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Part 4

In the Biblical view of human nature, the heart is the central and unifying organ of personal life. The Hebrew words translated heart are leb and lebab, which are found together 858 times.48 This makes the heart the most common of all the terms used to describe human nature. Walther Eichrodt notes that there is hardly a spiritual process which could not be brought into some connection with the heart. It is made the organ equally of feeling, intellectual activities, and the working of the will. 49

The heart in Biblical thought is the spring of individual life, the ultimate source of the physical, intellectual, emotional, and volitional energies, and, consequently, the part of the person that normally has contact with God. In the recesses of the heart are the thoughts, the attitudes, the fears, and the hopes which determine the personality or character of the individual. Many of the functions of the heart correspond to the functions of the soul. This is because in the Biblical view of human nature, no radical distinction exists among the various aspects of the individual.

The Heart as the Seat of Emotions. All the emotions of which a person is capable are attributed to the heart. The heart can be glad (Prov 27:11; Acts 14:17), sad (Neh 2:2), troubled (2 Kings 6:11, KJV), courageous (2 Sam 17:10), discouraged (Num 32:7), fearful (Is 35:4), envious (Prov 23:17), trustful (Prov 31:11), generous (2 Chron 29:31), moved by hatred (Lev 19:17) or love (Deut 13:3). 50 

The emotions of the heart are portrayed vividly and concretely. The heart is said to fail (Gen 42:28), to faint (Gen 45:26), to throb (Ps 38:10), to tremble (1 Sam 28:5), to be stirred up (Prov 23:17; Deut 19:6), to be sick (Prov 13:12). The state of the heart dominates every manifestation of life. A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken (Prov 15:13). Even health is affected by the condition of the heart. A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones (Prov 17:22).

The Inner Parts as the Seat of Emotions. For the sake of clarity, we must add that the seat of emotions is found not only in the heart but also in the inner parts of the human body, referred to in Hebrew by the term qereb, bowels. What is striking is that the Old Testament views some of the inner parts of the body as the location or source of the higher human capacities. As Hans Walter Wolff observes, The inner parts of the body and its organs are at the same time the bearer of man 's spiritual and ethical impulses. 51

A few examples will serve to illustrate this point. Jeremiah asks the people of Jerusalem: How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you [qereb bowels]? (Jer 4:14). Here the bowels are the location of evil thoughts. Proverbs 23:16 pledges: My reins [kelayot kidneys] shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things. The Psalmist thanks God for counseling him and because my reins [kelayot kidneys] also instruct me in the night seasons (Ps 15:7). 

Elsewhere, the Psalmist associates the kidneys with the heart as the most sensitive organs: Then my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins [kelayot kidneys] (Ps 73:21). Here the kidneys function as the conscience of the individual. The liver, too, can serve to express deep grief. Jeremiah laments: My eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver [kabed] is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people (Lam 2:11). This brief digression into the inner parts of the body was intended to show that these can sometimes function as the seat of emotions, in the same way as the heart. This is possible because in Biblical wholistic thought a part of the person can sometimes represent the whole organism.

The Heart as the Seat of the Intellect. In the greatest number of cases, the heart in the Bible denotes the center of intellectual life, precisely what we ascribe to the head or the brain. Contrary to our Western culture where the heart is associated primarily with emotions and feelings, in the Bible the heart is the reasoning center of the person that determines what the person is: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7, KJV).

Proverbs 15:14 describes the essential function of the heart in the Biblical sense: The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge (KJV). The heart seeks knowledge not merely for the sake of knowledge but to enable the individual to make moral, responsible decisions. It is highly significant that the term heart leb occurs by far the most frequently in the wisdom literature (99 times in Proverbs alone, 42 times in Ecclesiastes, and 51 times in the strongly didactic book of Deuteronomy).52

Solomon 's great wisdom consisted in the fact that he asked not for long life or riches, but for an understanding heart: Give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people, that I may discern between good and bad: for who is able to judge this thy so great a people? (1 King 3:9). The understanding heart Solomon asked for is what we would call a discerning mind. Because of its concrete character, the Hebrew language can hardly express the idea to think, except by the phrase to say in the heart (Gen 27:41; Ps 10:6). It is with the heart that a person plans (Prov 16:9, KJV), seeks knowledge, understands (Eccl 8:16), and meditates on the deep things of life (Ps 4:4).

Being the center of reason, the heart is also the center of the will and hence of the moral life. The heart can plan wicked things (Prov 6:18) and become perverted (Prov 11:20). It may be lifted up with pride (Deut 8:14),become hardened (Zech 7:12), be stubborn (Jer 3:17), or turned away from God (1 Kings 11:2). On the other hand, the good heart is perfect (1 Kings 8:61), or blameless (Ps 119:80), clean (Ps 51:10), and upright (Ps 32:11). The heart can be cleansed (Ps 73:13) or renewed (Ez 18:31). A new heart makes it possible to internalize the will of God as revealed in His law (Ez 11:19; 36:26).

The Heart Communicates with God. As the reasoning center of the human personality, the heart is capable of communicating with God. The heart speaks to God (Ps 27:8), receives His word (Deut 30:14), and trusts in Him (Ps 28:7). God can give man an understanding heart (1 Kings 3:9) or take all understanding away (Job 12:24). For His mysterious purposes, God can harden the heart (Ex 4:21) or can soften it (Ezra 6:22).

Since as a result of the Fall, the heart is inclined to evil, the transformation of the heart occurs by divine grace. God promises to write His law in human hearts (Jer 31:33) and to create a new heart in human beings (Ps 51:10). He will take away the hardened heart and replace it with a receptive heart (Ez 36:26). In the New Testament we are told that God has poured out His love in human hearts (Rom 5:5). Christ dwells in the human heart (Eph 3:17) and His peace reigns there (Col 3:15).

Conclusion. This brief survey of the functions of the heart in the Old Testament shows that the heart is the center and source of all religious, intellectual, and moral activities. More than any other Old Testament term, the heart stands for the deepest center of human existence, for what a person really is in the depth of his being. As stated in 1 Samuel 16:7: Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. 

In many ways, the heart is the unifying center of the whole person, body and soul. Some of the functions of the heart overlap with those of the soul, but this is not surprising because from the Biblical wholistic perspective, there is no radical distinction between the soul and the heart. Jesus said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Mat 22:37).

The heart, writes Pedersen, is the totality of the soul as a character and operating power . . . nephesh is the soul in the sum of its totality, such as it appears; the heart is the soul in its inner value. 53 What is said about the soul often can be applied to the heart. The functional unity we have found among body, soul, and heart negates the dualistic view of human nature, which detaches the soul from the body. The fact that the spiritual and moral functions of human nature, which dualists view as a prerogative of the soul, are most often attributed to the heart, shows that in the Bible the soul does not exist and function as a distinct, immaterial essence apart from the body.