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

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


Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary


The adjective κολος (kolos) means stumped or de-horned (of cows and goats), and it's a mystery how it ended up in the Greek language. It's part of (or arguably the progenitor of) a substantial group of words that have to do with stopping or arresting something, or, in the case of de-horned bulls, to take the edge off, to de-power, to clip.

But the mystery extends with muffled fanfare into the word κολοσσος (kolossos), which everybody understands to mean really big statue. This word was first (or first significantly) used by Herodotus, who used it to describe really big Egyptian statues, which is why subsequent readers assumed that it indeed meant really big statue. But it may not have. Also because the first kolossoi Herodotus mentions are wooden figurines — 20 naked women in a row (H.2.130) and a whopping 345 wooden priestly men in a row (H.2.143) — our word κολοσσος (kolossos) may in fact have stemmed from our same mystery root, and referred to the statues' function (of forbidding and restricting), or perhaps to their strange passive poise and thousand-yard stare that are so signature to Egyptian statues, and which distinguishes them so clearly from the much more dynamic and emotive Greek statues.

In our article on the noun σειρα (seira), cord or rope, we list a few words that appear to exist in variants with and without a leading σ (sigma). This opens up room for the possibility that our word κολος (kolos) may have to do with the adjective σκολιος (skolios), bent from dryness.

How exactly to explain the -σσος (-ssos) termination of our word isn't clear either but it's common with toponyms in Greece (Knossos, Parnassos) and Asia Minor (Abassos, Ilissos), and so may simply denote "place of". On rare and late occasions, authors even used the feminine form κολοσση (kolosse), but it isn't clear what distinguished a feminine from a masculine one (certainly not its mere depiction of men or women). Its most famous plural manifestation comes in the toponym Κολοσσαι (Kolossai) or Colossae. Another possible route to arrive at the noun κολοσσος (kolossos) is via the noun κωλον (kolon), which means (vertical) limb or (standing) member — we'll have a look at this noun κωλον (kolon) further below.

As said, the genesis of our adjective κολος (kolos) is a mystery, although an enticing similarity exists with the noun βουκολος (boukolos), meaning cowherd. This ancient Proto-Indo-European noun combines βους (bous), cow, with the PIE noun kolos, meaning herder, from the root "kwel-", to turn or cultivate (hence κυκλος, kuklos, circle). That means that our noun κολοσσος (kolossos) either means herder or cultivator, or else would make a Greek speaker certainly think of it.

But despite the existence of our word in ancient Indo-European, some prominent linguists have proposed an ultimately pre-Greek, even non-Indo-European, pedigree of our word. That takes us to the Semitic language basin, and here at Abarim Publications we suspect it might be part of a small cluster of words that was imported from the Semitic language basin into the Hellene along with the alphabet in which it was ultimately recorded — this group, or so we surmise, also included the names Hellene, Helen, and Homer and certain nouns like σφραγις (sphragis), meaning seal, the aforementioned noun σειρα (seira), meaning cord or rope, and the verb αρω (aro), to fit, join or fasten.

Our word κολος (kolos) may hence have been derived from the Semitic root of the Hebrew verb כלא (kala'), meaning to shut in or shut up. Nouns כלא (kele'), כלוא (klw') and כליא (keli) mean imprisonment. Noun מכלה (mikla), means enclosure or fold. Verb כול (kul) means to contain or cause to contain.

Another proverbial word for giant comes from the name Goliath, which, likewise contrary to common understanding, does not actually mean giant but instead shares its root with the nouns גולה (gola), meaning captivity and גלות (gallut), meaning captives in a collective sense. The name Homer, in turn, is eerily similar to the noun ομηρος (homeros), meaning pledge, surety or hostage.

Our mystery adjective κολος (kolos) is part of several telling compounds: κολουροκωνος (kolourokonos) means truncated cone, and κολουροπυραμις (kolouropuramis) means truncated pyramid. It also comes with a somewhat more common cousin κολοβος (kolobos), which also means stumped or de-horned (perhaps formed with the help of βους, bous, bull or ox; see the name Boanerges). This latter adjective isn't used in the New Testament, but the related verb κολοβοω (koloboo) is (see below). The adjective κολοβος (kolobos) may describe any kind of truncation or stuntedness, including that of trees or very short persons. It may also describe the end of a cone, which may explain the noun κολοφων (kolophon; hence our English word colophon), meaning summit, top or finishing. And that suggests that our parent word κολος (kolos) emphasizes the mere top or end of something, and may therefore both emphasize the shortness of a dwarf and the tallness of a giant; anything that is noted for its uncommon height.

The adjective κολος (kolos) would naturally lead to a noun κολον (kolon), which would describe something proverbially lengthy or shut in, but such a word appears to not exist. There is, however, an identical word κολον (kolon), meaning colon or large intestine, which since antiquity has been thought to derive from κοιλος (koilos), anything hollow, from which comes κοιλια (koilia), meaning belly or womb. To complicate matters further, the Latin equivalent of κολον (kolon), large intestine, namely colon, is thought to derive from the aforementioned Greek verb κωλον (kolon), a member or body part (see below), whereas the somewhat reminiscent noun colonia, or colony, comes instead from the verb colo, to cultivate or till land, from the Proto-Indo-European root "kwel-", to turn around, or (dare we say?), to twist and turn: to coil. The noun κωλικος (kolikos) describes a suffering in the colon: having colic.

