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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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HEART.—In the NT ‘heart’ (καρδία) is the word most commonly used to denote the inner nature of man, the secret core of his being, where the springs of his intellectual and moral activity reside. In this, its general significance, it is the equivalent of the Hebrew term לֵב or לֵבָב in the OT. Originally employed to designate the bodily organ which is the centre of the animal life, it came by a natural process of thought to be applied to the invisible centre of the thinking and responsible life. In this sense it occurs with notable frequency in the Gospels; but there, like the corresponding word in the OT, whilst always referring to man’s interior nature, it is used in a variety of applications, according to the particular functions or aspects of that nature which are meant to be expressed. This is the ease also in the other NT writings.

i. Shades of meaning in the Gospels.—Heart in the Gospels is variously regarded—

1. As the faculty of thought, intelligence, and memory.—Persons are spoken of as pondering (Luke 2:19), musing (Luke 3:15), reasoning (Luke 5:22), having thoughts arising (Matthew 9:4, Luke 9:47; Luke 24:38) in their heart; understanding or not with their heart (Matthew 13:15, Mark 6:52; Mark 8:17); keeping, or laying up, things said or done, in their heart (Luke 1:56; Luke 2:51).

2. As the seat of the affections, emotions, and passions:—e.g. of love for God (Matthew 22:37, Luke 10:27), for earthly or heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-21); of joy (John 16:22, Luke 24:32); of sorrow (John 14:1; John 16:8); of forgivingness (Matthew 18:35), purity (Matthew 5:8), humility (Matthew 11:29); of good or evil dispositions (Matthew 12:34-35), perverse inclination (Matthew 5:28, Matthew 24:48), luxurious tastes and desires (Luke 21:34).

3. As the source of purpose and volition.—The disciples are enjoined to settle in their hearts not to meditate what they shall say (Luke 21:14); the fell design of Judas was put into his heart by Satan (John 13:2); the adulterous act is virtually done in the intention of the heart (Matthew 5:28).

4. As the organ of moral discernment and religious belief, i.e. of conscience and faith.—Reproofs are given for the hardness of heart which prevents the reception of the truth (Matthew 19:8, Mark 3:5; Mark 16:14), and for slowness of heart to believe (Luke 24:25); there is an exhortation not to doubt in the heart, but believe (Mark 11:23); and the pure in heart have the promise of Divine illumination (Matthew 5:8).

In one passage only we find the phrase ‘the heart of the earth’ (Matthew 12:40).

ii. Christ’s emphasis on the heart.—The superlative importance which Christ attached to the heart and its right condition was one of the pre-eminent characteristics of His teaching. He possessed an unrivalled insight into the workings of the heart (John 2:24-25), and could read what was going on there with a penetration and accuracy often startling (Matthew 9:4; Matthew 12:25; Matthew 22:18, Mark 2:8, Luke 9:47). But His unique peculiarity was the seriousness and persistency with which He dealt with the heart, and laboured for its purification as the one concern vital to the well-being of men. To the heart He always appealed, and on its deepest instincts He sought to bring His influence to bear; and although in many of His utterances the heart is not expressly named, it is still obvious that He had it directly in view. This was the ‘inwardness’ which constituted His great secret. The main points on which He insisted were:

1. The heart as the source of all the good or the evil in men’s lives.—He dwelt on this with special earnestness—e.g. in His reply to the tradition-bound objectors, ‘Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,’ etc., ‘the things which defile a man’ (Matthew 15:19 f.); and in that suggestive saying, ‘A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil’ (Luke 6:45); and the idea is to be found running through all His teaching.

2. The dispositions and motives of the heart as determining the religious value of actions.—Jesus unfailingly taught that the test of a man’s worth before God was not the outward propriety of his conduct, but the heart-inclinations and purposes by which he was swayed (Luke 16:15). Even a correctly decorous Pharisee like Simon did not stand so high in the Divine estimation as the frail woman who had erred sadly, because, while he was proud and self-satisfied in his moral respectability, she, amid all her failings, was melted into heartfelt penitence and gratitude (Luke 7:36-39). A man’s conduct may be free from all formal commission of impurity, but if he lust after a woman in his heart, the stain of impurity is already incurred (Matthew 5:28). Many things outwardly right and proper were done by the religionists of His day—seasons of prayer duly observed, alms given, etc.—which yet He pronounced to be of little moral value because done from a false motive, the desire for social credit, ‘to be seen of men’ (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5). On the other hand, humble and obscure actions, like the widow’s offering and the publican’s supplication, He declared to be of inestimable worth in the eye of Heaven, by reason of the genuine heart-feeling from which they sprang (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 18:13-14). And in the great Judgment-picture (Matthew 25:31-46), He made it clear that it is the frank, unaffected generosity of the heart, finding expression in deeds of simple dutifulness, that ranks high in the Father’s sight and secures the reward of immortal blessedness. Always and everywhere He pierced below surface appearances, and demanded inner rectitude as the criterion of worth.

