Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Mind/Reason

Mind/Reason

That part of the human being in which thought takes place and perception and decisions to do good, evil, and the like come to expression. A number of terms in the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament are used for mind/reason, some of which overlap in meaning and others that view the internal person from differing perspectives. The importance of this dimension of human existence can be seen especially in its relation to God and his revelation.

The Old Testament. Basic Difference Between Hebrew and Greek Thought. The Old Testament terms that serve as references to the mind or reason most often (especially "heart, " "spirit, " "soul") are not limited to these meanings, but cover a wide range of ideas as they seek to describe the inward or invisible dimensions of the human being in a holistic manner (characteristic of "Oriental" thought). Thus, a rather limited vocabulary serves different purposes in different contexts, and can refer alternately to the seat of a person's thought and emotional life, the emotions, and more broadly, to the inner person.

The array of terms that figure in the development of the concept of the mind and reason in the Greek-speaking world include a number related to the basic term nous [nou'"] (meaning mind, reason, intellect, understanding, and even perhaps in its broadest sense something like our modern term "worldview"). The phren [frhvn] (mind, understanding) word-group also comes into play.

Developments in the Hebrew Old Testament are not, for lack of such specialized vocabulary, to be thought of as less sophisticated, but rather as closely related to the Hebrew culture, which considered the intellectual and emotional dimensions of human life from the perspective of the whole person: heart, soul, and spirit are not separate parts of the inner person, but each is a reference to the whole inner person and is to be viewed in relation to the body. As a result, the inner thought and knowledge dimension is regarded in close relation to right conduct.

The Heart as the Mind. The Hebrew term "heart" (leb [bel], lebab [b'bel]), in its figurative usage, is the most important term for the inner person. It views the inner person from a number of angles, of which the concern here is its reference to the thought or will of human beings or to the organ of understanding. Thus, "heart" or "to set the heart" means to make up the mind or decide ( 2 Chron 12:14 ; Neh 4:6 ). "Calling to mind" is meant in Deuteronomy 30:1; Isaiah 46:8; 65:17; Jeremiah 3:16; "recalling" is similar ( Deut 30:1 ; Jer 51:50: ; Ezek 38:10 ). Wisdom and understanding are located in the heart ( 1 Kings 3:12 ; Prov 16:23 ) and perceived with the heart ( Prov 18:15 ; 22:17 ; Eccles 1:1 8:16 ). Moreover, it is the heart that plans or purposes to act ( Proverbs 16:1 Proverbs 16:9 ). God's "mind" is sometimes described this way ( Jer 19:5 ; 32:35 ; 44:21 ). Decisions of a moral nature take place in the heart ( Gen 20:5 ; Job 11:13 ). This being the case, evil will also be manifested in the heart, where decisions to disobey and rebel take place ( Jer 17:9 ). A heart/mind can be perverse and therefore incapable of apprehending truth and wisdom ( Prov 10:20 ; 11:20 ; 12:8 ; Proverbs 17:16 Proverbs 17:20 ). The heart is also the place where deception occurs ( Isa 44:20 ). "Heart" thus serves as a reference to the person as a thinking, perceiving, and willing being, bringing together the ideas of knowledge, understanding, and will.

The Spirit as the Mind. The Hebrew term for spirit (ruah [jWr]) depicts the inner person from the perspectives of the mind, understanding, and reason on a number of occasions (with various Greek equivalents). Exodus 28:3 and 1 Chronicles 28:12 view the human mind in relation to skills and planning. Ezekiel 11:5 and 20:32 have spirit as a reference to the conscious thoughts of a man. Daniel 5:20 has the mind-set or determination of the will in view in this description of Nebuchadnezzar: "his heart [spirit] became arrogant and hardened with pride." In this case, it is a mind set against God in rebellion.

