Bible psychology, an erroneous view of the mind

Science is often seen as an enemy of the Bible. In the minds of many, science is an open search for truth, the Bible is a closed declaration of truth. Science invites us to prove something is true, the Bible calls us to believe something is true. Science asks many questions, the Bible is an answer book. Science is changing and self-correcting while the Bible is eternal and never needs correction. In addition to this false dichotomy, there are other portrayals of Science and the Bible, some are accurate, others are very crude and erroneous. Part of the conflict, is because many Christians have an “all or nothing” mentality about the Bible. They believe that “the Bible must be ‘true’ in every possible way for it to be God’s Word.” This includes what we can call “scientific truth,” or an accurate description of natural processes in the world around us. And so, many Christians have written books, preached sermons, and even made crafty websites purporting that the Bible is a very accurate scientific book. (For some reason the Muslims also do this with the Koran.)

Yet, is it possible that the Bible is wrong about certain scientific principles because it was never intended to portray them? Or that the people who used their hands to write “words inspired by God” were writing those words through their own understanding of the universe? An understanding that was lacking a great deal of contemporary scientific knowledge? The biblical authors did write those words using their own local language like Hebrew or Greek, using their personal style, their own location as a reference, is it not also likely that they used their own, often faulty, scientific descriptions? I believe a careful and honest reading of the text will lead us to that position. If we don’t perform the historical sacrilege of “anachronism” (reading modern day ideas into ancient depictions that were never meant to convey such things) we will be able to read the biblical text in its historic context.

Ancient Neuroscience

In the ancient world the physical heart was seen as the root of all emotion and feeling, while the brain was often wholly ignored. The Egyptians believed the heart was the seat of Intelligence. The great philosopher Aristotle believed that the heart is the source of sensation like pleasure and pain. (1) A famous Roman physician, Galen (130 AD) who was a medicinal visionary, understood that the brain was involved in thinking but still believed that “the spiritual soul was in the heart” and that our physical heart was the source of our passions, such as anger. (2)

The ancient world had two major views about the center of emotion, thoughts, feelings, and intelligence:

1. Both thoughts and feelings come from the heart. The heart and mind refers to the soul, manifested in the physical heart. The physical head and brain are not involved. (Aristotle thought the brain was a cooling chamber.)

2. Rational thoughts came from the “mind,” which is the immaterial soul, but the seat of all emotions, passions, desires, and feelings was the physical heart.

*A tiny minority (only a few thinkers in history) believed the physical brain was involved with thinking, while the heart was the organ of feeling.

Modern Neuroscience

While a few against-the-grain thinkers in the ancient world were surprisingly accurate and included the brain a cognitive processes, these people had no way to prove or document this. (3) Then the renaissance spawned a great deal of anatomical dissections of the brain and modern medicine was born.

1. In the last hundred years we have finally documented that the brain is solely responsible for all thoughts, feelings, and actions. This became available due to neuroimaging. We can scan a brain, and see which parts of the brain are responsible for certain actions. I was trained to do 3d SPECT scans of the brain, and have myself performed these on numerous patients. (4)

2. We have also been able to replace the heart with an artificial “heart” machine, in response to which those persons without a physical heart gave continued to be just as human, just as emotional as before. (5) The heard does not think. The heart does not feel.

3. We have tested our reality and proven that the brain/head is responsible for all thinking and feeling; the heart does nothing. For the first time in history we know that the “mind” is not in the heart, but in the brain.

Biblical Neuroscience

It is my contention that the views of the biblical authors were consistent to the beliefs of their age, which we now know are scientifically inaccurate. The Greek word for heart, that is used in the New Testament & Septuagint is kardia (the word cardiology is derived from this.) Today anything related to kardia refers to the physical heart. The Bible uses ‘heart’ for both the physical heart (“the arrow went through his heart” – 2 Kings 9:24) and the feeling/thinking organ of the human being. Let’s examine the evidence:

1. The word “brain” is not used in the whole Bible, not even one time.

  • There is not one mention in the Bible that a physical organ in our heads is the source of all our thoughts and feelings. There is not even one indication that this physical organ we call the ‘brain’ was ever important in the biblical era, for it is never even alluded to.

