As a comparison of a few others on John 2:4
Expositors Bible Commentary
4 The way in which Jesus answers his mother seems rude. A literal translation of the Greek would be, “What to me and to you, woman?” The NLT softens the response by omitting the word “woman” and the NIV by adding the word “dear” before “woman” (a solution that Carson, 170, deems “too sentimental”). The NEB paraphrases, “Your concern, mother, is not mine.” That the term by which Jesus addressed his mother (gynai, “woman,” GK 1222) did not sound overly severe or unsympathetic in the ears of the original readers is clear from the fact that Jesus used the same expression when from the cross in reference to the beloved disciple he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son” (19:26).
The exact nuance of Jesus’ words “why do you involve me?” is not completely clear. It appears to be a Hebrew idiom, the meaning of which depends on the context. Tasker, 59–60, says that often in the OT the statement means, “Don’t bother me; leave me alone,” but in the present passage it should be translated, “Your concern and mine are not the same.” The Jerusalem Bible has, “Woman, why turn to me?” In any case, there is no antagonism in the response. The reason that Jesus hesitated to do what his mother had asked is clear from the statement that follows: “My time has not yet come.” His “hour” (hōra, GK 6052) is the hour of his messianic manifestation. In the fourth gospel the full revelation of Jesus as the promised Messiah takes place in connection with his death and glorification (13:1; cf. 7:30; 8:20).
Word Biblical Commentary:
4 It is not impossible that this verse was inserted by the Evangelist into his “signs source” the passage would read more smoothly without it. By contrast Becker claims that the thought is characteristic of the Signs Source itself (he notes 5:6; 6:5 fff; 7:6 fff; 11:6 fff). It is wiser to retain the narrative in its wholeness.
τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί; is a well known but ambiguous expression, which can express a hostile or peaceful attitude (contrast Judg 11:12 with 2 Chron 35:21). 2 Kgs 3:13 is of interest, in that it expresses rejection, yet the prophet gives what is asked; so here is an apparent rejection of Mary’s initiative, yet a granting of the request for intervention. The question may, however, have a gentler tone; an analogical expression from east Syrian “Chaldean” suggests not division but unity of thought, which could here be rendered, “Why are you speaking to me of this need? With you, I understand it” (see Derrett, 241–42).
γύναι has caused needless perplexity. While it is an unusual mode of address to one’s mother, it also may be affectionate. Apart from John 19:26, which cannot be intended to express distance, a significant occurrence of the term is found in Josephus, Ant 17.74: the wife of Pheroras tells Herod (the Great) how her husband summoned her in his illness, beginning his statement with “Woman.” The example is important, since Pheroras had great affection for his wife; he refused Herod’s request that he send her away, and his persistance in keeping her led to a rupture of relations between the two men.
In this Gospel the “hour” of Jesus commonly denotes his death and glorification [vol. 36, p. 35] (see 7:30; 8:20; 13:1; 17:1). An immediate reference to that hour is scarcely thinkable in this context; it must relate to the service of the divine sovereignty on which Jesus now embarks, which will (as the Evangelist knows) culminate in the “lifting up” on the cross. (If the saying was in the source it would clearly have related to the beginning of the redemptive ministry, and was interpreted by the Evangelist in the light of its end, since the ministry was an indivisible unity.) The import of the statement is to declare that Jesus’ service for the kingdom of God is determined solely by his Father; into that area not even his mother can intrude (cf 7:3–9 and Mark 3:31–35, and see the excellent discussion of Schnackenburg, 1:327–31).
New International Commentary on the New Testament (Leon Morris)
4 Jesus’ address to her, “Woman,” is not as cold in the Greek as in English. He uses it, for example, in his last moments as he hangs on the cross and tenderly commends her to the beloved disciple (19:26).22 This vocative was “a term of respect or affection” (LS). Yet we must bear in mind that it is most unusual to find it when a son addresses his mother. There appear to be no examples of this use cited other than those in this Gospel. It is neither a Hebrew nor a Greek practice. That Jesus calls Mary “Woman” and not “Mother” probably indicates that there is a new relationship between them as he enters his public ministry.23 And if the form of address is tender, the rest of Jesus’ words make it clear that there was something of a barrier between them.24 Evidently Mary thought of the intimate relations of the home at Nazareth as persisting. But Jesus in his public ministry was not only or primarily the son of Mary, but “the Son of Man” who was to bring the realities of heaven to people on earth (1:51). A new relationship was established. Mary must not presume.25 The meaning of “My time has not yet come”26 in the context is surely, “It is not yet time for me to act.” Yet we should notice a remarkable series of passages throughout this Gospel which refer to the “hour” or the “time” of Jesus. This is said not to have come in 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20, as well as here. But when the cross is in immediate prospect Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (12:23; cf. also 12:27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1; the same idea may be present in Matt. 26:18, 45; Mark 14:41).27 If we are right in linking the present passage with the later ones Jesus is thinking of his messianic function. At the threshold of his ministry he looks forward to its consummation.28
Leon Morris, The Gospel of John (NICNT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 158-160.
