Abarim Publications' Biblical Dictionary: The New Testament Greek word: κοιλια

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/k/k-o-i-l-i-a.html


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The noun κοιλια (koilia) broadly refers to the lower part of a mammal's main body. It comes from the noun κοιλος (koilos), meaning hollow, which was used as broadly as to refer to the hold of a ship, a valley or a natural harbor, with the connotation of being empty. It ultimately stems from the same Proto-Indo-European root that gave English the words hole and hollow (and hell; see our article on Beelzebub). That indicates that our word mostly emphasizes the thorax as a big hollow vessel. The regular word for harbor is λιμην (limen), whereas λιμος (limos) means hunger or famine.

Our noun κοιλια (koilia) may denote the entire thorax, including the lungs, but mostly emphasizes the belly — stomach and bowels — and as such was mostly associated with the intake and digestion of food (and expelling of wastes). The κοιλια (koilia) also served as the seat of emotions, often juxtaposed with the καρδια (kardia), heart, or the seat of one's conscious thoughts (Matthew 12:40, Mark 7:19).

It has been proposed that the word κολον (kolon), meaning colon, may stem from κοιλια (koilia), but that is by no means certain, and κολον (kolon) may be more naturally linked to κολος (kolos), meaning the top or end of something (in this case the digestive tract). Still, ultimately these words may all stem from the same Semitic root כלא (kala'), meaning to shut in (see our article on the many Hebrew roots of Greek).

Most strikingly, both our noun κοιλια (koilia) and the noun γαστηρ (gaster; see below) are frequently deployed to mean womb. This seems to suggest that the gestation of a child in one's womb was mostly associated with emotional or subconscious construction rather than intellectual construction (see the noun τεκνον, teknon, child).

It also demonstrates that to the Greeks, physical pregnancy was a mere physical manifestation of a kind of process that all humans are intimately familiar with. The word that was specifically reserved for womb is μητρα (metra), from μητηρ (meter), mother, and that word is used only twice in the New Testament. Our noun κοιλια (koilia) occurs 23 times (see full concordance) and 12 times it is used to refer to a pregnant belly (that is: a hollow utilized).


The noun γαστηρ (gaster) also refers to the digestive tract, and specifically the stomach, but rather emphasizes the desire for filling it with food (hence our word gastronomy). It stems from the unused verb γραω (grao), to eat, which itself is of unclear pedigree but perhaps related to γραστις (grastis), grass, and thus rather means to graze. Greek words for gluttony and "belly-slave" all derive from this noun.

And as with κοιλια (koilia), our noun γαστηρ (gaster) is frequently deployed to describe one's womb, which in turn emphasizes the desire of a woman for a child (and thus for a husband). Our noun is used 9 times (see full concordance), and 8 times it refers to a pregnant stomach (that is: a desire fulfilled).


The noun σπλαγχνον (splachnon) describes the inward part(s): heart, lungs, liver and kidneys (but usually not the bowels); the parts of a sacrificial animal that were eaten by the sacrificers at the start of their feast. These parts also doubled as the seat of emotions, and our word was often used to denote one's "intimate members" (as opposed to the obvious external members) or emotional heart (Luke 1:78), as opposed to one's obvious vocalizations, poise and gestures. Because the ancients associated the seat of one's emotions with one's obviously elaborate digestive track, they certainly imagined one's emotional heart as complex and dynamically active as one's rational mind, not merely a deep well of still water from which the ratio could draw buckets of liquid thought (see φρην, phren, midriff), but a complex machinery that absorbed, secreted and produced.

Like the previous words, our noun could also describe the rather broad range of organs from which a baby came (one's innermost being). The related word σπλαγχνα (splagchna), specifically denoted the womb.

It's not clear where our word came from, but it does seem to share its root with our English word spleen. Since the Greek language had a curious habit of placing sigmas in front of words (see a small list under our article on σειρα, seira, cord), and the Greek χ (ch) often transliterated the Hebrew letter כ (k), hence the suffix ך (k) which marks a second person singular pronominal suffix: your, our noun may very well have been helped into existence by the term פלגך (pelugek), your division, from the verb פלג (palag), to split or divide (hence the name Peleg). The significance of this is that one's ratio is spiritual and consists of elements (words) that by definition can only exist in two or more minds, whereas one's emotional heart is physical and must, per definition, exists in existential separation from others. Said otherwise: words are communal; feelings are private.

