Quodlibet

The Heart of the Bible

The “heart” symbolizes the emotions in post—Victorian English, and so biblical references to the heart are often used to justify an emotion—based faith. But in the Bible, the heart does not refer to the emotions. A biblical writer who wishes to symbolize the emotions will use the “bowels,” not the “heart.” (The King James Version translates this idiom literally and hence does not miss the point; our modern translations tend to substitute the “heart” as more communicative to modern readers and so do miss the point completely.)

In biblical culture the heart meant not the emotions but the central core of the inner personality, the place where the three faculties of intellect, emotion, and volition find their unity. To “believe in your heart” means to believe there, with the whole of your being, not just to feel the truth emotionally. It means a belief that is embraced by and affects the whole personality, including the mind as well as the emotions and the will.

Following the Bible’s actual usage here would produce a very different kind of piety indeed from the one we typically have.

Donald T. Williams Ph.D., is R. A. Forrest Scholar at Toccoa Falls College. He is the author of eleven books, most recently Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, 2016) and An Encouraging Thought: The Christian Worldview in the Writings of J. R. R. Tolkien (Christian Publishing House, 2018). He is a member of University Church, an interdenominational house church in Athens, Georgia.

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