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A word for a number of Hebrew and Greek nouns in Scripture. Among the more important are the Hebrew lebh, “heart”; nephesh, “soul”; and the Greek nous and dianoia, the former denoting the faculty of reflective consciousness, of moral thinking and knowing, while the latter means “meditation, reflection.” None of these words is used with any precision of meaning. In the New Testament the word “mind” frequently occurs in an ethical sense, as in Rom.7.25 and Col.2.18.


Biblical conceptions of psychology lack analytical and technical precision. Both Old Testament and New Testament focus attention on man’s concrete and total relationship to God, and where psychological terms do appear their intention seems to be emphasis rather than a concern to divide or compartmentalize man’s activity. For this reason, no consistent pattern of terminology can be determined in either Testament.

What is obvious as one surveys the complexity of Biblical terminology is that no one term occupies an exclusive meaning, nor is one term alone used to indicate the faculty of reflection or cognition. It is equally clear because of this constellation of terms that man’s being defies precise definition. All these terms call attention to man’s inner being as over against his objective, physical manifestation. This is not meant to imply a depreciation of the body in Biblical theology but there is an antithesis between “flesh” (σάρξ, G4922) and that inner self or the mind that controls the self. “So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7:25).

Old Testament

Sometimes nephesh or "soul" is rendered by "mind" (De 18:6 the King James Version, "desire of his soul" or "mind"); sometimes ruah or "spirit" (Ge 26:35, "grief of mind," ruah). Here Luther renders the term Herzeleid ("grief of heart"), and the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) animum. Sometimes lebh is used, as in Isa 46:8, "bring it to mind" (literally, "heart"), or in Ps 31:12, "I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind" (literally, "heart"), as in Septuagint, kardia, and in Vulgate, a corde, Luther, im Herzen, new Dutch translated, uit de gedachtenis (i.e. "memory").

New Testament

The Hebrew ruach is rendered by nous in 1Co 2:16 ("mind of the Lord," with reference to Isa 40:13, where "ruach YHWH (spirit of Yahweh)" occurs). Nous evidently means here the organ of spiritual perception—a word borrowed from the Septuagint, where it is sometimes made to stand for lebh (Job 7:17; Isa 41:22); sometimes for ruah (Isa 40:13). In Lu 24:45—the solitary text, where nous occurs in the Gospels—it is rendered "understanding" in the King James Version, "mind" in the Revised Version (British and American).


In the Apocrypha this precision is equally lacking. Thus we read in The Wisdom of Solomon 9:15, "For the corruptible body (soma) presseth down the soul (psuche) and the earthly tabernacle weigheth down the mind (nous) that museth upon many things." But these distinctions are alien to the letter and spirit of revelation, a product of the Greek and not of the Hebrew mind.

Cognitive Concreteness

This cognitive concreteness often is obscured by our English translations. For instance, the Revised Standard Version translates Genesis 31:20 as “Jacob outwitted Laban” (the KJV completely misses the sense of the text by translating the Hebrew as “Jacob stole away...”); whereas, a literal rendering of the text would read, “Jacob stole the mind or heart (leḇ) of Laban.” But it is in the area of ethics that we see the distinction between abstraction and concreteness. The high ideal, ethically speaking, is not mere contemplation of the good or the beautiful, but it is rather “to do justice or righteousness.” (Cf. Gen 18:19; 1 Kings 10:9; Ps 10:18; Isa 56:1; Jer 5:1; Ezek 45:9; Mic 6:8.)

When man “meditates,” his lips move; when he “thinks” of righteousness, he does justice. (Cf. the onomatopoetic expressions such as the Hebrew for “to be silent,” דָּמַם, H1957, and its literal equivalent in English “dumb.”) There is little or no evidence for a philosophical idealism that identifies thinking with being in the Platonic sense; however, there is a realism, particularly about the Old Testament, that does imply that thought and being are identical. (Cf. Prov 4:23; 23:16, 17.) Although the Hebrew text of Proverbs 23:7 is obscure, the KJV captures this Hebrew nuance, “As he thinketh in his heart (mind), so is he.”

