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

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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: an overly exhibit of 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 raven (in Hebrew ערב, 'oreb, raven, hence the name Arabia).


The verb κολαφιζω (kolaphizo) appears to mean to hit or slap, specifically with the open hand, and evidently for the slapper to indicate that the slapped is incorrect and is to be corrected and (so to speak) reprogrammed. This verb is very rare and possibly slang: in all of extant Greek literature, it only occurs in the New Testament, and that 5 times; see full concordance.

Our verb stems from the unused noun κολαφος (kolaphos), which is extremely rare as well. It may have something to do with the verb κολαπτω (kolapto), to peck (of an eagle the liver of Prometheus, of rain or hooves on the ground), or to engrave (evidently by gently hammering upon a stylus). All this is significant, of course, since the Hebrew verbs for to engrave — חרש (harash) and חקק (haqaq) — are strongly linked to law and information technology (which is, of course, what Jesus embodied: the Logos, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; Colossians 2:3). In Isaiah 49:16, YHWH declares that he has engraved his people on the palms of his hands, and uses the verb חקק (haqaq). Also note the link between the Potsherd Gate (from חרש, harash), and Gehenna.

Otherwise, the origin of our verb κολαφιζω (kolaphizo) is a mystery. It may ultimately stem from the same kol- tribe of words as the rest of the words on this page and essentially reflect curtailment and restriction. Writing obviously does wonders to a nation's collective mind, but standardization also ruins variation. Writing liberates the collective but it also traps the individual into forced conformity. The single one reference to writing in Homer speaks of "fatal tokens; many murderous signs incised in a folded tablet" (Il.6.169), and in the same vein, Paul speaks of "the ministry of death in letters engraved on stones" and submits that "the letter kills" (2 Corinthians 3:6-7).


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.


The noun κολπος (kolpos) describes the fold in one's garment as it fell over one's ζωνη (zone), belt or girdle. Such a fold would form a pocket in which precious items could be safely kept, and as such it came to denote one's "precious parts", i.e. anything from one's lap in general to specifically one's genitalia (male or female). Our noun further extended into the description of any protective fold, specifically that of a natural harbor.

It's not clear where our noun comes from but here at Abarim Publications we suspect that its formation may have been helped along by its proximity to the greater family of kol-words we list on this page. Its formal origin may have been in a poorly attested Proto-Indo-European root "kelp-", meaning to curve or arch (hence the Dutch noun gewelf and perhaps the English "hull").

Our word is commonly translated with bosom but that is incorrect. The upper body was known as θωραξ (thorax), while our noun κολπος (kolpos) described a pocket directly upon one's soft underbelly, the sensitive and precious area that the body would most naturally defend, and when crouched into a fetal position, would form one's most inner part. Our noun κολπος (kolpos), underbelly pocket, is used 6 times; see full concordance.


The verb κολυμβαω (kolumbao) is thought to mean to swim (it certainly does so in modern Greek). But there's a problem with that, and not in the least because the Latin word for dove, namely columbo, derives from it, and doves don't swim. Liddel and Scott (A Greek-English lexicon) translate our verb rather with to dive, to plunge headlong, and list among the suspiciously few occurrences of our verb (the Greeks were mostly coastal and maritime, and obviously swam a lot but evidently hated to write about it) accounts of folk plunging into artificial cisterns and even the depths of Tartarus, but not really the ocean or a river (with the exception, perhaps, of Strabo's Geography). Still, doves don't dive either.

Our English word to swim belongs to a Proto-Indo-European root "swem-", which indeed means to swim but also to be unsteady or even to lose consciousness. And that, or so we at Abarim Publications suspect, is where the rub lies. Our verb κολυμβαω (kolumbao) is not part of the PIE root, but this PIE root does demonstrate that in the whole of the European language basin, the idea of swimming was not so much associated with one's confident propulsion through water, but rather with either clumsily wading and waggling or else being helplessly swept off and dragged along. And that doves do (Hosea 7:11).

The Hebrew word for dove, namely יונה (yona), hence the name Jonah, is closely similar to יון (yawen), meaning mire, hence the name Javan (which is the Hebrew name for Greece), and mire is neither solid ground nor open water and can only be traversed by clumsily waggling and wading.

In our article on the verb ζωννυμι (zonnumi), to gird, we reflect on how a gymnast named Orsippus convinced his fellow Greeks to drop their loin cloths and sport naked (indeed, our English word "gym" derives from the Greek adjective γυμνος, gumnos, meaning naked), which suggests that "going naked" (which is what one would do when fixing to dip) was colloquially thought of as "going Greek".

The Hebrews didn't like nudity (Genesis 3:7, 9:22, Exodus 20:26) and were charmed but not exactly struck with wonder by the intellectual capacities of Greeks (see our article on Hellas). All this suggests that to the Hebrews, getting naked (so as to get into a public pool) was going Javan, which became going Jonah, which besides a liberation of one's physical extremities, also demonstrated a restriction in one's mental reaches.

Of course, even Hebrews would have to occasionally get naked and didn't mind to. The Hebrew word for pool is ברכה (bereka), which is identical to ברכה (bereka), meaning blessing, from ברך (berek), knee, from the verb ברך (barak), to bless, which suggests that a Hebrew pool was a small hollow and dipping in one a private affair and as much a matter of humbly bending the knee as receiving a blessing was.

The emphasis of all these considerations on Greek pools appears to be the public element of it. As we discuss in our article on the noun ιματιον (imation), one's outer garments advertised one's specialization in the economic world. This in turn means that going naked, and particularly in large numbers, was the same as negating society's life-giving diversity and assuming the kind of collective equality that Communism would much later prove to be a really bad idea. Unlike the Jews, the Greeks loved to get naked in large numbers (and see our article on περιστερα, peristera, the Greek word for dove).

Our verb κολυμβαω (kolumbao), to [get naked to] swim, occurs in Acts 27:43 only. From this verb derive:

  • Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out: the verb εκκολυμβαω (ekkolumbao), which is usually thought to mean to swim out. But one can obviously not swim out of things (out of a cave, perhaps, but not out of a pool, for instance), so this verb occurs in the classics (surprisingly often) in the sense of to plunge into the sea from shore, or to swim to shore and then walk out. This verb occurs in Acts 27:42 only, where it describes men escaping a ship by jumping overboard and then swimming away.
  • The noun κολυμβηθρα (kolumbethra), which by Greco-Roman times described a large public pool where lots of naked people came to plunge. As we discuss above, pools to the Hebrews were private facilities where one could wash off one's own filth in private humility. The Greco-Roman idea of public pools may have been rooted in a very early form of Communism and a detrimental, and ultimately false, sense of civil equality. Our noun κολυμβηθρα (kolumbethra), public pool, occurs 5 times; see full concordance.

The noun κολωνια (kolonia) or κολωνεια (koloneia) means colony (Acts 16:12 only). It's a transliteration of the Latin noun colonia, which comes from colonus, farmer or colonist, from the verb colo, to till, to frequent and to care for. Curiously, because shrines and deities also required frequenting and caring for, this verb also assumed the meaning of to worship or honor. The perfect passive participle of the verb colo is cultus, from which come English words like cultivate and culture but also cult.

Associated Biblical names