Jesus is at the wedding at Cana, his mom sees a need, and asks Jesus (well, actually tells him) to help. Jesus’ response is,τι εμοι και σοι, γυναι; (Jn 2:4). Word for word, Jesus says, “What to me and to you, woman.”
The translations really dance around with this one:
“Woman, what does this have to do with me?” (ESV).
“Woman, why do you involve me?” (TNIV).
“Woman, why are you saying this to me?” (NET, with the footnote, “The term Woman is Jesus’ normal, polite way of addressing women [Matt 15:28, Luke 13:12; John 4:21; 8:10; 19:26; 20:15]”).
“Dear woman, that’s not our problem” (NLT).
γυνη is Greek for “woman” or “wife.” It is in the vocative case as Jesus is addressing her directly. It is not nearly so abrupt in Greek as it sounds in English. It is the same form of the word Jesus uses when he tenderly comforts Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb (John 20:15).
And yet it is unusual. Leon Morris (The Gospel According to John, Eerdmans, 180) comments that while the vocative can be used to express “respect or affection,” it is an unusual term for a son to use of his mother. It is not a Hebrew or a Greek expression.
Morris’ suggestion is good. He says that the use of γυναι signals a change in Jesus’ relationship to a Mary, that their relationship as mother-son is no longer their primary relationship now that he is entering his public ministry.
This explains Jesus’ words in Matt 12:48 when he says, ““Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” and goes on to say that his closest family unit is now his followers. That must of stung a little.
And yet on the cross Jesus uses ancient adoption language to tell John that Mary is now in his charge. “Woman, behold, your son! … Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27). Jesus still cared deeply for his mother, but that relationship was not a primary one for the Son of God who came to do the work of the Son of Man.
It is interesting that the first edition of the NLT omits the translation of γυναι entirely. “How does that concern you and me?” I am glad they put it back in, even though their translation philosophy worked against it since it is so easily misunderstood. This is one of the strengths of word-for-word translations. Even if the translators do not understand it, they include the words. A good lesson I think.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at www.billmounce.com.