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I was wondering if anyone had some insight on the translation of John 2:4. The verse seems to be rendered in a variety of ways, usually either that Jesus says the lack of wine is of no concern to Him, or to both Him and Mary.

All the Greek texts I found seem to contain the same phrase "Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί", so I don't suppose the difference in translation has to do with textual variants. My limited understanding of Greek suggests that both "ἐμοὶ" and "σοί" are in the dative case, if that's of any significance. The same phrase is found a few times in the Septuagint as well as the New Testament (e.g. Judges 11:12 & Mark 5:7), where it seems to have the sense, "What conflict is there between us?" or "What do you have against me?"

SBLGNT:
καὶ λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μου.

A literal translation of the Greek seems a bit ambiguous in meaning:

YLT:
Jesus saith to her, 'What -- to me and to thee, woman? not yet is mine hour come.'

Some popular translations include:

KJV:
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.
ESV:
And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come."
NASB:
And Jesus said to her, "Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come."

Could someone explain the phrase "Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί" for me? And also, if you could help me understand the translation in the context of the narrative, that would be much appreciated.

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This is a typically terse Koine Greek conversation. The Greek phrase in question is:

Τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι

We note the following facts:

  • ἐμοὶ is dative and thus, "to me"
  • σοί is dative and thus, "to you/thee" (singular)
  • γύναι is vocative and thus, "Woman", or, "Ma'am" and is the person to whom the question is addressed. Thus, in English, this must be placed first, perhaps with a "Dear" or equivalent in front to make it clear we are translating the vocative.
  • καὶ in this case acts as a cumulative coordinating conjunction. Thus, technically, ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί could be rendered "us".
  • Τί is the terse tricky part that is simply "what?" This is simply an interrogative.

Thus we might fairly literally translate: "Well Ma'am, what to me and to thee?" Most versions will add an extra word to render finished product something like:

Dear Woman, What is that to me and to thee? (or "you" in more modern speech)

Now, what is the significance of this remark?

Jesus repeatedly asked the beneficiaries of His miracles not to tell anyone (eg, Matt 8:4, 16:20, 17:9, Mark 1:44, 7:36, 8:30, Luke 5:14, 8:56, etc) because His hour had not yet come. The same was true at this wedding in John 2:4 when Jesus says, "My hour has not yet come." Jesus did not wish to make too much of His miracles because people would follow Him for the wrong reasons

It was much later, very near the end of His ministry that Jesus finally said, "The hour is come" (John 12:23, 17:1, etc)

Thus, Jesus was forced to turn the water into wine in such a way that nobody knew what had happened (John 2:9) except the servants. Jesus wanted people to follow Him for the beauty and truth of His teaching, and to love Him as their savior, and not as a celestial Santa Claus that works miracles on demand.

We see what happened at the feeding of the 5000 - the crowd wanted to make Jesus king by force so He vanished up the mountain (John 6:14, 15). Had He not done this, His ministry would have been crippled.

  • The most logical explanation I have ever seen. Whether it is all correct or not, I cannot tell, not being sufficiently competent. But it is certainly the most logical. +1. – Nigel J Aug 12 '20 at 12:34
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    I agree. There is also a subtle undertone of the water of mundane religious ritual being turned into that which gladdens the hearts of men. – Mike Borden Aug 12 '20 at 20:21
  • This answer seems plausible to me, so I "accepted it", but I still feel like there's room for different interpretation of the phrase as well as how it fits in the narrative. John 2:11, for example, potentially contradicts this answer. I do like how you tied in the larger narrative of John with John 12:23 and John 17:1 though; I found that helpful. – Benjamin-Garcia Aug 13 '20 at 4:47
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    @Benjamin-Garcia - thanks for raising such a good point.The disciples were not about to make Jesus king, or mob him. They we close associates and were a small minority at the wedding. It is also unclear if John 2:11 was placed there by John as a comment about what the disciples thought at the time of much later; perhaps a bit of each? – Dottard Aug 13 '20 at 5:34
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In this particular case, the answer you seek is not in the Greek but more in the fact that this is more a Jewish idiom.

The article Was Jesus being rude to Mary when He referred to her as “woman” in John 2:4? first address the issue of Jesus calling his own mother Woman'. In those times this was more a sign of respect.

What Jesus says to His mother in John 2:4 sounds almost rude in English. However, in the original language, and in that culture, Mary would not have interpreted Jesus’ words that way. The term woman was used like we use the term ma’am. By addressing Mary this way, Jesus does distance Himself from His mother somewhat—He was exerting His independence from her wishes—but in no way was it a rude manner of speaking. Jesus lovingly uses the same word from the cross when He tells Mary that He is entrusting her to John’s care (John 19:26).

As to Jesus' question "what have I to do with thee?", the article further explains that this is more along the lines of saying "why are you asking me?"

The question Jesus asks His mother isn’t rude, either. It may sound rude in the KJV: “What have I to do with thee?” (John 2:4), but it was a common idiom. In the Greek, Jesus’ question is “Ti emoi kai soi?” The phrase was used to ask of the connection between two people. The question could be translated as “What business do we have with each other?” Or, in less formal terms, “What does this have to do with me?” (ESV) or “Why do you involve me?” (NIV). Again, Jesus is expressing the fact that He is independent of His mother; as eager as Mary was to see Jesus do a miracle, she had no right to determine the time or the manner in which Jesus publicly revealed His glory. Jesus makes His point gently and without being rude, however.

Interestingly, this is not the first occurrence of this idiom. There are at least two other times this can be found in the Bible:

2 Samuel 16:10 - "And the king said, What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? so let him curse, because the LORD hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?" (KJV)

1 Kings 17:18 - "And she said unto Elijah, What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?" (KJV)

The 'Questions From Readers' in the December 2006 Watchtower is entitled Was Jesus being disrespectful or unkind in the way he addressed his mother at the wedding feast in Cana?​—John 2:4. in talking about the previous scriptures says:

From these Bible examples, we can see that the expression “what have I to do with you?” is often used, not to show disdain or arrogance, but to refuse involvement in some proposed or suggested action or to express a difference in viewpoint or opinion. What, then, can be said about Jesus’ words to Mary?

Sometimes as students of the Bible we need to dig further into cultural, racial, or regional customs to understand what we are reading.

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