The Soul as the Mind and Reason. Another term for the inner person that can refer to the intellectual or mental dimension of life is "soul" (nepes [v,p,n]). In the well-known command of Deuteronomy 6:5, the soul, along with the heart, contributes to a description of the whole inner person as a thinking, knowing, and willing force, which must decide to serve God (cf. 1 Chron 22:19 ; 28:9 ). "Soul" describes a man from the perspective of the choices he makes in Deuteronomy 18:6, and as a thinking, inquiring being ( Eccl 7:28 ). The thought, counsel, or mind of God is also described with the Hebrew term "soul" in 1 Samuel 2:35. The same term can stand for one's wish or determination ( 2 Kings 9:15 ).

The New Testament. In the New Testament the nous word-group tends to be concentrated in the Pauline writings. Paul seems to have been the main pioneer in exploring this Greek region of thought for viable expressions with which to carry on his dialogue. We will concentrate our attention on terms that speak specifically of the mind and reasons (nous, phronesis, and related terms). While this line of description was of special interest to Paul and he develops it beyond the stage reached in the Old Testament, his thought corresponds closely with the Old Testament.

Primarily through the nous [nou'"] word-group, the New Testament employs a broad concept of the mind. It includes one's "worldview" or outlook and the way in which it influences perception. But the particular perspective can vary; it extends to ideas such as disposition and inner orientation or moral inclination ( Rom 1:28 ; Eph 4:17 ; Col 2:18 ; 1 Tim 6:5 ; Titus 1:15 ), or an organ that determines a course of action ( Rom 7:23 ) or the state (or act) of understanding ( Luke 24:45 ; 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 1 Corinthians 14:19 ; Php 4:7 ; 2 Thess 2:2 ; Rev 13:18 ; 17:9 ). The related verb (noeo [noievw]) and noun (noema [novhma]) describe the mind in action (thinking and discerning) and the result (thoughts).

The Mind of Unbelief. One dominant usage of "mind" (in certain contexts or with appropriate modifiers) is to describe a way of thinking or entire understanding that stands in opposition to God. Romans 1:28 and Ephesians 4:17-18 have the unbeliever in view. The "mind" of the one who does not know God is in a state of futility and debasement, and by implication this state, though reversible, exists because of refusal to acknowledge God or at a time prior to coming to that knowledge that brings renewal. This set of the mind is hostile to God (see Rom 8:7 ; with phronema [frovnhma] and Col 1:21 ; with dianoia [diavnoia] ). Paul indicates that this condition is the result of "the god of this age, " who has blinded the minds of unbelievers ( 2 Cor 4:4 ; the mind here [with noemata] conceived of as a framework resulting from the thought process ). Similarly, the false teacher's mind is described variously as "fleshly" ( Col 2:18 ), depraved ( 1 Tim 6:5 ), and corrupt ( 2 Tim 3:8 ; Titus 1:15 ). In this case, the condition of the mind is determined by decisions about the orthodox apostolic doctrine; rejection of God's Word renders the mind or the complete worldview (perception of reality or of God's will) ineffective.

This same unbelieving mind is also described with the negatives, anoia [a [noia] meaning the absence of understanding, and anoetos [ajnovhto"], meaning foolish. In the New Testament these conditions are not innocent but culpable. Thus the failure to understand Jesus' ministry on the Sabbath and the mistakes of false teachers each stem from a basic ignorance related to rebellion against God ( Luke 6:11 ; 2 Tim 3:9 ). The foolish lack spiritual understanding ( Luke 24:25 ; Galatians 3:1 Galatians 3:3 ; cf. Rom 1:14 ).

Renewal of the Mind. Two passages indicate that the mind must be renewed in order to conform to or apprehend the will of God. Romans 12:2 is the classic statement: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is." Ephesians 4:23 ("be made new in the attitude of your minds") is similar in thrust. In each case, the issue is the discernment of God's will over and against an opposing and imposing mind-set. Renewal, which is related to conversion and regeneration by the Holy Spirit ( Rom 8:9-11 ; Col 3:10 ), is the prerequisite for reaching an understanding of God's will.

