Hearts and minds

Mark 6:45-52 is the familiar story of Jesus walking on the water, which comes right after the story of the feeding of the five thousand. The narrator in v. 52 concludes that the disciples might have understood how Jesus could walk on the water if they had been able to really understand that he was able to feed the five thousand. In the Authorized Version, verse 52 reads, “For they considered not [the miracle] of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.” Is that a good translation? Well, we all know the language of the KJV is archaic, so let’s look at the RSV: “For they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.” Okay, we know that the RSV is a faithfully literal translation, so we can be assured that the original really does say here something about hearts and about hardness. (A look at the wording of the Greek original confirms that fact.) That must be a good translation, right? Because it reflects what the original says. The NIV (both the 1984  and 2011 versions) says, “For they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.” Looking also at the New Living Translation, we see “For they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their hearts were too hard to take it in.”

So, what does that mean? My understanding of the expression “hard-hearted” is that it means that someone is callous toward other people’s feelings. Huh? Is this saying that the disciples were insensitive to Jesus’ feelings? Or was it someone else, to whom their insensitivity was directed? To confirm my understanding of the expression, I looked it up, and according to the Random House Dictionary, hard-hearted means unfeeling, unmerciful, pitiless, heartless, merciless, mean, unforgiving, from Middle English hard herted. This means that the disciples couldn’t accept what was going on because they were pitiless, mean, and insensitive. Right?

Compare this with a set of other English Bible translations that do not use the word “heart” in Mark 6:52. Is it possible that these could be correct, accurate, even if they are missing a word that is in the original?

TEV: “because they had not understood the real meaning of the feeding of the five thousand; their minds could not grasp it.”

CEV: “Their minds were closed, and they could not understand the true meaning of the loaves of bread.”

GW: “They didn’t understand what had happened with the loaves of bread. Instead, their minds were closed.”

JB: “because they had not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant; their minds were closed.”

Here is what one commentary says about this expression: “This hardness of heart is something quite different from our use of the same words, denoting blunted feelings and moral sensiblities. The Biblical καρδία denotes the general inner man, and here especially the mind, which is represented as so calloused as to be incapable of receiving mental impressions.” If this commenary is right, and I believe it is, based on my own studies, then it is possible that a translation that translates καρδία into English as “mind(s)” is more accurate than a translation of “heart(s)” in this context. Or maybe an analogous idiom like “thick-headed” would be appropriate. Along those lines, we translated this verse into Saint Lucian French Creole (1999) as “paski yo p’òkò té konpwann miwak-la Jézi té fè èk sé pen-an. Tèt yo té wèd toujou.” (I’ll leave it to you to figure out that one.)

The problem, of course, is that in different cultures, different qualities are attributed to different body parts. That’s a simple way of putting it. The translation problem is cultural and linguistic. In this case, it might not be so bad if the resulting translation resulted in no meaning, such that the reader/listener might realize that a proper understanding is lacking and go looking for it. But what is worse here is that a literal translation involving “hardness of heart” would prompt a wrong interpretation without the reader/listener being aware of it. This may be debatable, but I believe that a translation cannot be accurate if does not prompt, or at least allow, a proper interpretation in the mind/heart of the reader.

Now let me back up and qualify that a little. There are different kinds of translations. There are what I consider normal, good translations, suitable for lectionary or devotional purposes or personal reading, and then there are special purpose translations, such as quite literal ones. A literal translation has a purpose of giving a word-for-word rendering, and if this results in an incomplete or inaccurate understanding, that is not their problem. The RSV falls into this category, and I appreciate the RSV a great deal. It is very dependable for certain purposes. I use it for study purposes, to get at the forms of the underlying original texts. But it is a special purpose kind of translation that I would use for study but not for general use. So I am not criticizing the RSV, considering its special purpose, and when it first came out, it was one of the few Bibles available that did not use the archaic language of the King James. What I am saying is that a normal translation is not so tied to the words of the original that it does not take responsibility for accuracy of understanding on the part of the reader, and that accuracy in a translation is tied to an accurate understanding on the part of the reader/hearer. Of course, no translation is perfect.

59 thoughts on “Hearts and minds

  1. wm tanksley says:

    This seems to me to be a clear case of “Biblish”, in which the translators used a phrase that was familiar because an older translation used it, and in this particular case the older translation happened to use a literal translation for an idiom. In this case the idiom appears throughout the Bible in the original languages.

    There’s another case of this “Biblish” I’d like an expert opinion on. I was reading a debate in which one person claimed that when the Bible said Abraham “gave up the ghost” it was clearly proving that death IS the separation of the spirit from the body. But when I looked at the Hebrew, I see only a single word translating that phrase, and it’s a word that’s related to words that refer to making noises, NOT words that refer to breath or spirit (ruach, nephesh). I don’t read Hebrew, so I couldn’t take it much further; but I pursued that through the rest of the text, including into the Greek, and found that in only one case in the entire Bible was the KJV’s “gave up the ghost” like the original word used — in all other cases it was a single word, and in the both cases where the root word was ‘psuche’ the person was actually killed in judgement (not that I’m assuming the root word MEANS ghost, I’m just giving the most generous interpretation to support the debater’s claim).

    Any help for me? Do you think the KJV got this particular expression wrong?

  2. Carl W. Conrad says:

    A very nice point. I recall Englishing the clause myself several years ago as “So hard-headed were they.” I suppose one might also use “thick-skulled.”

  3. Mike Tisdell says:

    I strongly reject the idea that “mind” is a better translation than “heart.” There are two significant issues that I believe strongly contradict this point of view.

    First, I believe that the translation of “mind” is representative some mistaken ideas in modern linguistics i.e. the idea that ideas do not transcend across different cultures. There are many idioms that have ancient origins that still exist in modern cultures today and the idea of the “heart” as a center of emotions can be seen in very ancient languages just as it is seen in modern languages today.

    Second, too often linguists are guilty of imposing narrow semantic definitions that are characteristic of Modern English on the words in ancient languages that often had a much broader semantic range of meaning.

    In this example, the Hebrew the word לב (heart) caries a sense of both the center of thought and the center of emotion. So in eccl. 2:1 אמרתי אני בלבי which literally says “I said in my heart” conveys the idea of “thinking” but Jg. 19:3 ” וילך אחריה לדבר על־לבה” which literally says “and he went after her to speak on her heart” conveys the idea of meeting her emotional needs in the spoken word.

    Second, while the Greek shares a similar semantic range of meaning with the Hebrew i.e. the translation of לב is almost always expressed as καρδίᾳ in the LXX. However, the Greek seems to lean a little closer to our English understanding of heart when compared to the Hebrew text. This can be seen in the translation of Mark 12:20 where Mark quotes Duet. 6:5. In Hebrew the idea of the heart and mind is expressed in one word i.e. לב but in Greek the translator chose to express this idea in two words i.e. καρδίας (heaert) and διανοίας (mind); the fact that the Greek translator felt the need to convey meaning of לב using both words appears to argue strongly against the idea that καρδία means “mind” more than it means “heart.”

    Yes, I think that the people did not understand because their hearts where hard in rebellion against God. The bible (both OT and NT) is clear that people do not understand God because their heart is rebellious (hard) towards him. The TEV example above (in my opinion the absolute worst of all the translation examples you provided) seems to convey the idea that it was just a misunderstanding but I believe the text is clear that their lack of understanding was far more deliberate i.e. their hearts were hard.

  4. David Frank says:

    Wm Tanksley, thanks for your comments. I will leave it up to someone else to comment on the expression “gave up the ghost.” My understanding is that the Hebrew expression in Genesis 25:8 means, basically, “he breathed his last.” I haven’t checked all English translations since the King James, but a few that I surveyed have either “Abraham breathed his last” or simply “Abraham died.” Maybe “he expired” would be good, since etymologically-speaking, “expire” means “breathed out.” So my understanding of Genesis 25:8 is that it is saying that Abraham died. I am not prepared to debate that point with someone who thinks differently. I won’t comment on the KJV rendering of “gave up the ghost” because I’m not sure what that expression meant in English 400 years ago. I am not one to bad-mouth the King James. A lot of the scripture that I have memorized is memorized in King James English.

  5. David Frank says:

    Carl Conrad, if, years ago, you “Englished” this as “so hard-headed were they,” I would say that indicates that you understood not only the particular words used here but also what they meant when put together. I like “thick-headed.”

  6. David Frank says:

    Mike Tisdell, I don’t think you have strongly contradicted what I said, but I do understand that you don’t agree. I can live with that. Of course, I don’t think you are correct.

    As both a linguist and a translation specialist, of course I believe that ideas can transcend cultures. They can do so, but they do not always do so automatically. Sometimes some negotiation is involved, in order for people to understand each other, and this can even happen within a language and culture, my discussion with you being a case in point. Yes, understanding can take place between different cultures, and misunderstanding can also take place. If I did not believe that ideas can transcend languages and cultures, I would not be involved in communication of the gospel across linguistic and cultural lines. I would give up the idea. If I did not believe that misunderstandings can take place, I suppose I would always translate quite literally and not worry about whether the translation is understood the way it should be. I have the impression that that is what you are advocating, but I don’t know you well enough to be sure.

    It may be true, as you said, that the concept of “heart” as being the center of emotions is widespread, geographically and temporally. It would be interesting to do a survey. However, I am quite sure that this is not a universal. I have evidence to the contrary. Some languages think of the liver this way, for example. I have worked with one tribal language in Africa where they would never talk about the heart as being the part of the body where emotions are located. Using the heart as being a place where emotions are centered just doesn’t register with them, just doesn’t make any sense. More to the point here, my research informs me that in the passage in question, the use of καρδια was not intended to denote feelings and emotions but rather something more intellectual, and so, if translated literally, a misunderstanding can result with a modern English-speaking audience.