3. The regeneration of the heart as essential both to a right relation to God and to true happiness.—The repentance Jesus preached meant a change of heart (Matthew 4:17; Matthew 9:13, Luke 13:3); the conversion He urged as a necessity was a turning of the heart to God as the source of life and grace (Matthew 13:15, Mark 4:12, John 12:40), a restoration of the childlike spirit (Matthew 18:3), a new birth within, apart from which it is impossible to enjoy the blessings of the heavenly Kingdom (John 3:3-7).

iii. Evils counteracted by Christ’s teaching.—Of these, four at least may be specially noted:

1. A pretentious ecclesiasticism.—Men’s minds were drawn away from dependence on the mere institutional aspects of religion, and confronted with the absolute necessity of internal righteousness. When orthodox Jews took a stand on their connexion with an ancient religious organization with its high covenanted privileges, and boasted of being children of Abraham, Christ flatly challenged their right to such a title, because of the vile purposes they cherished in their hearts, which proved that they did not possess Abraham’s spirit (John 8:39). He avowed that a scorned publican like Zacchaeus, who was outside the pale of ecclesiastical recognition, was more truly a son of Abraham, in virtue of the higher dispositions which had been stirred in his heart, and which placed him in the line of moral and spiritual descent (Luke 19:9). Again, in face of the arrogant presumption that restricted Divine blessing and salvation to those within the bounds of Judaism and its religious system, He held up the kind services of a generous heart as sufficient to raise even a Samaritan to a level of equal worth before God (Luke 10:30-37).

2. An external ceremonialism.—Jesus attacked, sometimes with fiery indignation, the superficiality of that righteousness which was based on a punctilious attention to certain prescribed observances,—the tithing of mint and cummin, when justice, mercy, and the faith of the heart were neglected (Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42); the fastings which had no genuine penitence behind them (Matthew 6:17-18); the careful washing of hands, while the heart was inwardly defiled (Matthew 15:2-3). It was His dominant idea that on the disposition of the heart the spiritual value of worship depends (John 4:24), and He had strong warnings to utter against the offerings at the altar when sinister feelings were nursed within (Matthew 5:23), and the ascription of honour to God with the lips while the heart was far from Him (Matthew 15:8). With scathing rebukes He exposed the pretensions of those who claimed peculiar sanctity on the ground of their ceremonial scrupulousness, characterizing them as whited sepulchres, outwardly fair, but inwardly full of uncleanness (Matthew 23:27). Thus He represented all external acts of righteousness which do not spring out of an upright, pious heart as a mere hypocritical show, and not real righteousness (Matthew 6:1-6).

3. A legalistic moralism.—In view of the fact that the great spiritual ideas inculcated by the prophets had been hardened into fixed laws and rules, in formal obedience to which righteousness was made to consist, Christ’s endeavour to recall men to the supreme importance of inner motive was calculated to exert a powerful effect. The confidence which many had in their moral respectability was necessarily shaken when they found themselves forced to look within, and judge themselves by something higher than a legal standard; as, e.g., in the case of the young man who had great possessions, and whose conduct outwardly was without reproach (Matthew 19:16-22). And there can be little doubt that the uneasiness and irritation created among the professedly religious classes by Christ’s teaching was largely due to the consciousness it wakened in them of the insufficiency of the grounds on which their claim to righteousness was based. In the light of the stress He laid on the hidden springs of action in the heart, their moral regularity of life, founded on mere conformity to laws and rules, was bound to appear unsatisfactory and poor.

4. A self-sufficient secularism.—Such teaching, setting the renewed dispositions of the heart far above the riches and honours of the world in value, supplied a potent counteractive to the proud security and self-assumption which prosperous worldliness is apt to beget. It forced home the sense of something wanting within, even when the outward fortunes were flourishing. The parable of the Rich Fool is a vivid picture of the real poverty of the man who trusts in his worldly success and is not rich in the things that belong to the inner life (Luke 12:16-21); while in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus there is another picture, fitted to break down the self-confidence of the prosperous, showing that the day will come when conditions may be reversed, and when heart-qualities alone will determine the status and happiness of men (Luke 16:19-31).

iv. The revivifying effect on religion.—By His insistence on the heart as the vital element in righteousness, Christ transformed the whole character of religion. He made it (1) living,—not mechanical, a matter of prescribed and outwardly imposed form, but dynamical, a free, spontaneous spring of high purpose and feeling; not something put on, but a bent and impulse of the spirit within. Thus He gave religion an elasticity and perpetual vitality which prophesy for it permanence and power,—‘a well of water springing up unto everlasting life’ (John 4:14). He made it (2) effectually operative,—an energizing force, working itself out in practical life, impressing its hallowed ideas and aims on the world of affairs, and proving its reality by the heightened quality of the actions to which it leads. And He made it (3) a gracious influence,—commending itself to the general conscience, winning reverence, inspiring self-devotion, and transmitting from heart to heart fervours of aspiration after the things of God.

Literature.—Cremer, Bib. Theol. Lex. s.v. καρδἰα; art. ‘Herz’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, i. 265 ff.; Martensen, Christian Ethics (Individual), 80 ff.; Weiss, Bib. Theol. of NT, i. 124.

G. M ‘Hardy.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Heart'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​h/heart.html. 1906-1918.
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