God Didn't Say That

Bible Translations and Mistranslations

How to Love the Lord Your God – Part 1, “Heart”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart [and] all your soul…” According to Jesus in Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27, this is the most important commandment.

Jesus’ Greek is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5, and that Hebrew passage is so central to Jews that it’s part of what is inscribed on the parchment inside the mezuzah traditionally affixed to doorways.

But I don’t think “heart” (or “soul”) is what the original meant in either the Old Testament or the New Testament.

As a matter of anatomy, the Hebrew levav (“heart” in Deuteronomy) and the Greek kardia (“heart” in Mattherw, Mark and Luke) is what we would now call the heart in English. But as a matter of metaphor it is something very different.

“Heart” in English

In English, the word “heart” generally indicates emotion. And it’s the opposite of “brain” or “mind,” which represent rationality. For example, someone who is “thinking with his heart” is being emotional and not rational. “To follow your heart” is to do what you love, even if you don’t think it’s a good idea. “A sound mind in a sound body” refers to someone who can think clearly, not necessarily someone whose emotions are well organized. “Let the mind rule the heart” means to let rationality prevail over emotion. The expression “heart-broken” refers to emotions, while “his mind is gone” refers to rational thought.

It’s not that we think that emotion is literally in the heart or that thoughts are literally in the mind (though, in fact, as a matter of science, both are probably mostly in the brain). Rather, we use “heart” metaphorically to represent emotion and “mind” (or “brain”) metaphorically to represent thought.

In fact, this way of using “heart” and “mind” is part of a broader, more fundamental view of people: they have emotions (hope, fear, love, expectation, sorrow, etc.) and they have thoughts. And the two are distinct.

But this ontology is not the only way of divvying up what it means to be human.

“Heart” in the Bible


In the Bible, emotions and thoughts were considered to be closer in nature than they are now. For instance, in modern English “I love him” and “I fear him” are both statements about emotions, even though the emotions differ. Similarly, in the Bible, “I love him” and “I think he’s a capable ruler” were both the same kind of thing.

And the levav (Hebrew for “heart”) and kardia (Greek for “heart”) were used to represent both — that is, what we would now call emotions and also what we would now call thoughts.

We see levav used to represent cognition, for example, in Isaiah 6:10, which contains three pairs. “To see” goes with “eyes.” “To hear” goes with “ears.” And “to understand” goes with levav. (Matthew 13:15, quoting Isaiah, similarly pairs “understand” with kardia.) Deuteronomy 29:4 contains the same three pairs, though it has the alternative form lev instead of levav. In the same way, Isaiah 10:7 pairs “thinking” with levav. And in Ezekiel 38:10, when something enters your levav you think a certain way.

The levav, then, is the seat of thoughts and cognition. In this sense, levav is the opposite of the English “heart.” (Using the opposite of the word you want to translate is usually a bad idea.)

The Hebrew levav is also used for emotion, though. In Leviticus 19:17, the levav is where you should not “hate.” In Psalm 27:3, the levav is connected to “fear.” And so forth.

We see a particularly clear picture: while the English “heart” is used for “emotions and not thoughts,” the Hebrew levav is used for “emotions and thoughts.”


Greek works like Hebrew in this regard. We’ve already seen Matthew 13:15, but that’s a quote of Isaiah, so it’s not necessarily reliable. But there are plenty of other examples. In Matthew 9:4, when Jesus knows the scribes’ “thoughts,” he knows what is in their kardia. In Matthew 15:19, thoughts come from the kardia. Mark 8:17 connects a “hard kardia” with inability to understand.

And the kardia is also where people are happy (as in Acts 2:26), afraid (John 14:27), and so on.

So, as with Hebrew, Greek combines thoughts and emotions in the kardia. And again this is unlike English, which separates them, using “heart” not just to include emotions but, importantly, specifically to exclude thoughts.

“Love with All Your Heart”

So while it’s tempting to translate levav and kardia as “heart” — particularly because “love” and “heart” go together in a way that “love” and “mind” do not — it’s also a severe mistake, because “heart” excludes thoughts, and what we need is a word that specifically includes them, along with emotions.

In isolation, finding such a word in English is no easy task, as the issue is not just linguistic, but also ontological. Modern English speakers think there are (at least) two kinds of internal human events: thoughts and emotions. Ancient Greek and Hebrew speakers thought there was one. And the point of levav and kardia is to include them both.