Our noun σπλαγχνον (splachnon) is used 11 times, see full concordance, and from it come:

  • Together with the prefix ευ (eu), meaning good: the wonderful adjective ευσπλαγχνος (eusplagchnos), meaning good-hearted or of well-ordered emotions (Ephesians 4:32 and 1 Peter 3:8 only).
  • Together with the adjective πολυς (polus), meaning many: the adjective πολυσπλαγχνος (polusplahchnosfin), meaning much-hearted in the sense of great-hearted (James 5:11 only).
  • The verb σπλαγχνιζομαι (splagnizomai), meaning to be greatly moved internally, to have intense internal emotions or be compassionate about. This verb is used 12 times; see full concordance.

The noun σπιλος (spilos) means spot or stain (Ephesians 5:27 and 2 Peter 2:13 only), but it's also identical to a variation of σπιλας (spilas), meaning rock or cliff (see below). And what's worse, both etymologies are unknown, so we have no idea what these words originally expressed or whether or not they are related, or even related to the noun σπλαγχνον (splachnon), inward parts (see above). It's been suggested that there may be a link to our English words "spine" and "spile" (which also are of obscure pedigree), and here at Abarim Publications we'd like to add the familiar German word Spiel, meaning game, play or dance.

As mentioned above (under σπλαγχνον, splachnon), in our article on the noun σειρα (seira), cord, we demonstrate that Greek words that start with a σ (sigma) often have a synonym or counterpart without one (verb ειρω, eiro, means to bind). Our noun σπιλος (spilos), spot or stain, without the leading σ (sigma) makes πιλος (pilos), wool or a shoe or cap made from wool or hair (called pilleum in Latin; see the name Pilate).

But probably more significant, the noun πηλος (pelos) means mud or clay, and describes the intermediate stage between dry land (i.e. certainty, knowledge) and water (uncertainty, ignorance). That would suggest that a spot or stain is ultimately a mark of an incomplete understanding. And since Christ gives understanding in all things (2 Timothy 2:7, Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20), so that all knowledge interlocks and unifies and adds up to the singular reflection of the Creator Who Is One (Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:6-7, Hebrews 1:3, John 1:18), such stains have no place in his completed church.

From this noun σπιλος (spilos), spot or stain, derive:

  • Together with the common particle of negation α (a), meaning not: the adjective ασπιλος (aspilos), meaning stainless or spotless. This word is used 4 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
  • The verb σπιλοω (spiloo), to cause or make spots or stains (James 3:6 and Jude 1:23 only).

The noun σπηλαιον (spelaion) means cavern of grotto, and is an equivalent of the familiar (unused in the NT) noun σπηλυγξ (spelugx), from which comes our English word "spelunk". Both these words come from the noun σπεος (speos), meaning cave (also unused in the NT), but, as with the above, this is where the etymological trail goes cold (that is to say: noun πηος, peos, means kinsman by marriage, and πεος, peos, describes the membrum virile, which in Sanskrit is pasas, which reminds of the Hebrew verb פצץ, pasas, to break apart).

Unless a text is specifically geographic and is really about caves, the appearance of caves and caverns in literary works invariably ties into the essential distinction between our lower half and upper half:

Our upper halves (torso, arms, head) are social and collective and bound to the upper halves of others in a global conversation. To us speaking humans, our thoughts and identity are wholly interwoven with our language — we literally think in words, and we navigate our world by means of the dictionary we have in our head. But crucially, language is always a common thing, and a word is only a word when it sits in two or more heads. And even more crucial: language works with rules and conventions, which must be discovered, mastered and adhered to by the whole community for anyone to attain freedom of speech. That means that our individual identity is really made up of communal words, and there's really nothing private about it. And it means that the freedoms we so value come from our willing submission to rules and algorithms (hence "the perfect law, the law of liberty"; James 1:25). It takes disciple to master, but living by rules (i.e. lawfulness) gives freedom, which in turn is the purpose of the gospel (Galatians 5:1).

