John 2:10 - Drunk freely? Mistranslation?

Is John 2:10 a mistranslation in the ESV and other translations? The NA28 reads,

καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· πᾶς ἄνθρωπος πρῶτον τὸν καλὸν οἶνον τίθησιν καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθῶσιν τὸν ἐλάσσω· σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἶνον ἕως ἄρτι. καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· πᾶς ἄνθρωπος ⸉πρῶτον τὸν καλὸν οἶνον τίθησιν καὶ ὅταν μεθυσθῶσιν τὸν ἐλάσσω· σὺ τετήρηκας τὸν καλὸν οἶνον ἕως ἄρτι.

My translation - And he said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first and whenever they have become drunk then they bring out the cheap wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

  • ESV - and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

The issue is over the translation of μεθυσθῶσιν (ESV - drunk freely). It was my recollection that this word means to “get drunk/intoxicated” but here it gives the connotation that John just means drinking as much or little as one wants. BDAG confirms this with the definition cause to become intoxicated. The same goes for Louw & Nida, to become intoxicated. And Logos’ Lexham Analytical Lexicon to the GNT on the entry for Jn 2:10 says, “to make drunk.” Interestingly, Mounce’s Greek dictionary gives the definition of to inebriate, make drunk, to be intoxicated but under Jn 2:10 he says, “to drink freely.”

There is nothing in this passage to suggest that μεθυσθῶσιν would mean anything other than “get drunk.” The reason that the person throwing the party does this is because when one becomes drunk they are less likely to notice or care about the quality of drink. Is this translation to limit the possibility that Jesus gave wine to intoxicated or soon to be intoxicated guests? If so, the translation is misleading. The KJV 1611 reads "well drunk." My question is whether in this time period it meant "drunk" as we understand it today or "drunk freely" as the ESV has? If it is the latter it would seem that the ESV is just following the tradition of the translation (though their still could be theological bias). Let’s see how the ESV translates this word other places:

  • Luke 12:45 - χρονίζει ὁ κύριός μου ἔρχεσθαι, καὶ ἄρξηται τύπτειν τοὺς παῖδας καὶ τὰς παιδίσκας, ἐσθίειν τε καὶ πίνειν καὶ μεθύσκεσθαι ,
    • My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk
  • Eph 5:18 - καὶ μὴ μεθύσκεσθε οἴνῳ, ἐν ᾧ ἐστιν ἀσωτία, ἀλλὰ πληροῦσθε ἐν πνεύματι,
    • And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit
  • 1 Thess 5:7 - Οἱ γὰρ καθεύδοντες νυκτὸς καθεύδουσιν καὶ οἱ μεθυσκόμενοι νυκτὸς μεθύουσιν· Οἱ γὰρ καθεύδοντες νυκτὸς καθεύδουσιν καὶ οἱ μεθυσκόμενοι νυκτὸς μεθύουσιν·
    • For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night.
  • Rev 17:2 - μεθ᾿ ἧς ἐπόρνευσαν οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς καὶ ἐμεθύσθησαν οἱ κατοικοῦντες τὴν γῆν ἐκ τοῦ οἴνου τῆς πορνείας αὐτῆς.
    • with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.”

The ESV seems to be inconsistent here because they translate μεθύσκω as getting “drunk” in all other occurrences. There is no reason based on the context that this should be translated any differently.

Other translation are closer but only the NRSV says “get drunk”[1] . The NIV and others have “too much to drink”, which implies drunkenness much more than “drunk freely.”

  • NRSV - and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.
  • NIV - and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
  • NASB - and *said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.
  • HCSB - and told him, “Everyone sets out the fine wine first, then, after people have drunk freely, the inferior. But you have kept the fine wine until now.
  • CEB - A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!”
  • NLT - A host always serves the best wine first,” he said. “Then, when everyone has had a lot to drink, he brings out the less expensive wine. But you have kept the best until now!
  • KJV - And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

What are your thoughts on this? Does anyone know why this is translated as “drunk freely?”


  1. The HCSB at least footnotes the option that it could be translated “get drunk.”  ↩