Fortunately, the translation task gets easier when we take into account “soul” (which is also a major mistranslation), as I hope to address soon. [Update: the explanation of “soul” is here: “How to Love the Lord Your God — Part 2, Soul.”]


November 28, 2011 - Posted by | translation practice | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. it’s also a severe mistake, because “heart” excludes thoughts, and what we need is a word that specifically includes them, along with emotions.

    Generally, we use the English word “heart” for feeling; however, don’t we often also use it for thinking?

    Danny Kaye used to sing, “My heart knows a lovely song … ” And Conway Twitty had these lyrics: “Oh I hate to admit it but it’s sure my heart knows / I thought I’d won when he lost you… ”

    and Thomas Sternhold translated into English verse Psalm 38:4 as “My heart grew hot within my breast with musing, thought, and doubt, / Which did increase and stir the sire; at last these words burst out.” It’s not a bad match for the Hebrew (or the Greek of the Septuagint) with respect to the metaphors of the internal organ in the chest (levav and kardia and heart) doing some thinking.

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | November 28, 2011

    • Gayle, while your comment is technically correct (that the semantic range of “heart” does include “mind”), I think the OP’s point is also very valid, (and I think field testing would bear this out), that people often see a dichotomy between the mind and the emotions, with the word “heart” referencing emotions. In other words, it is not technically wrong to speak of the “heart” when you mean “mind” but for many, it is misleading.

      Now, I think that the Greek word KARDIA should be rendered as “heart”, because every indication is that they truly thought that it was that organ that did the thinking, but the Hebrew should read “being” as in “with my whole being I will praise you” etc.

      Comment by bibleshockers | November 28, 2011

    • I think it’s true that in certain circumstances “heart” can point in the direction of thoughts. Perhaps one clear example is “to have a change of heart,” which — at least for me — means the same thing as “to change one’s mind.”

      But I don’t think that this context is one of those circumstances. When I read “love … with your heart,” I hear a statement about emotion to the exclusion of intellect, while the original point was emotion and intellect.

      Comment by Joel H. | November 28, 2011

      • Isn’t it more correct that “change of heart” refers to a change of one’s “feelings” which, in turn, leads to a change of mind. (This is when our decisions are subject to our ever changing whims and fancies.) I don’t think we normally see a need to justify a “change of heart”, in the same way we might justify a “change of mind”.

        If we work on the premise that, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6), then faith necessarily precedes the commandments of ‘love’ and obedience. That is probably why justification is and was always by faith, apart from the Law, as a fundamental principle. Hence, if we trust and believe (i.e. faith) that God is perfectly loving, wise, just, powerful etc, then I assume we would naturally and automatically love (and obey) him. Hence, I understand the command to “Love the Lord your God…” to already presume an active and dynamic faith (not just an abstract concept) and, therefore, “love” is the next logical step. On this basis of trust and belief, I see my own emotions as a by-product of my thoughts (a slave to my thoughts) as a general observation. Cognitive thoughts can certainly induce emotions, such as happiness and fear as in the examples you gave.

        I look forward to your analysis of “soul”.

        Comment by Robert Kan | December 1, 2011

      • Isn’t it more correct that “change of heart” refers to a change of one’s “feelings” which, in turn, leads to a change of mind.

        It may be more logical, but I don’t think it’s more correct, at least not for me.

        For example: “The investment banker was going to invest in the Euro, but he had a change of heart when he saw what was happening in Greece.”

        Or here’s a <a href="real example, from an Austin newspaper: “Reversing an earlier decision, state officials will pay an additional $753,000 to a Dallas County man who served 20 years in prison for a [crime] he did not commit, but the change of heart will not affect 47 other exonerated inmates who received state compensation under less-generous payment plans of years past” (my emphasis). I don’t think the article is about how the officials felt. I think it’s about what they decided, probably under advice of counsel.

        But even if I’m right, I think that “change of heart” is an exception to the more general pattern of “heart” standing for “emotions but not intellect.” Perhaps it is this very pattern that makes it hard for you to read “change of heart” as being devoid of emotion. (We also may have a dialect difference here.)

        At any rate, I would be surprised if anyone hears “love with all your heart” in English and thinks that this refers to intellect and rational thought.