Our lower halves (legs, genitalia, bowels) are animal and contain our emotional selves, and our animal brethren (dogs, cats, horses) have emotions too. But apart from some recognizable growls, our emotions are wholly our own and can't be shared. They sit within us and guide our world views but are wholly private and not part of a greater economy of conversation. Unlike the ratio, which is grounded in algorithms, emotions are not based on algorithms, and are thus lawless. We humans may have words for our feelings, and we can swap those words, but we can't swap our feelings, and animals that only have emotions and no ratio to speak of, are always wholly isolated. They are troglodytes: cave-dwellers.

Nearly all the great pilgrimages described in world literature start when the pilgrim experiences a complete collapse of the rules that make up rational reality. We moderns call that a psychosis. The ancients called it a descent into the cave, where a pilgrim finds himself utterly isolated and wholly captivated by his own maddening feelings. Invariably, the pilgrim begins to emerge from the cave when he attains one single unified truth about reality, the singularity that he has now become, which he splits into unequal halves (in physics we call this broken symmetry), and spins into solid threads that he weaves into a whole new world for him to traverse.

When very early humans had no rules to lose, they lived in caves. Zeus was born in a cave. Elijah and Buddha suffered in a cave. Muhammad received the Quran in a cave. Even Leonardo da Vince spent his three "lost" years in a mysterious cave. Without stating as much, Rene Descartes' famous dictum "I think therefore I am" was his first step out of the cave where he had tumbled into upon the collapse of reason. When Jesus said: Seek first the Kingdom of God, he too spoke of the ultimate Resurrection. Likewise, the much abused concept of being born again (John 3:3) speaks of emerging from a womb that is the cave in which one was conceived and to which one's reality was limited.

So there are two worlds: one dark and animal world, where everybody lives in their own private cave (Psalm 73:22, Ecclesiastes 3:18, 2 Peter 2:12, Jude 1:10), and one enlightened world, where everybody exists above ground as an element of a unified economy, based on law. But the catch is that there is only one law, and that is the natural law upon which the entire universe runs (Colossians 1:16-17). The human world can only be unified and complete and peaceful if it is based wholly on that universal natural law. If human law (including language and science and computer codes) is not in synch with that universal natural law, it cannot describe a reality within which everybody is home.

A human reality that is out of phase with the universe, will certainly be opposed (by the universe and by certain misfitting people) until it manages to align itself with nature or else fall apart into its constituting elements. And while it's being opposed, it will also consist of pockets of human reality in which home-made law makes a homemade reality: a local reality that many people share but which remains to be at odds with the universe, and with other pockets of humanity that each run on their own set of laws (Habakkuk 1:7). Such a subset of people live in their own collective cave: not exactly a one-person cave but also not an above-ground freedom. In Christ there are no denominations or nationalities or religions or tribes (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11), and any sort of nationalism or orthodoxy is in fact a collective cave: a den of robbers (Matthew 21:13).

Our noun σπηλαιον (spelaion), cavern, is used 6 times; see full concordance.


The noun σπιλας (spilas) rather specifically describes a rock over which the sea dashes and upon which ships are dashed to pieces (Od.3.298), but may also describe a slab to lay on, and even a hollow rock or cave. This difficult word is obviously not unlike the previous, but its sole appearance in the New Testament (Jude 1:12 only), has caused some challenge to translators: NAS goes with "hidden reefs". NIV with "blemishes". KJV and Darby with "spots". ASV with "hidden rocks". Young with "craggy rocks".


The noun φωλεος (pholeos) describes the den or lair of an animal (in the classics: foxes, bears, lions, serpents). This word too is of unclear pedigree, but here at Abarim Publications we suspect it shares its root with the previous words (see the curious case of the "leading sigma", as discussed above, twice, under σπλαγχνον, splachnon and σπιλος, spilos). It occurs in the New Testament in Matthew 8:20 and Luke 9:58 only, which are nearly identical.