A Reformed Philosophy of Education: Hearts and Minds

Dear Reader,

This post is part of my ongoing series in search of a reformed Christian theology of education. Find all the posts here.

I am in house-keeping mode for a couple of weeks, doing brief posts that I want to get out of the way as I prepare my big upcoming post that outlines my whole philosophy of education. Today I’d like to talk about the parts of man’s nature.

The Bible speaks of the parts of man in two ways. In the Old Testament, there are three parts: heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5). In the New, there are four: heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). My contention is that the Hebrew conception is a bit more on point.

The change between the two is, of course, the addition of the word “mind.” It reflects a more Hellenistic understanding of the world. Perhaps with their emphasis on philosophy, those influenced by Greek culture could not imagine leaving out “mind” in this list. But it is not that people in Old Testament times had no idea of the mind or thought it unimportant. The reason “mind” is not in the Deuteronomy list has to do with the seat of thinking in ancient thought and with the relationship between thought and emotion.

We think of the heart and mind as two things because we separate thought and emotion. This is due in part to the Enlightenment with its emphasis on Reason. In a very medical way, we associate them with two distinct body parts, the heart and brain.

In ancient times no one considered the brain very worthwhile. [That is why Egyptian embalmers liquified it, drew it out through the nose, and discarded it. No way the Pharaoh would need that thing in the afterlife.] For the ancients, the heart was the seat of thought (cf. Gen. 6:5). To think in Hebrew is literally “to speak within one’s heart” (cf. Gen. 8:21; 24:45; Deut. 8:17; I Sam. 27:1). The seat of emotion was the liver, bowels,  or guts (think: gut feelings). But the Old Testament also often speaks of man’s thoughts and desires as coming from his heart as well. It is with his heart that man knows the things of God (Deut. 6:6; 8:5; Job 22:22). He understands with his heart just as he sees with his eyes (Deut. 29:4) and his plans and thoughts are located there (I Kgs. 8:18; 2 Kgs. 10:30; I Chr. 29:18; Neh. 7:5). The heart moves one to act (Deut. 29:35). But the emotions can also be said to sit in the heart, hate (Lev. 19:17; 2 Sam. 6:16) and fear (1 Sam. 28:5), sadness (I Sam. 1:8; Neh. 2:2) and gladness (Exod. 4:14; Judg. 18:20) are there. On must be cautious though; the heart can be deceived (Deut. 11:16). [I don’t want to go on too long about this but see the end of this post ** for a little more technical information.]

Ironically, if we put some thought into it, we moderns know that the heart is not the source of emotion. It pumps blood. If there is a physical source of emotion or desire it is the brain, the same source as our rational thought. So we end where we began — there is one seat of both reason and emotion.

In the biblical conception (and in modern medicine), there is one source of both rational thought and of emotion or desire. The two spring from one well. I have argued that in education we week to transform the men’s fallen minds through the innate power of God’s own truth, beauty, and goodness. I would like to emend that a bit — it is the heart, in the Old Testament biblical sense, that we act upon in education. It is not a matter of the intellect versus the affections but of both together.  In educating our children we must not be emotionally manipulative but we should expect education both to be a delight and to cause us to delight in the things of God.  

“’Men have a great deal of pleasure in human knowledge, in studies of natural things . . .’” [Jonathan Edwards, in A Passion for Learning: A History of Christian Thought on Education by Bruce Lockerbie (Colorado Springs: Purposeful Designs, 2007; first published 1994), p. 232]

“The end then of Learning is to repair the ruines of our first Parents by regaining to know God aright, and out of that knowledge to love him, to imitate him, to be like him, as we may the nearest by possessing our souls of true vertue, which being united to the heavenly grace of faith makes up the highest perfection.” (John Milton, “Of Education”)


** But wait! you say. My Bible uses the word “mind.” It even speaks of heart and mind together in some verses. Surely there are two concepts here. There are a few possibilities here —

In the vast majority of verses in which the English Standard Version (ESV; I am focusing on the ESV but the same would be true of any other translation) uses the word “mind” the Hebrew has “heart” (Exod. 14:5; Deut. 28:28; 30:1; I Sam. 9:19-20; I Kgs. 3:9, 12; 4:29; 10:2, 24; 2 Kgs. 6:11; 1 Chr. 12:38; 22:19; 2 Chr. 9:1, 23; Neh. 6:8; Prov. 19:21; 28:26; Jer. 7:31; Dan. 5:21; 7:4). A few verses are of particular interest. When Moses gathers craftsmen wot build the tabernacle the ESV translates “every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill” (Exod. 36:2) though the Hebrew says that he put skill in their hearts. Thus we see that practical, hands-on skills also reside in the heart. 

In Psalm 7:9b (v. 10 in the Hebrew) the ESV reads: ” . . . you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God!” In Hebrew the first word is “heart” and the second word is “innards” or “kidneys.” Remember what we said above — the guts are also said at times to be the seat of emotion. Note that the word our English translations render as “mind” is actually “heart” and the word they render as “heart” is “liver.” The same thing also occurs in Psalm 26:2 and Jeremiah 11:20; 17:10; & 20:12. Psalm 64:6 does something similar but uses a different word for “innards.” Job 38:36 actually uses two words for innards though your translation, like mine, may have “heart and mind.”

I Samuel 2:35 is another verse which has both “heart” and “mind” in the English. The ESV has ” . . . what is in my heart and in my mind.” A more accurate translation would be ” . . . what is in my heart and in my soul.” Now the word for soul (Hebrew nepesh) is another tough one that we could spend multiple posts on. It may be translated as “soul” or “life” or “breath” or “self” (I Chronicles 28:9 also uses this word). Twice another word which may be translated “breath” or “spirit” is used in parallel with heart (I Chr. 28:12; Ezek. 20:32). The Hebrew word here is ruah which can also mean wind.

In a few verses, the Hebrew has no word for “mind.”. In Genesis 37:11 we are told that “but his father kept the saying in mind” but in the Hebrew it simply says “his father kept the word.” “Mind” is added for the sake of the meaning in English. Something similar is happening in Exodus 10:10 in which the Hebrew also has no word for “mind” (cf. Exod. 13:17; Num. 23:19). Similarly, when we say in English that one changed his mind, the Hebrew only says “he changed”; mind is implied and is added for meaning in English (Ps. 110:4). 


5 responses to this post.

  1. […] « A Reformed Philosophy of Education: Hearts and Minds […]


  2. […] however, that the mind/heart does not operate in isolation from the other parts of the person.  (Hearts and Minds; Defining Education; Education and the Covenant […]


  3. […] At one point they speak of the heart as a “middle element” between the two (p. 33). I have my own ideas about the relationship of the heart and mind in the biblical conception, but I don’t think the distinction is worth quibbling about. The implication of man’s […]


  4. […] she calls the Holy Spirit the Great Educator. Ultimately, it is God who works in the hearts and minds of children and adults to enable them to know anything. […]


  5. […] hand, I think when we separate the heart and the mind we make a false, unbiblical distinction. I have argued that the two are really one in biblical language. Though Mason does not talk much about the role of the emotions, I think we mischaracterize her if […]


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