The Mind and the Nature of Man

It has been indicated that neither the Old Testament nor the New Testament is concerned about dissecting man into constituent parts, elements or faculties. The being of man is a united whole and his reflective or cognitive faculties are never isolated from his total being. On the one hand, the Bible locates the center of man’s being in those physical organs where man existentially grasps the reality of God and the world.

At the same time, the Bible does specifically call attention to man as a thinking being. In the Old Testament, the heart functions emotionally, volitionally as well as cognitively. The New Testament, however, provides a wider spectrum from which to view man as a thinking being. The term νου̂ς, G3808, is primarily a Pauline term, and Behm suggests that “there is no connection with the philosophical or mysticoreligious use.

Νου̂ς is not the divine or the divinely related element in man” (TDNT, IV, 958). (For non-Pauline examples cf. Luke 24:45; Rev 13:18; 17:9.) For Paul the nous can become “senseless” when turned away from God (Rom 1:28). Or it can be the means by which the Christian community expresses its oneness in Christ. So Paul exhorts the Church to be of one nous (1 Cor 1:10).

At the heart of the New Testament understanding of conversion and repentance is the term closely related to the concept of the mind, μετάνοια, G3567. Literally this term means “change of mind” but it also connotes an emotive element. (Cf. Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 2 Cor 7:9, 10.)

Generally speaking, the Bible knows the mind only in its actuality as being controlled by Christ expressed in the unity of the Christian community or as alienated from the “knowledge of God” and under the power of the devil or sin. (Cf. Rom 8:6, 7; 12:1, 2; 1 Cor 2:14-16; 15:34; 2 Cor 4:4.)

Ethical Sense

For a true solution we must turn to the Epistles of Paul, where the word frequently occurs in an ethical sense—sometimes in connection with (sinful) flesh as in Col 2:18, "puffed up by his fleshly mind," sometimes in direct contrast to it, as in Ro 7:25, `with my mind I serve the law of God; with the flesh the law of sin.’ In Tit 1:15 it is brought into parallelism with conscience ("Their mind and their conscience are defiled"). Phrases like "a reprobate mind," "corrupted in mind" occur elsewhere (Ro 1:28; 1Ti 6:5). From this state of "reprobation" and "corruption" man must be saved. Hence, the necessity of complete transformation and renewal of the inner man (Ro 12:2), "transformed by the renewing of your mind (nous)."

Discussion on Dianoia and Nous

Commentary on Godet and the Great Commandment

It seems to us that Godet’s interpretation of the Great Commandment in Lu 10:27 is somewhat far-fetched. He considers the heart as "the central focus from which all rays of the moral life go forth, and that in their three principal directions: the powers of feeling, or the affections, nephesh (`soul’) in the sense of feeling; the active powers, the impulsive aspirations, the might (`with all thy might’), the will; and in the intellectual powers, analytical or contemplative, dianoia (`with all thy mind’).

The difference between the heart, which resembles the trunk and the three branches, feeling, will, understanding, is emphatically marked in the Alexandrian variation, by the substitution of the preposition en (`in’) for ek (`with,’ `from’) in the three last members. Moral life proceeds from the heart and manifests itself without, in the three forms of activity. The impulse God-ward proceeds from the heart, and is realized in the life through the will, which consecrates itself actively to the accomplishment of His will; and through the mind, which pursues the track of His thought in all His works" (Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, II, 38, 39).


  • H. W. Robinson, The Christian Doctrine of Man (1926);

  • D. R. G. Owen, Body and Soul (1956);

  • A. B. Come, Human Spirit and Holy Spirit (1959);

  • G. C. Berkouwer, Man: The Image of God (1962);

  • W. N. Pittenger, The Christian Understanding of Human Nature (1964);

  • J. Behm, “νοέω, G3783,” TDNew Testament, IV (1967);

  • D. W. Mork, The Biblical Meaning of Man (1967);

  • L. Verduin, Somewhat Less than God (1970).