What is the Biblical Basis for a Heavenly Mother?

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13)

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you. (Isaiah 66:13)

In the Bible there are various mentions of goddesses and female idols worshipped by the pagan nations surrounding the Israelites—which, of course, are rejected as false gods.

By contrast, references to the God of the Israelites (which Christians generally see as the true God) are overwhelmingly male.

Still, there are a few passages scattered throughout the Bible that suggest or attribute to God female characteristics, including some that present God as a mother.

In Genesis

The first passage suggesting that God has female attributes occurs in the very first chapter of Genesis:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

In saying that God created humankind male and female in the image of God, this passage suggests that both male and female reflect the nature of God. In other words, this passage suggests that God encompasses both male and female qualities and characteristics, and that we humans get both our maleness and our femaleness from corresponding attributes of God. We are not merely created male and female by God, but created male and female in God’s image.

In the Psalms

Next, from the Psalms:

As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us. (Psalm 123:2)

Here God is compared both to a master (male) and a mistress (female), to which servants look.

In the Prophets

Next, from the Prophets:

For thus says the Lord: . . . As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:12–13)

Here the Lord speaks of being like a mother to the Israelites.

In the Gospels

Next, from the Gospels:

Hen and chicks“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)

See also the parallel passage in Luke 13:34.

Here Jesus, speaking from the perspective of his eternal divine nature, compares his desire to care for Jerusalem to a hen gathering her chicks under her wings. This is a clear example of God presented as a mother to God’s children.

In the Book of Revelation

And finally, a somewhat obscure and surprising one from the book of Revelation:

And I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girt about the breasts with a golden girdle. (Revelation 1:12–13, italics added)

I am purposely using an old-fashioned translation (the Jubilee Bible) because it uses the word “breasts” rather than the now archaic word “paps” (meaning “nipples” or “breasts”) used in the King James Version, or the word “chest” used in many modern translations.

The Greek word is μαστός (mastos). While this word can be used to mean a man’s nipples, it is the usual Greek word for a woman’s breasts. See, for example, Luke 11:27; 23:29.

There are more ordinary Greek words for “chest” that John could have used in recounting his vision of Christ.

One of them is κόλπος (kolpos), traditionally translated “bosom.”

But the obvious word to use would be στῆθος (stēthos), traditionally translated “breast” (in the archaic sense of “chest”), and in modern translations as “chest.” This, in fact, is the word used in a very similar passage later in Revelation:

After this I looked, and the temple of the tent of witness in heaven was opened, and out of the temple came the seven angels with the seven plagues, robed in pure bright linen, with golden sashes across their chests. (Revelation 15:5-6, italics added)

The fact that in describing the figure of Christ in his vision John did not use the more obvious and common word for “chest” that he used later in the very same book to describe the placement of sashes worn by angels, but instead used the word for the female breast or the male nipple, suggests that the figure of Christ in the vision conveyed to him a sense of motherly nurturing and care, similar to Jesus’ earlier image of God’s care for Jerusalem as being like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings.

A motherly as well as fatherly God

This is not a complete list of female and motherly images of God in the Bible. A quick Internet search will turn up various lists of them. But these five examples are enough to show that although God is overwhelmingly presented as a male figure in the Bible, there are places where the Bible speaks of God as being motherly, and having other female attributes.

(Note: This post is a slightly edited version of an answer I originally wrote and posted on Christianity StackExchange. You can see the original question on StackExchange here, and the StackExchange version of my answer here.)

For further reading:

About

Lee Woofenden is an ordained minister, writer, editor, translator, and teacher. He enjoys taking spiritual insights from the Bible and the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg and putting them into plain English as guides for everyday life.

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2 comments on “What is the Biblical Basis for a Heavenly Mother?
  1. Jamie Carter says:

    I always figured that if Adam’s masculinity is rooted in God; then so too must Eve’s femininity be sourced in God as well; or else she’s something that God isn’t.

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