With All My Heart

The word heart occurs 862 times in the Bible.  Half of those times are mentioned in the Wisdom Literature and the Prophets. 

An understanding of how the word “heart” is used in Scripture is beneficial. 

Often the word “heart” refers to the organ, however, what the word “heart” stands for is how it should be understood most often.

The Hebrew word for heart in the Old Testament was “Lev” and it wasn’t a body part to the Israelites. They had a broader understanding of heart than we do in our modern context. They thought of the heart as the organ that gives physical life and the place where you think and make sense of the world—where you feel emotions and make choices.

The New Testament Greek word for heart is kardiá. It was used to refer to one’s entire emotional nature and understanding. The heart was the organ that was believed to have the ability to reason, question, meditate, motivate, and think.

There was a time when it was believed thoughts originated in the heart, were carried to the brain by the blood and there became conscious thoughts.

In the Bible the heart is the locus of physical and spiritual being, and represents the “central wisdom of feeling as opposed to the head-wisdom of reason.” It is compassion and understanding, life-giving and complex. It is a symbol for love. Often known as the seat of emotions, the heart is synonymous with affection.

The commentator Alford says, “The word ‘heart’ in Scripture signifies the very core and center of life, where the intelligence has its post of observation, where the stores of experience are laid up, and the thoughts have their fountain.”

Now when you read the Bible and come to the word heart think of it not merely as an organ, but in light of this understanding as:

The center and seat of spiritual life.

The soul or mind, as it is the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, endeavors.

Of the understanding, the faculty and seat of the intelligence.

Of the will and character.

The seat of the sensibilities, affections, emotions, desires, appetites, passions.

Secondarily, apart from the Bible, as far back as the ancient Greeks, lyric poetry identified the heart with love. Greek philosophers agreed, more or less, that the heart was linked to our strongest emotions, including love. 

In antiquity the current heart shape, which really isn’t shaped like a heart, came to symbolize love. The most unusual theory concerns how this shape came to represent the heart relates to the plant silphium, a species of giant fennel that once grew on the North African coastline near the Greek colony of Cyrene. The seed pod was heart shaped. The ancient Greeks and Romans used silphium as both a food flavoring and a medicine—it supposedly worked wonders as a cough syrup—but it was most famous as an early form of birth control. 

Ancient writers and poets hailed the plant for its contraceptive powers, and it became so popular that it was cultivated into extinction by the first century A.D. (legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero was presented with the last surviving stalk). Silphium’s seedpod bore a striking resemblance to the modern Valentine’s heart, leading many to speculate that the herb’s associations with love and sex may have been what first helped popularize the symbol. The ancient city of Cyrene, which grew rich from the silphium trade, even put the heart shape on its money.