Love and Bowels


A key to understanding how Christians are called to love each other comes from a very unlikely place. Read the account of Judas’ death in Acts chapter 1:

Now this man [Judas] 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 KJV)

Even though the account of Judas death seems to be contrary to understanding Christian love, It is key to understanding a first century metaphor that John uses in a letter to an early Christian community. The passage is found in John 3:11-18:

For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:11-18 NIV)

1. Psyche vs Zoe. First, Christians who love each other understand what John meant when he wrote “we have passed from death to life.” This statement is confusing to non-Christians because it is opposite of what we understand as normal. Normally we live and pass through life into death. Jesus turned what the world thought as normal upside down, through him believers are dead to the imperfections of the physical world and pass into a perfect spiritual world. Echos of this statement are in John 12:25:

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:25 NIV)

The Greek language makes it clear:

Anyone who loves their psyche (life) will lose it, while anyone who hates their psyche (life) will keep it…

…for aoinios Zoe (eternal life)

The different life’s are defined in Strongs as:

psyche: breath: the breath of life: the vital force which animates the body and shows itself in breathing of animals, of men; life: that in which there is life a living being, a living soul

aionios: without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be without beginning without end, never to cease, everlasting

Zoe: life real and genuine, a life active and vigorous, devoted to God, blessed, in the portion even in this world of those who put their trust in Christ, but after the resurrection to be consummated by new accessions (among them a more perfect body), and to last for ever

Psyche to Zoe through Jesus Christ.

2. Pity is a pitiful translation. People who have eternal life in common act differently in this psyche world, and differently to each other. An evidence that we have passed from psyche to Zoe is that we love each other. And we love each other differently than others. So what does all of this have to do with Judas hanging himself? Look at the different translations of 1 John 3:17:

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person? (1 John 3:17 NIV)

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? (1 John 3:17 NLT)

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17 ESV)

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 KJV)

3. Splagonon The Greek word the NIV translates as “has no pity” in 1 John 3:17 is the same word used to describe what happened to Judas, the word the KJV literally translates as “shutteth up his bowels”

splagchnon – Upper visera, bowels, intestines, (the heart, lungs, liver, etc.). the bowels were regarded as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart (tender mercies, affections, etc.); a heart in which mercy resides

Look at other scriptures that use this first century figure of speech:

For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:8 KJV)

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. (Philippians 2:1, 2 KJV)

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. (Colossians 3:12, 13 KJV)

For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. (Philemon 1:7 KJV) Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: (Philemon 1:12 KJV)Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. (Philemon 1:20 KJV)

4. Being Human
Complexities on what it means to be human…
…Cognative Thought life intellect mind, assent and affirm, thoughts praise agree dimension of our being

…but splagchnon is the place we truly live from. Bowels may seem gross, but splagchnon part of out modern lexicon.
My daughter used it during the first week of practice to describe how she dealt with the first week of basketball conditioning…she gutted it out
We say, I hate that persons guts to mean there is something about their essence.
I knew it in my gut – Malcolm Gladwell.
Pit in my stomach

We can rationalize cognitively but still be unsetted in our being – splanchnon

Writer is saying that loving others either flows or does not flow based on the shutting or opening of the Splagchnon. Deeper understanding.

Compassion and pity is not something we can rationalize…it becomes part of our being in the Zoe life

We can cognitively rationalize we believe this and don’t believe that. We affirm this and not that but then live in a completely different way.

We can reason and discuss…but until there is a change in our gut not truly love. Only throughout the love of God and the Jesus the Word can we transfer from rationalization to the seat of our being.

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:18 NIV)

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Greg Chaney

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