        Comment by Joel H. | December 1, 2011

      • But Robert, is there any evidence that the Hebrews distinguished between “mind” and “emotions”?

        Comment by bibleshockers | December 1, 2011

      • I didn’t imply that they made a distinction. But I deduce that there is a distinction when I read a statement such as, “Therefore my heart was glad…”. The gladness, which is one cognitive event, was a consequence of a prior cognitive event. My point is that some cognitive events naturally lead to other cognitive events. (And in our modern thinking, we can categorize them as thoughts and emotions respectively.) And yet, this probably all happens in the mind, which is what I think your point is.

        Comment by Robert Kan | December 1, 2011

  2. It’s the same thing translating from Japanese. The Japanese equivalent to “heart” (“kokoro”) has a broader semantic range than even the English word, and sometimes the way it’s used may have no overlap. For example, when contrasted with “body”, it usually refers to the mind (mental and psychological faculties) and I translate it as such.

    Comment by Paul D. | November 28, 2011

  3. I have not translated this verse – but I expect I would use heart. I reserve ‘being’ for nephesh since soul is unusable – lovely word though it is. So I am soulless but you are heartless – O boy! I translate for the audience that has no chance of seeing soul except as immaterial – which it isn’t since it is the whole ‘me’. I do not translate for an audience that would miss the point of loving God with the whole heart. I might as well be loveless – people could learn that soul is not Greek – but they must learn that love is not emotional madness but an act of will – and therefore heart is more than a pulsing emoticon.

    Here’s what I might do:
    וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽךָ
    and you shall love יְהוָה your God with all your heart and with all your being and with all your fiery excess.

    Comment by Bob MacDonald | November 28, 2011

    • OH, I wasn’t thinking… I was confusing the two words…

      Is it possible that the Hebrew word has the connotation of a “secret chamber”? A place where one consults privately with oneself?

      Comment by bibleshockers | November 28, 2011

  4. I note that ancient translators of the Hebrew text into Greek had difficulty here. The Hebrew of Deuteronomy 6:5 lists three things with which one should love the Lord (levav, nefesh, meod), but, from what I remember, the various Greek translations we have, in LXX and in the three gospel quotations you list, have four different lists of four things each. Clearly the translators were struggling to express the Hebrew concepts in Greek words.

    Comment by Peter Kirk | November 28, 2011

  5. I wonder about whether there was difficulty for the translators, Peter. And, bibleshockers, you say that English speaking “people often see a dichotomy between the mind and the emotions, with the word ‘heart’ referencing emotions.”

    But I would contend that the LXX translators knew exactly what they meant by their Greek (and so did the gospel writers/translators). I think we get many of our English dichotomies here from Aristotle’s Greek. In “Generation of Animals” (744a.29), he makes a clear biological differentiation between καρδίᾳ (for heart that pumps blood) and διάνοια (for mind that is in the head, in the brain, that thinks).

    In “On the Soul,” Aristotle precisely describes the Ψυχῆς (or “soul”), as in the Greek Bible verses mentioned. At 432b of that treatise on the soul, Aristotle metaphorically defines the other two words under consideration. Here’s J. A. Smith’s translation. Notice how Aristotle has the mind producing emotions that the heart follows. But clearly the mind and thoughts are related in Aristotle’s description. The LXX translators understood this, without question. Probably the gospel writers and translators of Jesus’s speech understood the Aristotelian biological and metaphorical distinctions too. Here’s J. A. Smith’s rendering of Aristotle’s Greek:

    Further, neither can the calculative faculty or what is called ‘mind’ [νοῦς, nous] be the cause of such movement; for mind as speculative never thinks what is practicable, it never says anything about an object to be avoided or pursued, while this movement is always in something which is avoiding or pursuing an object. No, not even when it is aware of such an object does it at once enjoin pursuit or avoidance of it; e.g. the mind often thinks of [διανοεῖται, dianoeitai] something terrifying or pleasant without enjoining the emotion of fear. It is the heart [καρδία, kardia] that is moved (or in the case of a pleasant object some other part).

    Further, even when the mind [νοῦ, nou] does command and thought [διανοίας, dianoias] bids us pursue or avoid something, sometimes no movement is produced; we act in accordance with desire, as in the case of moral weakness. And, generally, we observe that the possessor of medical knowledge is not necessarily healing, which shows that something else is required to produce action in accordance with knowledge; the knowledge alone is not the cause. Lastly, appetite too is incompetent to account fully for movement; for those who successfully resist temptation have appetite and desire and yet follow mind and refuse to enact that for which they have appetite.

