In John 19:26 it says,

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

This isn't the 1st time Jesus uses the word "woman" to refer to His mother, in John 2:4, it says,

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

Why didn't Jesus acknowledge Mary as His earthly mother, and instead call her "woman"?

  • 1
    Note this is also in John 2:4: Woman (γυναι [gunai]). Vocative case of γυνη [gunē], and with no idea of censure as is plain from its use by Jesus in 19:26. But the use of γυναι [gunai] instead of μητερ [mēter] (Mother) does show her she can no longer exercise maternal authority and not at all in his Messianic work. That is always a difficult lesson for mothers and fathers to learn, when to let go. Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 2:4). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.
    – Perry Webb
    Apr 2, 2018 at 7:25
  • Surely she excercises maternal authority in John 2:4 et seq. since it is for her cause that He proceeds to work the miracle even though His hour is 'not yet come.' I think the above is a somewhat childish and theologically shallow reading of the heavily theology-laden Gospel. As with the earliest Church writers, I find a parallelism between Adam and Christ and Eve and Mary. The curse and Fall-bringing 'temptation' of Eve, the 'became a curse for us' and Redemption-bringing 'temptation' of Mary to begin His redemptive work. The tree of the curse and tree tree of the cross. etc. Apr 2, 2018 at 12:55
  • @PerryWebb I appreciate your comments, but.....Do you have a response? I was also looking into the Greek, as well as the Peshitta rendering of the text, although I'm not a Greek scholar. Can you offer any insight?
    – Tau
    Apr 2, 2018 at 15:32
  • @SolaGratia I believe you're on to the central truth, but.....could you elaborate it in an answer? If you can include an understanding from the Patristics it would greatly enhance your argument. Thank you!
    – Tau
    Apr 2, 2018 at 15:36
  • @Tau Unfortunately I don't feel I've adequately researched and meditated on the passage to write up a definitive reason J. uses it of M. What I can say from what I do know is that it was 1) not pejorative as in perhaps modern usage in the vocative 'What, woman ?', 2) was used by Jesus in circumstances where He clearly says it with an affectionate tone, 3) doesn't sound as abrupt in Greek as in English, although it depends on the sense in which the word is understood, 4) the application of γυναι to one's mother is not found elsewhere that I know of or anyone else on the subject knows of. Apr 2, 2018 at 19:40

6 Answers 6


Jesus didn't acknowledge Mary's family connection to him because the perceived significance of their earthly relationship would have affected his mission to love universally and unconditionally. Whenever we prioritise love for family, we give ourselves permission to withdraw love for others.

These two verses in John aren't the only times Jesus refused to acknowledge the significance of his genetic or family connections. In Mark, Matthew and Luke, when Jesus' family are waiting outside to speak with him, he rejects their connection to him by blood as a reason to put their desires above others:

And his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting about him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around on those who sat about him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother." Mark 3:31-35

In Luke, as a young boy missing for three days, Jesus refused to acknowledge any obligation to Mary and Joseph as their son:

And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” 49 And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them.

Later in Luke, Jesus says:

“If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:26

What Jesus warns us to 'hate' here is not the people themselves, but the significance of our genetic or family connections, rejecting also the evolutionary 'instincts' that prioritise survival, continuation and advantage of our specific genetic code.

Therefore Jesus addressing his mother as 'woman' is consistent with his refusal to prioritise blood relations throughout the gospels.

  • Thank you for your response! I accept your answer as a "possibility-no pun intended", and there is ample support from the text to warrant that conclusion. The challenge with your response is it leaves one thinking it may be "pejorative", when we see Jesus's intimacy with the Father, and sharing His earthly mother with John as being an intimate, not a "detached" action. I am wondering 'out loud' if the "woman" of Gen. 3:15 is the same "woman" of John 19:26? Any thoughts?
    – Tau
    Apr 8, 2018 at 20:50
  • Thanks Tau. I don't think the use of 'woman' is pejorative - simply dismissive of the priority implied by 'mother'. From society's point of view he might appear to be insulting her by denying her this priority - but in order to love universally, we must deny the priority of one life over another. FWIW I have other issues with John 19:26-27 - the sudden appearance of John in the scene (after those present were already listed) suggests an attempt to explain Jesus' words: "Behold your son!" with edits (just a feeling - I have no way to verify). Apr 9, 2018 at 3:01
  • I don't see Jesus' relationship with the Father as comparable to his relationship with his mother - Jesus' universal love for all life (including Mary) stems directly from intimacy with the Father. I'll leave the translation of 'the woman' from Genesis and what I understood to be 'dear woman' from John to the experts, but FWIW I don't think either are pejorative - from my research they seem to be culturally acceptable terms of reference for the time, as suggested by Joshua below (although not in reference to one's mother). Apr 9, 2018 at 3:22
  • Fair enough, as I've said if intimacy with the Father is more important in Jesus's life, I completely agree. To make Jesus's mother as less than a mother in a traditional sense is pejorative-unless one has another rationale for saying so. Do we begin to call our mothers "woman" because that's what Jesus did? How is the commandment to "Honor thy Father and thy Mother" kept if we merely call our mother "woman"?
    – Tau
    Apr 9, 2018 at 4:55
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    That honour is not given on account of their genetic connection to us, but their spiritual one, and through it as children we learn what love is, what God is. When we teach our children otherwise, we give them permission, even compel them, to love others less. This is not what Jesus taught. Happy to discuss this further in chat... Apr 9, 2018 at 23:52