New International Commentary on the New Testament (New volume on John by Michaels)
4 Jesus’ abrupt reply, “What is that to me or to you?” (literally, “What to me and to you?”) is a startling expression here because its five other New Testament occurrences are all in stories of demon possession, addressed to Jesus by people who are possessed.17 The same idiom in Hebrew occurs in a wider range of settings in the Old Testament.18 There the meaning can range from conflict between two parties (Jdg 11:12 and 1 Kgs 17:18, “What do you have against me?”) or avoidance of conflict (2 Chr 35:21, “What quarrel do I have with you?”), to simple disengagement of one party from another (2 Kgs 3:13, “What have we to do with each other?”; compare Hos 14:8, “What has he [Ephraim] to do with idols?”). It is more ambiguous in 2 Samuel 16:10 and 19:23, where King David seems to demand disengagement between himself and “Abishai son of Zeruiah,” and at the same time between both of them and “Shimei son of Gera,” guaranteeing that Shimei will not be put to death. Disengagement is the point of Jesus’ reply to his mother as well, but with the same ambiguity we find in the two texts from 2 Samuel. If Jesus is taking his mother’s comment as an implicit request for him to act, it is natural to understand his reply as personal disengagement from her and what she is asking, as if to say (in the impatient tone of the modern idiom), “What do you want from me?” But if he hears her comment simply as a statement of fact (which it appears to be), his reply could be read as a disengagement of both of them from the troubles of the wedding party, as if to say, “What is that to me or to you?”19
It is difficult to decide between these alternatives. On the one hand, Jesus’ knowledge of the inner thoughts of people he encounters (see 1:48; 2:24–25; 4:17–18) suggests that he might well be looking beneath the surface of his mother’s remark and responding to an unspoken request to work a miracle. Moreover, as Brown points out, “the fact that he speaks of ‘my hour’ would seem to indicate that he is denying only his own involvement.”20 Commentators have found in this Gospel a recurrent pattern of Jesus at first refusing a request, then establishing his independence of human agendas by referring to a decisive “hour” or “time” of glorification, but then granting the request after all (for example, Jesus and his brothers in 7:2–10; Jesus and the sisters of Lazarus in 11:1–7).21 On the other hand, each incident is different, and their distinctiveness must be respected. For example, only Jesus’ brothers in chapter 7 ask anything of him explicitly, and the Gospel writer is quick to tell us that their request was made in unbelief (7:5). Neither Jesus’ mother here nor the sisters of Lazarus in chapter 11 make any actual request, and there is no evidence here (unless this is it) that Jesus and his mother have contrary intentions. Given the portrait of Jesus that emerges in this Gospel, there is little doubt that the narrative comment made in connection with the feeding of the five thousand applies here as well: “For he himself knew what he was going to do” (6:6). His mother’s remark that “they have no wine” (v. 3) is not so much a request for Jesus to perform a miracle as a signal to the reader that he is going to do so. Her subsequent word to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (v. 5), will signal further that this is her expectation as well. In short, Jesus and his mother are thinking along the same lines, not at cross purposes.
