Anger, fear, love, and compassion, like the bowels of the earth, these emotions run deep and reach down to the very core of our being.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels. Psalms 22:14
Welcome to my KJV Bible Word Study Series!
In this series, I will take words that we may be unfamiliar with outside the Bible setting or that may be confusing to our modern-day English sensibilities, and expound upon their original meaning within the context of the verse.
By using Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible and Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, it is my hope to bring clarity to, and broaden our understanding of, many beloved and obscure KJV Bible passages.
Bowels—#H4578: intestines, abdomen, stomach, womb (or of men, the seat of generation), heart, belly
#H7130: the nearest part, center (whether literally or figuratively), among, before, in, inward part, inward thought, midst, out of, through, within self
#H7356: compassion, by extension the womb (as cherishing the fetus), tender love, mercy, great and tender mercy, pity
#G4698: Greek splen (the spleen) intestine (plural), figuratively: inward affection, tender mercy, taken from #G4697, to have the bowels yearn, to feel sympathy, to pity, have (or be moved with) compassion
[Underlining and words in bold are used for emphasis in Bible verses throughout this study.]
Most recent translations of the Bible use the word heart or affection in place of bowels from the King James Version.
But the word bowels (#G4698, always in the plural) is actually taken from the Greek splanchnon, properly defined as “the physical organs of the intestines”.
Of the thirty-seven entries of bowels in the Old and New Testament of the King James Version, more than half of the entries literally mean stomach, loins, or womb.
But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab’s hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died . . . 2 Samuel 20:10
And, behold, the word of the Lord came unto him [Abram], saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir. Genesis 15:4
By thee have I been holden up from the womb: thou art he that took me from my mother’s bowels: my praise shall be continually of thee. Psalms 71:6
The only literal instance in the New Testament for the word bowels is found in the book of Acts, referring to Judas Iscariot.
Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. Acts 1:18
To understand the non-literal uses of the word bowels, we must go back to ancient Greek and Hebrew cultures.
It was common at that time to attribute different internal organs to various emotional conditions.
- The head was the seat of understanding.
- The heart was the seat of affection, courage (“take heart”), and memory (learning by ‘heart’).
- The intestines (bowels) were the seat of pity, mercy, and compassion.
- The liver was the seat of honor.
- The spleen was the seat of passion and anger. (Closely linked to the word bowels #G4698.)
- The kidneys (also known as reins #G3629) were the seat of conscious joy and grief.
- The loins were the seat of strength and power.
In our modern society, most of these physical organs and their corresponding emotions have been rolled into two main areas: the heart (emotion), and the head (thought).
But I think the ancients had it right.
When you think of where we actually FEEL emotional pain or tender affection, is it not in our stomach?
Those “butterflies” we feel—nervousness, fear, excitement, desire. We feel them dancing in the pit of our stomach.
When we’ve been betrayed or emotionally hurt it is “gut-wrenching”.
It feels like we’ve been “punched in the gut“.
We wrap our arms around our middles and rock back and forth for self-comfort. We crouch in a ball on our beds to stay the pain.
When we respond to a situation without thought, strictly from our immediate feelings, we say it is our “gut reaction” or “gut feeling“.
And when we believe something is the right thing to do based on our experience, we “go with our gut” or “trust our gut”.
Turmoil, desire, and longing are all expressed in this word—bowels.
And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there. Genesis 43:30
In ancient times, the trumpet call for war was terrifying to hear, the standards raised fearful to behold. What a sinking feeling to know destruction was coming!
My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Jeremiah 4:19
The Bowels of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:8)
Just as there are vital inward parts we cannot pinch off and still live, our spiritual life is no different. If we restrict the flow of God’s Spirit in our being, our capacity to love well and reach out with compassion to our fellow man stagnates.
But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 1 John 3:17
“Bowels of compassion” is an emotion married to action that makes a difference, taking care of our brother’s and sister’s needs.
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? James 2:15-16
Likewise, “bowels of mercy” spoken of in Colossians 3:12 is an attribute of Christ we must put on daily, along with kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, and longsuffering.
These attributes do not come naturally for us. Especially when our ‘brother’ is a frustrating spouse, a difficult neighbor, or an uncaring friend.
But if Christ dwells in us, dear ones, we are a new creation. The Spirit of God reminds us of our own shortcomings and gives us the power to reach out in Christ-like fashion.
Just as we cannot separate our works from our faith as spoken in James chapter 2, our most intimate heartfelt feelings are nothing more than fluff if separated from the truth and wisdom of God.
But when united, they will succor the soul and uplift our brethren with true love and mercy.
Everyone has feelings, but if they are not coupled with godly knowledge and wisdom, those feelings will clog our being like tar. Thick with emotions, we are fooled into thinking what we are doing is good.
But this is not the mind of Christ.
The truth of God must reign first, then mercy and compassion follow. Weighed down by the heavy cloak of our emotions, we help no one by accepting their sins and pretending all is well. We only prolong their self-deception and crown our feelings above the lordship of Christ.
Tender mercy, inward affection, sympathy, pity, compassion—these are the bowels, the depths of feeling, we may have for one another.
We express these feelings best in cherishing our children. We love, protect, and forgive them daily. We see their needs before they ever do.
Our heavenly Father does the same for us, yet perfectly. With a pity birthed from the deepest love, He showers us with tender mercy we do not deserve.
Here is the ‘bowels of Jesus Christ’—the ultimate expression of tender mercy—His willing sacrifice that saved us from ourselves so we may live eternally joyful with Him.
I love a good word study, don’t you? I hope you’ve gleaned, along with me, some additional insight into the rich words used in the KJV Bible.
Join me next time as I showcase another word we can learn the in-depth meaning behind together.
If you would like to read more posts in this series, please check out my KJV Bible Word Study Series page.
Abiding in the Vine,
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The post “Bowels: KJV Bible Word Study Series” was first published on Desert Rain.