    You said, “Second, too often linguists are guilty of imposing narrow semantic definitions that are characteristic of Modern English on the words in ancient languages that often had a much broader semantic range of meaning.” Speaking as a PhD linguist, I don’t think you are accurate in making linguists the bad guys here. Linguists would understand that better than a lot of people.

    I’m not sure what you have to back up what you said about Judges 19:3 having to do with emotional needs. I understand this to mean that the husband went to persuade the woman to return. Reading something into this about emotional needs is a bit of a stretch, as far as I can see.

    Your discussion of Mark 12:20 as compared to Deut. 6:5 has some validity to it, but with a wrong conclusion. It does not “argue strongly against the idea that καρδία means ‘mind’ more than it means ‘heart.'” I have written something about that example elsewhere, but with a different conclusion than you came up with.

  7. Mike Sangrey says:

    The Mark 12:30 text also caused me to question the idea that καρδία has some reference to what we think the mind does. And, I agree, the way the sentence is worded also doesn’t seem to indicate that the 1 CE population thought the Hebrew word was better translated as two words. “Soul” is inserted in between. It’s more like the entire Greek sentence translates the entire Hebrew sentence while maintaining significant verbal connection between the two. It was these two observations that sent me down the pathway of thinking καρδία is part of a different psychological model. I had to think outside the box.

    In other words, in my opinion, we try to mold their language and their culture with our psychological metaphor. We think in terms of mind, will and emotions. I don’t think they did, at least not quite. And, if I’m right, then this actually underscores David’s point all the more–The translation problem is cultural and linguistic. Their way of slicing and dicing reality is different than the way we slice and dice. Same reality, different taxonomy.

    I think καρδίας has more to do with “intentions” or how we initiate things. To use Mike’s two citations from the Hebrew Scriptures: Eccl 2:1 comes out as, “I set out to test whether pleasure was a good metric.” That is, he fully intended to show pleasure was the measure. Judges 19:3 ends up meaning that he went to find out what the concubine was intending to do (now that he came to her and having such an attitude about her). His sticking around, and doing so at her father’s insistence–these two men–convinced her.

    And that brings me to David’s citation of a commentary: “This hardness of heart [represents the person as] so calloused as to be incapable of receiving mental impressions.”

    I came to the same conclusion, but along a different track. For me, the disciples had no intention of changing their minds. That wasn’t the path they were on. It wasn’t a rational issue with them. Being suddenly confronted with the new information of Jesus walking on water didn’t dissuade them of their belief (or unbelief), it astonished them. Their focus was in an entirely different, and wrong, direction.

    We convey this same attitude when we say, “Don’t bother me with the facts, my mind is made up.” And this expression is interesting here because it mentions ‘mind’. This is the English cognitive metaphor. But, the use of ‘mind’ only seems to underscore the non-rationalistic nature of the meaning of the sentence. And the meaning is not really emotional either. There’s something else going on, something more basic, something more fundamental within the psychology of a person.

    I like Carl’s suggestion of ‘hard-headed’. People aren’t hard-headed because they’re stupid. And, frankly, it’s rarely, if ever, because they haven’t been given the right information. And, it’s not because their judgment is medically impaired. And it’s not (generally) because they’re emotionally attached to something. There’s something else going on. Something more basic. I suggest it’s what the Greeks and Hebrews thought of when they used the term καρδία and לב. We have to get to THEIR meaning.

    It seems to me, when faced with such very abstract concepts, the translator needs to get his/her mind around the meaning. And only then ask the question, “How do we say that in English?”

  8. Mike Tisdell says:

    David Frank said:
    “I suppose I would always translate quite literally and not worry about whether the translation is understood the way it should be. I have the impression that that is what you are advocating, but I don’t know you well enough to be sure.”

    No, I am not advocating that one always translate literally. Ironically, the most recent post I made on BBB just before making the one in this thread argues very strongly against translating “literally”

    David Frank said:
    “It may be true, as you said, that the concept of “heart” as being the center of emotions is widespread, geographically and temporally. It would be interesting to do a survey. However, I am quite sure that this is not a universal.”

    I was indicating that this was a universal idea across all cultures, but I do believe there is very strong evidence to suggest that it is (at least) universal among descendant cultures i.e. Semitic -> Greek -> Latin -> Germatic, etc…

    David Frank said:
    “I have evidence to the contrary. Some languages think of the liver this way, for example. I have worked with one tribal language in Africa where they would never talk about the heart as being the part of the body where emotions are located. Using the heart as being a place where emotions are centered just doesn’t register with them, just doesn’t make any sense.”

    While I do not dismiss this as a real possibility and am truly open to such possibilities but I am increasingly approaching claims like this with much more skepticism because I have seen claims like these made by linguists/sociologists which were later proven false and the original work was shown to be sloppy (at best) or fraudulent (at worst). Often these kinds of mistakes can be attributed to a desire to prove an agenda

    For example, I recently read a paper from Eugine Nida where he claims the people of the people of the Caroline Islands of the south Pacific had no concept of marriage or family and that they lived in a free communal society where sexuality was freely practiced between all of the members of the community; he then suggests that the common words for familial language do not exist in their language because the ideas themselves did not exist in their culture. Sociologists today completely reject all of the claims made by Nida about the culture and language of these people. It appears that Nida may have accepted the claims made by Margret Mead and her colleagues who worked in the South Pacific; claims that were later debunked when subsequent studies were conducted.

    David Frank said:
    “More to the point here, my research informs me that in the passage in question, the use of καρδια was not intended to denote feelings and emotions but rather something more intellectual, and so, if translated literally, a misunderstanding can result with a modern English-speaking audience.”

    What is your evidence?

    David Frank said:
    “You said, “Second, too often linguists are guilty of imposing narrow semantic definitions that are characteristic of Modern English on the words in ancient languages that often had a much broader semantic range of meaning.” Speaking as a PhD linguist, I don’t think you are accurate in making linguists the bad guys here. Linguists would understand that better than a lot of people.”

    Linguists SHOULD understand this better than most, but sadly it is often the linguists who often leap to unfounded conclusions based on far too narrowly defined definitions of words in ancient languages. Most of the time this is done by linguists who have little to no training in the ancient languages of the bible.

    David Frank said:
    “I’m not sure what you have to back up what you said about Judges 19:3 having to do with emotional needs. I understand this to mean that the husband went to persuade the woman to return. Reading something into this about emotional needs is a bit of a stretch, as far as I can see.”

    First, a look at most English translations fairly strongly supports what I have said. i.e most translations read something like “he spoke tenderly to her” or “he spoke to her heart.” Second, I would say that the idea that women, in general, are more relational/emotional is a universally understood idea. Third, it is difficult to imagine that the context was suggesting that the conversation was an intellectual exercise where the man intended to persuade her by employing a well reasoned argument in this passage or in the several others that use the same terminology. Last, there is a considerable amount of information written in Jewish Talmudic and related literature that speaks about the emotional nature of women (giving further insight into the Hebrew understanding of the nature of Women).

    David Frank said:
    “Your discussion of Mark 12:20 as compared to Deut. 6:5 has some validity to it, but with a wrong conclusion. It does not “argue strongly against the idea that καρδία means ‘mind’ more than it means ‘heart.’” I have written something about that example elsewhere, but with a different conclusion than you came up with.”

    In translation, both ancient and modern, when multiple words are used to express the ideas found in only one word in the original, it is almost always because no single word in the receptor language fully conveys the ideas found in the word in the original language. If you believe there is a different reason for this translation of Mark, I would be interested to hear what support you have for an opposing opinion.

  9. Mike Tisdell says:

    Mike Sangrey said:
    “The Mark 12:30 text also caused me to question the idea that καρδία has some reference to what we think the mind does. And, I agree, the way the sentence is worded also doesn’t seem to indicate that the 1 CE population thought the Hebrew word was better translated as two words. “Soul” is inserted in between. “

    Word order, especially in Greek, would not be a good reason to dismiss the use of both “heart” and “mind” to express an idea only expressed by “heart” in the original.

    Mike Sangrey said:
    “I think καρδίας has more to do with “intentions” or how we initiate things. To use Mike’s two citations from the Hebrew Scriptures: Eccl 2:1 comes out as, “I set out to test whether pleasure was a good metric.” That is, he fully intended to show pleasure was the measure. Judges 19:3 ends up meaning that he went to find out what the concubine was intending to do (now that he came to her and having such an attitude about her). His sticking around, and doing so at her father’s insistence–these two men–convinced her.”

    Can you think of one lexicon that supports these ideas or one ancient commentary?

    Mike Sangrey said:
    “And that brings me to David’s citation of a commentary: “This hardness of heart [represents the person as] so calloused as to be incapable of receiving mental impressions.””

    That really sounds like a modern English understanding of “hard hearted” don’t you think?

    Mike Sangrey said:
    “I like Carl’s suggestion of ‘hard-headed’. People aren’t hard-headed because they’re stupid. And, frankly, it’s rarely, if ever, because they haven’t been given the right information. And, it’s not because their judgment is medically impaired. And it’s not (generally) because they’re emotionally attached to something. There’s something else going on. Something more basic. I suggest it’s what the Greeks and Hebrews thought of when they used the term καρδία and לב. We have to get to THEIR meaning.”

    While I agree that the goal is to get to “THEIR meaning,” I think the mistake is made too often is excluding the idea that “THEIR meaning” might be very similar to “OUR meaning.” The idea that “THEIR meaning” MUST be different is a huge mistake. I personally don’t like Carl’s suggestion of “hard-headed” because it also misses the “sin/rebellion” aspect of “hard hearted” that is threaded throughout the Scriptures.

    Mike Sangrey said:
    “It seems to me, when faced with such very abstract concepts, the translator needs to get his/her mind around the meaning. And only then ask the question, “How do we say that in English?””