The Mind of Belief. There is, then, a "renewed" or Christian mind: "But we have the mind of Christ" ( 1 Cor 2:16 ). Here the regenerate mind or mind of the Christian is described in terms of a correct understanding of the things and plans of God. It is a worldview in synchronization with God's will. Second Thessalonians 2:2 may have something like a correct Christian understanding in view as well: Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers not to allow their understanding to be shaken by false reports that the day of the Lord is already here. Revelation 13:18 uses mind in the sense of "having the mind of a believer, " that is, able to discern the times (cf. 17:9 ).

The Mind as the Faculty of Understanding and Perceiving. Underlying the notion of a Christian "mind" is the more basic tenet that understanding takes place through the faculty or operation of the mind. This in turn leads to another corollary: it is with the mind that God can and must be apprehended (cf. Philo, Virt. 57). The mind as one's organ of spiritual consciousness is meant to be pure ( 2 Peter 3:1 ; cf. Test. Benj. 6:5), but the opposite possibility exists ( Col 1:21 ). Scripture is understood through the mind, though it requires "opening" for this to take place ( Luke 24:45 ). Similarly, Paul contrasts a message or prayer given through tongues, which pertains to the spirit, and the engagement of the mind, which suggests that the mind pertains to consciousness and a way of thinking that corresponds to human language ( 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 1 Corinthians 14:19 ).

The human mind and volition play a dominant role in responding to God. Thus Jesus affirms the relevance of Deuteronomy 6:5: "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" ( Matt 22:37 ). If understanding occurs in the mind, it is not surprising that Paul implies that it is with the mind, not the flesh, that God is served ( Romans 7:23 Romans 7:25 ). He means that the relationship to God and service or worship involve a complete commitment and act of human volition. The entire mind/way of thinking must be inclined toward God and in harmony with him ( 2 Cor 10:5 ), and this requires knowing that, left to itself, it tends in another direction.

In another context, and with another Greek term (phroneo [fronevw], phronema [frovnhma]), Paul relates the Christian understanding/mind to the Holy Spirit. Within the argument of Romans, chapter 8 takes up the contrast between the law/flesh/death and Spirit/life. Here, the "mind controlled by the Spirit" refers to the renewed way of thinking or renewed worldview. It inclines toward God. But the "mind controlled by the sinful nature" is that same determined rejection of God's revelation mentioned in Romans 1:28.

From the human perspective, the spiritual life must be sustained by the conscious decision to maintain communication with and commitment to God. Thus, in a very real sense willing to act, thinking, and deciding all come under the category of the human power of the mind. People must make a decision about God, and volition is clearly involved. And though renewal or enlightenment is required for this power to be used effectively, and the other possibility clearly exists, it remains the human responsibility to make the godly decision.

Summary. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the mind/reason is alternatively the thought system and the faculty of conscious reflection and perception. It is with the mind that decisions are made, whether moral or amoral in nature. It is with the mind that one chooses to accept God and obey his commandments, or to reject him and rebel against him. The New Testament sheds additional light on the concept of the mind by relating its condition directly to conversion. Renewal (resulting from the Spirit's work in conversion) makes apprehension and acceptance of God's will possible. Before renewal occurs, futility and blindness characterize the human mind (faculty of perception) and the broader description is "ignorance" or "folly." Especially in the Pastoral Epistles, the relation between the condition of the mind and the apprehension of and/or commitment to correct doctrine is emphasized. What is at stake in Christian living and mission is, then, very much the human mind.

What must not be missed in the biblical development of the mind concept is the role of human volition that is implied in the relationship between God and human beings. While it is true that renewal is necessary, nowhere does this remove the responsibility from the human being to decide at each point to believe, and keep believing God. Through the mind concept, the delicate (though mysterious) balance between divine sovereignty and human responsibility is maintained. God may make apprehension of his revelation possible, but the human must decide to employ the mind to so apprehend it.

Philip H. Towner

See also Heart; Person, Personhood; Soul; Spirit

Bibliography. J. Behm and E. Würthwein, TDNT, 4:948-1022; G. Bornkamm, NTS4 (1957-58): 93-100; R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament; W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament; G. Harder and J. Goetzmann, NIDNTT, 3:122-34; R. Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.


Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Mind/Reason'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.