There are two different words used in the Gospel of John for anatomy of the front of the body. My question is about the first, "κόλπος," used in two places. Should it be translated "lap" instead of "bosom?"

John 1:18 (KJV), "No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom (κόλπον) of the Father, he hath declared him."

John 13:23 (KJV), "Now there was leaning on Jesus' bosom (κόλπῳ) one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved."

Here I read a symmetry to say that the beloved disciple would reveal Jesus as the witness of the gospel, just as Jesus makes the Father known. But then there is a second word when Peter asks the Beloved Disciple to ask Jesus who will betray him.

John 13:25 (KJV), "He then lying on Jesus' breast (στῆθος) saith unto him, Lord, who is it?"

Here, there is a different word of anatomy. This word is clearly "chest/breast." It seems to indicate that the beloved disciple moved to this piece of anatomy (his chest) and whispered into Christ's ear "who is it?" I say whispered, because two verses later, in Jn 13:28, it is made clear that nobody at the table knew that Jesus had indicated his betrayer.

My question is this: Should the first word, κόλπος, be translated as lap? Why is it not?

The etymology of this word, according to the wiktionary lexicon entry, seems to involve a curve of the body (e.g. the lap). If so, what is the significance of laying on the lap of God or on the lap of Jesus?

For me, my mind has gone to Caleb (companion of Joshua - Jesus' namesake) in the Torah story of the promised land. Caleb "utterly followed" the Lord according to Deuteronomy 1:36 & Numbers 14:24. Caleb's name is the Hebrew word for dog, perhaps narratively, for exactly this reason (utter obedience to a master). Is the author of the gospel trying to draw this parallel by showing the beloved disciple reclined in the lap of Jesus like a beloved "lap dog" would? I know that sounds repugnant, but perhaps that is exactly an indication of how far we have drifted from the meaning of the Torah?

I'm thinking of these two verse:

Numbers 32:11-12, "‘Surely none of the people who came up out of Egypt, from twenty years old and upward, shall see the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, because they have not unreservedly followed me— 12 none except Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite and Joshua son of Nun, for they have unreservedly followed the Lord.’"

John 5:19 (amongst others), "Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.

The disciple whom Jesus loved, in John 21:20, is also shown to be following Christ (Jesus has to yell twice at Peter to "follow me!").



1 Answer 1


The meaning of these two words is unambiguous. Here I reproduce those of BDAG:

  • στῆθος (stéthos) Chest, breast, eg, Rev 15:6, John 13:25, 21:20, Luke 18:13, 23:48. Note the use in Luke 18:13 where one beats one's breast as a sign of grief.
  • κόλπος (kolpos) (1) bosom, breast, chest, eg, John 13:23, John 1:18, Luke 16:22, 23; (2) the fold of a garment as it falls across the chest over the girdle Sometimes used as pocket), eg, Luke 6:38; (3) a part of the sea that indents a shoreline, bay, eg, Acts 27:39.

The fact that στῆθος (stéthos) and κόλπος (kolpos) are used in close proximity referring to the same thing (John 13:23, 25) suggest that they are, in this context, close synonyms.

However, they both refer to the chest area and not the any part of the body or garment that is lower down.

In any case, the disciples did not "sit" at the Paschal table, but reclined along three sides of an almost square low table (according the middle eastern custom) while servants served food from the fourth side of the table. Each would prop themselves on one (usually left) elbow and eat with the other (usually right) hand. Each person would be facing the back of the one next to him at the table. When John records that he "leaned on Jesus chest", he would have done so by slightly rolling backward and turning his head and taking directly to Jesus.

Note the use of the verb "recline" ἀνακλίνω (anaklinó) at a table: Matt 8:11, Luke 12:37, 13:29, etc. This is distinct from the other veb "sit" κάθημαι (kathémai) which is not used to describe a Paschal meal.

  • www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.04.0057:entry=ko/lpos There seems to be disagreement. Lidell/Scott on the Tufts university “perseus” project had bosom/lap. There doesn’t seem to be universal agreement. I included this link in my question
    – Gus L.
    Jun 13, 2020 at 22:56
  • I am aware of the reclining language and customs. The same language “to lay down or recline also appears in John 6 and the feeding of the 5000. I am not imagining Leonardo da Vinci‘s image.
    – Gus L.
    Jun 13, 2020 at 23:01
  • Also, in John 1:18, kolpos is not used in a meal context.
    – Gus L.
    Jun 13, 2020 at 23:02
  • @GusLott - I agree that John 1:18 is not a meal setting - it uses the word in an idiomatic sense of one who is close to another. We do the same today when we describe two people as "bosom buddies".
    – Dottard
    Jun 13, 2020 at 23:06
  • Is that anachronistic? The context of christ to the father is one of utter obedience and transparency of will. As in John 21, it is not walking beside jesus, but following him, as he tells peter twice and the beloved disciple demonstrated
    – Gus L.
    Jun 13, 2020 at 23:13

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