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | November 28, 2011

  6. I like your point about ontology, Joel. I think there’s a very definite phase mismatch between the modern ontology and the ancient one.

    For me, I think of it in psychological terms, or perhaps better put, in different psychological ontologies. We, today, influenced by the current metaphor constructed by our psychologists, divide the human into ’emotional’ and ‘rational’ parts. I don’t think the ancients cut the pie that way. As a corollary, I think the ancient Hebrews had one ontology and the ancient Greeks had a slightly different ontology, and I think that difference explains why the Hebrew has 3 words versus the 4 Greek ones.

    The think the Greek καρδία is much closer to what we would call the ’causer’ if we had such a word. It’s the seat of the intentions. It’s that part of our human psychology that causes everything else. That’s why sometimes it seems the best concept presented by the text is “the core part of our being.”

    Take Phil. 1:7, for example. My seat-of-the-pants translation has Paul saying something like this:

    It’s right for me to prioritize things for all of you in this way [that you will continue to provide financially for the furtherance of the gospel] since I only intend the best for you. In both my incarceration and in my defending and guaranteeing the good news, you all share with me the resources God has supplied.

    He goes on to develop this personal (dare I say heart-felt) intention by solemnly calling down a curse on himself if it isn’t true. He takes the center of the previous statement–the intention part–and develops it by praying they would love even more. He prays they would be able to get better at figuring out God’s will. Since in a mature Christian, the financial provision for the furtherance of the gospel and one’s growth in Christ will synch with each other, it’s right (ie righteous, δίκαιος) to think the way Paul is thinking. The logic is very hard to argue with.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts. καρδία has more to do with the seat of causation within the human psychological framework. We modern-day English speakers think of this in terms of mind and emotions. And so, in many texts, one or the other of these two concepts comes to the fore. But, I think to the Greek mind, it had more to do with that inner part of one’s being that causes action, whether the action is in thought, word, or actual deed.

    Comment by Mike Sangrey | November 29, 2011

    • >>>…As a corollary, I think the ancient Hebrews had one ontology and the ancient Greeks had a slightly different ontology, and I think that difference explains why the Hebrew has 3 words versus the 4 Greek ones…

      I vehemently agree. In fact, I think it is clear that the Hebrew and Greek ontologies were apples and oranges.

      And I’m conviced that we need to be much more granular than the broad comparison, since *individuals* in the OT and NT and the Apocrypha had extremely different ontologies. I mean, Paul had a very specific, highly developed conception of the roles of the flesh (the “clay” component of mankind) and the “breath” (which came from the very nostrils of God). To “lump Paul in” with everyone else is to miss his distinctiveness.

      I mean, nothing in the OT or Apocrypha suggests that humans were in any sense “defiled” or “held in the sway of a baser nature” by being formed from dirt, but for Paul, that is huge. In fact, in this regard, I think Paul stands alone.

      So, yes, I agree that Greek is different from Hebrew, but also, Paul is different from James, while Qohelet has a completely different viewpoint.

      Comment by bibleshockers | November 29, 2011

    • The Greek kardia is much closer to what we would call the “causer” if we had such a word.

      Maybe, though this seems to be the opposite of what J. K. Gayle posted from Aristotle: “e.g. the mind often thinks of something [… and i]t is the heart that is moved” (from J. A. Smith’s translation). One difficult question to answer is the degree to which the NT authors were writing in an Aristotelian framework.

      Do you have any evidence from the NT to support “causer” for kardia? Or you do think that emotions and thoughts cause things, and, separately, kardia represents those emotions and thoughts?

      (As it happens, I just heard an interview with Michael Gazzaniga about his new book Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, in which he claims that the scientific reality is opposite of what most people intuit: we act, and then our emotions and thoughts come together to explain what we’ve already done.)

      Comment by Joel H. | December 1, 2011

      • On the other hand, there is a huge amount of evidence that we are acting irrationally and emotionally all of the time. This might not be something we can sort out here.

        Comment by bibleshockers | December 1, 2011

      • Especially on the Internet…

        Comment by Joel H. | December 1, 2011

  7. But, I think to the Greek mind, it had more to do with that inner part of one’s being that causes action, whether the action is in thought, word, or actual deed.

