A friend who is studying theology asked me if it was rude of Jesus to call his own mother 'woman' when he was about to perform his first miracle at Cana of Galilee.

John 2:4

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

Why did Jesus call her 'woman' and not 'mother'?

  • 1
    This is probably a better hermeneutics question, here you're apt to get Catholic apologist and Protestant "anti-"apologist answers which compete unless you ask for one viewpoint or the other. And it has been asked, broadly hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/49856/…
    – Peter Turner
    Commented May 30 at 16:34

3 Answers 3


At the wedding feast in Cana, in Galilee, Mary asked Jesus to do something about the lack of wine. Up until this point, Jesus had not performed any miracles. Jesus responded to his mother by saying:

Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come. (John 2:4 ESV)

This might seem to us to be abrupt, or impolite, or even rude. But in the original language, and in that culture, Mary would not have interpreted Jesus’ words that way. This article explains:

In the Greek, Jesus’ question is “Ti emoi kai soi?” The phrase was used to ask of the connection between two people. The question could be translated as “What business do we have with each other?” Or, in less formal terms, “What does this have to do with me?” (ESV) or “Why do you involve me?” (NIV). Again, Jesus is expressing the fact that He is independent of His mother; as eager as Mary was to see Jesus do a miracle, she had no right to determine the time or the manner in which Jesus publicly revealed His glory. Jesus makes His point gently and without being rude, however.

Jesus concludes His statement to Mary with, “My hour has not yet come.” The reference to His “hour” or “time” (NET) means that Jesus was constantly working from a divine timetable. So, He wasn’t going to reveal His power sooner than God the Father intended (see John 5:30). One of the points Jesus made in His temptation in the desert was that there is such a thing as doing the right thing for the wrong reasons (Matthew 4:1–10). That is, it would be wrong to perform a miracle if the time and place are not according to God’s will. Some of the respectful tone is lost in translation, perhaps, but Jesus was not being rude.

Jesus also used the same word from the cross when He tells Mary that He is entrusting her to John’s care:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son! (John 19:26).

There was absolutely nothing rude or disrespectful when Jesus called his mother “woman”.

  • Was he also avoiding earthly attachments that were going to derail his spiritual mission? Commented May 30 at 13:29
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    I am in no position to speculate about whether Jesus thought it best to avoid earthly attachments at that point in time. After all, he formed attachments with his disciples, and especially John, who he chose to take care of his mother. Best to just go with what the Bible tells us?
    – Lesley
    Commented May 30 at 13:34

Was it rude for Jesus to call his own mother “woman“?

The short answer is no.

Anyone travelling in various part of the Middle East will occasionally encounter this manner of speaking to this day. It remains to this day a colloquial expression that is both traditional and an acceptable custom in these regions.

I have personally encountered this way of addressing women and no seemed offended in the slightest way.

At first glance, this would seem to be a very impersonal manner for Jesus to address his own mother. It should be noted, however, that Jesus uses the same term when he speaks to Mary from the Cross, saying, “Woman, behold your son.” (John 19:26) Likewise, he uses the term often when speaking to other women (e.g. Mt 15:28; Luke 22:57; John 4:21)

For a Jewish man to refer to his mother as “woman” would not be considered rude or disrespectful, however, it would suggest a distancing between the two. This is not inconsistent with how Jesus responds in Matthew 12:48-50 when he is told that his mother and family members were outside asking to speak to him:

“But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

By distancing himself from his mother, Jesus makes it very clear that family ties are not what cause him to act but rather, the will of his Father in heaven.

Why does Jesus call his mother “woman” in the Wedding at Cana story?

This way of addressing women seems so foreign to our ears, here in the West, hut in Jesus’ day it was more common and no offence was intended when employing such a phrase in reference to one’s mother!


The Greek word for 'mother' is meter and is used in such verses as Matthew 1:18 & 2:11 where Mary has the word 'mother' applied to her. It is also used in John 2:1: "...Jesus' mother was there..."

The Greek word for 'woman' is gune and is used by Jesus in John 2:4, so this does, indeed, give rise to the question as to why Jesus called her 'woman', and not 'mother'. When John wrote that chapter, he must have had reason to speak of Mary as Jesus' mother in verse 1, yet record Jesus calling her 'woman' in verse 4.

Some translations put verse 4 as "Dear woman..." (such as the N.I.V.) but the word for "dear" is not in the Greek text. An intriguing combination of Jesus using those two different words occurs at the crucifixion:

"When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." John 19:26-27 N.I.V. 1987 ed.

When we consider the visionary woman of Revelation 12:1-6 who gave birth to a male child, with that prophetic book also speaking of the great marriage supper of the Lamb (the risen Christ), there is likely a spiritual aspect to all that was said and done at that marriage in Cana. Here is a snippet from a book that explores the signs Jesus performed as recorded in the gospel of John:

"This travail culminates in 'the mother of Jesus', who, preceding him after the flesh, brought him forth as to his manhood. And if so, she signifies all who travailed of the spiritual in Israel... And take notice that up to John 2:1 no mention is made of how the logos was made flesh. When eventually it is mentioned, the name 'Mary' is conspicuous by its absence.

What is present, in a mystery, is the unusual expression, 'the mother of Jesus'. Likewise that Jesus calls her 'Woman', verse 4. Unmentioned before: unnamed now. Why? It is a sign... The mother of Jesus was there; only when she spoke did he acknowledge her, and that merely as 'Woman'. And as if that were not enough, added, 'What have I to do with thee?' What else could warrant such terminology, save the Spirit's fashioning a sign?

With what was signified, then came 'Jesus and his disciples'. If she figured the inclusion and culmination of all the travailing children of God up to the coming of the promised Seed, surely 'Jesus and his disciples' depicted - in such a vision - 'Christ and the ekklesia', Ephesians 5:30-32. If so, at 'the marriage', alluding to the marriage of the Lamb, there appears in a figure the general assembly and ekklesia of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven...

To return to the thing signified - so far - to the sign itself, next to be observed is that of which the mother of Jesus took notice, but, apparently, he did not. But over this for the first time she addressed him. Not with a question, neither a request. Just a bald statement. 'And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine,' verse 3.

So? What was he supposed to do? Why tell him? Because she was given to have divine discernment, and with it, the Spirit of prophecy. She perceived that God had created this providence. The more remarkable the restraint and propriety of her utterance, knowing that the circumstances were of God, the prelude on the third day of the first of the signs to the work of power.

He discourages her. Rebuffs her: 'Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come', verse 4.

No, it was not. But the figure of it was, and she knew it. The spiritual penetration of her discernment left her in no doubt both that this was God's overruling, and likewise of his certain response.

Ignoring him, her faith equal to the trial, 'His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,' verse 5. For her soul and spirit within her sang with a mighty witness: he would, he must respond: for this thing was of God." John chapters 1 to 12 The First Six Signs, John Metcalfe, pp. 148-150, 2006, http://www.johnmetcalfepublishingtrust.co.uk/contact_us.htm

Then follows 12 pages of detailed exposition of the meaning of the sign Jesus performed at Cana. But enough has been given here to show that the startling nature of the wording, Mary being called 'woman' by her Son, is meant to make us think more deeply about symbolic meanings under the surface of a wedding where Jesus' performed this, his first sign. It may appear rude to us, but its spiritual significance is not to be lost.

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    I agree that the response by Jesus has lore of a symbolic meaning than a literal meaning. Since woman refers to a church, it could also be the response Jesus gives to a church that hopes to see his second return but then Jesus says to the church, woman or the church, what do I have to do with thee? for my hour of second return has not yet come Commented May 30 at 13:12

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