What Have I With You?

I get a kick out of idioms! Idiomatic expressions spice up speech and literature. They can add levity to mundane subjects or technical works.

Here are a few idioms to make you hunger for more:

Food for thought
A piece of cake
Pie in the sky
Egg on my face
Bread and butter
Out to lunch


Yet idiomatic expressions can be a challenge to translate from one language to another—especially if it’s a language no longer in use, such as Koine (New Testament) Greek. And such a challenge presents itself in John 2:4.

Technically Speaking

Chapter two of John’s Gospel opens with the wedding in Cana (John 2:1–2). Upon learning the hosts had run out of wine for their guests, Mary informed Jesus (2:3). In (transliterated) Greek He responded (2:4), Ti emoi kai soi? This translates most literally as, What to me and to you?

This idiomatic expression in John 2:4 recently featured in a segment of Daily Dose of Greek. See the corresponding YouTube video here:

Note the very different English translations of this idiom. Few are literal (formally equivalent), most are functionally equivalent (dynamic).

Though Dr. Plummer—following others—asserts this originates as a Semitic (Hebrew) idiom,1 this idiom is found in Classical (pre-Koine) Greek.2 In H. W. Smyth’s Greek Grammar, the Classicist adds the verb ‘to be’ (estin) and renders this expression functionally as, What have I to do with thee? Taking Smyth’s added (implied) Greek verb, we might render this more literally as, What is [it] to me and you?

Following are Smyth’s complete thoughts on this matter (§ 1479), with transliteration added in brackets:

Here belong the phrases (1) τί (ἐστιν) ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί [ti (estin) emoi kai soi]; what have I to do with thee?; cp. τί τῷ νόμῳ καὶ τῇ βασάνῳ [ti tō̗ nomō̗ kai tē̗ basanō̗]; what have the law and torture in common? D. 29.36. (2) τί ταῦτ᾽ ἐμοί [ti taut’ emoi]; what have I to do with this? D. 54.17. (3) τί ἐμοὶ πλέον [ti emoi pleon]; what gain have I? X. C. 5.5.34.

It seems to me that the comparison (“cp.”) in (1) is instructive. Note the parallelism. It begins with the same interrogative pronoun ti and includes a kai (“and”) between the dative “law” and “torture”. Moreover, (2) is quite helpful: ti taut’ emoi is most literally What this to me? If we add the presumably implied ‘to be’ we would get What is this to me? Assuming my rationale is correct, we might think that the idiomatic expression is something like What (is) me and you? or What (is) me to you? This, then, would be understood as conveying something akin to What do I share with you? or What do I have in common with you?

Interestingly, in a few Biblical passages unclean spirits used this same idiom in response to Jesus. The NET Bible, for example, renders Mark 5:7 as follows: Leave me alone, Jesus, Son of the Most High God! I implore you by God–do not torment me!” The NET is certainly using dynamic equivalence, but I might challenge the rendering here. Elsewhere, I’ve translated this: What am I to You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore you by God: Don’t torment me!”

The NET Bible notes for Mark 5:7 explain: Hostility between Jesus and the demons is certainly to be understood in this context, hence the translation: “Leave me alone….” Yet I’m not so sure the unclean spirits were openly hostile to Jesus here. They knew who He is and they understood the power He had over them; so, I’d think they would be a bit more cautious in their interactions with Him.


The title of this article should be understood as a possible dynamic rendering of this idiomatic phrase (‘What Have I With You?’), as well as a question as to whether this is a valid translation of this idiom (Is it ‘What have I with you’?)

So how should we translate this idiom in John 2:4?

Beats me!


1 Follow the note in the online NET Bible translation here (footnote 8).

2 See Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), pp 150–151; Rodney J. Decker, Mark 1–8: A Handbook on the Greek Text, BHGNT (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014): “This is not a Hebraism, though Hebrew does have a similar idiom (. . . see also BDAG, 275, s.v. έγώ. col. 2 . . . )” [p 27].

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