"Signs" in the Fourth Gospel
by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.

I) Terminology

There is no single Greek word for "miracle" (despite KJV and some other translations!):

Greek term English transl. Mark Matt Luke John Acts rest of NT
δύναμις (dynamis) "power; mighty deed" 10 12 15 0 10 72
σημείον (semeion) "sign" 7 13 11 17 13 16
τέρας (teras "wonder" [always "signs and wonders"] 1 1 0 1 9 5
ἔργον (ergon) "work" or "deed" 2 6 2 27 10 122

II) "Miracles" in the Synoptic Gospels vs. "Signs" in the Fourth Gospel

 . Synoptics John
Number & Type: dozens of specific narratives and general summaries; 
exorcisms, nature miracles, healing miracles, restoration miracles
only few individual events; no summaries or exorcisms; 
only a few "nature" and "healing" miracles and one "raising dead"
Character of the Narratives: emphasize extraordinary elements of the actions; 
people often praise God afterward
downplays "miraculous" aspects; 
but followed by controversy dialogues
Function of Jesus' Actions: powerful deeds related to Kingdom of God and authority of Jesus, esp. over Satan symbolic actions that reveal Jesus' origin, identity, and relationship with God
Role of Faith / Believing: faith is usually a prerequisite for Jesus being able to perform miracles people (should) come to believe as a result of seeing the "sign" that Jesus performed

III) Function or Purpose of the Johannine Signs

IV) Number of Signs in the Fourth Gospel?

The traditional list of seven (or eight?) signs:

a) 2:1-11 Water into Wine at Cana - "Jesus did this, the first of his signs... and manifested his glory" (2:11)
b) 4:46-54 Official's son near death at Capernaum - "the second sign that Jesus did" (4:54)
c?) 5:1-9ff Healing of a sick man at Pool of Bethesda - called a "work," not a "sign" (7:21; cf. 5:17)
d) 6:1-14ff Feeding of the 5000 - "When the people saw the sign which he had done..." (6:14)
e?) 6:16-21 Walking on water (never called a "sign", nor does it function as one!)
f) 9:1-7ff  Healing of a man born blind - "How can a sinner do such signs?" (9:16)
g) 11:1-45 Lazarus raised from the dead - "they heard he had done this sign" (12:18)
h?) 21:1-14 Resurrection Appearance at Sea of Tiberias (not called a "sign", but closely related)

"Many other signs" are mentioned, but not narrated: 2:23; 3:2; 6:2; 7:31; 9:16; 11:47; 12:37; 20:30-31; cf. 4:45 

V) The Main Texts of the Fourth Gospel mentioning "Signs," "Works," etc.

2:1-11 5:2-18 6:25-33 10:25 Ch. 13-20??
2:13-16 5:19-21 7:1-9 10:31-38 14:10-13
3:19-20 6:2 7:25-31 10:40-42 15:24
4:34 6:3-14 8:39-41 11:1-44 17:1-5
4:46-54 6:16-20 9:1-40 12:37,42 20:30-31

See also "work," "glory/glorify," "the hour," "will of God" 

VI) The Last and Greatest "Sign" is the Cross!

a) The last mention of "signs" comes after the passion narrative (20:30-31)
b) "Sign" refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus in 2:18-22
c) So does the related verb "to indicate, signify, to show by sign" in 12:31-33; 18:32 (cf. Exod 4:8-9; Num 14:11, 22)
d) Verb "lifted up" implies crucifixion in 3:13-15; 8:28-30 (cf. Num 21:8-9; Isa 43:10-13; etc.)
e) In the passion narrative, the cross functions to bring people to believe (19:35-37; cf. Zech 12:10 - 13:1)
f) The death of Jesus is the "completion" of his "work" (cf. 4:34; 5:36; 17:4, 23; and 19:28, 30)
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This page was last updated on April 20, 2013
Copyright 1999--2013 by Felix Just, S.J.