According to Ridderbos, B. Olsson’s attempt to find the background of John 2 in the Old Testament is profound, yet not plausible.
For Olsson the story of the wedding feast is a “symbolic narrative with many allusive elements.” (112) Thus, Olsson proposes reading the story through what he calls the ‘Sinai Screen.’ Ridderbos explains, “He bases this link on various expressions and phrases in John 2:1-11 that occur more or less in the same form in Exodus:
Jn 2:1 : on the third day
Ex 19:11, 16 : the third day
Jn 2:2 : Jesus was invited
Ex 19:20 : The Lord called Moses…and Moses went up
Jn 2:12 : Jesus went down to Capernaum
Ex 19:24f : Moses went down the mountain
Jn 2:5 : do whatever he tells you
Ex 19:8 : all that the Lord has spoken we will do (cf. 24:3, 7)
Jn 2:11 : he manifested his glory
The terms do not occur in the Masoretic Text or the Septuagint, but do in the Targum.
Jn. 2:11 : his disciples believed in him
Ex 19:9 : so that the people may believe you forever
… The story of the wedding at Cana is to be understood, Olsson says, against this Sinai background. Jewish tradition often speaks of the Sinai tradition as the Lord’s marriage to Israel. It would not be too ‘farfetched, from a Sinai perspective, to allow events at a village wedding to carry a message of something that, according to the narrator, replaces the old wedding at Sinai.'” (111)
However, after initially commending Olsson’s reading of John 2, Ridderbos ultimately concludes with a critique and caution:
This lengthy citation of Olsson’s view is motivated by the fact that in the more recent literature there is a clear tendency to find everywhere in the New Testament hidden allusions not to the Old Testament but also to the Jewish Targums and the liturgical readings of the synagogue. Now there certainly is an important element of truth in this approach. In the Fourth Gospel we again and again encounter expressions that are clearly reminiscent of all kinds of Old Testament stories and statements, though they are not directly cited as such. Perhaps we may say that there is here a playing with the ‘sacred language’ (in, e.g., vs 5) to which the ears of the first readers were probably better attuned than those of today’s church. But it is something very different to find in these sometimes extremely vague allusions the real key to the understanding of the text. [… ] But to say that the story of the Cana wedding can only be understood in light of a number of highly dubious allusions that one must discover by close comparison of the two texts would be to attribute to the Evangelist an artificial method of telling a story, a method that cannot be made plausible.
Finally, he points out that, “in a few general terms vs 11 describes the meaning of the preceding narrative.” (113) Jesus turned water into wine in order to manifest his glory.
Reading Ridderbos’ careful evaluation of Olsson reminded me of a similar observation by Sinclair Ferguson:
Knowing how to ‘preach Christ from the Old Testament,’ or understanding biblical theology, or seeing the flow of redemptive history, or knowing how to get to Christ from any part of the Scriptures does not necessarily result in actually preaching the person of Jesus Christ himself. Seeing Christ as the solution to a series of clues embedded in the Old Testament is not actually the same as proclaiming Jesus himself, in our flesh, bearing our sins, dying our death, and rising for our justification. A formula for preaching Christ is not identical to the persona of Christ, and we must never confuse hermeneutical principles with Christ himself. The former did not die for us on the cross; the latter did. (The Whole Christ, p. 49 n. 23)
I am intrigued by Olsson’s canonical reading of the story, but Ridderbos’ warning is well-taken. There is a fine line between redemptive-historical exegesis and redactive-hysterical eisegesis.
Ridderbos, Herman N. The Gospel according to John: A Theological Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 1997. Print.