    Agreed. However, I think it is very important to understand that people in ancient times may actually have considered some of the very same ideas that we wrestle with today. While it is always important to investigate thoroughly, we should not assume that we must find a meaning foreign to our culture before concluding we have understood what was said. We need to remember that sometimes אין כל־חדשׁ תחת השׁמשׁ (There is nothing new under the sun)

  10. Russell Allen says:

    Using ‘mind’ in Mark 6:52 rather than heart isn’t that new an innovation. The Twentieth Century New Testament (1904) uses it, and that predates modern linguistics. Maybe it’s just what you get when you try to translate into meaningful English.

  11. David Frank says:

    Russell Allen, thank you for that information about what might be the first published English Bible translation to translate καρδία as ‘mind’ in Mark 6:52. I agree with you that this isn’t about modern linguistics.

  12. David Frank says:

    Mike Sangrey, I agree with you that the meaning here is not just that the disciples failed to understand, but that there was resistance to understanding. The first part of this verse says that the disciples failed to understand, but the second part adds that there was something in them that resisted understanding. A good English translation for that second part might involve a phrase like “hard-headed” or “thick-headed” or “close-minded.”

  13. David Frank says:

    I don’t have the time or the inclination to engage in a spirited debate about whether Hebrew לב, Greek καρδια and English ‘heart’ all mean the same thing, including their extended, cultural associations. I do believe that in English, one’s heart being hard or hardened denotes an insensitivity to someone else’s feelings that is not the meaning of ἦν αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη in Mark 6:52. Resistance, yes, but feelings, no.

    Besides the one commentary that I already cited (the International Critical Commentary), plus a handful of English translations that go along with that, I will mention just a couple of other sources that have influenced me. One is the UBS Translator’s Handbook series. Mike Tisdell, undoubtedly, will not like that, because it is associated with Eugene Nida and the TEV. Anyway, here is something the Translator’s Handbook says regarding Deuteronomy 6:5,

    “Cultures differ in their ideas about the psychological makeup of people. For the Hebrews the heart generally refers to the activities of the mind rather than to emotions. The soul refers to the emotions (see also 4.29)…. The quote in Mark 12.30 adds ‘with all your mind,’ which is not in the Hebrew or the LXX. However, the meaning is the same as ‘heart.'”

    Another source that has added to my understanding is an article by Robert Bascom entitled, “Adaptable for Translation: Deuteronomy 6.5 in the Synoptic Gospels and Beyond.” It was published in a book entitled A Gift of God in Due Season: Essays on Scripture and Community in Honor of James A. Sanders (1996). I also benefited from discussions with Bascom about the ideas in his article. I am tempted to quote a lot of that article to support my position here, and pass on some of the sources that Bascom cites, but I will resist, for the sake of time and space.

    I already said I am not presently inclined toward a spirited debate. There have been times when I might have been motivated to do so. I posted this blog at a bad time in terms of my ability to interact with the comments. Mike Tisdell, I didn’t mean to be argumentative, but I reacted negatively to your comment that you were able to “strongly contradict” what I had said, which I consider polemic and inaccurate.

  14. Peter Kirk says:

    David, in general I agree more with you than with Mike T on this issue. But Mike made one point which I don’t think has been given adequate weight here:

    Yes, I think that the people did not understand because their hearts where hard in rebellion against God. The bible (both OT and NT) is clear that people do not understand God because their heart is rebellious (hard) towards him.

    The disciples’ problem was neither an emotional one, nor an intellectual one, nor even a simple volitional one. It was fundamentally a spiritual one. They were not following God’s ways, at this point, and that made it impossible for them to understand. So a good translation needs to point to, or at least allow, this interpretation. “Hard-hearted” doesn’t do this, but “minds … closed” is not quite right either.

  15. wm tanksley says:

    David, thank you. If you know of a blog (or email) where I could get an answer for the Hebrew behind KJV’s “gave up the ghost”, I’d appreciate knowing.

    You’re right, of course, and I didn’t mean to imply that the KJV got it wrong at the time — I was criticizing a modern reader’s implications from the English phrase, not the original translator. I happily admit that I also memorized most of my verses from the KJV.

    The problem I have is that it’s not a phrase in Hebrew or Greek, it’s a single word; and there are several different single Greek words for which the KJV uses the single word “gave up the ghost”. The Hebrew is not related to any of the roots for breathing; judging from its lexically close roots it’s a word for making a laborious noise. I do think “breathed his last” is a fine euphemism for that (and the modern translations use that), even though probably the word implied what some older books called a “death rattle” or what I’ve seen called a “last gasp”.

    There’s one exception: John actually does say that Jesus /delivered up His spirit/ (in so many Greek words), which does seem like a perfect place to translate “gave up the ghost” — unless, of course, one has already translated all the other death-related words in that manner.


  16. wm tanksley says:

    Apologies for posting that completely off-topic post.

    More to the point: as far as I know, having studied ancient Latin and Greek literature for a couple of years in college, David is right, since “heart” was taken to refer to EVERYTHING invisible about a man, not merely the emotions. In fact, if you wanted to refer only to physical emotions it was more common to speak of the bowels — and generally the KJV translates the appropriate word as “bowels”, so you can easily see that in action: “Wherefore my bowels shall sound like an harp for Moab, and mine inward parts for Kirharesh.”

    I’m picturing a third-grade class hearing this verse for the first time _right now_. That’s a loud picture, isn’t it?

    In modern English, one could get a clearer but less funny translation by substituting “heart” for “bowels”.


  17. Mike Tisdell says:

    One of the standard references for lexical studies in biblical Hebrew is the NIDOTTE. It states the following at the start of its article on לב that:

    “The OT terms לב and לבב are generally translated as “heart” “mind” and in some instances “chest” and “consciences.” In the OT, the words have a dominant metaphorical use in reference to the center of human physical and spiritual life, to the entire inner life of a person” NIDOTTE, Vol 2, pg 749

    Trying to exclude the emotional and spiritual aspects from the biblical concept of “heart” while focusing only on the aspects of ”thought” and/or ”mind” is an example of what I was describing above when I mentioned that modern linguists often define words far too narrowly when words in the biblical languages seldom have such a narrow semantic range of meaning.
    Additionally, trying to define the English understanding of a “hard heart” as narrowly has was done here is also a significant mistake in my opinion. It seems to me that to make the argument that the translation of “heart” was a mistake, one must eliminate the overlapping semantic range of meaning from both the original language and our English understanding of the phrase “hard heart;” pushing both the meaning of the original language and our modern English understanding into corners in which neither really belongs.

    One of the most influential stories in Judaism, including first century Judaism, is the story of the Exodus. This story contains some of the greatest examples we have in Scripture related to understanding what a “hard heart” is in Scripture and how this imagery would have been understood by the first century Jews who wrote much of the NT. We need to remember that initially the request Moses made was only to allow the people to go and worship God and then return to Egypt. Pharaoh not only refused to hear their pleas but he also made the life of Israel more difficult because they had dared to make their request. The bible attributes Pharaoh’s response to his hard heart. Additionally, in Duet 15:7 God commands Israel to not be hard hearted but to instead hear the plight of the poor among them and to be generous. 2 Chr 36 describes Zedekiah as someone whose heart was so hard that he did only evil, he would not humble himself even when confronted by Jeremiah and he would not turn back to the God of Israel. And Jeremiah says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? Even in Mark chapter 7 (the chapter immediately following the one we are discussing), Jesus describes a heart that is far from God as one that is in rebellion to God’s commandments.” None of these passages induces a primary imagery of “mind” and/or “intellect” when using the term “heart.”

    So what is at stake when translations use phrases like “hard headed” or “did not understand” instead of “hard heart?” When this is done, we no longer see the spiritual rebellion that is always a factor in our misunderstanding of spiritual truth. Our guilt in that misunderstanding is removed and becomes nothing more than a mistake made because we did not have all of the right information to understand properly. It fails to recognize that, as Scripture tells us, “the heart is deceitful above all things.”

  18. Mike Tisdell says:

    @Peter Kirk,

    You described well my point. However, I am curious why you do not think that the English phrase “hard heart” conveys those thoughts? I think it does so better than “closed mind” and far better than “did not understand” or “hard headed”

  19. Mike Tisdell says:

    @wm tanksley

    The phrase in Hebrew “Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died” is “ויגוע וימת אברהם” (lit. and he expired and he died Abraham). In Hebrew repetition of an idea is a means of showing emphasis. The KJV translators simply used a common English idiom for dying i.e. “gave up the ghost” in order to convey the same idea in different words (like was done in the Hebrew text); this is also what most modern translators have done when using another English idiom “he breathed his last” to convey the same idea of death in different words.

  20. Peter Kirk says:

    Mike, my point was about “hard-hearted”. I entirely agree with David when he wrote:

    hard-hearted means unfeeling, unmerciful, pitiless, heartless, merciless, mean, unforgiving.

    That does not convey a spiritual problem, but an emotional one. That is why I am looking for another expression, one with clear spiritual connotations.

    I accept that the different phrase “his heart was hardened” has more or less the right meaning among those who are biblically literate and know well the Exodus story, in a literal translation. But the unspoken assumption of this whole thread is that we are translating for people who do not have that prior understanding – which probably means at least 99% of the population even in the USA. It is probably good to make that assumption explicit.

  21. Mike Tisdell says:


    I would agree that those that are biblically literate will have a better grasp on what it means to harden your heart, but I am not sure what phrase would better convey the meaning of the original text even to those who are not biblically literate. None of the options I have seen presented so far do justice to the imagery found in the original text.

    And while I do see your point, I think that the emotional, spiritual, and intellectual aspects are far more blurred. It is hard for me to imagine a spiritual “hardness of heart” that doesn’t affect the emotions or the mind.

  22. Peter Kirk says:

    It is hard for me to imagine a spiritual “hardness of heart” that doesn’t affect the emotions or the mind.

