Col 3:12 says "Put on ... bowels of mercies..." (KJV) listing traits Christians should foster.

How do mercies relate to one's intestines (bowels)? Bowels appear in other Scriptures as well, not talking about digestion and elimination. Bowels are very important for living beings, but it isn't polite to discuss your bowels/bowel movements in public. It's an unappetizing subject.

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    This is really more about the meaning of a word than it is about anything specifically related to Christianity. I can give you the answer but it's not really related to Christian teaching. Aug 3 '15 at 20:28
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    Merriam-Webster entry for "bowel", definition 2: "archaic : the seat of pity, tenderness, or courage —usually used in plural" Aug 3 '15 at 20:29
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    Today we would say "a heart of mercy." But in Bible times, some human thoughts and emotions were associated with different body parts than they are today. As @MattGutting points out from the dictionary, "bowels" or "intestines" were associated with tenderness. "Kidneys" ("reins" in the KJV) were associated with emotions and desires, along with the heart. Aug 3 '15 at 20:48
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    As others said i have gut feeling that answer is in the comments. :-)
    – shakAttack
    Aug 4 '15 at 9:43
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    A look at a more modern translation (i.e. one less than 300 years old) would help here. Aug 4 '15 at 14:28

What part of your body is affected in times of great emotion? (whether in sadness and stress or in joy and thanks)? In our culture we usually speak of our 'hearts' being the seat of emotion. But it was common in greek culture to attribute the seat of emotions to the intestines (σπλάγχνα), since that's where we feel emotions. Ulcers in times of stress, butterflies in times of joy—they affect our gut far more than our hearts. One could argue that the ancient understanding was better.

As evidence, here are some citations from common standard greek lexicons on the word:


  1. as often in the ancient world, inner body parts served as referents for psychological aspects (s. καρδία): of the seat of the emotions, in our usage a transference is made to the rendering heart,

“σπλάγχνον,” BDAG, 938.


Because strong emotions produce sensations in the abdomen, the bowels and other organs were regarded as the site of the natural passions (cf. the use of gut in [Vol. 4, p. 352] Eng.). Thus σπλάγχνα came to have the same fig. meaning as heart (see καρδία G2840), referring to the seat of the affections, both negative, such as anger and fear, and positive, such as love and compassion (cf. the use of σπλάγχνα alongside κέαρ [= κῆρ, “heart”] and φρένες [pl. of φρήν G5856, with a sim. meaning] when speaking of fearful premonitions, Aesch. Ag. 995–98).

“σπλάγχνον” NIDNTTE, 4:351-352.

As to the pairing of σπλάγχνον with οἰκτιρμός (compassion), the thought is the full extent and depth of compassion, not a half-hearted effort, but compassion shown from the depth of your heart (or in the original, gut). And that is a truly theological thought, that out of the great compassion that God has shown us in Christ, we extend that same compassion to others.

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    It might help to spell out the initialisms, I think. Dec 8 '15 at 21:36
  • The initialisms are all "shorthand" for standard works of biblical scholarship that are customarily referred to in this way. With a little work, @Andrew Leach can locate them.
    – Jacques
    Jul 19 '17 at 2:51
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    @Jacques But the point is that Stack Exchange answers should not require that work. Jul 19 '17 at 8:28

The phrase "Bowels of mercies" is an ancient Greek phrase. It is explained here:


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    Please add some more details.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 8 '21 at 17:07

Bowels of mercie that's simple Daniel chapter 1 pulse and water shows Mercie to the bowels aka clean robe or baptism , ten days pulse and water will clean any garment and for these children will be granted knowledge and wisdom the kingdom of heaven is within you not lo there lo here it's in you the multitude to be shown mercy

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    Sorry, but I can't make much sense of what you're saying here, nor can I see how it relates to Colossians. Could you edit this post to explain some more?
    – curiousdannii
    Jun 29 '18 at 1:32

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