Be all that as it may, our adjective κολος (kolos), meaning stumped, truncated or de-horned, isn't used in the New Testament, but it's the parent of the following cluster of derivatives that are:

  • The verb κωλυω (koluo), meaning to prevent, to hinder, to restrain, to keep from. It's sometimes best translated with to forbid, with the understanding that it's an effective intervention, not the unheeded warning of an easily ignored wannabe. This verb is used 23 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
    • Prefixed with the particle of negation α (a): the adverb ακωλυτως (akolutos), meaning unhindered, without limitations (Acts 28:31 only).
    • Together with the preposition δια (dia), meaning through: the verb διακωλυω (diakoluo), to hinder through and through, to prevent totally (Matthew 3:14 only).
  • The verb κολαζω (kolazo) meaning to check, chastise or reprove (Acts 4:21 and 2 Peter 2:9 only). This verb appears to have originated as a horticultural term having to do with pruning or pollarding trees. From this verb in turn comes:
    • The noun κολασις (kolasis), which originally denoted the checking of the growth of trees, but came to denote the checking of people's behavior: corrective punishment (as polar opposite of τιμωρια, timoria, vindictive punishment). Our noun κολασις (kolasis) occurs in the New Testament in Matthew 25:46 and 1 John 4:18 only, but particularly the first occurrence has had generations of exegetes scratch their heads in wonderment, as it clearly accompanies eternal damnation from which no corrected return is possible. Here at Abarim Publications we'd like to propose a solution that depends on the purpose of damnation: namely that of eternal removal of contaminants and hindrances from an ever growing, and ever purifying manifestation of salvation. Said otherwise: the folks who will live forever in the New Creation will have slowly grown into this state of blessed perfection (Psalm 12:6, Malachi 3:3, Luke 1:80, 2:40, 2:52), whereas the folks who will forever be dead somewhere else, were removed from the general population in order that this remaining population might grow onto perfection.

The noun κολακεια (kolakeia) means flattery or fawning: to overly exhibit affection (1 Thessalonians 2:5 only). Like the previous words, this one also lacks a convincing etymology, but ancient scholars proposed relations with the noun κολον (kolon), meaning large intestine or colon, which we discussed above. It's not clear how a flatterer (κολαξ, kolax) relates to κολον (kolon) but perhaps the former word was formed with the help of the PIE root "sleg-", loose, hence too our English words lax, relax and of course laxative. The ancients realized that human emotions arise from the bowels, and the noun κολαξ (kolax), which described someone who played on someone else's emotions, was also, and understandably, used to mean parasite (a worm, an intestinal parasite). Aristophanes, a Greek author with an excellent sense of humor, wrote a sketch (Wasps.45) in which a lisping locutor confused κολαξ (kolax), or flatterer, with κοραξ (korax), or crow (in Hebrew ערב, 'oreb, raven, hence the name Arabia).


The verb κολοβοω (koloboo) means to cut off or shorten. As we discuss above, this verb appears to stem from the adjective κολος (kolos), stumped or de-horned, perhaps augmented with βους (bous), bull or ox. This verb is used four times, but in two verses and one single statement: Matthew 24:22 and Mark 13:20, speaking of the days of tribulation that are fortunately "shortened" or perhaps more accurately: "dampened" or "made less bull- or ram-horny". Note that the ram's horn was used to raise alarm (Joel 2:1, Ezekiel 33:6), which means that de-horned days or "days like de-horned bulls" are days without alarms being sounded, and without lead steers and their ballsy challengers going head to head over mating rights.


The noun κωλον (kolon) means limb or member: arms and legs (the more specific κολη, kole, means thigh or ham), branches of plants, vertical sides of a building (or even a vertical ladder). This noun was also used in the art of rhetoric, to describe a distinct clause within a period of statements (hence the double-dotted glyph called colon in English). Such a period or cycle of statements would be known as περιοδος (periodos), from περι (peri), around or about, and οδος (hodos), road or way; a word that also described any kind of going around in a circle: a military march or patrol, but also astronomical cycles.

That suggests that, even though demonstrable usages are not extant, our noun κωλον (kolon) may have been more fundamentally known as any "standing member" of any kind of group that went around in circles (stellar beings, military patrols, but perhaps also migrating herds), which brings it in proximity to Herodotus' colossi, particularly also because these colossi commonly represented members of pantheons (which included the Pharaohs). And it brings to mind the enigmatic earth patrols mentioned in Job 1:7 and Zechariah 1:11 (see Colossians 2:18).

This meaning of member of circling group appears to be how our noun is used in the New Testament (Hebrews 3:17 only). Possibly also because of the going around in circles aspect, this noun is thought to derive from the PIE root "(s)kel-", to be bent or crooked. Some ancient poets have attracted lasting scorn by accidentally using the spelling κωλον (kolon), limb, for κολον (kolon), colon.

Associated Biblical names