Barry Newman's Blog

February 28, 2010

“The Heart” in the Old Testament (part III)

Filed under: The Heart — barrynewman @ 9:51 pm

Usages of lev or levav

The Physical “Organ”

In a few instances, maybe 18 at most, the underlying reference seems to be to the physical organ we know of as the heart or a part of the body associated with the organ, such as the chest or what lies beneath the chest, or even the body itself.  The chest is beaten; items are placed upon the chest; the chest is pierced; the chest of Leviathan is stone-like; an arrow comes out of the back; the heart pounds; there is a lining to the heart, chest or lungs; there are walls of the heart, chest or lungs; the heart (or body?) is strengthened by bread; the whole heart (or body?) is sick. On two of these occasions, once – Judah and once – Israel, these nations are treated as though they were human bodies.

Metaphorical Usage

About 13 times, there is a metaphorical usage with “in the heart of’ meaning something like “in the midst of”. References are made to: in the midst of the sea and in the midst of the heavens. There is one occasion where “heart” is used as part of a code.  There are other instances, not included in the 13, where “the heart” is referred to as the heart of a city or a nation, these corporately referring to the people of that city or nation.


We would classify references made to a god’s heart, an animal’s heart, Satan’s heart and the heart of God, as anthropomorphic, given that the bulk of references apply to human kind. There are about 33 such instances with all but six relating to God. His heart can be grieved, he says in his heart, he refers to what is and what is not in his heart, he determines according to his heart, his heart will reside in the temple, he sets his heart on man, he is wise in heart, he has hidden matters in his heart, he is very strong of heart, he has thoughts in his heart, he has plans in his heart, he will act with all his heart, he remembers in his heart, affliction does not come from his heart, his heart can turn and his heart cries out.

February 26, 2010

“The Heart” in the Old Testament (part II)

Filed under: Lev and Levav,The Heart — barrynewman @ 9:18 am

For lovers of the Old Testament, our problem is to know how the Hebrew words that could be translated “heart” should be properly understood.  We need to keep in mind that there isn’t a word that we would translate “brain” and that in some sense or another our minds are where our dispositions, interests, attitudes, knowledge and understandings are “located”.  We also need to remember that a Hebrew word might not function in the same way as a so-called English equivalent word might function.  For example, the Hebrew word might have a very different semantic field than the English word often provided as a translation.  Furthermore, the Hebrew words may have changed their function in the course of time and during the development of the Hebrew language, though the Hebrew text we generally rely on, and relied upon below, the Masoretic text, was finalised in the second half of the first millennium A.D.  The linguistic general context in which the words are found may help immensely.  However, no matter how carefully we attempt to arrive at a correct understanding in some cases doubt about our translation will persist.

By far the most common Hebrew words underlying the English word “heart’ are the two words: lev and levav[1].  They are considered to be equivalent.  They and their derivatives[2] occur in excess of 850 times[3], with the English translation very commonly being “heart” or one of its cognates.  Unless otherwise obvious, references to leb or lebab below are to be understood as including any derivatives.  There are other Hebrew words or their cognates which are sometimes translated “heart”. One word is commonly understood as “kidneys”, another as referring to “bowels”, “abdomen” or “womb”, another is commonly translated as  “breast”, “bosom” or “lap”, another is sometimes translated “viscera” or “innards” or by use of a personal pronoun but commonly translated with the sense of  “midst”,  another is commonly translated “stomach” or “womb”, another is commonly translated “liver” and the word, nephesh is commonly translated “soul”.  Nephesh aside, of all the instances where these latter words (and two other words which occur only once each) are used, about 50 appear in contexts where it could be plausibly argued that they perform functions similar to those performed by either lev or levav. On 17 of these 50 odd occasions the New International Version (1986) uses “heart’ as the translation.   On these 50 or so occasions, even if the Hebrew words were translated “heart”, they would add no new sense to what can be discerned by simply examining leb or lebab.  For this reason and because lev and levav are the words most commonly underlying translations involving the English word “heart”, the focus below is on these two Hebrew words alone.  Some mention of nephesh and its relationship to lev or levav will be given below.  Each textual reference was checked at least twice.  In many instances a textual reference was checked three or more times.