    I agree. That is why I think a phrase understood as about only the emotions is inadequate here.

  23. David Frank says:

    This will have to be a quick comment. I am away from home and don’t have time to interact this way, and not even much time to read the comments carefully, much less interact with them. I just wanted to say a couple of things.

    First, I think the idea that the disciples were in spiritual rebellion is foreign to this verse. Some things some of you have been saying about reasons we don’t understand what God is doing might be correct, but that isn’t what this verse is saying. There is nothing in this verse or in the context to suggest the idea of rebellion, nor that the problem is spiritual. If you think the problem was spiritual, that is your analysis, but it is not what this verse is saying. It is saying, basically, that they were obtuse. Whatever there is about them that is capable of understanding, whether you want to call it their mind or their heads or the heart, was impenetrable. What they should have understood from witnessing the miracle of the loaves just wasn’t sinking in. If you say their problem was spiritual, that is your interpretation of the situation, but that isn’t what this verse is saying. If you think their problem was rebellion, that is your interpretation, but it is not what this verse is saying. It is saying there is a hardness, that something in them was impenetrable. The second part of the verse is an expanded paraphrase of the first part of the verse, which says they didn’t understand. It was a comprehension problem. If you want to say their comprehension problem was due to their spiritual rebellion, that is your interpretation of the situation, but it goes beyond what this verse is actually saying. To try to translate this in more technical terms, I might say, “The disciples didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves; they were obtuse.” The “but” contrasts “understanding” vs. “obtuse.” If you wanted to translate figurative language as figurative language, I would say, “The disciples didn’t understand the mirace of the loaves; they were hard-headed.” To say “their hearts were in rebellion against God” is neither a fair paraphrase nor a fair explanation of this verse.

    Secondly, it is ridiculous to associate “modern linguistics” with a simplistic, narrow understanding of the meaning of language. I was not saying that in the Hebrew-Greek language and worldview, the figurative use of καρδία has nothing at all to do one’s spiritual status or feelings, but rather that it has a much broader meaning than English-speakers realize, and a different range of associative meaning than our own English word “heart” has, and that in this context, a translation of “hard-hearted” would result in an unfortunate understanding of the meaning of this verse, but, in this context, “hard-headed” would be closer to the mark. The comments about “modern linguistics” being the source of confusion and misinterpretation are unfounded.

  24. Mike Tisdell says:

    @David Frank

    Maybe I have misunderstood your last response, but it appears to me that you are suggesting that you have correctly TOLD us the meaning of this phrase and need not offer any evidence to support your position. And anyone who disagrees has offered up nothing more than a misguided interpretation. I find that kind of response very unhelpful in this or any discussion. Do you not recognize that you too have offered nothing more than an interpretation of the text just like I and others have? The question we are discussing is which interpretation of the text best represents the intention of the author and that question is answered by presenting evidence not personal opinions. Please let this be a healthy discussion that challenges us all to think through the issues and learn from each other.

    I suggest we begin by looking at how these ideas are used in other places in Scripture and/or in contemporary Jewish literature and then trust that Mark understood the common usage of these terms as they were used in his culture. Below is a list of verses that share similar ideas to the usages found in Mark’s gospel; I suggest we begin either by discussing this list of verses or bring other similar verses into the discussion. If Mark really did not intended to speak of anything more than simply a “Hard headed” misunderstanding then that should be easy to demonstrate by looking at other usages in Scripture or by looking at contemporary Jewish literature.

    Exodus 7:3,
    Exod. 7:14,
    Exod. 8:11, 28,
    Exod. 9:7, 34,
    Exod. 10:1
    Exod. 14:4, 17
    1 Sam. 6:6
    2 Ki. 14:10
    2 Chr. 25:19
    2 Chr. 36:13
    Proverbs 28:14,
    Ps. 101:4
    Isa. 6:10
    Isa. 29:13
    Jer. 4:18
    Jer. 5:21
    Jer. 5:23
    Jer. 17:9
    Isaiah 6:10,
    Ezekiel 3:7
    Dan. 5:20
    Mk. 6:52
    Mk. 7:6
    Mk. 8:17
    Jn. 12:40

  25. Mike Tisdell says:

    @Peter Kirk

    I think that maybe our disagreement stems from the fact that I have never thought of “hard hearted” as something that only conveyed an emotional condition. It is true that I have grown up in the church and been exposed to a biblical perspective nearly all of my life and that surely has shaped my personal understanding of this term. However, I am not sure that my understanding is so entirely different from those who have not shared my background. I would really need to see compelling evidence that showed that the “unchurched” really had such a significantly different understanding before I would be willing to look for different terminology in a bible translation.

    I am curious about what phrase you think would better convey, in translation, the idea conveyed in the original text.

  26. Peter Kirk says:

    David, it is clear that we differ somewhat on exegesis here, which is of course fundamental. I would accept that the rebellion against God idea is left somewhat implicit here, and so should not be in the foreground in any translation. But, as Mike T has shown, this concept of hearts hardened by God is an ongoing one in the Old Testament, and Mark would seem to be alluding clearly to it with his use of the perfect passive participle perhaps implying divine agency. This section of the book is full of links to Exodus, and I would add to Mike’s list Psalm 95:8 where the ones with hardened hearts are not Egyptians but God’s people. For what it’s worth, in Matthew’s and Luke’s parallel passages Jesus at this point explicitly rebukes the disciples for their lack of faith, and in John’s version many disciples leave Jesus soon afterwards. So I don’t think we should understand Mark as making a purely volitional point here. But my opinion could be changed if you can show that this phrase, complete with the perfect passive participle, was used regularly in secular Greek just to mean “obtuse”.

    Mike, I understand where you are coming from. I wish I could offer a better rendering here, but nothing springs to mind. I note that in Hebrews 3:7-19 hardened hearts (quoting Psalm 95) are linked to rebellion against God, so perhaps that word group is worth exploring.

  27. David Frank says:

    I cannot keep up with Mike Tisdell and Peter Kirk working together to take us away from the point I was trying to make here. I left home shortly after I posted my little essay here, and I am not available to continue debating the exegesis and theology of this verse ad infinitum. I don’t have time to look up all the verses that Mike T has given, but I will say that I have no problem accepting the idea that God sometimes hardens people’s hearts, usually after they started the hardening process on their own. If a verse says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, or someone elses, that’s fine. This verse doesn’t say that God hardened the disciples hearts. Note that this verse is about the small group of close disciples, not the multitudes.

    Peter Kirk, by comparing Mark 6:52 with a parallel passage, are you suggesting that God hardened the disciples hearts/minds/head but then blamed them for being hardened? I think it is improper to introduce God as the agent of the hardening in Mark 6:52. That’s not in the text, and I don’t think it is implied, either. Other contexts where God is specifically named as the agent of the verb “harden” are not to the point.

    I have all along been aware that this is a passive form, but that does not mean that God is the agent. A commentary I am using says, “Hardened indicates primarily a state of being resulting from a process, not a specific process requiring the identification of the particular agent. The Greek has reference to the condition of the hearts, not the process by which they become hardened.” Intoducing God as the agent here of the hardening is unwarranted.

    I will not respond to everything you said, Mike T., about my position. A number of things you said about my position and what I had said are inaccurate. For example, I did not say that the KJV, RSV, or even the NIV had made a “mistake” in translating καρδία as “heart(s)”. That would have been continuing the kind of polemics I was trying to avoid. You saying, “Please let this be a healthy discussion….” is inflammatory and I don’t have time to respond. The focus is getting away from the point I was trying to make and is getting into bickering.

  28. wm tanksley says:

    Mike, thanks for your feedback… That makes sense.

    I think that maybe our disagreement stems from the fact that I have never thought of “hard hearted” as something that only conveyed an emotional condition.

    Have you ever had a pastor lecture you about how what he’s telling you needs to get past your head and into your heart? I don’t think I’ve ever attended a church where that doesn’t happen. America seems to have a _hard_ distinction between the mind and the “real me”, where the real me includes emotions, whims, but not deep thoughts.

    An idiom that supports this is “hard heart, soft head.”

    If you preach to a congregation that’s been hearing that all their lives, when they hear “hard heart”, they’re going to think of nothing but emotions.


  29. Peter Kirk says:

    David, I certainly don’t want to take us away from the point, and certainly not to conspire with Mike to do so. But it is important to get the exegesis clear before deciding on a translation.

    I don’t really want to say that God is the agent of the hardening here. There is a complex theological issue behind that claim which is certainly foreign to Mark’s thinking, and I agree with you in rejecting any interpretation which takes the blame away from the people involved. What I do want to suggest is that by using that language Mark is deliberately alluding to other passages, especially relating to the Exodus events, where hearts were hardened, with the agent sometimes being the people, sometimes God, and sometimes, as here, unspecified. So Mark is suggesting that the disciples’ problem in this case was similar to that of participants in the Exodus – maybe not so much Pharaoh as the disobedient Israelites.

  30. Mike Tisdell says:

    @David Frank,

    What you said in your very first post was (bolding is mine):

    “what is WORSE here is that a literal translation involving “hardness of heart” would PROMPT A WRONG INTERPRETATION without the reader/listener being aware of it. This may be debatable, but I believe that a translation CANNOT BE ACCURATE if does not prompt, or at least allow, a proper interpretation in the mind/heart of the reader.”

    The only thing that I have said that is even remotely close to what you have attributed to me was:

    “It seems to me that to make the argument that the translation of “heart” was a mistake, one must eliminate the overlapping semantic range of meaning from both the original language and our English understanding of the phrase “hard heart;” pushing both the meaning of the original language and our modern English understanding into corners in which neither really belongs.”

