"Heart" (Hebrew lebab/leb [b'bel], Gk. kardia [kardiva]) occurs over one thousand times in the Bible, making it the most common anthropological term in the Scripture. It denotes a person's center for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities; sometimes it is used figuratively for any inaccessible thing.
The Heart as Center of Physical Activity. "Heart" denotes to both ancient and modern peoples the beating chest organ protected by the rib cage. Ancient people, however, understood the heart's physical function differently than moderns. From their viewpoint the heart was the central organ that moved the rest of the body. Ancients ate to strengthen the heart and so revive the body. Abraham offers his weary guests food so that they might "sustain their hearts" and then go on their way ( Gen 18:5 ). Since moderns understand the anatomy differently than the ancients, the English versions gloss the Hebrew to accommodate it to a more scientific viewpoint.
A Figure of Inaccessibility. The hiddenness and inaccessibility of the physical heart give rise to its figurative sense for anything that is remote and inaccessible. The "heart of the seas" ( Jonah 2:3 ) refers to the sea's fathomless, unapproachable depths and the "heart of the heavens" is its most unreachable height.
The Heart as Center of Hidden Emotional-Intellectual-Moral Activity. "Man looks at the outward appearance, " says Samuel, "but the lord looks at the heart" ( 1 Sam 16:7 ). The king's heart is unsearchable to humankind ( Prov 25:3 ), but the Lord searches all hearts to reward all according to their conduct ( Jer 17:10 ). In the time of judgment God will expose the hidden counsels of the heart ( 1 Cor 4:5 ).
Jesus says that the heart's secrets are betrayed by the mouth, even as a tree's fruit discloses its nature ( Matt 12:33-34 ). "A wise man's heart guides his mouth, " says Solomon ( Prov 16:23 ). Most important, the mouth confesses what the heart trusts ( Rom 10:9 ; cf. Deut 30:14 ).
Moderns connect some of the heart's emotional-intellectual-moral functions with the brain and glands, but its functions are not precisely equivalent for three reasons.
First, moderns do not normally associate the brain/mind with both rational and nonrational activities, yet the ancients did not divorce them ( Psalm 20:4 ).
Second, the heart's reasoning, as well as its feeling, depends on its moral condition. Jesus said that "from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts" ( Mark 7:21 ). Because the human heart is deceitful above all things ( Jer 17:9 ) and folly is found up in the heart of a child ( Prov 22:15 ), the Spirit of God must give humans a new heart ( Jer 31:33 ; Ezek 36:26 ) through faith that purifies it ( Acts 15:9 ; cf. Eph 3:17 ).
Third, moderns distinguish between the brain's thoughts and a person's actions, but the distinction between thought and action is inappropriate for heart. "The word is very near you, " says Moses to a regenerated Israel, "in your mouth and in your heart" ( Deut 30:14 ).
The Heart's Emotional Functions. The Lord, who knows our hearts ( Luke 16:15 ), experiences its full range of emotions: for example, its joy ( Deut 28:47 ; 1 Sam 2:1 ; Prov 15:15 ) and its sorrow ( 1 Sam 1:8 ); its raging ( 2 Kings 6:11 ) and its peace ( Col 3:15 ); its feeling troubled ( John 14:1 ) and its rejoicing ( 1 Sam 2:1 ; Psalm 104:15 ); its love ( Rom 5:5 ; 1 Peter 1:22 ) and its selfish ambition ( James 3:14 ); its modes of doubts ( Mark 11:23 ) and of fear ( Gen 42:28 ) and its mode of trusting ( Prov 3:5 ); when it rises up in repulsive pride ( Deut 8:14 ) or, as in the case of Jesus, is lowly and humble ( Matt 11:29 ); and when one loses heart ( Heb 12:3 ) or takes heart ( John 16:33 ).
The emotional state of the heart affects the rest of a person: "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit" ( Prov 15:13 ); "a cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones" ( 17:22 ).