[1] There are valuable discussions on the two main Hebrew words for “heart” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (eds. G. J. Botterweck, H. Ringgren and H. –J Fabry; translated by: D. E. Green) Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI: H. –J. Fabry, VII [1995]:  399-437 and in Anthropology of the Old Testament (Sigler Press: Mifflintown, PA:  H. W. Wolff, 1996): 40-58.

[2] In addition to about 847 uses of lev, levav, their cognates and their combinations with other words, there are 8 Aramaic forms.

[3] Occurrences occur in all Old Testament books with the exceptions of Amos, Micah and Habakkuk.

February 24, 2010

“The Heart” in the Old Testament (part I)

Filed under: The Heart — barrynewman @ 11:14 pm



“Paul spoke not only with his head but with his heart,” said a friend of mine in one of his sermons.  Nothing wrong with the statement and the hearers probably understood it as intended. Of course by “head” we understand a reference to “mind” as a phenomenon associated with “brain”, which entity is within the head. To translate the words, literally into ancient Hebrew would however have caused some confusion for the ancient Israelite.  He or she would have had some confidence that they were understanding the word “heart” correctly, though they may have been mistaken.  The main difficulty however would be with their understanding of what was intended by “head” and why it was set in opposition to “heart”.   Translating the ancient Hebrew word for “heart” into English also has its problems.

The difficulties arise partly because for the Israelite the brain seems to have had no importance.  In fact we know of no Hebrew word that we could properly translate “brain”, the mainly grey material inside the skull.  Furthermore, we are confident what the ancient Israelite didn’t know, namely, that the heart is a double pump complex used for the circulation of blood, largely under the control of the brain.   The difficulties also arise because in modern times we sometimes use “heart” in opposition to “brain” or “mind” when what is being contrasted with “mind” or “brain” is in fact a state or activity of a mental nature.  We tend to refer to loving God with the heart but knowing about him with the mind. The truth is that the biological heart is incapable of loving. The brain is at work in both of these matters.  The Hebrew refers to loving God with the heart but doesn’t make the distinction we might make between heart and mind. To further complicate things however, like the Israelite, we often use “heart” when referring to those “heartfelt” matters that have some emotional character.  Such usage is part and parcel of the English language. This may be due to the influence of Christendom, with its love of the Bible, upon our language.  However, it isn’t only English speakers that use “heart” in this way.  Once when speaking to a group of Asian ladies with very limited understanding of the English language, I repeatedly using my hands to point to my head, my chest and my limbs to refer to knowing, loving and doing, respectively.  The feedback was that they were delighted to be able to understand what I was saying!

February 23, 2010

The Heart – by way of introduction

Filed under: The Heart — barrynewman @ 11:15 pm

Certain O.T. and N.T. references to “the soul” have traditionally been poorly misunderstood (see my blog Series “The Soul”) and misleading theological systems of some significance have been built on these poor foundations.  Some references to “the heart” in the O.T. and N.T. are also misunderstood but the misunderstandings probably do not carry with them such serious consequences.  None the less, the text is sometimes not treated appropriately and our thinking is befuddled as a consequence.  The difficulties in understanding partly arise because of the way we use “heart” in our own language, failing to appreciate the Hebrew and Greek usage.  This new series will begin with an examination of “the heart” in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament.

February 13, 2010

Biblical Baptism Re-cap

Filed under: Baptism,Freedom — barrynewman @ 3:59 am

In case you’ve joined this blog recently, the following two papers might be of some assistance.