    If I have misunderstood you have said then please explain. In my mind a translation that “cannot be accurate” is a “mistake.” However, please do not take my words out of context and accuse me of saying things I did not say. Additionally, my request that you allow this to be a healthy discussion was sincere and was not intended to be inflammatory; I am sorry if it came across that way to you, that was not my intention. My hope was to bring this back to a discussion about the evaluation of evidence in support of the differing interpretations; I am sorry that is not where the discussion has gone.

  31. Mike Tisdell says:

    @wm tanksley

    I have heard pastors say that something needs to touch both your head and your heart, but I have never had any pastor make statements similar to the ones you have indicated and I have never even heard the idiom “hard heart, soft head.” I don’t know how common or uncommon my personal experiences are in this regard but that is a question I would want to answer before making a change in translation practices regarding the term “heart.” If it were shown that my experience were unique, I think I would be wondering, like Peter, what phrase could be used to convey the thoughts of the author.

    One other factor that I would want to consider when choosing terms for translating heart in contexts like this would be the growing influence of NPP and whether an alternate translation would inadvertently add support for NPP that does not exist in the original text itself. When questions about interpretation exist in the original text, I think that it is a mistake for the translator to resolve those questions in their translation. It is true that sometimes a translator is forced to choose one interpretation over another but that choice should be avoided by the translator if at all possible. The NIV’s translation of “sarx” as “sinful nature” is a good example of an unnecessary interpretive choice made by the translator and their reversal on this matter in the NIV 2011 is something, in my opinion, to be applauded.

  32. Bill Brinkworth says:

    What constitutes a “good version or translation”? How can you be so sure? Doesn’t it make you any kind of nervous to say that a modern version is the best, which implies for 1800+ years all the Christians had a bad translation? and if it wasn’t for some modern “scholar” no one would ever know God’s Word. It makes me very curious that all the versions you are quoting have their roots from the Catholoic Vulgate, which were rejected by early Christians when they were first forced on the people. As for “archiac”, maybe it is our education and not relying on the Holy Spirit to help us understand God’s Word that handicaps people rather then the 13 “archiac” words that are used in the KJV. The KJV is at a 5.8 reading level (according to the Flesh-Kincaid Grade Indicator), whereas modern versions as the NIV are at 8.4 and the NAS is at 8.12. Please explain why you are so sure that you have the Word of God in all those versions you quote which all say something different by their different wordings.

  33. Peter Kirk says:

    Bill, I don’t know where you got your figure for “The KJV is at a 5.8 reading level (according to the Flesh-Kincaid Grade Indicator)”. But this test measures only superficial things like sentence length. And if you ask it to test a KJV passage from a typical online Bible source, it comes up with a low reading level simply because the text is divided up into a separate paragraph for every verse. Edit the text to remove the paragraph breaks, except for the ones intended by the translators and marked with a pilcrow sign, and you will get a very different result. And that will still be misleading, because the primary issue with KJV today is not with its sentence lengths etc but with its use of obsolete grammar, obsolete words, and words like “conversation” which have completely changed their meaning since 1611. None of these issues are measured by Flesh-Kincaid and similar tests.

    Which specific versions “have their roots from the Catholoic Vulgate”? This is simply untrue of any modern English translations except for specifically Roman Catholic ones.

  34. David Frank says:

    I’m checking in now for the first time in 24 hours. I’m sorry some of what I wrote last time was a little testy. I am a little frustrated in that I can’t see the point of some of the arguments that were made, and part of the problem is not having the time to study them as carefully as I should. There have been times when I might have willing and able to participate in a lengthy commenting session that goes beyond the original post, but this is not one of those times, unfortunately. Maybe I shouldn’t have posted something if I wasn’t prepared for the follow-up discussion.

    I was not saying that καρδία is totally ‘mind’ and totally not ‘heart’. I was not trying to put English translations into two sets and say that this set got the translation of Mark 6:52 right, and this set got it wrong. Perhaps I could say that I am enlightened by “modern linguistics” when I say that Hebrew לב and Greek καρδία each have a broad set of meanings and associations, and that neither of those sets matches up exactly with the broad set of meanings and associations we have for the English word/concept of ‘heart,’ nor even exactly with each other. This understanding of the broad ranges of meaning, recognized also by Mike Tisdell, leads us to try to understand what a word means–or how it is used–in a particular context, and translate accordingly. There certainly is overlap between the Greek concept of καρδία and the English concept of ‘heart,’ but not complete overlap.

    A complicating factor is that in the Scriptures, we might talk in terms of Hebrew vs. Greek, but there is an overlap of concepts caused by the fact that the Greek text of the New Testament involves a Hebrew way of thinking. So we have to distinguish between Hebrew, Greek, and Hebrew-influenced Greek. In analyzing the Greek word καρδία in the Greek scriptures, we might consider whether we are really analyzing the Greek language or the Greek that is influenced by Hebrew. Similarly, when looking at English, and particularly the English Bible, we have to take into consideration whether we are analyzing normal English or the English that has been influenced by considerable exposure to Biblical concepts as they have been expressed in English Bible translations. Mike Tisdell should be happy to hear me acknowledge that fact. It is good to bring it out in the open. We may not agree on the implications.

    My point was, given that the ranges of meaning that words have, given the semantic complexity, and given that these meaning associations vary from one language and culture to another–as “modern linguistics” should and usually does emphasize–in order to translate meaningfully and accurately we have to take into consideration not just the words in the source text in their primary sense, but what sense of those words is in effect in a given context, and then translate according to sense in context. In the present case, I am not at all saying that καρδία should be consistently translated as ‘head’ or ‘mind.’ That would be contrary to the point I was trying to make. The Greek word καρδία has a wide range of meanings, some of which overlap with our English concept of ‘heart’ and some of which more overlap with our English concept of ‘head.’ It is not a one-to-one match-up. To translate meaningfully and accurately, in terms of the accurate meaning being acquired by the target audience, you have to consider how words are put together both with a co-text and in a textual and cultural context. This will result sometimes in the same word in the source language being translated different ways in the target audience, depending on context. As commentators, Biblical scholars, lexicographers, and sometimes translators, will tell us, sometimes it is appropriate to render καρδία in English as ‘heart’ and sometimes as ‘head’ and probably sometimes as something else yet. The reason I say that some scholars and lexicographers will tell us that is because they tell us that that is the corresponding English word for one aspect of meaning for that Greek word, and then the implication is that one would translate a text according to what it means. (I have the feeling that I am getting into all this too deeply and that I better stop.)

  35. Mike Tisdell says:

    @David Frank

    I agree with everything you have said and really appreciate this thoughtful response; thank you. I think our biggest disagreement about how this passage in Mark should be understood is related to how we are evaluating the evidence related to usage in this particular verse. While I think we all agree that looking at a word or phrase usage in a particular context is critical to understanding the meaning of that word or phrase, it appears we differ in how much weight we give to contextual arguments compared with the weight that we give to other contemporary usages of words or phrases i.e the question is really about how much “meaning” is conveyed in the words themselves apart from the context in which they were used and how much meaning is conveyed strictly through a specific usage in a particular context. One of the concerns I have with the theories of language that have been proposed by many (not all) modern linguists are that they often place nearly all of the weight on context (as the linguist himself perceives that context) and very little weight is given to the lexical meaning of a given word or phrase. This makes it nearly impossible to recognize ideas that may have been intended by the author but that were unexpected by the reader because that which is unexpected is given new meaning so that it conforms to that which was expected. As translators, I believe, we need to leave room for the author to surprise us and to do so means that we need to place some weight in the particular words the author chose and recognize that his usage is unlikely to be drastically different from the usage of his contemporaries. The translator needs to balances both contextual arguments and lexical arguments before deciding on the meaning of a particular text. For this reason, in order for me to be persuaded that “hard headed” or “did not understand” better conveyed the meaning of Mark’s words, I would need to see examples of contemporary usage where similar phrases could be shown to communicate these concepts.

  36. Bruce Baithwaith says:

    All these terms do mean something a little different but I think the basic premise still counts; they didn’t have an open mind to it or couldn’t grasp it or truly understand it. It doesn’t mean they weren’t open to learning it though, just not all in at first.

  37. aristofanis says:

    Yes, the disciples had not understood about the loaves.

    Do we, after all these translation efforts?

  38. Mike Sangrey says:

    Mike T.

    I think you’ve brought up a very good point regarding two somewhat distinct parts of meaning–lexical and context (to use my own delineation). I quite agree that these two pieces of the meaning need to be consciously, carefully, and correctly handled.

    It seems to me that a high quality balance between these two is arrived at when the translated text coheres and flows. I don’t think we’ve quite arrived at that lofty goal. For me, the vast majority of translated Biblical discourse halts and stutters. And I think the evident and general difficulty people have shows that to be true. I don’t have any research to back me up, but logically, I would think that an over emphasis on the lexical side of meaning results in a discourse which halts and stutters.[1] In other words, I think we already lean too heavily toward the lexical side.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve wondered whether “hardened hearts” was a way of indirectly indicating that the disciple’s context was wrong–their mental picture of reality. Therefore, they were not able to correctly understand the meaning of the individual symbols in the loaf pericope. They were convinced they were right. They weren’t. So, they did not understand.

    [1] I think an overemphasis on context will probably result in an injection of one’s own context into the text and thus result in an inaccurate translation. This failure, IMO, can be mitigated by a scholarly retrieval of original context.

  39. Dan Sindlinger says:

    Mike S. – You suggested, “So, they did not understand”.

    My thoughts are close to yours regarding textual coherence and flow, which is why I stated it this way in The Better Life Bible:

    “Not only were they stunned by what had just happened, they were still trying to figure out how five loaves of bread and two fish could feed more than 5,000 people.”

