The Bible’s Meaning of “Heart” Theology 0 Comments

I love the passages in the Bible that address the human heart. Especially this verse:

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4,23

This is one of my favorite Scriptures! In fact, there are hundreds of verses that discuss the human heart. When we in the 21st century hear the term “heart”, we probably think about the vital organ that pumps blood through our body. We got to this knowledge because we studied it in school, saw pictures and learned about its functions.

But we have to keep in mind that we are reading a text that is really old. Indeed, it’s a few thousand years old! What a crazy long time! The Ancient people didn’t have such a detailed knowledge of the human physiology. In fact, their human physiology was quite messed up. The Ancient World was convinced that the origin of our thoughts is somewhere in the center of our body and in the area of the stomach.

They didn’t know that our brains are responsible for how we think and form decisions. Therefore, when they talked about the heart they more or less meant the “brain”.

Unfortunately, we can’t just replace the term “heart” with our modern word “brain”. It’s not that simple, sorry guys. 😉 By doing that, we would categorize something that can’t be classified but only described in our modern perspective of an Ancient text.

Let’s look closer at the Hebrew word “heart” in the Old Testament, which is “לב (“leb” spoken). This term stands for the inner part of a person and refers to our will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It also refers to a person’s moral character and determination. Furthermore, the heart is the place of knowledge, memory and reflection (those processes take part in our brain, of course).

But you see, this term covers more than just the described functions of the brain. The Hebrews understood the term “leb” in a more holistic way. They saw it as the driving force behind our character, decisions, words and deeds.

Let’s take it a step further and look at the “heart” in the Greek New Testament. The Greek term is “καρδία (“kardia” spoken). This expression also has many different meanings. It stands for the origin of our spiritual life and includes the emotions we experience, the thoughts we have and our will in life. It also describes the center of our longings, desires and feelings. You see it’s quite similar to the Hebrew meaning.

Here is one of many verses where the term “heart” appears in the New Testament:

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2. Corinthians 9,7

In this passage Paul tells the Christians in Corinth that they should think about how much money they truly want to give. This part of deciding happens in the brain. I guess they might have also asked the Holy Spirit about this issue. But the final decision was formed in their brain.

Finally, what do you do next time when you read a verse where the term “heart” appears? Memorize the different meanings of the term I listed above and see which one makes sense in the context. Or read the notes in a study Bible about that particular verse. You could even consult a Commentary to get a stronger and deeper understanding of the passage you are reading.


Side note: As I mentioned above, the Israelite understanding of physiology is quite messed up compared to our explored and researched knowledge of the human body. It’s interesting that God still spoke to them using their flawed knowledge. For example:

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29,13

Why didn’t God intervene and show them that they are wrong? He could have just said: “Guys, you don’t have the right knowledge! You can’t really seek me with your heart. Don’t you know you have to use your brain?”

But God meets us where we are and talks to us in a way we can understand. For example, Jesus spoke in many parables to the people around him. He used symbols they could relate to. Many of those people back then were farmers. Consequently, Jesus told them about God’s kingdom using allegories that featured seeds, growing and reaping.

And people eventually did find out how the human body works, so everything is fine. 😉


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