The heart also wishes, desires. The father warns his son against coveting the adulteress's beauty ( Prov 6:25 ) and against envying sinners in his heart ( Prov 23:17 ). Above all else the heart of a saint seeks God ( Psalms 119:2 Psalms 119:10 ). Believers set it on things above ( Col 3:1 ). This is effected, says Jesus, by putting your treasures in heaven, for "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" ( Matt 6:21 ). If we look for God with all our heart, Moses promises we will find him ( Deut 4:28-29 ).
The Heart's Intellectual-Spiritual Functions. The heart thinks ( Matt 9:4 ; Mark 2:8 ), remembers, reflects, and meditates ( Psalm 77:5-6 ; Luke 2:19 ). Solomon's comprehensive knowledge of flora and fauna is described as his breadth of heart ( 1 Kings 4:29 ).
More specifically, as the eyes were meant to see and the ears to hear, the heart is meant to understand, to discern, to give insight. The Alexandrian Jewish scribes translated into Greek about 200 b.c. the Hebrew text of Proverbs 2:10, "wisdom will enter your heart" by "wisdom will come into your understanding (dianoian [diavnoia])" because to them it meant the same thing. When a person lacks insight the Hebrew speaks of a "lack of heart."
Understanding cannot be separated from morals. Isaiah was commissioned: "Make the heart of this people calloused; otherwise they might understand with their hearts" ( Isa 6:10 ). Pharaoh hardened his heart lest he hear Moses and gain insight about the Lord ( Exod 8:15 ), and the Lord hardened it irrevocably ( 7:13 ; 9:12 ). Paul says of the perverse, their foolish hearts were darkened ( Rom 1:21 ); they could not see the light of moral truth. The hearts of saints, however, are enlightened ( 2 Col 4:6 ; Eph 1:18 ).
Moderns speak of learning by heart, by which they mean rote memory. In the Bible, however, learning by heart is not like memorizing the multiplication tables; it must be mixed with spiritual affections. The Lord complains of apostate Israel that their worship "is made up only of rules taught by men" but "their hearts are far from me" ( Isa 29:13 ).
As the mouth reveals what is the heart, the ear determines what goes into it. The father tells his son to "store up my commands within you"; he then adds: by "turning your ear to wisdom, and you will incline your heart to understanding" ( Prov 2:2 ). When Moses says, "these commandments are to be upon your hearts" ( Deut 6:6 ), he commands his hearers to remain conscious of them. This idea is expressed by the metaphor of writing on the tablet of the heart ( Prov 3:3 ; Jer 17:1 ). In short, the heart needs to be educated by filling it with God's word ( Prov 22:17-18 ). In that way a person will grow in favor and good name ( 3:3-4 ) and be safeguarded against sin ( Psalm 119:11 ).
The heart functions as the conscience. After David showed insubordination against the anointed king by cutting off the corner of his robe, his heart smote him ( 1 Sam 24:5 ), and after Peter's sermon the audience was "cut to the heart" ( Acts 2:37 ). The heart may condemn us, but God is greater than our hearts ( 1 John 3:20 ). David prays that God would create for him a pure heart to replace his defiled conscience ( Psalm 51:10 ).
Finally, the heart plans, makes commitments, and decides. It is the inner forum where decisions are made after deliberation; here a person engages in self-talk. "In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps" ( Prov 16:9 ). Because of this critical function, the father instructs the son: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life ( 4:23 ). The Lord detests "a heart that devises wicked schemes" ( 6:18 ).
The greatest commandment according to Jesus is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart" ( Matt 22:37 ). Love here is more than emotion; it is a conscious commitment to the Lord.
One speaks to the heart of another to move that person to a decision ( Isa 40:2 ; Hosea 2:14 ). The father asks the son for his heart ( Prov 23:26 ), by which he means that the son make a conscious decision to follow his instructions. The impenitent, however, have hearts that are insensitive, obstinate ( Mark 3:5 ; 6:52 ), and hard ( Matt 19:8 ); they cannot be moved in a new direction.