2. The word “head” is never used in the Bible in connection with thinking, feeling, or the “mind.”

  • There are references to the “head” as the part of the body that can be injured or pointed to (obviously people knew there was this thing called a “head” as they knew there was a “leg”). There are also references to the “head” as the authority of above something. For example “head of the household” (Luke 14:21) or Christ is the head” (Col 2:10). But we never see a phrase like “think in your head” or “feel with your head.” In fact, the definition of the Greek word for ‘head’, kephale, has nothing to do with brains or minds either. (3)

3. The word “mind” appears in the Bible numerous times, however, it never appears in conjunction with the head.

  • After the recent advent of neuroscience and brain scans, it’s evident to us that the “mind is inside the head,” in fact this is how we define this word. However, that was not how the word was defined in antiquity. The mind was not affiliated to the organ inside our heads, the word “mind” was always defined as the thinking part of the soul. There is not even one passage in the whole Bible where the words mind and head are in the same sentence. Yet, mind appears with heart hundreds of times.

4. The word “mind” in the biblical text was understood to be the same thing as the “soul”

  • For example, a common Greek word in the New Testament that is used for mind is nous, which is not defined in connection to the physical head/brain. In fact, Aristotle, who wrote in Greek, used that same Greek word nous, to refer to the rational/intellectual part of the immaterial and nonphysical soul, and according to him, the mind/nous was most assuredly not in the brain. (4)
  • Other New Testament passages tie in the “mind” with the spirit or soul, and show that “mind” does not refer to a physical brain.. For example, “you be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23) and “he knows the mind of the Spirit.” (Rom 8:27)
  • In the ancient Hebrew the “mind” and the “soul” can be equally synonymous, and both exclude the head. For example, in 1 Samuel 2:35 we see that conservative Bible translators have used different English words for the same Hebrew word, nephesh: some say “in my heart and in my mind” (ESV/NIV) while others say “in My heart and in My soul” (NASB/NET). (5)

5. The word “mind” is almost always used in connection to the word “heart.”

  • There are hundreds of places where the “mind” is used in conjunction with the soul, spirit, or heart. Yet “mind” is not even one time used in conjunction with the “brain” or the “head”)
  • “Test my mind and my heart.” (Psalm 26:2)
  • “sees the mind and the heart” (Jeremiah 20:12)
  • “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37)
  • “guard your hearts and your minds” (Philippians 4:7))
  • “I will put My laws upon their heart, And on their mind I will write them” (Hebrew 10:16)
  • “who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev 2:23)

6. Feelings are depicted as coming from the heart. (Not the “head” or “brain.”)

  •  “the intent of man’s heart is evil” (Gen 8:21)
  • “he will be glad in his heart” (Exodus 4:14)
  • harden his heart so that he will not let the people” (Exodus 4:21)
  • “in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill” (Exodus 31:6)
  • “not hate your fellow countryman in your heart” (Leviticus 19:17)
  • “love the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • “your heart will become proud” (Deuteronomy 8:14)
  • “had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry” (Ruth 3:7)
  • “why is your heart sad?” (1 Samuel 1:8)
  • “and she despised him in her heart.” (2 Samuel 6:16)
  • “sinned and cursed God in their hearts” (Job 1:5)
  • You have put gladness in my heart (Psalm 4:7)
  • “boasts of his heart’s desire” (Psalm 10:3)
  • Having sorrow in my heart” (Psalm 13:2)
  • “their heart’s delight” (Ezekiel 24:25)
  • “And their heart will be glad as if from wine” (Zechariah 10:7)
  • “does not doubt in his heart” (Mark 11:23)
  • “love the lord with all your heart” (Matthew 22:37)
  • “sorrow has filled your heart.” (John 16:6)
  • “the intention of your heart”  (Acts 8:22)
  • “the lusts of their hearts” (Romans 1:24)
  • “he has purposed in his heart” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
  • “their foolish heart” (Romans 1:21)
  •  “making melody with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19)
  • “singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16)
  • “does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart” (James 1:26)
  • “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart” (James 3:14)

