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John 2:10 - Drunk freely? Mistranslation?

2013/7/18

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.”

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:

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.”

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.”  ↩