Biblical Baptism (full series)

Freedom (full series)

February 10, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (Full Series PDF)

Filed under: Baptism,Ceremonies,Gospel — barrynewman @ 9:43 pm

Here is the full series

February 9, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part XV)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 9:10 pm

In Conclusion

It is not the argument here that there could not be any reference to a baptismal water ceremony in the Matthew 28 text.  There may have been, but in the light of the various arguments above, my suggestion is that at best any reference to a water ceremony was by way of allusion.  It is acknowledged that there was a baptismal water ceremony that had become well known just prior to and during the ministry of Jesus.  When his disciples heard Jesus utter the words of Matthew 28: 19, 20 in whatever language, they may have had the baptismal water ceremony brought to mind.  It is also acknowledged that there was a baptismal water ceremony that had become well known during the ministry of the early disciples post the resurrection of Jesus and it was expected that new disciples be baptised in such a ceremony.  When the early readers of Matthew’s Gospel came across the text of Matthew 28: 19, 20, the use of “baptizo” may well have brought to their minds that water ceremony.

However what has been argued above is that when Jesus says, “immersing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” he is primarily making a reference to something like “enveloping them in all that pertains to, submerging them under the governorship of,  the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Such an understanding tightly connects “make disciples” with “teaching them all to observe all that I have commanded” in the Matthew 28: 19, 20 text and eliminates the problems associated with understanding the text in the traditional manner.  Without denying its value, the baptismal water ceremony need not be viewed as an obligatory ceremony, commanded by Jesus to be performed by his disciples, and as such seen to be a peculiar attachment to the gospel of grace.

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part XIV)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 12:28 am

Matthew 28: 19, 20 – Understanding the Text (continued)

Returning to “baptising them in the name of …” what do we understand by the phrase, “in (or into) the name of”?  According to Ferguson, the Greek expression “into the name of” as used in antiquity commonly occurs in commercial and legal contexts and refers to “into the ownership or possession of someone, though he suggests that perhaps the phrase in Matthew has more in common with the Hebrew phrase, “into the name of” and supports the idea that the notion is, “with reference to”[1].  The reality is that it is too prescriptive to demand that the phrase should be precisely understood one way or another.  However, let us take on both these ideas but attach them to a metaphorical understanding of “baptizo”.  To immerse someone with reference to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit could imply to thoroughly engulf them, saturate them, with all that pertains to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  That is, to thoroughly teach those who are to be made disciples all that Jesus taught about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – “teaching” being the next participle in the statement.  To immerse someone into the ownership or possession of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit would imply submerging them under the governorship of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; that is, to bring about, for those who are to be made disciples, their coming under the complete authority of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit – the authority of Jesus being implicit in the next phrase, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you”.  Just as there is only one name, there is only one undivided authority. And coming under that one authority would necessitate having been taught all about those with that authority – especially all about him to whom all authority in heaven and earth had been given (v. 18)  He had been given all authority (v. 18), becoming his disciple would involve coming under his authority (v. 19a), being “enfolded” in the name entailed coming under the authority of that name (v. 19b) and being taught to observe all that Jesus had commanded could not but imply coming under the authority of Jesus (v. 20). Authority permeates vv. 18 to 20.  There is little conceptual room available for reference to ceremonial observance!

A metaphorical understanding of “immersing” (the use of that word involves a translation and not the transliteration, “baptising”), reveals a strong linkage between the imperative, “make disciples” v. 19 and the requirement of “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” of v. 20.  The idea that a water baptismal ceremony is what is solely in mind in the use of “baptizo” accepts by comparison a weaker connection between “make disciples” and “teaching them …”.  An outward indication by means of a ceremony is not in itself being taught – the essence of becoming a disciple is.

[1] Op. cit., pp. 135, 136

February 8, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part XIII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 10:56 am

Matthew 28: 19, 20 – Understanding the Text

How then can we defensibly understand Matthew 28: 19, 20?

To begin with, it may be helpful to remember that the actual imperative belongs to “make disciples”, with “baptising” along with “going” and “teaching” being participles.  The emphasis is on making disciples.  “Baptising” should then be understood as involved in some way with making disciples. One could argue that the sense is that one could not become a disciple unless one was baptised in a baptismal water ceremony but such a conclusion is contrary to the nature of the gospel.  Furthermore, the Ephesians who are only familiar with John’s baptism are referred to as disciples (Acts 19: 1-7), though we recognise that their discipleship must have been limited. And they were baptised again. Though this is not the understanding adopted here, it would be more plausible to suggest that what was implied in Matthew 28: 19 was that a water baptismal ceremony conducted “in the name …” was an outward indication (though only an indication) that one was being made a disciple.  Just as the “going” of the text was not necessary for every person to become a disciple, though it was necessary for people of all nations to become disciples, so it could be argued that a water baptismal ceremony was not necessary for a person to become a disciple though it would be an indication of such.

