the water was impure, with some carbon atoms in it, they wouldn't be expected to be  incorporated into molecules of ethanol. Somehow, Jesus either created ethanol molecules, or transformed water molecules into ethanol. Such feats are beyond our ability, even today. (It is possible, I suppose, that Jesus, instead, acted on the taste buds and nasal passages of the ruler of the feast, and the other guests, but the text doesn't suggest that, and, even if it happened, it would be as miraculous as creating, or transforming, molecules.)
Some people of past times, including the alchemists of the West, believed that there is a philosopher's stone, that has the power to produce gold by transformation of other elements. Elements generally don't change into other elements, but this does happen, through some kinds of radioactive decay, and it is possible for humans to use nuclear reactions to change some types of elements into others. (See the Wikipedia article on Nuclear transmutation.) But don't expect to go to your friendly neighborhood university physics department and expect that they are capable of transforming hydrogen or oxygen atoms into carbon atoms, or water molecules into ethanol molecules. This is just not possible. (It is believed that several hydrogen atoms, through a long and involved processes, can be transformed into a carbon atom, in the heart of stars.)

How is wine made, normally? The process is carried out by yeast organisms, which require sugar to work on, and contain the appropriate enzymes for breaking the sugar down and making ethanol and carbon dioxide from it. (See Wikipedia article on ethanol fermentation) That normal process is remarkable enough that I consider the ability of yeasts to carry it out to be similar to a miracle, although it is a natural process -- somehow God has made it possible for it to be carried out, apparently with no divine intervention. But Colossians 1:16-17 indicate that Christ somehow sustains the universe at present, including sustaining yeasts, grapes, and ethanol fermentation:
16 For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things are held together.
There is more to wine than ethanol and water. There is a science, or art, of wine tasting, which I know very little about, but there are numerous chemicals in wine, besides ethanol and water, and the ruler of the feast must have detected a pleasing mixture of these, and ethanol, in what he tasted. Jesus would have had to create other substances, besides ethanol, in this wine.

I confess that I started thinking about this subject yesterday, and decided to write this post without checking the approximately 2,000 posts already published in this blog. I just now discovered that I had already posted on this miracle. However, I decided to go ahead and publish this post, which is a little more extensive.

Thanks for reading.


i am Grateful... Kerry i am. said...

Your mind inspires my soul. Grateful

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Kerry i am.

atlibertytosay said...

Interesting that you drew a link to the Philosopher's Stone in this post. I read somewhere (and I can't remember where) that this "mythical stone" was a rock(s) that Jesus' blood fell onto at the cross. Your story has an interesting parallel to the Last Supper and what we today memorialize during communion.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, atlibertytosay.

The Wikipedia article (which I linked to, in the post) on the Philosopher's Stone doesn't mention this story. Also, some of the ancient alchemists were Muslims.