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HEART (לֵבָב, H4222; καρδία, G2840; the inner man; the function of mind, where man remembers, thinks; the heart, the seat and center of all physical and spiritual life; the soul or mind as the fountain and seat of thoughts, passions, desires, affections, appetites, purposes, endeavors.)


Psychological definition

“Heart” denotes the “inner man,” the essence of personality; being the seat and center of all life. The psychological term of nearest equivalency to the old English word “heart,” is that of “ego,” which represents the “I, self, person.” It is that term which is formalized, as a logical necessity, to denote that “center” to which all of a person’s psychological activities and characteristics refer. As such, the “heart” is probably unknowable, but as a word is a natural, created, figuratively expressive concept. The term was born of logical need for categorical expression, communicative clarity, and practical utility. The “heart of man” represents, then, that innermost center which is of ultimate importance; that which is basic, central, substantive, and of profound essence.

Although the concepts are related, the word for "soul" in Hebrew is not the same as "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 ff, German edition).

Extent of Scriptural usage

The word “heart” (including “hearts” and “hearted”) is used extensively in the Bible. The word “heart” occurs some 730 times in the OT; 105 times in the NT. “Hearts” occurs 112 times in both Testaments combined. “Hearted” is used eight times. Total occurrences of the three forms of the word are found some 955 or more times throughout the Bible (as listed in Strong’s Concordance).

Consistency and variety of usage

There is a consistency of treatment with all Biblical uses of “heart.” The term invariably refers to that which is central. Even when the word is used as a figure of speech, expressive of things and situations apart from mankind, it denotes central location, center, or being in the midst; e.g. “Your borders are in the heart of the sea|seas” (Ezek 27:4); “in the heart of the sea” (Ps 46:2); “in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40).

The word is employed to express certain important dimensions of man and God’s concern and dealings with man. It is used, then, to denote:

  • The “inner man,” “the hidden person of the heart” (1 Pet 3:4), that central essence of man, with which God is primarily concerned. It is that portion or essence of man which God the Lord looks on, searches and tries (1 Sam 16:7; Prov 10:8; Jer 11:20; 17:10; 20:12). It is the center and source of belief and faith (Luke 24:25; Rom 10:10).

  • That central agency and facility within man whereby he imagines, intends, purposes, thinks, and understands (Ezek 13:2).

  • It is very profound, deep (Ps 64:6).

  • Behaviors, expressions, and words have their origins there (Matt 12:34, 35; 15:18, 19).

  • Beliefs and faith center there (Luke 24:25; Rom 10:10).

  • Considerations, concerns are associated (Jer 12:11).

  • Imaginations originate (Prov 6:18).

  • Inclinations are formed (Eccl 10:2).

  • Intents are present there (Heb 4:12).

  • Numerous devices are known to it (Prov 19:21).

  • Ponderings are made (Luke 2:19).

  • Purposes are formed (Prov 20:5; Acts 11:23).

  • Reflections are cogitated (1 Cor 2:9; Rev 18:7).

  • Understandings (1 Kings 3:9; Job 38:36).

  • Will is exercised (Eph 6:6).

  • Particular qualities of a man’s character. As such a man may be seen to be or possess a “heart” that is:

  • Double (1 Chron 12:33).

  • Honest and good (Luke 8:15).

  • Largeness of heart (1 Kings 4:29).

  • Perfect (mature) (1 Kings 8:61; 11:4; 2 Chron 16:9; 25:2; Ps 101:2).

  • Pure, pureness (Ps 24:4; Prov 22:11; Matt 5:8; 1 Tim 1:5; 2 Tim 2:22; 1 Pet 2:22).

  • Single, singleness, oneness (2 Chron 30:12; Jer 32:39; Acts 2:46; 4:32; Col 3:22).

  • True (Heb 10:22).

  • Understanding (Job 38:36).

  • Without (lacking) (Hos 7:1).

  • Wise (Job 9:4).

  • That which is descriptive of man’s attitude as depicted in his actions (behavior):

  • Despiteful, despising (Ezek 25:15; 2 Sam 6:16).

  • Dull (Acts 28:27).

  • False (Hos 10:2).

  • Gross (Ps 119:70).

  • Hard, hardness (Mark 3:5; 16:14; Rom 2:5).

  • Haughty (Prov 18:12).

  • Impenitent (Rom 2:5).

  • Meek and lowly (Jesus, as self-described, Matt 11:29, 30).

  • Searching (Judg 5:15, 16).

  • Stone, stony (Ezek 11:19; 36:26).

  • Subtle (Prov 7:10).

  • Taken away (Hos 4:11).

  • Whorish (Ezek 6:9).

  • Willing (Exod 35:5).

  • Wise, wisdom (Prov 10:8; 11:29). (There are nearly fifty occurrences of the word “heart” in the Book of Proverbs.)

  • That center, essence, and inner substance of man which needs to be reconciled to God, redeemed; being righted with God may be reconciled to others. As such, the “heart” is described as being:

  • Deceitful and desperately wicked (Prov 12:20; Isa 44:20; Jer 17:9).

  • Proud (Ps 101:4, 5).

  • In need of a new creation and cleansing by God (Ps 51:10).

  • In need of a new heart so as to know the Lord (Jer 24:7).

  • Set to do evil (Eccl 8:11; 9:3).

  • Stony, needing removal and a new heart given in its stead (Ezek 11:19; 18:31; 36:26).

  • Stubborn and rebellious (Jer 5:23).

  • Turned by the Lord to others, otherwise to be smitten with a curse (Mal 4:6).

  • Wicked (Ps. 58:2).

  • The core and seat of emotions; the center of emotional reaction, feeling and sensitivity. As such, the “heart” may experience or know what it is to be:

  • Astonished (Deut 28:28).

  • Broken (Pss 34:18; 69:20; 147:3; Isa 61:1).

  • Bitter, bitterness (Ezek 27:31).

  • Discouraged (Num 32:7-9).

  • Failing (1 Sam 17:32).

  • Fainting (Gen 45:26).

  • Fearful (Isa 21:4; 35:4).

  • Glad, gladness (Deut 28:47; Ps 104:15; Prov 24:17; 27:11).

  • Grieved (1 Sam 25:31; Ps 73:21).

  • Heavy (Prov 12:25; 25:20; 31:6; Matt 26:37).

  • Joy, joyful (Job 29:13; Eccl 2:10).

  • Merry (1 Sam 25:36; 1 Kings 21:7; Esth 1:10; Prov 15:13, 15; 17:22).

  • Smitten (1 Sam 24:5; Ps 102:4).

  • Trembling (Deut 28:65).
  • See Also

  • Attitude

  • Mind

  • Soul
  • Bibliography and Further Reading

  • A. R. Johnson, The Vitality of the Individual in the Thought of Ancient Israel, 1949

  • R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, vol. 1, 1952, pp. 220-27

  • R. Jewett, Paul’s Anthropological Terms, 1971

  • H. W. Holff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 1974, pp. 40-58.