Heart, Mind, Soul and Spirit in Hebrew Thought-Part 1

In Jewish thought, the “heart” was seen as the spirit, soul, mind, kidney, bowel and liver and were seen as synonymous terms. Understanding and reason comes in the heart, not the head. That is why the Lord talks about the “circumcision of the heart” or “arlah ha lev” which alludes to the removing of the foreskin which symbolizes anything that stands in the way of procreating. Nefesh, or soul, is an idiom for the person (Lev 22.6) and the “soul” and “spirit” are synonymous.

When studying this teaching, you will need to look these Scriptures up and see for yourself how they are used. We will be quoting from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted. There are five different words in Hebrew that are used for soul:
NEFESH- the lifeblood since Lev 17.11 says that life of the flesh is in the blood.
RUACH- the spirit is mans ability to rise up, but to also fall down
CHAI’YAH- the soul that can be truly called life, because the body dies but this goes on forever
NESHAMAH- man’s higher soul, his intelligence and personality
YICHIRAH- the soul’s uniqueness among the many components of man because nearly all of man’s limbs and organs come in pairs, but there is only one soul (p 528, Yom Kippur Machzor, Mesorah Publications).

In Luke 2.40 we see that Yeshua became “strong in spirit” (or person) and in 1 Cor 7.34 it talks about a woman being “holy both in spirit and body.” James 2.26 says that the body without the spirit is dead. By spirit, he is implying soul, mind, kidney, bowel and liver. The reason why we have a problem with this concept is that we have been taught Greek concepts. But in Hebrew thought, the nature of man is two-fold, body and spirit, with these other terms used as synonymous terms in the Scripture. The “nefesh” is the person, the essence of a living creature. Gen 9.5 says that the Lord will require the “lifeblood of your nefesh” if you eat meat with the blood.

In Gen 46.26 the word for an individual “person” there is “nefesh.” In Exo 21.23 the word “life” is “nefesh.” In Lam 1.1 “lives” is “nefesh” and can mean “soul.” In Gen 6.17 the word “ruach” which is usually translated as “spirit” is translated as “breath” and so it is synonymous with spirit and life. The nefesh (soul, person) regards certain organs as the seat of certain psychological factors. The word “lev” in Hebrew is “heart” which is the center of thought. Prov 23.7 says as a man thinks within himself (nefesh) so he is. He may say “eat and drink”, but his heart (lev) is not with you. This is what is called a Hebrew parallelism.

Prov 27.19 says that a man’s heart (lev) reflects who he is. Lev (heart) also means conscience in 1 Sam 24.5, imagination in Jer 23.16, love in Deut 6.5, lack of courage in Jer 48.41, anger in Deut 19.6, sense in Prov 15.21, understanding in Prov 15.32, joy in Isa 30.29 and hatred in Lev 19.17.
The word “kil’ya’ot” means “kidneys” and it is synonymous with mind in Jer 12.2 and heart and mind in Jer 20.12.

In Jer 17.10 it says that the Lord searches the mind (lev/heart) and tests the mind (kil’ya’ot, or “kidneys). This is a parallelism. Psa 16.7 says “my mind (kil’ya’ot/kidneys) instructs me in the night” and it is parallel to “heart (lev) and minds” (kidneys/kil’ya’ot) in Psa 7.9. Kidneys is synonymous with the heart (lev) in Job 19.27 and Jer 11.20.

The word for “liver” is “k’vedi” and it is translated as “heart” in Lam 2.11 and speaks “of the most severe wounding of the liver, of the mind” (Gesenius’ Hebrew -Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, p 381).
The word for “bowels” is “me’ahim” in Hebrew and it is the seat of overwhelming feeling. Modern Bible versions substitute “heart/lev” for bowels or kidneys in such a context.

In Lam 1.20 it says “my spirit (me’ah/bowels) is greatly troubled; my heart (lev) is overturned within me.” This is also a Hebrew parallelism where synonymous terms are used to say the same thing. In Lam 2.11 it says “my spirit (bowels/me’ah) is greatly troubled, my heart (lev) is poured out on the ground” (another parallelism).

Nefesh is “mind” in 1 Chr 28.9 and “soul” in Deut 4.29. Ruach (spirit) is “mind” in 1 Chr 28.12; Isa 29.24 and in Prov 29.11 it is “temper”, but the KJV has “mind.” Lev (heart) is “mind” in 2 Chr 1.11; 1 Sam 9. 19-20, 10.9. Nefesh (soul) is “heart” in Deut 24.15 and Exo 23.9.

Heart, mind, soul, spirit, kidney, bowels, liver are synonymous terms. The idea is that the thought processes should “filter.” The word “kivod” means the radiance and glory. It is translated “soul” in Psa 16.9 and Psa 108.1. Now, having this basic understanding will help interpret verses such as Heb 4.12 correctly where it says “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division (that word in Greek is “merismos” and in the Septuagint it means to “expose” so it means here the “exposition”) of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Here you see several Hebrew parallelisms (soul and spirit, joints and marrow, thoughts and intentions). In Part 2, we are going to give more Scriptures and further present the case that heart, mind, soul, spirit, kidneys, bowels and liver are synonymous terms and that the nature of man is really two-fold.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, Questions, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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