    Mike, Whose Greek mind are you thinking of? Can you give a particular Greek writer’s text as an example? I think what Joel is talking about is the Jewish heart and the Jewish mind (as expressed in the Hebrew scriptures and the Greek translation).

    What you call “modern-day English speakers” may be closer to the ancient Greeks than to the ancient Jews. Paul, writing to his Greek reading audience, may be playing with language in ways that Aristotle would have condemned as barbaric or at the very least sophistic.

    καθώς ἐστιν
    δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν
    ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν
    διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με
    ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς,
    ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου
    ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ
    καὶ βεβαιώσει
    τοῦ εὐαγγελίου συγκοινωνούς μου
    τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας.

    Here’s how Willis Barnstone renders that into English lines, and notice how he easily avoids the dichotomy of “thinking” and “heart”; also notice how Barnstone does not need to interpret for his readers abstractions ostensibly behind the words (platonic ideals, such as “prioritize” and “only intend ).

    ……… And it is right /
    For me to feel this, since you all keep me /
    Embedded in your heart. Whether in chains //

    Or in defense and confirmation of /
    The gospel, you all partake in my grace.

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | November 29, 2011

    • I’d like to suggest that there is a physiologic reality which is being recognized in various ways. By this I mean, we now know that the two hemispheres of the brain operate somewhat independently (and are then “melged” into our experience). Broadly speaking,the left brain and the right brain are processing info into different “things”. In ancient language, and ancient concepts of physiology, these differences are being reflected in language, and interpreted into varying moral schemas.

      Comment by bibleshockers | November 29, 2011

      • bibleshockers,

        I don’t know if you noticed how Paul’s Greek “ὄντας” and Joel’s “ontological” are so very close, in sound. There may even be some overlap in their respective meanings. What’s needed in our discussion is to stay close to what we all can agree by “linguistic.” Isn’t “love” an apt word for the Hebrew we match it to in Deuteronomy 6:5? It’s a horribly difficult word, and yet our difficulty now is with “heart.” Does it match the Hebrew counterpart in some lesser way? Is the Greek counterpart closer? Our trouble is over what we do with words, how we use them. We want things ontological, fixed. We want our linguistics the same way, and when language is slippery, or creative even, then we retreat to ontology. Einstein talked about Licht (or light) in very relative ways. What’s the real properties of this thing, a particle of light? Or is it a wave? Does Kardia correspond to a side of the brain? Why not, if you talk about it that way. Love … with all your brain, left and right. That may be a way of expressing Deuteronomy 6:5, and yet it doesn’t sound very Hebrew, or very much like Hebraic Hellene either.

        Comment by J. K. Gayle | November 29, 2011

      • >>>Isn’t “love” an apt word for the Hebrew we match it to in Deuteronomy 6:5?

        For whom?

        Not long ago, in an airport, I saw a buxom woman with words written in glitter across her considerable chest which read, “I just made love to Jesus this Sunday in Church.” To this day I’m not sure what she meant by that.

        Can you help me?

        Comment by bibleshockers | November 29, 2011

  8. “Can you help me?” Well, yes. Paul would have been appalled. And so would Moses, the LXX translators, and the translators of Jesus who wrote the gospels. They all would have been more okay with this:

    And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | November 29, 2011

    • If I see her and her bleached blonde hair again, I will tell her what you said!

      Comment by bibleshockers | November 29, 2011

  9. Interesting discussion. To me, this seems like splitting very fine hairs. Joel cites Matthew, Mark, and Luke on the greatest commandment. In both, loving with all your heart is there, but mind is also used. So the text makes it very clear that the kind of love Jesus teaches also engages the mind. The “heart” issue for the OT is a matter of exegesis. What does the context suggest? Deut 6:1 is about obeying God’s statutes and judgements (NASB 1995 update) when the people enter Canaan. Deut 6;3 says, “Oh Israel, you should listen and be careful to do.” This is clearly an expression of mind – knowing the commands so that one can do them, as well as teach them to the next generation. Then comes the Shema, knowing God’s character, who He is, followed by loving him with essentially one’s entire being. So in the text knowing and loving are inextricably bound together. Thus, the context does not support a primary understanding of love or heart as solely emotional. So it is a misplaced concern that the translation of lvv as heart will result in an insufficient understanding of the text.

