Characteristics of "Signs" in the Gospel of John

The Six Generally Accepted "Signs"

There are six generally accepted "signs" in the Gospel of John. These are listed in the table below. Each of them confirms a specific type of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statement of Jesus as shown in the table. Each of these six signs appears to be referred to as a "sign" in the Greek text. Each sign involves Jesus asking someone, or sometimes more than one person, to do something, and then, as they do it, the supernatural event occurs.

  Sign Purpose of Sign Person Involved What Jesus asked the person to do What happened when they did it
1 Turning water into wine.
John 2:1-11
Confirms "I am the true vine."
John 15:1,5
Servants Fill the waterpots with water and take them to the governor of the feast. The water turned to wine.
2 Healing of the nobleman's son.
John 4:43-54
Confirms "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
John 14:6
Nobleman Return home. The nobleman's dying son immediately began to recover.
3 Healing of the lame man by the Sheep Gate.
John 5:1-18, 6:2
Confirms "I am the door of the sheep."
John 10:7,9
Lame man Rise up and walk. After being paralyzed for 38 years, he rose up and walked.
4 The feeding of the 5,000.
John 6:1-15
Confirms "I am the bread of life."
John 6:35,41,48,51
Disciples Distribute the loaves and fishes. They all ate and were all satisfied, and there were 12 baskets of fragments left over.
5 Healing of the blind man.
John 9:1-41
Confirms "I am the light of the world."
John 8:12
Blind man Go to the pool of Siloam and wash. He came back seeing.
6 Raising Lazarus from the dead.
John 11:1-45, 12:1-19
Confirms "I am the resurrection and the life."
John 11:25
Mourners

Lazarus
Take away the stone.

Come forth from the tomb.
Lazarus rose up from the tomb and walked out.

The Seventh "Sign"

Bible scholars have presented various opinions regarding whether there are seven signs, and if so, what the seventh sign might be. Since the six generally accepted signs each confirm a specific type of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statement of Jesus, and there is a seventh type of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statement, there should be a seventh sign that confirms the seventh type, and there is, as shown below. See the good shepherd page for a detailed explanation of this seventh sign.

There is one significant difference between this sign and the other six. In each of the first six, Jesus asks someone to do something, and then, as they are doing it, something supernatural happens, but in the case of this seventh sign, Jesus does something supernatural first (entering the room when the door is shut), and then, afterwards, asks the disciples to do something (receive the Holy Spirit in the case of the disciples other than Thomas, touch his hands and side and believe in the case of Thomas), so the order is reversed.

  Sign Purpose of Sign Person Involved What Jesus asked the person to do What happened when they did it
 7 Entering room when door shut (twice).
John 20:1-30
Confirms "I am the good shepherd."
John 10:11,14
Disciples

Thomas
Receive the Holy Spirit.

Touch his hands and side.
They received.

He believed.

The Meaning of John 20:30-31

Like the other six signs, the seventh sign appears to be referred to as a sign in the Greek text (John 20:30-31), but this is misunderstood. John 20:30-31 states, "And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book, but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." Notice the word "signs." Notice the words "these are written." What are written? Signs -- signs are written. Why does it say "these [signs] are written" at this point in the text? Because John 20:19-29 gives an account of the seventh and final sign that corresponds to one of the seven types of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statements of Jesus. This statement is not about the purpose of the Gospel of John, per se, but about the purpose of the signs in the Gospel of John. This statement is not the "original ending" of the Gospel of John, as it is sometimes called, it is the ending of the account of the seven signs which correspond to the seven types of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statements. See the menorah page for more on this topic.

What About Walking on Water?

Some people want to include Jesus walking on water as one of a set of seven signs; however, Jesus walking on water does not appear to confirm a specific type of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statement, as do the generally accepted six. It does, however, confirm an emphatic "I am" statement, but not one with a metaphorical predicate. It confirms "I am he" without any predicate, since that is what Jesus said as he was walking on the water. Walking on water may be a sign, but it is not referred to as a sign in the Greek text, and it does not appear to be one of a set of seven with the other six. Only Jesus entering a room when the door is shut matches the remaining type of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statement, "I am the good shepherd," and appears to be referred to as a sign in the Greek text.

It is interesting to note that there are some parallels between the feeding of the 5,000, followed by Jesus walking on water, with the 23rd Psalm. The sheep lie down in green pastures, and the multitudes sat on the grass to eat. The shepherd leads the sheep by the still waters, and after Jesus crossed the lake, stilling the storm, the people followed him to the other side of lake, etc.

  Sign? Purpose of Sign Person Involved What Jesus asked the person to do What happened when they did it
 A Walking on Water.
John 6:15-21
Confirms "I am he; don't be afraid."
John 6:20
Disciples Don't be afraid. They immediately arrived where they were going.

What About the Miraculous Catch of 153 Fish?

The miraculous catch of 153 fish does not confirm a specific type of metaphorical emphatic "I am" statement, as do the generally accepted six. It does, however, confirm an emphatic "I am" statement, but not one with a metaphorical predicate. It confirms "I am he [the Messiah]." Messiah means "anointed one," that is, anointed with the Holy Spirit. When the Samaritan woman at the well said that she knew that the Messiah was coming, Jesus said, "I am he [the Messiah]." As the Messiah, he tells her that he can give her "living water," which is the Holy Spirit (John 4:13-14, 7:37-39). The significance of the miraculous catch of fish is explained on the  The Living Water  page.

The catch of fish may be a sign, but it is not referred to as a sign in the Greek text, and it is not one of a set of seven with the generally accepted six. It is, however, like the generally accepted six in that Jesus tells the disciples to do something (cast their nets on the right side of the boat), and then the miracle happens as they are obeying his command.

  Sign? Purpose of Sign Person Involved What Jesus asked the person to do What happened when they did it
 B Miraculous Catch of Fish."
John 21:1-14
Confirms "I am he [the Messiah]."
John 4:25,26
Seven disciples Cast the net on the right side of the boat. They caught 153 large fish.

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Last Updated: October 23, 2015