Bruce K. Waltke
See also Hardening, Hardness of Heart
Bibliography. F. Baumgä tel et al., TDNT, 3:605-14; R. Bultnamn, Theology of the New Testament, 1:220-22; R. Jewett, Paul's Anthropological Terms; T. Song, NIDNITT, 2:80-84; H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, pp. 40-58.
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According to the Bible, the heart is the centre not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life. "Heart" and "soul" are often used interchangeably ( Deuteronomy 6:5 ; 26:16 ; Compare Matthew 22:37 ; Mark 12:30 Mark 12:33 ), but this is not generally the case.
The heart is the "home of the personal life," and hence a man is designated, according to his heart, wise ( 1 Kings 3:12 , etc.), pure ( Psalms 24:4 ; Matthew 5:8 , etc.), upright and righteous ( Genesis 20:5 Genesis 20:6 ; Psalms 11:2 ; 78:72 ), pious and good ( Luke 8:15 ), etc. In these and such passages the word "soul" could not be substituted for "heart."
The heart is also the seat of the conscience ( Romans 2:15 ). It is naturally wicked ( Genesis 8:21 ), and hence it contaminates the whole life and character ( Matthew 12:34 ; 15:18 ; Compare Eccl 8:11 ; Psalms 73:7 ). Hence the heart must be changed, regenerated (Ezek. 36:26 ; 11:19 ; Psalms 51:10-14 ), before a man can willingly obey God.
The process of salvation begins in the heart by the believing reception of the testimony of God, while the rejection of that testimony hardens the heart ( Psalms 95:8 ; Proverbs 28:14 ; 2 Chr. 36:13 ). "Hardness of heart evidences itself by light views of sin; partial acknowledgment and confession of it; pride and conceit; ingratitude; unconcern about the word and ordinances of God; inattention to divine providences; stifling convictions of conscience; shunning reproof; presumption, and general ignorance of divine things."
hart (lebh, lebhabh; kardia):
The different senses in which the word occurs in the Old Testament and the New Testament may be grouped under the following heads:
1. Various Meanings:
It represents in the first place the bodily organ, and by easy transition those experiences which affect or are affected by the body. Fear, love, courage, anger, Joy, sorrow, hatred are always ascribed to the heart--especially in the Old Testament; thus courage for which usually ruach is used (Psalms 27:14); joy (Psalms 4:7); anger (Deuteronomy 19:6, "while his heart is hot," lebhabh); fear (1 Samuel 25:37); sorrow (Psalms 13:2), etc.
Hence, naturally it came to stand for the man himself (Deuteronomy 7:17; "say in thine heart," Isaiah 14:13).
2. Heart and Personality:
As representing the man himself, it was considered to be the seat of the emotions and passions and appetites (Genesis 18:5; Leviticus 19:17; Psalms 104:15), and embraced likewise the intellectual and moral faculties--though these are necessarily ascribed to the "soul" as well. This distinction is not always observed.
3. Soul and Heart:
"Soul" in Hebrew can never be rendered by "heart"; nor can "heart" be considered as a synonym for "soul." Cremer has well observed:
"The Hebrew nephesh ("soul") is never translated kardia ("heart"). .... The range of the Hebrew nephesh, to which the Greek psuche alone corresponds, differs so widely from the ideas connected with psuche, that utter confusion would have ensued had psuche been employed in an unlimited degree for lebh ("heart"). The Biblical lebh never, like psuche, denotes the personal subject, nor could it do so. That which in classical Greek is ascribed to psuche (a good soul, a just soul, etc.) is in the Bible ascribed to the heart alone and cannot be otherwise" (Cremer, Lexicon, article "Kardia," 437, German edition).
4. Center of Vital Action:
In the heart vital action is centered (1 Kings 21:7). "Heart," except as a bodily organ, is never ascribed to animals, as is the case sometimes with nephesh and ruach (Leviticus 17:11, nephesh; Genesis 2:19; Numbers 16:22; Genesis 7:22, ruach). "Heart" is thus often used interchangeably with these two (Genesis 41:8; Psalms 86:4; 119:20); but "it never denotes the personal subject, always the personal organ."