    Comment by Matti | December 5, 2011

    • So it is a misplaced concern that the translation of lvv as heart will result in an insufficient understanding of the text.

      Do you really think so? Do you think people are able to read “heart” and ignore what the word means in English, focusing instead on the context?

      To me, this seems like splitting very fine hairs.

      I think it’s more than that. I think it’s as big as the difference between, “love the Lord with emotion and intellect” versus “love the Lord with emotion but not intellect.”

      Comment by Joel H. | December 6, 2011

  10. Thanks for your swift reply.

    I want to say that it was not my intent to insult you. I think I did and I am sorry for that. Please forgive me.

    “Do you really think so? Do you think people are able to read “heart” and ignore what the word means in English, focusing instead on the context?”

    I don’t think it’s an issue of “ignoring” the meaning, but that of finding the right meaning. For example, English speakers use “love” in a variety of ways. “I love my dog, I love pizza, and I love my husband.” It would be really sad if I loved my dog or pizza in the same way I love my husband. In the same way, when a person reads a chapter from a book or a magazine article he encounters many words that have multiple meanings. How does the reader discern which meaning applies? By context. I think that you would agree with me since you teach this yourself. I read your article and watched your video on Huffington post yesterday. You were very clear about the five ways not to understand the meaning of words, but in the article you didn’t share any alternative. Towards the video’s end, you said that context is the way to determine what a word means. So I’ve simply applied your principle to the issue at hand. Can you help me understand why this is insufficient? Do you disagree with my understanding of the context of Deut 6:1-9?

    “I think it’s more than that. I think it’s as big as the difference between, “love the Lord with emotion and intellect” versus “love the Lord with emotion but not intellect.””

    This is true and I think that the context makes it very clear – loving with emotions and intellect.

    Beyond this specific issue is the broader issue of translation philosophy. What’s the best way to translate a text from one language into another? It depends on what you desire to accomplish. Some prefer a more literal, word for word translation that literally translates idioms. For example, KJV “cover his feet”. Others prefer a dynamic equivalent like the NIV which translates the idiom “cover his feet” as “relieve himself”. Based on statements you’ve made, it sounds to me as if you would be in the dynamic equivalent camp. My view is that the more variety of translations and approaches the more helpful in grappling with the text, though I would fall into the more literal camp. Both have benefits and both have drawbacks. As you know there is rarely a one to one correspondence between languages so that a word in one language has an exactly corresponding word in another language in terms of it connotations.

    Comment by Matti | December 6, 2011

    • Hi Matti,

      No, you didn’t insult me. (But thank you for checking.) I was answering curtly because I had other things I had to move on to. That’s all. But I did want to answer, because I think you raise an interesting and important point.

      We figure out what the ancient words mean by looking at how they are used in context.

      But even though it seems like roughly the same thing, I don’t think that context can significantly shift what a word means.

      I agree that “love” has lots of related meanings in English, among them what one might feel toward a spouse and what one might feel toward pizza. And, I believe, the Hebrew ahav works the same way. So the English “love” and the Hebrew ahav both have a variety of meanings, and in both cases the meaning is determined by context.

      By contrast, the English “heart” and the Hebrew levav do not match up, because “heart” specifically excludes something that levav specifically includes: thoughts.

      So while I do agree with your understanding of the context of Deut 6:1-9, I don’t think that the English “heart” conveys the right idea, and I don’t think that the context can override the meaning of the word.

      For example, what if I say, “I want you to use your heart to understand algebra, because algebra is analytic”? Even though the context dictates that “heart” mean “mind” here, that’s just not what “heart” means in English, so in spite of the context, we end up with — at least to my ear — a suggestion to go beyond reason.

      I think that’s what happens with “love … with all your heart,” too. In spite of the context, English speakers hear this as a statement about emotion to the exclusion of intellect, not about the combination of the two.

      Comment by Joel H. | December 7, 2011

      • Even if one estimates the potentional for confusion arising from the use of the word “heart”, it sure was rude of the blogger to say that Joel was “wrong” for raising the issue!

        Comment by bibleshockers | December 7, 2011

  11. What helps me, in English translation, is seeing that much use of the words of the Torah, of the Pentateuch, and of the gospels, is poetic. God, Moses, Jesus, Mark, Matthew, Luke, the Septuatigint translators — all of them — are not using precise and absolutely-defined language (whether in Hebrew, in Aramaic presumably, and in Greek). The language is likely poetic and is at the very least metaphorical.

