Holman Bible Dictionary
First, the word heart refers to the physical organ and is considered to be the center of the physical life. Eating and drinking are spoken of as strengthening the heart (Genesis 18:5 ; Judges 19:5 ; Acts 14:17 ). As the center of physical life, the heart came to stand for the person as a whole.
The heart became the focus for all the vital functions of the body; including both intellectual and spiritual life. The heart and the intellect are closely connected, the heart being the seat of intelligence: “For this people's heart is waxed gross lest at any time they should understand with their heart, and should be converted” (Matthew 13:15 ). The heart is connected with thinking: As a person “thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 ). To ponder something in one's heart means to consider it carefully (Luke 1:66 ; Luke 2:19 ). “To set one's heart on” is the literal Hebrew that means to give attention to something, to worry about it (1 Samuel 9:20 ). To call to heart (mind) something means to remember something (Isaiah 46:8 ). All of these are functions of the mind, but are connected with the heart in biblical language.
Closely related to the mind are acts of the will, acts resulting from a conscious or even a deliberate decision. Thus, 2 Corinthians 9:7 : “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give.” Ananias contrived his deed of lying to the Holy Spirit in his heart (Acts 5:4 ). The conscious decision is made in the heart (Romans 6:17 ). Connected to the will are human wishes and desires. Romans 1:24 describes how God gave them up “through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies.” David was a man after God's “own heart” because he would “fulfill all” of God's will ( Acts 13:22 ).
Not only is the heart associated with the activities of the mind and the will, but it is also closely connected to the feelings and affections of a person. Emotions such as joy originate in the heart (Psalm 4:7 ; Isaiah 65:14 ). Other emotions are ascribed to the heart, especially in the Old Testament. Nabal's fear is described by the phrase: “his heart died within him” (1 Samuel 25:37 ; compare Psalm 143:4 ). Discouragement or despair is described by the phrase “heaviness in the heart” which makes it stoop (Proverbs 12:25 ). Again, Ecclesiastes 2:20 says, “Therefore I went about to cause my heart to despair of all the labor which I took under the sun.” Another emotion connected with the heart is sorrow. John 16:6 says, “because I have said these things unto you, sorrow hath filled your heart.” Proverbs 25:20 , describes sorrow as having “an heavy heart.” The heart is also the seat of the affection of love and its opposite, hate. In the Old Testament, for example, Israel is commanded: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17 RSV). A similar attitude, bitter jealousy, is described in James 3:14 as coming from the heart. On the other hand, love is based in the heart. The believer is commanded to love God “with all your heart” ( Mark 12:30 ; compare Deuteronomy 6:5 ). Paul taught that the purpose of God's command is love which comes from a “pure heart” (1 Timothy 1:5 ).
Finally, the heart is spoken of in Scripture as the center of the moral and spiritual life. The conscience, for instance, is associated with the heart. In fact, the Hebrew language had no word for conscience, so the word heart was often used to express this concept: “my heart shall not reproach me so long as I live” (Job 27:6 ). The Revised Standard Version translates the word for “heart” as “conscience” in 1 Samuel 25:31 (RSV). In the New Testament the heart is spoken of also as that which condemns us ( 1 John 3:19-21 ). All moral conditions from the highest to the lowest are said to center in the heart. Sometimes the heart is used to represent a person's true nature or character. Samson told Delilah “all his heart” (Judges 16:17 ). This true nature is contrasted with the outward appearance: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 RSV).
On the negative side, depravity is said to issue from the heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ). Jesus said that out of the heart comes evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19 ). In other words, defilement comes from within rather than from without.
Because the heart is at the root of the problem, this is the place where God does His work in the individual. For instance, the work of the law is “written in their hearts,” and conscience is the proof of this (Romans 2:15 ). The heart is the field where seed (the Word of God) is sown (Matthew 13:19 ; Luke 8:15 ). In addition to being the place where the natural laws of God are written, the heart is the place of renewal. Before Saul became king, God gave him a new heart (1 Samuel 10:9 ). God promised Israel that He would give them a new spirit within, take away their “stony heart” and give them a “heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19 ). Paul said that a person must believe in the heart to be saved, “for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10 ). (See also Mark 11:23 ; Hebrews 3:12 .)
Finally, the heart is the dwelling place of God. Two persons of the Trinity are said to reside in the heart of the believer. God has given us the “earnest of the Spirit in our hearts” (2 Corinthians 1:22 ). Ephesians 3:17 expresses the desire that “Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.” The love of God “is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” ( Romans 5:5 ).
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Heart'. Holman Bible Dictionary. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/h/heart.html. 1991.