Skip to main content

Heart (in the Bible)


In the Old Testament the word for heart is lēb or lēbāb; in the New Testament it is καρδία or νο[symbol omitted]ς. The definition and use of these terms will be treated in this article.

The Hebrew word lēb is derived probably from a root that etymologically means "agitated motion." It is seldom used in the proper sense, referring to the vital organ that pumps blood through the body (1 Sm 25.37; Jb 41.16; etc.). In the Bible the term "heart" is used mostly in a transferred sense, referring to the inner resources of the total person as capable of acting, with the accent more specifically on his will or intellect, less often his emotions; it is characteristic of Semitic thought that heart never prescinds from the total person.

In 1 Sm 16.7 heart refers specifically to the invisible inner man: "man seeth those things that appear; but the Lord beholdeth the heart." In Ps 83 (84).3 the Psalmist wishes to say that his total being yearns for God, and so he includes his heart together with his flesh and soul. Heart in this context is equivalent to the most noble inner part of man, i.e., his spirit (rûa ), as is the sense of heart in the great commandment of love [Dt 6.5; see also Ps 118 (119).2].

Heart appears in the sense of person as source of thought in Nm 16.28: "Moses said 'This is how you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all I have done and that it was not I who claimed it."' "Not I who claimed it," is literally "not from my heart" (see also Nm 24.13; 1 Kgs 12.33).

Heart is used in the sense of person as the source of volition in 1 Kgs 8.17; "And David my father would have built a house to the name of the Lord, the God of Israel." "And David my father would have" is literally "it was with the heart of David my father."

Heart is used less often to signify the emotions. In Jer 49.22 heart is used in the sense of courage: "on that day the hearts of Edom's heroes shall be like the heart of a woman in travail" (see also Dt 15.10; 28.47).

In the New Testament two words translate the Hebrew lēb, καρδία and νο[symbol omitted]ς. They both denote the inner person as the source of action; καρδία more specifically denotes volition and emotion while νο[symbol omitted]ς denotes intellect.

In Lk 16.15 καρδία specifically denotes the invisible inner man: "You are they who declare yourselves just in the sight of man, but God knows your heart (cf. 1 Thes2.4; Rom 8.27). However, καρδία is also used to refer to understanding (2 Cor 4.6; Mt 13.15) and to willing (2 Cor9.7; Lk 21.14).

In the New Testament νο[symbol omitted]ς is used for lēb only in Pauline literature with the exceptions of Lk 24.45; Rv 13.18; 17.9. In Rom 7.23 νο[symbol omitted]ς, parallel to "the inner man," signifies the higher mental part of the natural man; it is transformed by Baptism to a new mode of being (Rom 12.2; Eph 4.23).

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek 94748. j. behm, g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament 3:60916. j. p. e. pedersen, Israel: Its Life and Culture, 4 v. in 2 (New York 192640) 1:9981. r. bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, tr. k. grobel (New York 1951) 1:190259. c. tresmontant, A Study of Hebrew Thought, tr. m. f. gibson (New York 1960) 83124. m. baily, "Biblical Man and Some Formulae of Christian Teaching," Irish Theological Quarterly 27 (1960) 173200.

[w. e. lynch]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Heart (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 20 Mar. 2019 <>.

"Heart (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (March 20, 2019).

"Heart (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved March 20, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.