A long Greek word is not necessarily of any spiritual value, so let it be said at once that splagchna refers to the heart, lungs, liver and intestines, which in Bible times were believed to be the seat of the deepest emotions. We speak in our day of being warm-hearted, or an experience being gut-wrenching. So splagchnithesthai refers to being moved to the depths of your being with the deepest feelings, in particular with compassion.
In scripture the word is found only in the synoptic gospels. Jesus used it (if he spoke on this occasion in Greek) in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18.21-35) about a king who had discovered that a servant owed him life-crippling debts which would result in his family being destroyed. "Give me time!" the man cried. The king had compassion on him, and the result was forgiveness. In Luke 15.20 Jesus described the impulsive warm compassionate love of the father when his ne'er-do-well son showed up - the result was again forgiveness, and restoration. Luke 10.33 tells of the deep pity a stranger felt for a man who had been mugged and left for dead by the roadside - the result was again the most practical help and effective care when the Samaritan gave the victim all his support.
Was Jesus an emotional man? His life was ruled by more than emotion, but he felt very strongly. Faced with the grief of Lazarus' family and friends, Jesus wept. And raised Lazarus back to life. Our Greek word, translated 'moved with pity', is used of him on several occasions. The crowds who followed him drew his sympathy, they were as worried and helpless as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9.36). He taught them. He healed them. Whether there were five thousand of them or four thousand, his reaction was the same (Matthew 14.14; 15.32).
Individuals and their requests brought out his deep emotions. The person with leprosy who came to kneel in front of him, "If you want to, you can make me clean" (Mark 1.41) He healed him. Noisy Bartimeus and his friend, "What do you want?" "Sir, we want you to give us our sight." Their eyes were opened (Matthew 20.34). At Nain, the dead son, only support of his widowed mother, being taken to burial by a grieving crowd, "Do not weep." The young man sat up and began to talk, Jesus gave him back to his mother (Luke 7.13). The frustrating request for his compassion from the father of the epileptic lad, "… if you can do something, your disciples couldn't". The lad was cured (Mark 9.22).
It has been remarked that this description of Jesus as feeling compassion ('touched with the feeling of our infirmities' Hebrews 4.15) is in stark contrast to the way the heathen gods of his time were imagined. Someone who is affected by any hard case that comes along, is to that extent not in control. The pagans thought of their gods as being without feelings, to have feelings is a weakness. But we believe in the Son of God 'who loved me and gave himself for me' (Galatians 2.20).
Although the word splagchnizesthai does not appear elsewhere in the New Testament, the first part of it, splagchna does, 'bowels' as the AV has it. Or, as we might understand, deep feelings. At the individual level there are recorded the feelings of Paul for Onesimus (Philemon 12), of Titus for the Christians at Corinth (2 Corinthians 7.15), Paul's yearning for his friends in the church at Philippi (Philippians 1.8). Paul begs the Corinthians not to close their hearts to him (2 Corinthians 6.12). In fact, says John, if you close your heart to your brother in poverty, how can you say you love God? (1 John 3.17)
Splagchna is mentioned in the highest company of Christian virtues. In Philippians 2.1 Paul appeals to their love, sharing of the Holy Spirit, kindness and splagchna. And to the Colossians he writes, in that marvellous third chapter…. "Christ is all. Christ is in all. You are the people of God. He loved you and chose you for his own. So then you must clothe yourself with compassion…. Also kindness, humility, gentleness and patience….
"We think it a commonplace that God is love, that the Christian life is love. We would do well to remember that we would never have known that without the revelation of Jesus Christ, of whom it is so often and so amazingly said, that he was moved with compassion." (Barclay)
New Testament Words