  40. Mike Tisdell says:


    You have suggested a translation here that removes any suggestion of their moral culpability in not understanding; that I believe is a huge interpretive make, especially when no one has shown that phrases like “their hearts were hardened” are ever used in Greek literature in a way that is completely morally neutral. Assumptions about its contextual usage in this verse should not override the common usage of phrases like this in the rest of Greek literature.

  41. Iver Larsen says:

    I checked out the Hebrew and LXX of the 9 references cited above, where all are translated with “hard(ened) heart” by KJV. What they have in common is the word “heart” both in Hebrew, Greek and KJV English.
    The first (7:3) used a Hebrew word qasha, most of them used kabed and the last ones used hazaq. LXX used two words to translate these three, namely “harden” and “make heavy”. KJV used only one word throughout “harden”.

    The Theological Dictionary of the OT has this to say about qasha:
    “The root qashi apparently arose from an agricultural milieu. It emphasizes, first, the subjective effect exerted by an overly heavy yoke, which is hard to bear, and secondarily, the rebellious resistance of oxen to the yoke. For synonyms see kabed (heavy, emphasizing the weight of the thing bearing down), hazaq (strong, emphasizing the pressure exerted)…
    A number of passages use the metaphor of a yoke which is hard (and, therefore, cruel and oppressive) to bear: the servitude in Egypt (Ex 1:14), Solomon’s rule (I Kgs 12:4, hyperbolically?), and the Babylonian exile (Isa 14:3)… Other situations emphasize only the idea “hard to bear” (Gen 35:16; Gen 42:7; Ps 60:3 [H 5]); cf. the meaning “difficult” (Deut 1:17; 15:18). The other side of the word (cruel and oppressive) develops the meaning fierce (Gen 49:7; Isa 27:8).
    A frequent use of the word relates to the stubborn (stiff-necked) subjects of the Lord. Like rebellious oxen, calf-worshiping Israel quickly turned aside from the Lord’s service (Ex 32:9). The spirit of Israel remained (for the most part) stubborn, intractable, and non-responsive to the guiding of their God (Deut 10:16; Jud 2:19; II Kgs 17:14; Neh 9:16) and of his Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 7:51). Pharaoh stubbornly refused divine leading (Ex 13:15) in accordance with divine counsel (Ex 7:3). Hannah used this word to describe her impassiveness created by great vexation (I Sam 1:15).”
    End of quote.

    In these context of stubbornness and refusal to obey God, maybe stiff-necked is a suitable expression in English. In the African language (Sabaot) where I have been working on Bible translation the best rendering is “dry head”. KJV was not a good translation, based on what we now know about communication and translation. That does not mean that the Holy Spirit cannot use it. He just has to work overtime, and pastors have to explain what the text really means, since it is not clear from the translated text itself. The Greek LXX translation of Exodus likewise does not live up to our modern knowledge of translation. It would be very difficult to understand this translation for a Greek speaker who did not know Hebrew culture and idioms. But it was originally made for Jews, so it wasn’t too bad. In the same way, the KJV is not too bad for those who grew up learning the KJV variety of English, but fewer and fewer people fit this category. I certainly don’t. But the fact remains that the LXX in Exodus was not normal Greek. It copied Hebrew idioms word for word. That is why it is of little use to search secular Greek for Hebrew idioms like “heavy heart”. One needs to look at Greek texts translated literally from Hebrew to find these idioms, like the LXX.

    I totally agree with David’s point that the Hebrew word for “heart” cannot always be translated by the English word for heart in those cases where it is used metaphorically or as part of an idiom. Such translations violate the heart and spirit of English. The problem is that the word “heart” in Hebrew thought pattern and language covers both “mind and heart” in English. It covers feelings, thoughts and will.

    Sometimes it may not be possible to find an equivalent English idiom. In that case, the translator may choose to drop the idiom and express the meaning in a straightforward way without using any idioms.

    It is interesting to me to see what English versions did with Exodos 7:3 to take the first example mentioned. KJV: “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart”. NLT96, GNB and GW: “I will cause Pharaoh to be stubborn”. If the intended audience for the translation is people who are very familiar with Biblical English and have an emotional attachment to that special kind of language, then you would go with KJV. NIV bowed to that tradition and the revised NLT from 2004 tried to sit on the fence: “I will make Pharaoh’s heart stubborn.” Is it the heart that is stubborn or the head or the person in ordinary English?

    Now, David did not talk about the Exodus passages, but about Mark 6:52. We are still talking about Hebrew/Aramaic idioms written in Greek. Mark’s first language was probably Aramaic, but he had learned Hebrew and Greek quite well. He never took a course in how to translate. In Mark 6:52 the idea is not stubbornness as in Exodus, but rather a slowness to understand. So, while stiff-necked works well for the Exodus passages, thick-headed would be more accurate in Mark 6:52. In Sabaot, we could not talk about a dry head (stubbornness, unresponsiveness) here, but rather a “hard/difficult head” which corresponds to a thick head. We know from other passages that the disciples had a hard time grasping who Jesus really was and the significance of the miracle of the loaves of bread. One could also say as GW: Their minds were closed.

  42. Mike Sangrey says:


    I wasn’t suggesting “They did not understand.” I was suggesting the meaning was much closer to (though not quite), “They were convinced they were right. They weren’t.” I’m substantially in agreement with those who have voiced, “hard headed” and “thick skulled.”

    Academically and linguistically speaking, what I find fascinating is we think of such an attitude as seated in the mind. The authors and audiences of Biblical writings seated it in the heart. And yet, hard-headedness is perhaps more emotional than rational. It’s an interesting conflict of idiom. IMO, the issue is better thought of as contextual. The disciples didn’t “get it” because Jesus’ agenda, his modus operandi for “God’s rule of the world,” was nothing like what they were expecting.

    Peter mentioned that John’s Gospel relates it wasn’t long after the walking on water that many disciples left Jesus. Interestingly, the pericope immediately preceding the desertion has several Aramaic idioms pointing to ‘learning’ and ‘intellectual commitment’. John 6:60 is πολλοὶ οὖν ἀκούσαντες ἐκ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ εἶπαν σκληρός ἐστιν ὁ λόγος οὗτος τίς δύναται αὐτοῦ ἀκούειν. Notice the use of σκληρός (‘hard’, ‘harsh’, ‘unpleasant’) and that they effectively confessed they didn’t have the “ability to hear it” (τίς δύναται αὐτοῦ ἀκούειν).

  43. Mike Tisdell says:

    The NIDOTTE, Vol 2, pg. 578 give the following definition for כבד

    “Unresponsive. When a body part is heavy, it is unresponsive and does not perform its proper function. The q. has the stative sense to be unresponsive, and the adj. acts as its part. The pi. and hi. are causative (and not distinguishable, cf. Jouon-Muraoka, 52d n.3), to make something unresponsive. The most common boday part to be called unresponsive is the heart (לב, לבב), especially Pharaoh’s: Exod. 7:14; 8:15, 32[11, 28]; 9:7, 34; 10:1; cf. 1 Sam 6:6 (Philistines).

    When the heart is called כבד, it is unresponsive or hard to its proper role of prompting humans to obey God; this is a spiritual, not physical, condition, and hence is avoidable if repentance be granted. Usually with כבד a human being hardens his own heart, but in Exod 10:1 God takes responsibility for it. Synonyms in this connection include חזק, to be strong (used in q. and pi., with the pi. used consistently of God doing the hardening, beginning in 4:21), and קשה, to be hard (used in hi. [7:3], with God as hardener).”

    Note: the context of Exodus indicates that Pharaoh’s “hardness of heart” was a spiritual condition resulting from his rebellion against God. This aspect of this idiom is clearly recognized in the article in the NIDOTTE (one of the most respected OT theological dictionaries). The NIDOTTE indicates that this understanding is conveyed with all three synonyms used in the Exodus passage i.e. כבד, חזק, קשה. To translate this idiom in such a was as to dismiss the culpability of a person with a “hard heart” I believe is unjustified. The best Hebrew scholarship recognizes that a “hard heart” is a Spiritual condition that requires repentance and our translations of this idiom should reflect this feature.

  44. mitchell benjamin says:

    Please excuse me for not noting current commentary….I just learned of this web site…and only had seen comments dated in 2008.

  45. aristofanis says:

    [The narrator in v. 52 concludes that the disciples might have understood how Jesus could walk on the water if they had been able to really understand that he was able to feed the five thousand.]

    No. Mark (1Pe 5,13. Acts 12,25), concludes that the disciples might have understood WHY Jesus Christ walked on the water if they had been able to really understand the purpose of the loaves.

    In fact, Mark the Evangelist, uses the dative “τοῖς ἄρτοις” for the preposition “ἐπὶ” denoting the Lord’s reason and purpose for the sign. the same usage is in Acts 5,35 “εἶπέ τε (Gamaliel) πρὸς αὐτούς· ἄνδρες
    ᾿Ισραηλῖται, προσέχετε ἑαυτοῖς ἐπὶ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις τούτοις τί μέλλετε πράσσειν” where the meaning of this dative is clear. therefore a good translation could be “of the loaves.”

    [Or maybe an analogous idiom like “thick-headed” would be appropriate]

    “thick-headed” operates as a quality adjective expressing the personal opinion of the evangelist for the disciples. i don’t know what happens with all translations, but surely in the original there is no place in the Gospels and in Acts, which are the historical part of the New Testament, where the evangelists do so in any manner or way.

  46. David Frank says:

    I’ve pretty much stayed out of the commenting on my own blog post. I don’t feel the need to respond to everything that is said. But I’ll do just a little catching up here.

    First, Aristofanis, I don’t understand why you would say that a description of the disciples as being thick-headed would have been an unprecedented judgment on the part of the evangelist Mark as he was narrating this story. He was making an important observation that we need to understand for ourselves. He was saying that the disciples “didn’t get it.” We, too, are in danger of “not getting it” when it comes to all the implications of who Jesus was and what he did.