    Why can’t English “heart” be understood this way in the translated contexts? Why can’t “heart” in the Hebraic contexts convey, in matching ways, what the Hebrew “levav” and the Greek “kardia” convey?

    I believe in English, in poetry, in song lyrics, we have no problem with stretching the meaning of “heart,” to extend it to include thoughts. Already, I gave a few examples above. This morning, I just heard another, from Sheryl Crow’s song, “Out of Our Heads.” She’s getting at a reversal of the usual head for understanding/ heart for feeling dichotomy. But I have no problem following the metaphors, the tropes, if you will, the rhetorical turns of her wordplay. The pertinent lines go as follows:

    But only the heart can understand, oh understand

    If we could only get out of our heads, out of our heads
    And into our hearts
    Children of Abraham lay down your fears, swallow your
    Tears and look to your heart

    My point isn’t that the Hebrew is making the same wordplay as Sheryl Crow’s English does. The point is that a good English translation of Deuteronomy 6:1-9 can use “heart” and readers don’t have to assume that there’s a non-overlapping contrast between, “heart” and “soul” and “strength.” Likewise, when you get to the gospels, the insertion of “mind” doesn’t necessarily imply some sharp difference between that and “heart.” “Heart” in these contexts works well as poetry, as metaphor, as long as the reader isn’t assuming some prosaic and Aristotelian middle-excluding binary. And why would a reader want to do that in the scriptures, talking about loving God?

    Comment by J. K. Gayle | December 7, 2011

    • Why can’t “heart” in the Hebraic contexts convey, in matching ways, what the Hebrew “levav” and the Greek “kardia” convey?

      I don’t think that words of a translation change to match the context from which they were translated. In this case, I don’t think that “heart” in English changes meaning to match what levav meant in its original context. That’s why I think we have to move beyond the literal meaning of words and translate their metaphoric impact: levav may anatomically be “heart,” but that’s no reason to assume that it should be “heart” in other contexts

      This strikes me as just like “feeling blue” in English (which means “sad”). I think it’s usually a mistake to use the literal word for blue in a foreign language to translate “feeling blue.” The fact that it’s the color blue has little (or nothing?) to do with the point of “feeling blue.” Similarly, “love … with your levav” has little to do with what we call the “heart” in English.

      Comment by Joel H. | December 8, 2011

      • Does levav refer to the physical heart in Hebrew, like KARDIA does in Greek?

        Comment by bibleshockers | December 8, 2011

      • Thank you for bringing up “blue” again. I couldn’t agree with you more that translation of color-term metaphors have a number of problems. First, the mismatches of the color spectrum are quite obvious; for example, I’m a native speaker of Vietnamese and use “xanh” for my English “blue” and “green.” And we would never describe jazz in Vietnamese as “xanh” for “the blues,” which only originally had something to do with “feeling blue.” So, second, there are the mismatches of metaphor that rely on, or are based on, color terms. These are abstract, and the meanings, I think are not nearly as stable over time as are body metaphors.

        Even with the more concrete body-part metaphors, there’s not always concordance from one language to another, as your post is trying to show around the English “heart.” I lived in Indonesia a number of years and studied the language there, which provides examples.

        In Indonesian, there’s a proverb that uses body parts: “Kasih hati, minta jantung.” Literally this means something like “Love liver, ask heart.” But figurally as a pair of clauses it’s used to express what in English we use “you give an inch, they take a mile” for. “Kasih minta” can mean “you ask” and “minta kasih” to “kindly ask.” “Hati” is literally (and biologically) the word for “liver” but is used for the deepest emotions as in English we use “heart.” But “jantung” is biologically or literally the “heart.” Sometimes lovers will say, “kamulah jantung hati ku” which combines “jantung” and “hati” literally to mean “you’re heart liver mine” but, as you can imagine in English would go something like “you’re my sweetheart of sweethearts.”

