What are Paps in the Bible?

The word “paps” appears several times in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, but what exactly does it mean? Let’s take a closer look at this unusual term and what it signifies.


In modern English, the word “paps” is not commonly used. However, it shows up repeatedly in the KJV Bible, especially in passages referring to breasts or nursing. The term comes from the Hebrew word “shad” and the Greek word “mastos,” both of which can be translated as “breast.”

Some key things to understand about “paps” in the Bible:

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  • It refers specifically to a woman’s breasts, often in the context of breastfeeding a child.
  • It is used as a symbol of nurturing, comfort, and maternal care.
  • References to paps in the Bible convey strong emotions and intimate bonds.
  • While potentially confusing for modern readers, paps was a familiar and meaningful term to ancient audiences.

In this article, we will explore the meaning of paps by looking at specific Biblical passages. We’ll see how the term is used to evoke powerful imagery related to femininity, motherhood, and God’s tender care for His people.

What are Paps in the Bible?

Old Testament References

The word “paps” shows up over a dozen times in the Old Testament portion of the King James Bible. Here are some of the key passages:

Genesis 49:25

“Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:” (KJV)

This passage from Genesis contains Jacob’s blessing over his son Joseph. The reference to “blessings of the breasts” pairs together the concepts of nursing and fertility. For an ancient audience, invoking the image of a woman’s breasts would symbolize nourishment, comfort, and motherly care.

Job 3:12

“Why did the knees prevent me? or why the breasts that I should suck?” (KJV)

Here, Job laments the day of his birth. His reference to sucking from “the breasts” conveys a longing to return to the comfort and nurturing of infancy. The breasts represent the intimate bond between mother and child.

Job 24:9

“They pluck the fatherless from the breast, and take a pledge of the poor.” (KJV)

This verse in Job depicts the cruel practice of taking nursing babies as collateral from poor families. The image emphasizes how wretched it is to deprive an infant of a mother’s care and milk. Again, the breast signifies maternal affection.

Psalms 22:9

“But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.” (KJV)

Psalm 22 is one of David’s songs of suffering. Here, he recalls how God cared for him since before birth. The mention of “my mother’s breasts” brings to mind the dependent newborn baby resting safely in his mother’s arms.

Isaiah 28:9

“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” (KJV)

The prophet Isaiah uses the metaphor of weaning from milk and breasts to chastise the people of Jerusalem for their childishness. The reference evokes the process of maturation as a child transitions from nursing to solid food.

Lamentations 4:3

“Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.” (KJV)

In this passage, the prophet Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem. Even savage creatures nurse their young, unlike the now heartless women of Jerusalem. The breast here represents caring maternal instincts.

Ezekiel 23:3

“And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity.” (KJV)

Here the prophet Ezekiel uses graphic sexual imagery, including a reference to virginal breasts being “pressed.” This shocking language conveys how the kingdom of Judah was like an unfaithful harlot in its relationship with God.

Ezekiel 23:34

“Thou shalt even drink it and suck it out, and thou shalt break the sherds thereof, and pluck off thine own breasts: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God.” (KJV)

In this disturbing verse from Ezekiel, God declares that adulterous Jerusalem will be forced to “pluck off thine own breasts” as punishment for her sins. The severity of this image underscores the gravity of Jerusalem’s offenses against God.

As we see, Old Testament references to paps often occur in passages filled with strong emotion. The term carries connotations of maternal affection, nourishment, intimacy, dependence, and comfort. It also appears in contexts of anguish, cruelty, and judgement. Clearly, the word evoked deep feeling for ancient listeners and readers.

New Testament References

There are only two direct references to “paps” in the New Testament. However, we also see allusions to nursing and maternal care.

Luke 11:27

“And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.” (KJV)

Here a woman calls out from a crowd, praising the mother who nursed Jesus at her breast. For this woman, Mary’s nursing intimated a special bond and signified the nurturing love a mother has for her child.

Luke 23:29

“For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.” (KJV)

Jesus here warns of hard times when having children will be seen as a curse rather than a blessing. His inclusion of “paps which never gave suck” emphasizes the suffering of mothers unable to feed their young in turbulent times.

While not using the exact term “paps”, other New Testament passages also reflect the tenderness associated with breasts and nursing:

  • In Luke 13:34, Jesus cries out, wishing to shelter Jerusalem as a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:7 describes Paul tenderly caring for the Thessalonians as a nursing mother cherishes her children.
  • In 1 Peter 2:2, Peter urges Christians to crave pure spiritual milk like newborn babies longing for their mother’s milk.

So while the specific word “paps” appears rarely in the New Testament, the concepts of nurturing, bonding, and maternal affection are certainly present.

Symbolism and Imagery

What meanings and connotations did paps carry in the ancient Biblical context? Here are some key symbolic connections:

Motherhood – Breasts represented maternity, birth, and the mother-child relationship. Mentions of paps conjured up images of breastfeeding and close nurturing bonds.

Intimacy – The act of nursing involves physical and emotional intimacy between mother and child. Paps evoked a sense of tender closeness, similar to being cradled at the mother’s chest.

Comfort – A baby at its mother’s breast experiences warmth, security, and provision. Paps suggested feelings of consolation, safety, and rest.

Innocence – Nursing is associated with dependent newborn infants. Paps references captured a sense of purity, simplicity, and childlike trust.

Sexuality – In some contexts, breasts also carried erotic overtones. Biblical prophets used paps imagery to depict Israel as an adulterous lover of false gods.

Judgment – God’s harsh punishment of dashing babies from the breast illustrated His wrath against sin. Paps could represent the severity of divine justice.

Fertility – Full breasts signified readiness for nursing and suggested ripeness, abundance, and fertility. Paps were linked to prolific motherhood.

Clearly, the word paps in the Bible conveyed a wide range of meaning and emotion to ancient listeners. It painted vivid pictures that resonated powerfully in their cultural context.

Takeaways and Conclusion

  • Paps is an archaic English term used in the KJV Bible to refer to a woman’s breasts, especially in the context of breastfeeding.
  • It translates words from Hebrew and Greek that mean “breast” but carried deeper connotations.
  • Old Testament references to paps occur in passages expressing strong feelings and relationships.
  • Paps represented comfort, nurturing, intimacy, sexuality, judgment, and motherhood.
  • The two New Testament paps references continue these symbolic meanings.
  • Though strange sounding today, paps was full of significance for ancient audiences.

In conclusion, the term paps in the Bible is a window into the cultures from which it emerged. It reveals meaningful insights about how Biblical peoples viewed femininity, bonding, purity, judgment, and womanhood itself. Though largely forgotten in modern language, recovering an understanding of paps can help deepen and enrich our study of Scripture.

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