    Second, Mike Tisdell, I guess what I haven’t gotten across is the idea that being “hard-hearted” (to use a literal English translation of the Greek) is a culturally bound idiom. It has little or nothing to do with the physical heart–with the primary meanings of the individual words. I recognize that while we’re talking about the Greek, we are by extension talking about the Hebrew language and view of the world. So while I was writing primarily about the Greek text of Mark 6:52 and its translation into English, I do recognize the validity of comparing similar idioms in Exodus and other parts of the Hebrew Bible. Hardness of heart is a theme in the Bible. But at the same time, normal Greek usage might be a little different from the normal Hebrew usage of that collocation. And normal English usage is different yet. Because we are talking about a culturally bound idiom.

    Idioms are complex lexical items. They have a meaning as a whole. Considering both single words and idioms, lexical items tend have ranges of meaning. As I have already recognized, there is a place for literal translations. But normal translations are not likely to be literal translations, because translation must take into consideration the fact that there is not a one-to-one matchup between the ranges of meaning of the lexical items in one language compared to the ranges of meaning of lexical items in another language. That is because different cultures divide up the world conceptually in different ways.

    Normal translation takes into consideration the sense a lexical item has in a given context and translates according to sense in context. Again, that is because lexical items tend to have ranges of senses that don’t match up exactly, from one language to the next. So, in terms of the range of senses a lexical item has, you translate according to the sense that seems to be in effect in a given context.

    Using “heart” as a case in point, in terms of the primary sense, Greek kardia would correspond to English ‘heart.’ But when it comes to all the metaphorical and figurative extensions associated with those Greek and English words, that’s where things get messy. There is not a one-to-one correspondence. In English, the heart is associated with feelings. It is also associated with love, but, as I’m sure we have all heard, the American cultural concept of love is not the same as the biblical concept of love. For us, love is about feelings, and so, in our culture, it wouldn’t make so much sense to have a commandment to love someone. Rather, in our culture, we “fall into love” and “fall out of love.” The biblical concept of love has more to do with intentionality. Anyway, in our culture and language, the heart is associated with feelings and the feeling of love.

    There is a biblical concept of hard-heartedness in Hebrew, and in Greek that is influenced by the Hebrew view of the world. (I’m afraid I haven’t done the research to be assured of what the metaphorical associations of kardia are in Greek literature other than the Bible, which could be different.) In the scriptures, whether in Hebrew or in Greek, the expression that would correspond to English “hard heart” has a range of meaning that does not match up exactly with the English concept of a hard heart. As I already explained, in English, “hard-hearted” means being insensitive to someone else’s feelings. Note again the emphasis on feelings. That is not what was going on in Mark 6:52, so my point was that translating literally there would prompt the wrong understanding in an English-speaker’s mind. One would not paraphrase Mark 6:52 as “For they did not understand about the loaves, for they were insensitive to Jesus’ feelings.” No, that would be a dissonance that I don’t think is intended or justified in this context. But that’s the meaning that a literal translation of “hardened heart” would tend to create for a normal English speaking audience. So there’s something wrong there. I wouldn’t translate literally “their hearts were hardened,” because that’s the wrong idea. It is not that they were insensitive to Jesus’ feelings.

    The metaphorical and figurative extensions of the Hebrew concept of “heart” include components of the will and the intellect that are foreign to the English concept. I’m not saying that the Hebrew concept is totally intellectual, just that Hebrew concept doesn’t match up totally to the English concept. The Hebrew concept and the English concept have ranges of meaning that overlap some and differ some.

    In this particular context, Mark 6:52, the meaning of καρδία πεπωρωμένη is that the disciples were obtuse. They just didn’t get it. Look at the context, and look particularly at the first part of the same verse, where it says they didn’t understand. I agree with the further explanation that Mike Sangrey gave in these comments. I think a non-figurative way of translating this might be “For they did not understand about the loaves; rather they were obtuse.” Or, to use a more vernacular English expression, “They just didn’t get it.”

    So my point was, first of all, that translating this verse to say “their hearts were hardened” is unfortunate, because it gives the wrong idea in terms of the normal English meaning and use of that phrase. Secondly, if we wanted to translate idiom as idiom, we could translate this into English using a corresponding body-part idiom as “For they did not understand about the loaves; they were too hard-headed.”

    Now, to belabor this comment that is already too long, I’m going to cite a couple of references having to do with the ranges of meaning of Greek kardia and English “heart.” Looking up kardia in BDAG, which takes into consideration nonbiblical Greek literature, the first thing it says is “the seat of physical, spiritual and mental life (as freq. in Gk. lit.), fig. extension of ‘heart’ as an organ of the body…, a mng. not found in our lit.” Note that besides physical and spiritual life, it included mental life. Then, skipping over the meaning of “heart” as being the center of physical life, it explains it as the “center and source of the whole inner life, w. its thinking, feeling, and volition.” Note that besides feeling, thinking and volition are included. Thinking and mental life are not the total meaning of kardia in Greek, but are part of the meaning.

    Looking at an English dictionary definition of “heart,” skipping over the literal meaning as an organ that pumps blood through the body, we find, “the center of the total personality, especially with reference to intuition, feeling or emotion; the center of emotion, especially as contrasted to the head as the center of the intellect; capacity for sympathy, feeling, affection.”

    So there are ranges of meaning that don’t match up exactly from one language to the other. The Greek concept of kardia includes a mental and intellectual component that English “heart” lacks. Note how the English dictionary definition of “heart” explicitly excludes part of the meaning that is associated with Greek kardia. The point is that in this context, a translation of “their heads were hardened” accurately translates the meaning of the Greek phrase used in Mark 6:52 in a way that “their hearts were hardened” does not allow in normal English. A literal translation of “their hearts were hardened” would only work in cases where people are taught what this expression is really supposed to mean, overriding the normal English meaning of those words.

    I’m sorry to be so pedantic here. I’m not trying to talk down to anyone; I’m just trying to reach an understanding, which is probably too much to expect.

  47. Mike Tisdell says:


    You said that:

    “normal Greek usage MIGHT be a little different from the normal Hebrew usage of that collocation. And normal English usage is different yet. Because we are talking about a culturally bound idiom.”

    I do not think you have demonstrated that normal Greek usage IS different (especially among the first century church that had very significant Hebraic influences). The BDAG references you provided fail support your conclusions and they do not deal with the idiomatic expression we are dealing with in this text. Additionally, the portion of the reference you provided shows a broader semantic range of meaning for the word itself and the entire BDAG reference provides an even broader understanding that parallels both English and Hebrew understandings. NIDNTTE also provides a very broad definition of kardia; it states that:

    “kardia was used in secular Gk. in literal and metaphorical senses. On the one hand, it denoted the heart as an organ of the body and the center of physical life (particularly in Aristotle). On the other hand, it was regarded as the seat of the EMOTIONS and the source of spiritual life in general. Used in specific senses with reference to nature, it meant the pith of wood and the seed of plants. kardia also had a general sense of centre, the innermost part (of men, animals, or plants).
    Especially in Homer and the tragedians, kardia received a considerably extended range of meaning. It no longer indicated merely the center of the body but also the intellectual and spiritual centre of man as a whole.
    (a) kardia, the seat of the emotions and feelings, of the instincts and passions. In this context the Greek thought of emotions like joy and sadness, courage and cowardice, strength and fear, love, hatred and anger (Homer, Il. 21, 547).
    (b) Homer, in particular, brought together the heart and reason without clearly separating thought and feeling. (Il. 21, 441). From this point it is only a short step to seeing the heart as the centre of man’s will and as the seat of his power of decision (Il. 10, 244).”

    “The NT use of kardia coincides with the OT understanding of the term, just as much as it differs from the Gk. The meaning of heart as the inner life, the centre of the personality and as the place in which God reveals himself to men is even more clearly expressed in the NT than in the OT.”

    Additionally, I do not believe the evidence support the idea that “heart” in English is limited to the very narrow understanding of being the center of “emotions” that you have indicated. The English usage seems to be very similar to the Hebrew and Greek usage. The Oxford dictionary states that “the heart regarded as the centre of a person’s THOUGHTS and emotions, especially love or compassion” The idiomatic expression in English “He knew the words of the song BY HEART” refers to memorization of words (an aspect of the mind).

    Probably one of the most famous “hard hearted” people in all of English literature is Scrooge (Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol). And his hard hearted condition was far more than an emotional issue, the tale clearly conveys a spiritual issue that is resolved by repentance and (joyful) penance. The hard heartedness embodied by Scrooge seems to be very much inline with the idea conveyed in the equivalent Hebrew and Greek phrases.

    Last, the alternatives you have provided do not convey any sense of culpability i.e. a person working on their car may be too “hard headed” to go and purchase the correct tool for the job they are doing because they believe that they can complete the job with the tools they already have. In extreme cases this may convey a sense of stupidity, but it does not convey a sense of moral culpability. Saying that a person doesn’t understand diminishes that culpability even more.

    Unless you can demonstrate that “hard heartedness” is ever used in Greek or Hebrew literature (and primarily religious literature) in ways that do not convey any sense of moral culpability, I believe translating it in a way that removes that understanding of moral culpability is a serious mistake. So far, I do not believe you have demonstrated that this idiom is used in such a neutral way (even in secular Greek literature).

  48. Mike Sangrey says:

    @Mike T.

    Two related thoughts:

    1. Perhaps you’ve addressed this in a previous comment. In any case, would you share how you would translate (or perhaps paraphrase, if people are more comfortable with that) verse 52? I’m after how you would bring out the moral culpability. And let’s set aside any requirement for being literal (I’m not seeking to diminish that, I’m simply trying to get at the meaning you have in mind.)