While it might sound strange to us in the contemporary world where such an address would be considered rude, in the language and custom of the time it was actually a respectful way to address someone.

The term woman was used like we use the term ma’am. By addressing Mary this way, Jesus does distance Himself from His mother somewhat—He was exerting His independence from her wishes—but in no way was it a rude manner of speaking. Jesus lovingly uses the same word from the cross when He tells Mary that He is entrusting her to John’s care (John 19:26).

  • Thank you for your response! Do you have any linguistic proofs to back that assertion? When Jesus told John she was his mother, why didn't He say, "My mother is your mother?"
    – Tau
    Apr 7, 2018 at 17:21
  • Thanks for your answer. Unlike others answering seem to believe, Jesus wasn't withholding anything when addressing his mother with "Woman". He was showing extensive respect for her and expecting the same from John when He spoke to him at the foot of the cross. Sep 2, 2019 at 18:32
  • Do you have any references to back up your claim that this was a respectful way of address in that time?
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 14, 2020 at 12:41

I think another reason Jesus called His mother Woman was because #1. He was speaking to what HE created, and not the other way around. After all, He was God, here before them/us all, clothed in flesh, that He named Jesus. I have yet to find where He instructed us to do the same, when addressing our earthly parents - to call them man and woman, to show our spiritual calling/independence; nor have I found where He has corrected us, in how we address our siblings as brothers and sisters, though He has clearly pointed out, we should put/have Nothing before Him. But He could indeed do this because He was No ordinary son, from ordinary birth. And I’m sure His earthly parents had to be reminded of that from time to time, tho they knew better than us all. They might not have perceived who He was in full, as we still don’t today, but they definitely knew He was no ordinary child of theirs, which is why He may have asked them why they sought Him..He who can Never be lost..and didn’t they know He’d be in His Father’s house..? But they didn’t understand. Sometimes our families may not understand our work and commitment to the Lord either, but we must put it first, before them, nonetheless; neglecting not however, to show Christ’s love to them first, who are nearest us, and then others who are or come near us.

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Jesus answered, "What have I to do with you woman?" is profound. Something that she asked about water and wine brought to Him suffering at the moment to think of it. He would suffer and shed His blood for all of us. She became one of mankind or "woman" in His suffering. Water to wine: Jesus came into the world by God and a woman and all birth is by water, the water bag breaks and birth begins. Jesus Father is God and his mother is a woman so Jesus is the God-man, but it required a woman to bring Him into the world, his blessed mother Mary. But it required His death to save mankind. Water to wine.

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"While it might sound strange to us in the contemporary world where such an address would be considered rude, in the language and custom of the time it was actually a respectful way to address someone." This is not true. Even in Biblical times one would not call his mother "woman" in respect. Just like today, it would have been considered disrespectful. Part of the reason why Jesus was such a pot stirrer. Many people did not understand what he was doing. In Genesis, Woman is created from the rib of Man. Eve is not named until after the fall. Until then, she is WOMAN. Jesus calls HIS mother WOMAN because she is the new Eve. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/how-can-you-say-that-mary-is-the-new-eve


Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (4) Woman, what have I to do with thee?—This is an old battle-ground between Protestant and Romanist expositors. The former have found in each clause of the sentence a condemnation of Mariolatry; the latter have sought explanations not inconsistent with their faith and practice. It may be hoped that the day is now past, when anything other than thoughts of reverence and honour is to be connected with the title “Woman,” least of all in the words of One who claimed as His own highest dignity Sonship of, identity with, humanity; and who was here addressing the mother to whom He had been subject, and from whom His own humanity had been derived. Were proof needed of the tenderness which underlies the word as used by Him, it would be found in the other instances which the Gospels supply. . It is spoken only to the Syro-Phœnician whose faith is great (Matthew 15:28); to the daughter of Abraham loosed from her infirmity (Luke 13:12); and, in this Gospel, to the Samaritan embracing the higher faith (John 4:21); perhaps to the sinner whom He does not condemn (John 8:10); to the same mother from the cross (John 19:26); and to Mary Magdalene in tears (John 20:13; John 20:15).

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