We also need to reflect on the last participle phrase, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”  This seems very much like what is involved in persons being made disciples.  Becoming a disciple of Jesus would undoubtedly involve being taught what he had taught and coming under his authority and the authority of what he had taught.  And coming under his authority implied observing what he had taught.  That is, the last participle phrase seems like a fairly explicit exposition of the imperative, “make disciples”.

February 7, 2010

Biblical Baptism Revisited (part XII)

Filed under: Baptism — barrynewman @ 4:51 am

Matthew 28: 19 – Problems in Understanding the Text as a reference to a Baptismal Water Ceremony (continued)

6. Another argument appealing to the “natural” understanding of Matthew 28: 19 could be along the lines of baptismal water ceremonies having become so well known that any reference to “baptizo” would readily be understood as a reference to the water ceremony unless a very obvious metaphorical usage was being employed. In response: a) There are two references to “baptizo” in the Gospels (Mark 7: 4, Luke 11: 38) which are not metaphorical but which at the same time do not relate to the water baptismal ceremony.  They do however relate to a washing procedure perhaps of a fairly formal nature. b) Before the time when Jesus uttered these words, there is no clear evidence that either John the Baptiser or the disciples of Jesus ever baptised in the name of anyone.  While it is true that the baptismal ceremony conducted by John the Baptiser is spoken of as “John’s baptism” in Acts 18: 25 and that certain Ephesian disciples referred to themselves as having been baptised into John’s baptism (Acts 19: 3), this is not necessarily the same as being baptised in or into his name.  Admittedly however, if “in his name” meant something like “coming under the authority of”, that concept could have been involved independently of the phrase being used both with the baptisms conducted by John and those conducted by the disciples of Jesus. c) What is quite novel in the Matthew text however, is its reference to that specific name – the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  There is no precedent for this and the singularity of “name” along with the three persons joined by two “ands” is striking.  The usage of “baptizo” in a simple setting, particularly if water had also been mentioned, might have suggested a water ceremony to a Greek reader of the Gospel. However, the uniqueness of “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”, either when heard originally probably in Aramaic or when read later in Greek, might well have alerted the hearers at the time and subsequent Greek readers of the text, viewing the word, “baptizo”, to seeing something other than a reference to a water ceremony.

7. It is significant that Paul, in writing to those Corinthians who had been “sanctified in Christ Jesus”, did not regard literal water baptism to be of considerable importance.  In opposing the view that they belonged to different factions, defined in terms of who baptised them, he wrote, “Christ did not send me to baptise but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1: 17).  If the Lord Jesus commanded his disciples to carry out literal water baptisms, how odd that Paul considered himself exempt from this commission!  It little helps to say that Paul’s focus was on the problem of how people saw themselves rather than on the ceremony itself.  In addressing that problem he indicates that the water ceremony itself is not the crucial ceremony understood as such by others and that furthermore he does not see carrying it out as one of his essential tasks.

8. Finally, that there should be a water ceremony that Jesus, by implication commanded that his followers had to undergo seems absolutely contrary to the gospel.  It was argued in the “Biblical Baptism” series that most references to baptism and being baptised in Paul’s epistles should be understood primarily metaphorically.  However even if they were not so understood, we do not find Paul in these epistles referring to the necessity of the baptismal water ceremony alongside of his various references to the grace of God.  If he did so, his portrayal of God’s gracious acts alongside the necessity of a human act would constitute an unfathomable clash of concepts[1].

[1] The understandably difficult but misunderstood passage in 1 Peter 3: 20 was briefly referred to in the “Biblical Baptism” blog series.

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