The breast is a mammary gland; frequently, however, the term is used with reference simply to the forepart of the human body (male or female) between the neck and the abdomen. Two Hebrew words that denote human breast are shadh and shodh. (Ca 8:1; Job 24:9) Greek words for breast are ma·stosʹ (Lu 11:27) and steʹthos. (Re 15:6) The human breast is used in the Scriptures to denote closeness, intimacy, and favor (Ca 1:13; Joh 13:25; 21:20); maturity (Ca 8:8, 10; Eze 16:7); beauty (Ca 4:5; 7:3, 7, 8); sexual intercourse (“between her breasts” [Ho 2:2]; “breasts were squeezed,” ‘bosoms pressed’ [Eze 23:3, 21]); fertility (Ge 49:25; Ho 9:14); exultation and prosperity (Isa 60:16; 66:11). ‘Beating the breasts’ or ‘tearing out the breasts’ signified extreme humiliation, distress, and grief.
A woman hearing Jesus speak cried out: “Happy is the womb that carried you and the breasts that you sucked!” Since it was every woman’s desire to have a worthy son, and Jewish women desired the privilege of being the mother of a prophet and particularly the Messiah, it is understandable that this Jewish woman made such a remark. But Jesus’ answer, “No, rather, Happy are those hearing the word of God and keeping it!” showed that it was not being close to Jesus in a fleshly way that counted; spirituality was the important thing. This principle precludes any veneration of Mary as the mother of our Lord.
Because of the nearness of Jerusalem’s destruction, to be accompanied by the appalling slaughter of its inhabitants, Jesus said: “Look! days are coming in which people will say, ‘Happy are the barren women, and the wombs that did not give birth and the breasts that did not nurse!’”
The Hebrew Scriptures, by using a different term, make a distinction between the human breast and the breast of animals, which is anatomically different. In communion sacrifices made by the Israelites the breast (Heb., cha·zehʹ) of a sacrificial animal was the portion that became the priest’s for his food.
Bosom. The word is used in a manner very similar to the usage of breast, although it often has reference to the fold in the upper part of the robe, rather than to the breast itself. The bosom was designated in Hebrew by chehq (1Ki 1:2), choʹtsen (Ne 5:13), and the dual form of dadh (Eze 23:3); in Greek, kolʹpos. (Joh 13:23) A dearly beloved or cherished one would be held close to one’s bosom (Heb., chehq), the way Naomi held Ruth’s baby Obed, in acknowledging him as the legal heir of Naomi’s dead husband Elimelech. (Ru 4:16) In the custom of reclining at meals, the one in front of the bosom of another was in a position of intimacy with him, generally the favored position. (Joh 13:23) Jesus employed this well-known custom in illustrating Lazarus as being in “the bosom position of Abraham,” signifying favor with God. (Lu 16:22, 23) The apostle John described Jesus as being “in the bosom position with the Father,” as the intimate of Jehovah, the one person who could explain God to a fuller and more thorough extent than any other.
The garment worn by Israelites in Bible times was quite voluminous over the chest, so that in its folds a person could place his hands, money, or other articles and could even carry a baby or a young lamb. (Ex 4:6, 7; Nu 11:12; 2Sa 12:3) Jehovah says he will carry his lambs in his bosom, an illustration of his tender love and care for them. (Isa 40:11) The expression “wife of [one’s] bosom,” as in some translations (KJ; Ro; RS; AT), is given clearer meaning when rendered, “wife thou dost cherish in thy bosom” (Kx), “your cherished wife.” (NW) (De 13:6; 28:54) Intercourse is sometimes referred to.
To “render the reward into their own bosom” or to ‘measure out their wages into their own bosom’ are understandable expressions when we appreciate that the pockets of garments were not in one’s skirts or the lower part of the garment as today. (Isa 65:6, 7; Ps 79:12; Jer 32:18) Similarly, the expressions ‘carrying reproach in one’s bosom,’ ‘raking fire together into his bosom,’ ‘taking a bribe from the bosom’ and “a bribe in the bosom” have reference to the use of the upper folds of the garment.