5. Heart and Mind:
As the central organ in the body, forming a focus for its vital action, it has come to stand for the center of its moral, spiritual, intellectual life. "In particular the heart is the place in which the process of self-consciousness is carried out, in which the soul is at home with itself, and is conscious of all its doing and suffering as its own" (Oehler). Hence, it is that men of "courage" are called "men of the heart"; that the Lord is said to speak "in his heart" (Genesis 8:21); that men "know in their own heart" (Deuteronomy 8:5); that "no one considereth in his heart' (Isaiah 44:19 the King James Version). "Heart" in this connection is sometimes rendered "mind," as in Numbers 16:28 ("of mine own mind," Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) ex proprio corde, Septuagint ap' emautou); the foolish "is void of understanding," i.e. "heart" (Proverbs 6:32, where the Septuagint renders phrenon, Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) cordis, Luther "der ist ein Narr"). God is represented as "searching the heart" and "trying the reins" (Jeremiah 17:10 the King James Version). Thus, "heart" comes to stand for "conscience," for which there is no word in Hebrew, as in Job 27:6, "My heart shall not reproach me," or in 1 Samuel 24:5, "David's heart smote him"; compare 1 Samuel 25:31. From this it appears, in the words of Owen:
"The heart in Scripture is variously used, sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affections, sometimes for the conscience, sometimes for the whole soul. Generally, it denotes the whole soul of man and all the faculties of it, not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations, as they all concur in our doing of good and evil."
6. Figurative Senses:
The radical corruption of human nature is clearly taught in Scripture and brought into connection with the heart. It is "uncircumcised" (Jeremiah 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7; compare Acts 7:51); and "hardened" (Exodus 4:21); "wicked" (Proverbs 26:23); "perverse" (Proverbs 11:20); "godless" (Job 36:13); "deceitful and desperately wicked" (Jeremiah 17:9 the King James Version). It defiles the whole man (Matthew 15:19,20); resists, as in the case of Pharaoh, the repeated call of God (Exodus 7:13). There, however, the law of God is written (Romans 2:15); there the work of grace is wrought (Acts 15:9), for the "heart" may be "renewed" by grace (Ezekiel 36:26), because the "heart" is the seat of sin (Genesis 6:5; 8:21).
7. Process of Heart Renewal:
This process of heart-renewal is indicated in various ways. It is the removal of a "stony heart" (Ezekiel 11:19). The heart becomes "clean" (Psalms 51:10); "fixed" (Psalms 112:7) through "the fear" of the Lord (verse 1); "With the heart man believeth" (Romans 10:10); on the "heart" the power of God is exercised for renewal (Jeremiah 31:33). To God the bereaved apostles pray as a knower of the heart (Acts 1:24--a word not known to classical writers, found only here in the New Testament and in Acts 15:8, kardiognostes). In the "heart" God's Spirit dwells with might (Ephesians 3:16, eis ton eso anthropon); in the "heart" God's love is poured forth (Romans 5:5). The Spirit of His son has been "sent forth into the heart" (Galatians 4:6); the "earnest of the Spirit" has been given "in the heart" (2 Corinthians 1:22). In the work of grace, therefore, the heart occupies a position almost unique.
8. The Heart First:
We might also refer here to the command, on which both the Old Testament and New Testament revelation of love is based:
"Thou shalt love Yahweh thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deuteronomy 6:5); where "heart" always takes the first place, and is the term which in the New Testament rendering remains unchanged (compare Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30,33; Luke 10:27, where "heart" always takes precedence).
9. A Term for "Deepest":
A bare reference may be made to the employment of the term for that which is innermost, hidden, deepest in anything (Exodus 15:8; Jonah 2:3), the very center of things. This we find in all languages. Compare Ephesians 3:16,17, "in the inward man," as above.
J. I. Marais
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