        So, back to your post. I think “heart” and “levav” and “kardia” — which all coincidentally do refer biologically to the blood pumping internal organ in the chest — all also can be stretched metaphorically to mean deep emotions and also deep deep thought. This morning, I read another example in English. This time it’s Barbra Streisand talking in English literally about the biological heart, and yet she’s regarding ancient metaphorical uses of the heart to say, this month in this century in English the following: “the heart senses and integrates our thoughts, our emotions, and our will to carry out tasks. The heart actually is a sensitive integrator of all our experience.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like the ancient Deuteronomy use of “levav”?

        So just because German and Vietnamese and English words for something like “blue” can vary wildly; and just because body parts and internal organs can be used metphorically in different languages for similar and different things doesn’t mean that “heart” in English is a mismatch with the old Hebraic senses of “levav” and “kardia.”

        I’m making a rather sharp statement. Would you mind instead if I just asked, How are you able so precisely to map the semantic range of “heart” in English? Why are the English song examples and the Barbra Streisand example not illustrative of how the Bible uses the Hebrew and the Greek similarly?

        Comment by J. K. Gayle | December 9, 2011

      • The reason that the ancients used the word “heart” for the mind was that:

        * they were strict materialists. Everything was based in matter.
        * they had no clue about the brain
        * they considered the heart to be the heart to be at least one of the thinking organs

        So, my preference is to retain “heart” and put a footnote to that effect. Or, if you prefer to put a more abstract word, the footnote should still explain the above and that the word originally used was “heart.”

        Comment by bibleshockers | December 9, 2011

      • Bibleshockers, are you sure that these are the reasons they used the word “heart”?

        If yes, I suppose you are claiming that this was their “scientific” understanding of human phenomena?

        I guess it really doesn’t matter whether they were scientifically correct or not, but such claims would have implications for “soul”, which also needs to be taken into account.

        (Personally, I would begin by considering the word as a metaphor, such as representing the “spiritual” core of one’s being, from which emanates the issues of life.)

        Comment by Robert Kan | December 9, 2011

      • Obviously, what ancient people think is nothing that can be “proven”, but beside the fact that they consistently speak of this anatomy, we have the fact that the Egyptians, when they mummified their pharaohs, special attention was given to the heart:

        “The heart was sometimes left in the body, because it was thought to be responsible for thought, memory and intelligence and the mummy needed it to be judged in the next world. Otherwise, it was removed and dried with natron. It would be either put back into the body or placed beside the body inside the coffin.”


        Comment by bibleshockers | December 10, 2011

  12. For Joel,
    I appreciate your point, although I am still convinced it is the reader’s responsibility to understand what the author was trying to communicate rather than project his own understanding upon the text. Perhaps an acceptable compromise would be to foot-note the text, explaining the Hebrew perspective on heart as encompassing both emotions and intellect. Thanks for the discussion.

    To bibleshocker
    I wasn’t trying to be rude, I just wanted to offer another perspective that no one in the discussion, as far as I could see, had offered. If that’s rude, then guilty as charged.

    Comment by Matti | December 7, 2011

    • I agree that the reader should try to understand the original intent, but I also think it’s the job of the translator to make that goal possible for readers who don’t know the original language. For me, using “heart” for levav is as wrong as using “dark blue” for what should be just “blue.”

      [a footnote could explain] the Hebrew perspective on heart as encompassing both emotions and intellect.

      I would do it the other way around. The point of the verse is to address the emotions and intellect. So we need English that does that. Then a footnote could explain the curiosity that levav was used for this purpose in Hebrew.

      I’ve used this example before (here): In Germany there’s such a thing as “making blue,” which is to skip work. Should an English translation say, “John made blue,” and then explain that in German, “blue” refers to absenteeism? Or would you do it the other way around, and translate, “John skipped work,” and explain that, as it happens, German uses the word “blue” in such a case?

      Comment by Joel H. | December 7, 2011

    • I don’t think the imperative to love the Lord with all your “heart”, even in context, conveys anything about the semantics of “heart”, any more than it conveys anything about the semantics of “soul”. That is why Joel is elucidating the passage using other passages. He is not projecting anything upon the text.

      Comment by Robert Kan | December 7, 2011

    • I heartily agree… footnotes that explain compromises are indispensible.

      I was referring to the other blogger, Matti, you were being respectful.

      Comment by bibleshockers | December 7, 2011

    • I can imagine a day when we can exchange our perspectives through recorded brain signals. That will help us appreciate just how individual people’s take on any passage of printed text really is.

      Comment by bibleshockers | December 7, 2011

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