Biblical Anthropology, Part 6

Posted By on November 14, 2009

In my last post on biblical anthropology, I left you with three questions:

1. What about Old Testament thinking about the “heart”? Does this point to a third part of a human being, or does it overlap with nephesh and ruach?

2. What about the OT Shema statements (”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”)?  How should these be understood? Do they contribute anything to the discussion?

3. What about New Testament statements that apparently distinguish between soul and spirit?  (For example, Hebrews 4:12).

In this post, I’ll tackle the first two of these.  Here we go.

1. What about Old Testament thinking about the “heart”? Does this point to a third part of a human being, or does it overlap with nephesh and ruach?

The OT word for “heart” is leb (or lebab). I ran a search to see if there were any places where either of those two terms were in the same verse as ruach OR nephesh. Not surprisingly, there were, and the results indicate an overlap in the way the terms are used. “Heart” can be used in the same ways as ruach and nephesh are. Here are some relevant examples:

Used to denote knowledge or skill or mind:

Exod 28:3 – You shall speak to all the skillful (Lit. “wise of heart – leb), whom I have filled with a spirit (ruach) of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.

Ezekiel 13:1-3 – 1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts (leb): ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ 3 Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit (ruach), and have seen nothing!

Used of the “inner being”

Deut 4:29 – But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart (lebab) and with all your soul (nephesh).

Deut 10:12 – And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart (lebab) and with all your soul (nephesh).

Deut 11:13 – And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart (lebab) and with all your soul (nephesh) …

Ezekiel 18:31 – Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart (leb) and a new spirit (ruach)! Why will you die, O house of Israel?

Psalm 78:8 – and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart (leb) was not steadfast, whose spirit (ruach) was not faithful to God.

(many more with that combination)

Used of emotional state or state of mind

Isaiah 57:15-16 – For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit (ruach), to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart (leb) of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made.

Isaiah 65:14 – behold, my servants shall sing for gladness of heart (leb), but you shall cry out for pain of heart (leb) and shall wail for breaking of spirit (ruach).

Prov 15:13 – A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart (leb) the spirit (ruach) is crushed.

In summary, “heart” does not denote a separate inner part of man, distinguishable from ruach and/or nephesh.  And since other “inward parts” (kidneys, bowels, etc.) are used in OT expressions for the seat of emotions, the same would be said for those words.

2. What about the OT Shema statements (”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”)?  How should these be understood? Do they contribute anything to the discussion?

Since leb, ruach, and nephesh are synonyms and do not point to different internal parts of a human, it is easy to conclude that all of these terms, used variably in “shema statements” point to the same thing: the inner person.  Other terms, such as “strength” and “might” would refer to that other part of man–which is physical (physical strength = the body).

Sometimes the shema makes reference only the inner being; other times it includes the physical. Here are the various expressions of the Shema in the Hebrew Bible. Some of the new words we’ll see that refer (at least semantically) to physical strength or “whole being” are me’od (an adverb meaning “exceedingly” that can be used as a substantive);

Deuteronomy 6:5 – You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (me’od). The only other OT occurrence of this expression is 2 Kings 23:25. Only elsewhere in the NT do we get this expression of strength, and so it is likely this is the verse the NT authors are drawing upon. What we have here isn’t even a noun for strength, though. As noted above, it’s an adverb that means “very” or “exceedingly.” It expresses totality and is not intended to mark out a separate part of a human being.

Deuteronomy 11:13 – 13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 13:3 – 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deuteronomy 30:6 – 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.

Joshua 22:5 – 5 Only be very careful to observe the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Matthew 22:37 – 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

Mark 12:30 – 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

Luke 10:27 – 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

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9 Responses to “Biblical Anthropology, Part 6”

  1. Nobunaga says:

    Re question 3. I thought we had concluded the term “nephesh” was a complete term or word for the “whole man” which can in turn be divided into separate categories to make a specific point by the writer using the word.

    So i’m guessing this is still the case in the NT, but thats all Greek to me. From the example you gave it seems like a emphasis to make a point…hmmm can the soul be divided from spirit ? or joints divided from marrow ? we know the spirit can be divided at death. I did notice soul, spirit, heart, and body by way of joints and morrow are mentioned in Heb 4:12 and mind by way of thoughts, but i may be getting carried away now.

    Do we move on to the Greek word psuché when dealing with the NT ?

  2. MSH says:

    @Nobunaga: that’ll be the next post (NT). Nephesh denotes totality (referring to the person), but can also refer to the immaterial part of the person (the “life” of the body, associates with breath or breathing) or the body (e.g., the references to corpses – the dead body being identified with the person, sort of the way we do). Other terms (ruach, leb) do not speak of the totality.

  3. Nobunaga says:

    So to go back to the very first question….. is the human made up of spirit/soul or spirit/body/soul ?

    The human is the Nephesh and the Ruach, with all that the Nephesh entails being taken into account. When the Nephesh goes to Sheol the Ruach goes to be with the Lord if you are redeemed by faith in the blood of Christ for remission of sins.

    But in terms of general description Nephesh could do the job to describe a human being ?

    I think it would be difficult job to tell people this though, I think they like the idea of a triune human because of the Godhead. I suspect they would like to keep hold of body/soul/spirit.

  4. MSH says:

    @Nobunaga: There is no scriptural support for this sentence: “When the Nephesh goes to Sheol the Ruach goes to be with the Lord if you are redeemed by faith in the blood of Christ for remission of sins.”

    Which means your followup sentence is better – that the nephesh = the total person, the human being. The nephesh is the totality of the life form (including animals).

    THink of how we use “person” in English. It can mean:

    1. The total individual, body and immaterial nature; totality.
    2. We can use “person” to speak of the “inner life” or disposition, or emotions, etc. – all the ways nephesh is also used. WHen we say “what kind of person would do that” we aren’t talking about the body or even flesh and immaterial part, but typically the disposition of an individual.
    3. A dead body: “There’s a dead person in the car”. It’s an inanimate corpse.

    Nephesh has the same flexibility. Ruach refers to the inner; what is within the flesh (or exists outside the flesh). It is more restricted than nephesh (it doesn’t refer to totality).

  5. Nobunaga says:

    I get the descriptive part of Nephesh in describing a human in totality, i can see that from all the uses of the word which you provided.

    you say there is no scriptural support for what i said ?

    Ecclesiastes 12:7 seems to say what i was trying to convey, yes your correct i was not quoting scripture word for word,

    but when the body goes to the grave the spirit goes to the One who gave it, how can you say there is no support for that.

  6. MSH says:

    @Nobunaga: The part I was objecting to in the OT was faith in Jesus. The incarnation and crucifixion and resurrection had not yet occurred, so they couldn’t be objects of faith.

  7. Nobunaga says:

    I was thinking of our times, i should have made that clear.

  8. Anonymous says:

    saw this and thought of this blog

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-558271/Can-really-transplant-human-soul.html

    not that i support the claims, but found it interesting in relation to the heart and soul that this topic has covered so far.

  9. […] Part 4 of our biblical anthropology series summarizes the overlapping of ruach and nephesh, and Part 6 brings leb/lebab into that […]

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