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].


13 Responses to What Have I With You?

  1. Hi, Craig! Sorry for my delay, I enjoyed reading this! We had to translate this a few weeks ago. I was wondering, do you think these datives here are one of possession, reference or maybe something else?! Dr. Moore stressed the underlying sense of this idiom is “what do we have in common?”

    Dr. Moore also said this is the same expression the demons used but he quoted Matt 8:29. I find it interesting that Matthew’s version the demons know Jesus has a time to judge/torment. Jesus also says here in John 2:4 that His hour had not yet come.

    One of the guys in my class asked if there were any books on Greek idioms. Dr. Moore said he would get back to us with that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      Thanks for your comment!

      I wonder if Dr. Moore was prompted by the recent Daily Dose of Greek–as I was?

      So what kind (Aktionsart) is this dative + dative here? When readying this post I was looking for a possible alternative, but I’ll go with Smyth (see hyperlink “complete thoughts…”): DATIVE AS A MODIFIER OF THE SENTENCE > DATIVE OF INTEREST > Dative of the Possessor. I am not sure we need to whittle it down like this, though. I like Stanley Porter’s position on this issue. Dr. Porter is opposed to having all these separate categories and calling each one, e.g., a “dative complement” or “dative direct object”. He prefers stating, ‘the dative functions as a complement in this context’, as opposed to the way other grammars have these fixed categories.

      Interestingly, Porter’s grammar is titled “Idioms of the Greek New Testament” (likely following the example of Moule’s similarly titled book). But it’s not about idiomatic phrases! (Yet it looks like Moule may include some via his chapter on Semitisms.) I have Porter’s book, but it’s not currently handy for reference.

      The way I understand it, in John 2:4 Jesus is stating that it was not yet time for His earthly miracle-making to begin. That’s not to say I’m correct, though. Assuming my position is correct, I think in the Matthew contexts of unclean spirits and Jesus, the demons know that Jesus’ time for final judgment comes later–and possibly that believers will “judge angels” (1 Cor 6:3; cf. seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:1415, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?”).

      Liked by 1 person

    • Craig says:

      I don’t disagree with Dr. Moore on the overall sense of this idiom as something like “what do we have in common?” But I’ll add my 1.5 centavos: Given that ti can be “what”, “why”, or “who”, I’m thinking at root the phrase could be rendered in a ‘literal’ sense as “Why me and you?” Understood this way, the unclean spirit stating the phrase is essentially implying ‘why are you getting involved with me and my possessed host (this is my business, not yours–yet)?’ or something like that. In my view, the idiom would be sufficiently broad that one could play on its ambiguity. And in the case of Jesus to Mary, Jesus’ message could be ‘why is the hosts’ problem now ours to resolve?’. In the latter, Jesus could be–assuming Dr. Moore’s assertion on the overall sense of the idiom–essentially saying ‘what do you and I [Mary and Jesus] have to do with the hosts running out of wine?’ In other words, ‘what do we [Mary and Jesus] have in common with the hosts that we should intervene in some way?’

      I hope that makes sense.

      Liked by 1 person

      • So, I was taking this as what do Jesus and Mary have in common? They aren’t on common ground. Mary’s ways are not Jesus’s ways. As to the datives, I don’t have a position, I don’t think the dative nuance will make this idiom anymore clear.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Craig says:

          This is the prevalent understanding (only the meaning intended needs to be further construed: disengagement or rebuke?). I just think it possible that the idiom is more ambiguous and could possibly imply a different way of looking at it. If my alternative has any merit, then we can see how Jesus’ words would not be so harsh to Mary: “Why should WE get involved?” In the end Jesus doesn’t appear to be rebuking her OR disengaging from her. She tells the servants to ‘do as He says’, and Jesus promptly instructs them.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Craig says:

    The album cover image used in this post is from a recognized avant garde jazz classic. Here’s the first cut–a track called “Hat and Beard”, in homage to the inimitable Thelonious Monk, who always sported a hat and a beard:


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