Q: Did Jesus dishonor His mother, as recorded in John 2:4, when He said to Mary, "'Woman, what have I to do with thee?'"
A: If Jesus Christ committed just one sin, we would not have a Savior. If He had violated the Fifth Commandment (“Honor your father and your mother…,” Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12), He would have sinned, as “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Many Scriptures make clear that the law spoken of in the New Testament includes the Ten Commandments (compare James 2:8-12).
We read that Christ never sinned (Hebrews 4:15). He practiced what He preached. When a young man came to Him to find out what he had to do to have eternal life, Christ told him to keep the commandments (Matthew 19:16-17). He then specifically listed the Fifth Commandment, in verse 19. Christ also emphasized in Mark 7:7-13 the continued obligation for children to honor their parents (Compare, too, Ephesians 6:1-3).
Christ never transgressed the Fifth Commandment. When He was twelve years old, He was subject or obedient to His parents (Luke 2:51). He never became disobedient throughout His life.
The potential problem with His statement in John 2:3-4 is caused by the translation of the Authorized Version, stating, “And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come.”
First, let us notice that the expression, “woman,” did not convey disrespect. When Christ hung on the cross, He told John to take care of His mother. Christ was in agonizing pain, knowing that He would soon die — still, His thoughts and concerns were directed toward the welfare of His mother. Notice that He called Mary “woman” at that critical time as well (John 19:26). Halley’s Handbook points out, on page 533, that the word “woman” was a title of respect in the usage of the day.
Returning to John 2, we should also notice that Mary did not consider Christ’s answer as one of disrespect. In verse 5, she told the bridegroom’s servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”
Let us also note the annotation in Eerdman’s Handbook to the Bible, on page 536: “No one, not even his mother, has the right to put pressure on Jesus. But his reply is not as harsh as some translations make it sound. New English Bible, ‘Your concern, mother, is not mine,’ is better.”
Other translations agree with the conclusion that the rendering in the Authorized Version is too harsh. The New King James Bible translates verse 4 as, “‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me?'” The New International Version states, “Dear woman, why do you involve Me?”
Halley’s Handbook comments further, on page 533:
“The point of his remark seems to be, ‘Suppose the wine is gone, what have I to do with it? It is not my affair. My time to work miracles has not yet come.’ Probably he had just told her of the new miraculous powers bestowed on him by the descent of the Holy Spirit at baptism. She saw in the situation an opportunity for him. While he did this miracle as her suggestion, his ‘hour’ for the general use of his miraculous powers came about four months after, at the official beginning of his public ministry in Jerusalem at Passover time (John 2:13).”
Christ also wanted to tell His mother that the main purpose for His coming was not to perform those kinds of miracles. That is why the New English Bible’s rendering of verse 5, “Your concern, mother, is not mine,” is quite good. Because of respect for His mother, however, He acquiesced, as the performance of that miracle was not against God’s commandments or His will.
Rather than conveying that Christ disobeyed the Fifth Commandment, John 2:1-4, when correctly understood, shows the deep honor and respect that Christ had for His mother, prompting Him to fulfill her desires that were not against God’s will.