After posting the non-italicised words below, a commenter took the wind out of my sails, a little, by pointing out that the NLT I draw attention to has been revised in 2004. I note the revision below.
Recently, reading from the New Living Translation, I heard myself saying what the steward at Cana said, “… when everyone is full and doesn’t care, [the host] brings out the less expensive wines …” (John 2:10). I thought to myself, “That doesn’t sound right!”
The Bible when speaking about eating, drinking and other bodily actions generally uses frank, earthy terms. ‘Everyone is full and doesn’t care’ smacks of late modern Western euphemism for drunk, plastered, intoxicated or, as a man stepping out from a shelter in Hagley Park once explained his condition when asking if I should be so kind as to bike into Cathedral Square in Christchurch to buy him some chocolate, inebriated. (I wasn’t so kind, by the way).
To the Greek. Methuo, to be drunk. Why could the New Living Translators not be straightforward, ‘when everyone is drunk, [the host] brings out the less expensive wines’? We can only guess. One hopes it was not due to a sense of ecclesiastical correctness (conservative variety), nor to following too many other English translations at the expense of attentiveness to the Greek. The latter, incidentally, is also used at (e.g.) 1 Thessalonians 5:7 and Revelation 17:6 where the NLT correctly has ‘drunk’ (as in intoxicated rather than quenching thirst). English translations of John 2:10 include ‘drunk freely’ (RSV, NEB), ‘had plenty’ (CEV), ‘plenty to drink’ (JB Phillips), ‘well wined’ (NJB), ‘have well drunk’ (AV), ‘drunk a lot’ (GNB). Note the way ‘freely’, ‘well’ and ‘a lot’ not so subtly change the sense of ‘drunk’ from ‘intoxicated’ to ‘having imbibed plenty of liquid’. From the perspective of these modifiers, the NL Translation keeps good company among other translations.
Incidentally, the New Jerusalem Bible, which I personally like and use, but also know is somewhat uneven as a translation, both in accuracy and style, provides one of its less felicitous moments when it has the steward saying, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first and the worse wine when the guests are well wined; but you have kept the best wine till now.’ Sometimes assonance and alliteration lift an ordinary translation into the category of extraordinary, but here ‘worse wine’ and ‘well wined’ do not work. ‘Good’ should be complemented by ‘bad’ or ‘inferior’ in this sentence; and ‘well wined’ is an unfortunate way to say ‘drunk’ when ‘wine’ has already been used twice in the sentence and will be used one more time.
Does any translation get it right? I have found one. William Tyndale, unsurprisingly, ‘… when men be drunk, then that which is worse’, is our man.
Updated NLT, 2004, John 2:10 now reads: “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!” This is more in keeping with other translations, but, arguably, is not as plain speaking as the underlying Greek.