7. Thinking and knowledge are depicted coming from the heart. (Not the “head” or “brain.”)

  • “Before I had finished speaking in my heart” (Gen 24:45)
  • “so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart” (Deuteronomy 4:9)
  • “Thus you are to know in your heart” ” (Deuteronomy 8:5)
  •  “Do not say in your heart” (Deuteronomy 9:4)
  • “spend the money for whatever your heart desires” (Deuteronomy 14:26)
  • “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know” (Deuteronomy 18:21)
  • “has not given you a heart to know” (Deuteronomy 29:4)
  • “I brought word back to him as it was in my heart.” (Joshua 14:7)
  • “you know in all your hearts and in all your souls” (Joshua 23:14)
  • “she was speaking in her heart, …lips were moving… voice was not heard” (1 Samuel 1:13)
  • “she spoke with him about all that was on her heart.” (2 Chronicles 9:1)
  • “But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend” (Isaiah 14:13)
  • “If you say in your heart, ‘Why” (Jeremiah 13:22)
  • “will say in their hearts” (Zechariah 12:5)
  • “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts” (Matthew 9:4)
  • “understand with their heart” (Matthew 13:15)
  • “out of the heart come evil thoughts” (Matthew 15:19)
  • “scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts”  (Mark 2:6)
  • question these things in your hearts” (Mark 2:8)
  • “in the thoughts of their heart” (Luke 1:51)
  • “pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
  • “thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35)
  • “all were wondering in their hearts” (Luke 3:15)
  • “Why are you reasoning in your hearts” (Luke 5:22)
  • “knowing what they were thinking in their heart” (Luke 9:47)
  • “if that slave says in his heart” (Luke 12:45)
  • “you have conceived this deed in your heart” (Acts 5:4)
  •  “has decided this in his own heart” (1 Corinthians 7:37)
  • “the secrets of his heart are disclosed” (1 Corinthians 14:25)

Listen to my heart?

Wait a minute, isn’t it normal for someone to say “let me share what is on my heart?” Yes it’s “normal” but it’s not scientifically accurate. Ask yourself, why do we use that phrase? Why did this idea of the “heart” even come into common usage? Did we begin to speak about the emotions of the “heart” after we found out the brain is the center of intelligence and emotion, or before?

  • It’s because we have inherited that type of language from people who literally believed the heart was the source of emotions and thoughts. The human language has been around for thousands of years, but the knowledge that hearts have nothing to do with emotion, thoughts, or knowledge is only a few hundred of years old
  • We have inherited these types of phrases, which we now treat as allegorical, but the reason these phrases were used thousands of years ago, is because they best represented the literal understanding of the time.
  • Should we continue to use “the heart” when speaking and singing about of emotion and intellect? If we want to, but it’s still scientifically wrong, even if more poetic than the “limbic system of the brain.”

What does this mean for theology?

When a person turns to you, and begins to “speak from his heart” what do you understand? Is that person speaking from the muscular organ that pumps blood throughout his body? No, they are speaking from their brain, not from their heart. After thousands of years of scientifically inaccurate poems about the heart, the brain just doesn’t sound as romantic, does it? In any case, here are the theological implications we can make:

  • Today we understand that a person who is said to be speaking from “the heart” is not speaking form the physical heart, but from the ‘core’ of their being, from the very essence of their consciousness and identity. We know that scientifically this is in the brain, not in the heart, the ancients were wrong.  Yet we reinterpret this “heart speech” to refer to the “essence” of a person. The scientific location for this human essence has changed, but the philosophical concept remains.
  • The biblical authors used the physical heart to identify and refer to that “essence” of personhood, the very core of ones being. They were mistaken about its location, but not it’s existence. The big idea is that each of us “feels” that our emotions come from deep within our chest, even though natural study has shown these are processed in the limbic system of our brain.
  • The biblical authors were not teaching us about anatomy and physiology, if they were, they would be wrong on many accounts. They were using ancient language and poor scientific knowledge to speak about spiritually meaningful topics.
  • The Bible is not a science book, it was not written to teach men about neuroscience, for then it would be wrong, instead it was written to deal with the very essence of what it means to be human and how we relate to God.

