One of the greatest tools we enjoy without realizing it is our mind. We use it every day without thinking about it. Our brains are the most complex organ in our bodies. They can accomplish many tasks and we don’t even notice.
They do everything from keeping us alive to helping us solve problems, think creatively, and think critically. We have a pretty good idea of how to map the brain and where all of its functions are. And yet there are still mysteries about our brains.
It’s believed by many that the brain houses conscience, perhaps even the soul. I’m not qualified to discuss these matters. I can tell you from a biblical and theological standpoint at the mind is very important in the Bible.
The Bible describes the mind-based on the cultures surrounding it. The writers of the New Testament even in the Greco-Roman Empire support the Hebrew idea of the mind. Let’s take a closer look at how the Bible describes the makeup of the mind.
The Mind amid Cultures
Within the pages of Scripture, people understand the mind within their cultures. There are two cultures that affect the understanding we have of the mind. The first culture is the Hebrews. They defined the mind differently than most cultures.
The Hebrew understanding of the mind is that it includes the heart and the brain. When you see the heart or the mind in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament, you can assume that it includes reasoning, intelligence, emotion, and volition.
In the New Testament, the words for the mind are varied. They all have the background of the Greek language, a Greco-Roman approach to the mind. In this approach, the Greeks saw the mind in the brain. Everything you thought, decided, your conscience, came from the brain.
For the Greeks, the heart was a separate organ with a different word. They didn’t attach any significance to the heart. Emotional responses were said to come from the bowels. From this we get the idea of intuition to trust in your gut. If you want to let your loved one know how much you love them from the bottom of your guts, just tell them, “You really move me.”
I will also include our current Western culture. For us, the heart is the seat of our emotions. Our brains have our intelligence, reasoning, and decision-making. So we align more with the Greeks then the Hebrews.
The Hebrew approach to the mind and heart means that decisions are holistic. When we make a decision in the Hebrew approach, our emotions, intellect and reason, the ability to make decisions are all from the same place. If we are honest about it, our decisions can be emotional or cerebral. Most of the time, emotions are included in our decisions.
The Greek approach is much more cerebral. Even though the Greeks would probably acknowledge that their emotions are involved in at least some decisions, they would say that the brain is responsible for most of mental activity, including decisions.
These facts about the languages of the Bible and the cultures behind them help us to understand how the Bible approaches the human mind. This will be the basis for how we understand the heart and mind in the Bible.
The Mind in the Bible
So which one of these two cultures does the Bible favor? When you see heart and mind in the Bible, is it the Hebrew or Greek understanding? For the most part, the Hebrew understanding of the mind being contained in the heart, including reason, volition, and emotion together, is the most common interpretation of these words in the Bible.
This means that the Bible refers to the heart not has an organ of the body that pumps blood, but the seed of emotions, intellect, reason, and volition. God’s Word considers the decisions we make, the thoughts we have, our ability to analyze and critique, and everything else we do with our mind includes our emotions.
It’s in a holistic approach to thinking and decision-making. Even in the New Testament, most of the writers have a Jewish background. They favor the understanding of heart and mind that the Hebrew approach takes.
In very few occasions, the heart literally means the organ of your body in New Testament Greek. Because the writers of the New Testament have a Hebrew background, they usually use the Greek word for the organ of the heart as a figurative term for the heart and mind, the emotions, volition, reason, and intelligence.
This helps us to interpret the Bible as correctly as we can. We want to understand the intent of the author as we read. When we see the word “heart,” in almost every instance the author refers to the mind even though they use the Greek word differently than the Greeks do.
Interestingly, Jesus adds the word for mind when he talks about loving the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). This may have been because the religious leaders did not understand the heart in the original Hebrew text to mean both the heart and the mind.
But Jesus adds this extra word to show an even more holistic approach to loving God with our whole being. I believe he is emphasizing the mind here because we don’t often use it to glorify God.
You always have to do your homework when you see these words in the New Testament especially, but most of the time you will find that the heart stands for the mind.
Wholeness of the Mind
To be sure, there are other words for the mind. There are words for the conscience, mindset (attitude), the way we think and suppose, reason, and so on. The take away for understanding the Hebrew point of view is that the mind in the New Testament may be expressed with the word “heart” instead of these mental words.
This holistic approach to understanding how we think, including our emotions, gives us insight into the cultures of the Bible. It helps us to see that God wants us to think in a holistic manner. He doesn’t want us to think with only cold hard facts and reason.
God made emotions as much as he made reason. The two can fit together. We’re the ones who want to separate them. Often men say women think more with their heart, or their emotions. And women say that men think with cold, hard reason, “Just the facts ma’am” kind of thinking.
But when we think about the Bible, it points to us using both in our decision-making. When we think about things, it’s okay to feel something about them. In fact, it may be God’s intention that we do feel as we think, that we make decisions not only based on the bottom line.
Thinking with the heart is hard for many in the Western culture to do. But in the Bible, when we think, make decisions, and reason, we are encouraged by the way the Bible includes the heart in thinking to not be afraid to have an emotional reaction to a thought or decision.
It must be balanced. Reason can balance out the emotions we feel. And the emotions we feel can keep us from making decisions that benefit no one but ourselves. Many times when corporations count on the bottom line for every decision, they hurt many of their employees.
God wants us to care how we think and make decisions. With the redeemed mind, as I will talk about in my next post, our decision-making must not only benefit ourselves. We must think of others, and that often includes an emotional response to their well-being.
Join me in my next post as we break down what Jesus redeems in our mind when we begin following him. As he makes us new creatures in Christ, what exactly under the hood is Jesus transforming? Leave a comment about how you interpret “heart” and “mind” in the Bible.