Bishop's Message

“I felt my bowels strangely moved”

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. (Luke 10:33)

“I felt my heart strangely warmed.”

In the month of May, Methodists celebrate this heart-warming experience of their founder John Wesley which took place on the evening of 24 May 1738 during a Bible study gathering in Aldersgate Street, London. We celebrate Aldersgate Day by praying that we too, like Wesley, might feel our hearts strangely warmed by the love of God.

Languages sometimes use body parts to designate different emotions or feelings. In modern English, we often use the word “heart” as a metaphor or idiom for compassion and loving feelings. “You have moved my heart.” Ancient Hebrew and Greek would more often use the word for one’s intestines (or bowels) to convey such compassionate feelings of love.

Whilst most modern English translations use the word “heart” to convey the compassionate feelings implied in the ancient Hebrew and Greek term “bowels”, the old 1611 King James Version (KJV) often retains the literal equivalent to the Hebrew or Greek word “bowels”. Here are some (for us, quite amusing) examples:

  • KJV Philemon 1:20 Refresh my bowels in the Lord.
  • The young lady in Song of Songs 5:4longs for her lover, and says – in the KJV (and Hebrew) – “my bowels were moved for him.
  • KJV Philemon 1:12, Paul says: “Thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels.” (I asked my wife if she would like to “receive my bowels”. She replied, “Keep your bowels to yourself!” I was bowel-broken.)

The same Greek word for “bowels” is used in Matthew 9:36, and we may be thankful that on this occasion, KJV decided against the rendering: When Jesus saw the multitudes, his bowels were moved! (Instead, KJV tells us that Jesus “was moved with compassion on them.”)

In Luke 10:33, when the Samaritan saw the injured man, a Jew, his bowels were moved! No, he did not rush to the toilet. Rather, his heart was moved with compassion, despite the deep hatred between Samaritans and Jews. As Methodists, we might say, his heart was strangely warmed.

As we celebrate Wesley’s Aldersgate experience this month, may our bowels be moved with compassion for our neighbours, even if they be our enemies. May our hearts be strangely warmed to love God by loving our neighbours, and enemies, in need. Amen.

Bishop Dr Gordon Wong was elected Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore in 2020. He served as President of the Trinity Annual Conference from 2013-2020.