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8 responses

  1. One problem with your paper: the Hebrew word normally translated “heart” (לֵב) is best translated as “mind.” It is the translators’ fault that they continue to use the outdated “heart” as a suitable translation. Moreover, heart transplants were being done in ancient Egypt, so there’s no reason to suppose that they actually believed the heart was the “mind.” It was primarily seen as the seat of emotions (our heart rates increase if we’re scared, our heart hurts if a loved one dies, etc.). Which is why to this day we still use the phrase “I love you with all my heart.” Moreover, the Greeks did have a sense of “mind” as Paul uses the word νοῦς instead of the regular word for heart “kardia.”

    • “heart transplants in ancient egypt” ? Moses, have you been watching Ancient Aliens again? :)

      “According to the renowned Orientalist Sir Wallis Budge, the Egyptians saw the heart as the “source of life and being,” and any damage to it would have resulted in a “second death” in which everything (ka, ba, khu, and ren) would be destroyed. In some sarcophagi one can still read the pathetic plea “spare us a second death.” The anatomical heart was the haty, the word ib referring to the heart as a metaphysical entity embodying not only thought, intelligence, memory, and wisdom, but also bravery, sadness, and love. It was the heart in its sense of ib that was weighed in the famous judgment scene depicted in the Ani papyrus and elsewhere. After the deceased had enumerated the many sins he had not committed (the so-called negative confession), the heart was weighed against the feather of Maʿat (i.e., against what was deemed right and true). It had to prove itself capable of achieving balance with the symbol of the law. The deceased who was judged pure wasintroduced to Osiris (in fact, became an Osiris). The deceased who failed was devoured by the monster Am-mit, the “eater of the dead.” It was never the physical body on earth that was resurrected, but a new entity (the Sahu) that “germinated” from it and into which the soul would slip.

      The brain is not mentioned much in any of the extant medical papyruses
      from ancient Egypt. It is occasionally described as an organ producing
      mucus, which drained out through the nose; or it is referred to by a
      generic term applicable to the viscera as a whole. Life and death were
      matters of the heart, although the suggested relationships were at times
      bizarre—for example, it was said that the “mind passed away” when the
      vessels of the heart were contaminated with feces.”

      Source: Encyclopedia Britannica

    • Moses, I don’t blame you for not reading the post, but if you intend to criticize it, you must read it. I have numerous references to the Greeks and ‘nous’ or “mind.”

      “The mind was not affiliated to the organ inside our heads, the word “mind” was always defined as the thinking part of the soul.”

      “Rational thoughts came from the “mind,” (which is the immaterial soul)
      but the seat of all emotions, passions, desires, and feelings was the
      physical heart.”

      “For example, a common Greek word in the New Testament that is used for mind is nous, which is not defined in connection to the physical head/brain. In fact, Aristotle, who wrote in Greek, used that same Greek word nous, to refer to the rational/intellectual part of the immaterial and nonphysical soul, and according to him, the mind/nous was most assuredly not in the brain.”

  2. May I please receive permission to include citation of “” in relation to these words in my impending book: It is said that Aristotle believed the human brain was really our body’s “cooling chamber.” That was its sole function. And of interest to ancient times was the practice of the Egyptians in removing the brain during mummification, for they regarded it to be a form of “cranial stuffing” without further service to the body. The heart, of course, was left in tact.

    Xlibris Publishing requires permission by you in writing….can be email

  3. Great post! But I have one comment. While I agree that rational/logical thoughts and heart-felt emotions are both processed in the brain, I find it helpful to distinguish between left-brain and right-brain processing, or conscious and unconscious processes. It is my understanding that most of our actions are motivated by our unconscious (or subconscious), or, in ancient parlance, the heart.
    What I’m wondering is, when the Bible talks about being transformed by the renewing of our minds (nous) in Romans 12:2, shouldn’t we interpret this as “heart” or “subconscious,” as only the innermost changes really affect our outer lives, as opposed to merely thinking about it?
    I’d appreciate your thoughts on this

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