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What is the mind, biblically speaking?

what is the mind

There are a great many words in both Hebrew and Greek that are translated “mind.” In the Old Testament, the word that is often translated “mind” is the word for “heart.” Sometimes the word heart refers to the actual physical organ, but many times it refers to the inner being—the seat of the will and the emotions. In the New Testament, the word kardia, the Greek word for “heart,” can also refer to the physical organ but is often translated “mind” as well. Today, we often set the mind and heart against each other, as in “Even though he knew in his mind that it was a bad idea, he had to follow his heart.” Likewise, sometimes we speak of “head knowledge” versus “heart knowledge.” These are simply modern conventions that differentiate intellect from emotions. In ancient times, the distinction seems to have been less emphasized.

In the New Testament, the Greek word phroneo is often translated “mind” and most often refers to a person’s understanding, views, or opinions, as in “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he said. ‘You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Mark 8:33). Another example: “But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect” (Acts 28:22). Here, “your views” is the translation of the word in question.

There are several other words that are often translated “mind.” Perhaps the most important for theological purposes is the one found in Matthew 22:37: “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” The word dianoia is a compound word that combines dia, which might be translated “through,” and the word nous, which is another word for “mind.” This word is used many times in the New Testament. It would seem that we would have to know what the mind is in order to love God with all of it.

We should not attempt to import modern notions of mind, brain, and intellect into the ancient text. The people in Old and New Testament times seem to have had a much more integrated view of humanity. There was much less emphasis on the distinction between the material and the immaterial. When Jesus says to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, He is not highlighting various aspects of personality. He is not differentiating between emotion and intellect; rather, He is saying that our love for God should be all-inclusive. The mind is simply one more way to identify the inner being—all that we are. In fact, in Matthew 22:37, Jesus uses the word kardia (“heart”), which in other contexts is translated “mind.”

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia states, “We look in vain in the Old Testament and New Testament for anything like scientific precision in the employment of terms which are meant to indicate mental operations.” Biblically, the mind is simply the “inner being” or the sum total of all our mental, emotional, and spiritual faculties, without drawing fine distinctions between them.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022