Jesus speaking to a crowd facing a sunrise.

Heart, mind, and soul…what’s the difference?

What is the difference between heart, mind, and soul?

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (KJV)

Many of us have our definitions of heart, mind, and soul. To understand passages from the Holy Bible, we must understand how the Holy Spirit moved the writers to use certain words to convey meaning. We must put aside our definitions—usually shaped by the world we live in now—and understand how the authors used them. With that in mind, let’s discuss heart, soul, and mind.

  1. Heart (καρδίᾳ – kardia): In Greek, the term “καρδίᾳ” (kardia) literally refers to the physical heart, but is used metaphorically in Scripture to denote the center of physical and spiritual life. The “heart” encompasses a human’s thoughts (mind), passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors. In biblical terms, the heart is considered the seat of one’s personal life, where choices are made and intentions formed. The core of a person’s identity springs from emotions, thoughts, motivations, courage, and actions.
  1. Soul (ψυχῇ – psyche): The word “ψυχῇ” (psyche) in Greek refers to the soul but has a broad application, including life itself, the individual life, or the self. The soul is the seat of the feelings, desires, affections, and aversions (our heart, soul, etc.). It’s that immaterial part of a human that can ascend to a higher plane of existence after physical death or be used more broadly to signify the essence of human life. In Mark 12:30, loving God with all one’s “soul” implies a commitment that encompasses one’s entire being and existence, extending beyond the physical to include emotions, will, and desires.
  1. Mind (διανοίᾳ – dianoia): The term “διανοίᾳ” (dianoia) refers to the mind, understanding, or intellect. It denotes the faculty of understanding, feeling, and desiring. The “mind” in the Biblical context involves reasoning, thinking, and the mental faculties that enable consciousness, perception, thinking, judgment, and memory. To love God with all the “mind” means fully engaging one’s cognitive faculties in devotion to God, including thoughts, beliefs, values, and understanding.

The distinction between these terms in Mark 12:30 underscores a comprehensive love for God that engages every aspect of human existence: the emotional and volitional (heart), the essence of life and being (soul), and the intellectual and cognitive (mind). This holistic commandment emphasizes the integration of the full spectrum of human experience in the worship and love of God.

Understanding these distinctions helps in grasping the depth and breadth of the commandment to love God, illustrating that it encompasses every dimension of human existence: our emotions, will, intellect, and physical strength. This command emphasizes a total and undivided devotion to God that engages all aspects of one’s being.

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