What does the Bible say about the mind? With much attention to brain science, the body/mind connection, and the varying approaches of major religions to the mind, it’s essential to understand what the Bible teaches.
What Does the Bible Mean When It talks about the Mind?
However, before we look at what specific Bible verses say, it’s vital to consider the cultural context. We must appreciate that different cultures and periods talk about the inner person and concepts like the “heart,” “mind,” “soul,” and “spirit” in different ways.
For instance, Old Testament or Hebrew thinking was much more holistic than Greek thought and New Testament words. Because of this, Old Testament texts may use the same word to describe the heart, mind, or soul, with context showing how to tell the meaning. The New Testament uses a variety of words for the mind.
In the Old Testament, one Hebrew term for “heart” (leb) refers to the inner person. It would encompass both thought and intention, understanding and determination. In modern terms, leb is heart, mind, and soul working in concert. Proverbs 16:1 NIV says, “To humans belong the plans of the heart, but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.” Here, the “plans of the heart” would include evil or good thoughts, as well as emotional intents or purposes. Hence, the heart could be interpreted as the mind or someone’s passions in this verse.
In the New Testament, Greek thinking emerges, and we see more delineation between the mind, heart, and soul. The word phroneo is used frequently, most often translated as mind (meaning thoughts, reasoning, or views). Another Greek word used for “mind” in the New Testament is dianoia, and we find that in one of the best-known verses about our minds:
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” Matthew 22:37 NIV
This verse may distinguish the heart from the soul from the mind, but the concept is still holistic. We are to love God with our entire inner being.
Meanings of words evolve with the times and vary from culture to culture. Therefore, a Bible word study always helps to distinguish how ancient cultures saw a concept and how modern readers see it today.
Although modern culture found it helpful to isolate our understanding of the heart, soul, and mind, contemporary culture is learning that Ancient Hebrew holistic thought may fit better. The more we explore the interplay between thought, emotions, passions, intents, body, mind, and soul, the less useful it is to tear them apart.
Where Does the Bible Mention the Mind?
Translations vary, but in the NIV, over 160 verses reference the mind. A sampling of these verses demonstrates that God cares very much what happens in our minds or thoughts:
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8:5-6 NIV
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Deuteronomy 11:18 NIV
“Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind.” Psalm 26:2 NIV
“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2 NIV
How is the Mind Different from the Heart?
As we’ve discussed, within the Old Testament, the mind and the heart were considered a unit working in with the soul or spirit. There was much less delineation. While greeting card companies and modern times have linked the heart with emotions, for ancient Jews, emotions were more associated with the bowels, liver, or “innards.” The heart had more to do with intent, purpose, and passion. Therefore, thinking and reasoning of the mind were closely associated with the heart’s intentions or perspectives leading to actions.
This frame helps us understand how thoughts would inform actions. Our modern perspective frequently pits the mind against the heart (meaning emotions). Biblical perspectives see the mind (or thought life) informing a person’s focus and eventually the actions.
The beginning of Romans 12 illustrates this perspective, where Paul exhorts believers to be transformed by the “renewing of our minds.” The Greek word used here is nous, the intellect or the understanding. The first half of Romans 12 is devoted to how we should think, the second half to how that thinking should demonstrate itself in our actions.
The soul is the inner person. It is our essence. It continues eternally, but biblical teaching doesn’t reject the body: it simply points to a day when we will have resurrected bodies.
What Does It Mean to Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind?
The idea behind the biblical command, repeated in both the Old and New Testaments, to love the Lord your God will all your heart, mind, and soul is to love Him with an all-encompassing love. The Christian faith is not one of just the intellect or just the emotions or just our actions or just spiritual zeal. The Christian faith is one of reasoning, action, passion, emotional energy, and eternal soul.
God is a fully integrated being. So, His Words, thoughts, actions, and feelings are in union. As we set our minds on Him, we, too, can find this integrity within our own souls. Throughout Scripture, we find invitations and instructions to meditate on:
- who God is
- what He has done
- or what He has created
We are invited to ponder, consider, and memorize God’s Word, God’s deeds, and the truth of Christ. But, as we saw in Romans 12, this isn’t to be a purely intellectual exercise. Instead, it’s about creating a mindset, perspective, or worldview that informs our intentions, focus, purpose, and creates actions that reflect our devotion to God.
How Can We Love the Lord With All Our Minds Today?
Three ways to love the Lord with all our minds today are:
- Read His Word every day. There are countless Bible reading plans available through Christian bookstores or over the Internet that guide readers through the Bible in a year. Choose one and read with a notebook nearby to write down questions or thoughts about what you’ve read.
- Wrestle with the greater faith questions that come to your mind or others ask you when you speak about your faith. Lean into these questions and trust that God will lead you to answers through Christian mentors, reliable Bible teachers, and prayer.
- When you encounter topics on which you’re unclear, research everything the Bible has to say about them. There are topical study bibles that can assist with this, or you can use an online concordance to see every time a topic is mentioned. Once you’ve read what the Bible has to say, ask a Christian mentor or inquire at your local Christian bookstore for books on that topic and continue until you feel comfortable that you can explain your understanding of that truth.
Remember that God’s plan is for our minds to inform our intentions and then our actions. What we think or believe is vital but what we demonstrate with our lives presents the evidence that our thoughts and our entire inner being have embraced the truth we believe.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/metamorworks
Lori Stanley Roeleveld is a blogger, speaker, coach, and disturber of hobbits. She’s authored six encouraging, unsettling books, including Running from a Crazy Man, The Art of Hard Conversations, and Graceful Influence: Making a Lasting Impact through Lesson from Women of the Bible. She speaks her mind at www.loriroeleveld.com.
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