If this is the case, then Jesus’ words are meant not as disengagement from his mother or what she has in mind, but as disengagement of them both from the wedding banquet and its immediate needs. His mother’s matter-of-fact pronouncement, “They have no wine,” could evoke an impression of extreme need or deprivation (as in Mk 8:2; Mt 15:32). Yet whatever we may think of the importance of being a good host, or of honor and shame in the New Testament world, a shortage of wine at a wedding is not in quite the same category as a life-threatening illness (4:46–54), physical helplessness (5:1–8), being without food (6:5–13), blindness (9:1–7), or death (11:11–16, 38–44). Jesus’ words to his mother are not a rebuke, nor an unambiguous refusal to act, but simply a reminder that the need she has pointed out is a relatively minor one. “Don’t worry,” he seems to say, “Their predicament is nothing to us. They will survive quite nicely even if ‘They have no wine’!” He could even be saying, “Don’t worry, woman. What is it to us? It is a small thing, and easily fixed.” The issue is not compassion, but the revealing of Jesus’ glory (compare 1:14), and it is important to make clear at the outset (to his mother, but above all to the reader) that whatever revelation is to take place here is only a beginning, and a modest one at that. This he does with the additional comment, “My hour has not yet come.” We are left with a twofold question: First, how would Jesus’ mother have understood this pronouncement? Second, how is the reader of the Gospel to understand it?
Both here and in 19:26, Jesus addresses his mother as “woman” (gynai), the same term he uses in addressing the Samaritan woman (4:21) and Mary Magdalene (20:15; compare the angels in v. 13).22 While the term implies no disrespect,23 it makes Jesus’ mother a stranger, just as the Samaritan woman was a stranger to Jesus, and just as Mary Magdalene was a stranger as long as she thought he was the gardener.24 Yet the designation is not surprising if we keep in mind that Jesus never calls her “mother” (or “Mary”) in any of the four Gospels. Only in John’s Gospel, in fact, does he ever speak to her directly as an individual.25 The three other instances in this Gospel are instructive in that each is linked, directly or indirectly, either to a decisive “hour,” or to something “not yet.” In 4:21 Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that “an hour is coming,” or “an hour is coming and now is” (v. 23), when worship will be “in Spirit and truth.” In 19:27, as soon as Jesus had given his mother into the beloved disciple’s care, we are told that “From that hour the disciple took her home.” In 20:17 Jesus tells Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him, “for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” In yet another instance Jesus tells a parable about “the woman,” who “when she gives birth, has pain because her hour has come. But when the child is born, she no longer remembers the pain, because of the joy that a human being is born into the world” (16:21). This woman represents Jesus’ disciples, who “now have pain, but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (v. 22; compare 16:2, 4, 32). The evidence is complex. The “hour” can be a time of suffering that will pass, or a moment of decisive change and vindication, or both at once. As a mother and as a woman, the mother of Jesus knows of such times in life, above all giving birth and coping with death. While she has no way of knowing that Jesus’ hour will in some sense be hers as well (19:27), she has good reason to sense in her son’s words a momentous destiny of some kind. Beyond that, it is difficult to know how she would have heard his pronouncement. What determines her quick response (v. 5) is not so much the term “hour” as Jesus’ assurance to her that it “is not yet here.” If she believed that by his “hour” Jesus meant simply the right time to perform a miracle, then his reply would have been a clear refusal to act. But if he meant a decisive future crisis, the “not yet” could signal just the opposite: that there was still time to address such mundane things as a shortage of wine at a wedding!26
As to the readers of the Gospel, it is necessary to distinguish between first-time readers and those who have read or heard the Gospel before. For the latter, the answer is easy. They will remember that when the religious authorities later tried to arrest Jesus, they could not do so because “his hour had not yet come” (7:30; 8:20). But then at the Passover, when some Greeks asked to see him, Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified” (12:23), and prayed, “Father, save me from this hour — no, this is why I came to this hour! Father, glorify your name” (vv. 27–28; compare 17:1, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you”). Such readers will know that Jesus’ “hour” is the moment of his death, “his hour to be taken out of this world” (13:1), the “sixth hour” of the Day of Preparation of the Passover (19:14). None of this is apparent to first-time readers. Jesus’ ministry is just beginning (compare v. 11), and they have little more to go on than Jesus’ mother. Yet from the preceding testimony of John, they can infer that perhaps Jesus’ “hour” is the moment when he will carry out his priestly work of purification by “taking away the sin of the world” (1:29) and “baptizing in Holy Spirit” (1:33). Now they learn that the time for the decisive cleansing is “not yet.” They will also remember that Jesus promised them a vision of “angels going up and coming down over the Son of man” (1:51) — a process rather than a single moment — and they may well be wondering whether that vision too belongs to the future “hour,” or whether it is closer at hand.
J. Ramsey Michaels, The Gospel of John (NICNT; Accordance electronic ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 141-145.