    2. My struggle with your emphasis on moral culpability is two-fold.

    Firstly , for me, I see the existence of moral culpability in being hard-headed. I even see it in “they just didn’t get it” when that phrase is used in this context. It’s not that they were trying to understand (say) some math concept, and two plus two just wasn’t adding up for them. It wasn’t as if Jesus was failing because he couldn’t find just the right metaphor to use. The disciples were hard-headed; they weren’t struggling students asking for a little bit of tutor-time. They were intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally committed to a paradigm that was contrary to who Jesus really was.

    Secondly, if this moral culpability were considerably stronger than being hard-headed, then it seems to me you have a group of disciples that are down right belligerent. If that is true, then why on earth did they stick around? Such antagonism simply doesn’t fit the narrative.

  49. Mike Tisdell says:

    @Mike Sangrey

    First, I don’t think a general understanding of “hard headed” or “they didn’t get it” conveys a sense of moral culpability to the typical English reader. The whole argument for functional equivalency is based on the idea that we should try and communicate the same meaning in a way that engenders a similar response from the audience reading the translation as was experienced by the audience that first read the original. If the typical reader sees no moral culpability in the translation of this verse, I would say that the translation has failed to meet its goal because I am convinced that the original readers would not have missed this.

    Second, I really do see their moral culpability here as something a bit stronger than you have indicated. Their moral culpability is the same as all of humanity’s i.e. we all fail to understand God’s work in our lives because of the depravity of our hearts. We, like the disciples, follow God because he has drawn us to him and not because of the goodness of our hearts. This is why the disciples, including Judas, stuck around. (For the record, I do not hold to reform theology. Understanding that God does the work of drawing us to him is part of orthodoxy regardless of your position on reform views).

    Last, IF the phrase “hard heart” can be used in a way that is so morally nutrual then we should have other examples in Greek literature but as far as I know, we don’t. In fact, even parallel accounts of this story itself seem to indicate a stronger sense of moral culpability than is first apparent in Mark’s account. Context is important but contextual arguments should not be able to completely override the common meaning conveyed in every other example where the idiom is used. When we give too much latitude to our perceptions of context then we are simply promoting a reader centric interpretation and the author has then lost all authority in regards to the meaning of the text he wrote. To me this is the crux of our whole disagreement. I believe we all agree that meanings are never identical between words in the original text and those used in translation and we all agree that the kinds of issues suggested here do show up frequently in translation; the question is whether the meaning you have suggested for this particular idiom in this particular context is valid? To answer that question we need to see how this idiom is used in as many other contexts as possible. When I look at other usages, I cannot find support for the meaning you have suggested here; can you?

  50. David Frank says:

    Mike Tisdell, I don’t have any disagreement with the NIDNTTE that you cited. It basically agrees with the BDAG that I cited. I don’t have a problem with the English dictionary you excerpted, except that I was a little surprised that it mentioned thoughts as being part of the domain of the heart. Online I found the complete dictionary you excerpted, and while it does mention thoughts, it does not elaborate, and it focuses on the emotional associations of the heart in English rather than the intellectual. Dictionaries I checked did not mention thoughts, and one that I already cited contrasts the heart, perceived as the center of the emotions, from the mind as the seat of the intellect. I believe there is a very good basis for saying that the Greek concept of the kardia in the New Testament has a range of meaning that does not align exactly with normal English associations for “heart.” I have already cited a number of references.

    I do not believe that Mark 6:52 is saying that the disciples were “morally culpable,” to use your phrase. It is true that rebellion against God is ultimately behind all of our problems, including our inability to comprehend properly, but while that may be an association with this phrase, it is not what the phrase itself means. I would be interested in knowing the answer to the question that Mike Sangrey asked: how would you paraphrase this verse–how would you express the same idea non-figuratively? If you paraphrased/translated this verse as “they did not understand about the loaves because they were morally culpable,” I would say that is not an accurate rendering. If you were to say “they did not understand about the loaves because they were being obtuse,” I would say that is more like it. If you wanted to, you could add a footnote saying that an inability to see things God’s way was a result of moral cupability, but put that in a footnote, not in the translation.

    Arndt and Gingrich lists the use of kardia in Mark 6:52 under 1.b.b., “the faculty of thought, of the thoughts themselves, of understanding, as the organ of natural and spiritual enlightenment.” We’re talking here about that specific instance of the word, in relation to its range of possible meanings. The later revision, BDAG, has the same classification, but calls it “inner awareness.” It gives other examples in Greek of that kind of usage of kardia to refer to thought processes both in the New Testament and in other Greek literature. Consider the following parallels: Eph 1:18, “the eyes of your understanding being enlightened” (KJV); Luke 24:38, “Why do doubts arise in your minds?” (NIV); Acts 7:23, “when [Moses] was forty years old, he decided to visit…” (NIV); 1 Cor. 2:9, “no mind has conceived” (NIV); Romans 1:21, “their senseless minds were darkened” (RSV); Romans 16:18, “they deceive the minds of naive people” (NIV); 2 Cor. 3:15, “a veil is over their minds” (RSV). There are lots of other examples, such as when “saying in one’s heart” is translated as (and means in English) “wondering,” “deciding,” “believing,” “reflecting,” “thinking to oneself.” Don’t say you can’t find any other support for the meaning we have suggested. I have cited English translations, other passages where kardia is used, commentaries, lexicons, and scholarly studies. If you wanted to see examples of a morally neutral use of that phrase in Greek literature other than the Bible, look at the examples in BDAG.

    Your example of Scrooge is a good example of how “hard hearted” is normally used and understood in English. Scrooge was greedy and callous to other people’s feelings. But that’s not what is going on in this verse. Mark 6:52 isn’t saying that the disciples were callous towards Jesus’ feelings, and that’s the problem with using that expression in an English translation of this verse.

  51. Mike Tisdell says:

    @ David Frank

    There are two significant issues with your response.

    First, much of your response represents nothing more than a “straw man” argument. No one, including me, has argued that “καρδία” or “לב” cannot be translated as “mind” in some contexts; the question is can the idiom “hard heart” be translated as “did not understand,” or “hard headed,” etc… I did not ask for you to give examples where the words “καρδία” or “לב” were translated as “mind” (I could find many examples of that on my own), I asked you to give examples where the idiom “hard heart” was translated in a way that was morally neutral; you provided no example of this (I assume that you, like me, were unable to find such an example). It is well understood that idioms (by definition) have a different lexical meaning that the individual words alone would suggest. When we want to understand how an idiom is used we cannot look at the lexical meaning of the individual words alone. For example, none of the following idioms would be correctly understood by looking at the lexical meaning of the individual words alone: Piece of Cake, Bite Your Tongue, Buy A Lemon, Charley Horse, Cry Wolf, Dark Horse, Dead Ringer; these idioms all have a lexical meaning that is different from the meaning of the individual words. So, when we want to understand the idiom “hard heart” we need to look for passages that contain this particular idiomatic expression and not simply passages that contain either the word “heart” or the word “hard” alone. None of the verses you provided show how this particular idiom is understood (although at least one of your examples uses a different idiom to demonstrate ‘moral culpability’). You say that you “do not believe that Mark 6:52 is saying that the disciples were ‘morally culpable’” but you have not yet provided a single example where this idiom is used in another passage that does not indicate ‘moral culpability.’

    Second, as I have pointed out before, you continue to try and define the English idiom “hard hearted” far more narrowly than it is understood in English. For example, few (if any) would describe Scrooge as someone who was “greedy and callous [only] to other people’s feelings,” they would simply describe him as “greedy and callous” period. All would recognize that Scrooge was not only callous to other people’s feelings but also to their genuine needs. And all would recognize that Scrooge needed to repent of his “hard heartedness.” Similarly, we might say, in English, “Joe was in church today but his heart is so hard that the words of the pastor did not move him.” Someone who says this, isn’t trying to convey the idea that Joe was callous towards the pastor’s “feelings”, they are trying to convey the idea that Joe was callous towards God and the message that was preached. I personally believe that there is ample evidence to show that the English idiom “hard heart” has a broad enough semantic range of understanding to encompass the meaning Mark is trying to convey. Are there other ways of expressing this idea in English? Maybe. Phrases like “their spirits were hardened” or “because of their sinfulness” are possibilities but each of these phrases have nuances that are also a little different than the original idiom; none are perfect and none, in my opinion, are better than the original phrase “their hearts were hardened” even with all of its weaknesses.

  52. David Frank says:

    Okay, Mike T, you say that you accept the idea that Greek καρδία could be well translated as something like “mind” or “understanding” in some contexts. Maybe we’re making progress at coming to an understanding. You said you would rather focus on what it means when combined with πωρόω as in Mark 6:52. I agree that the focus should be on the meaning of the expression αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη in Mark 6:52. But note, for starters, that BDAG analyzes the meaning of καρδία in that specific verse to be the sense of “(lack of) understanding,” similar to Romans 1:21 and Luke 24:25. So we’re focusing on the meaning in a particular context, and in a specific combination of words. You challenged me to compare other passages with that specific combination of words, and the passages I found confirmed what I have been proposing. There are only a handful of passages that combine καρδία with either the adjective πωρόω or the noun πώρωσις, and they are Mark 3:5, Mark 6:52 and 8:17 (both describing similar situations), John 12:40 and Ephesians 4:18. Looking at those contexts, and commentaries on those passages, and looking at how those verses have been translated into English all are a reassurance to me concerning what I was proposing about Mark 6:52.

    In Mark 3:5, the KJV, RSV, and NIV translate τῇ πωρώσει τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν literally as “the hardness of their hearts” (“stubbornness of their hearts,” in the case of the NIV), while the TEV and CEV as “they were so stubborn.” I realize you won’t be impressed with that, because I believe you have basic disagreements with the TEV and the CEV. Moffatt, similar to those two, says, “in anger and vexation at their obstinacy.” The Jerusalem Bible reads, “to find them so obstinate,” and the NEB, “at their obstinate stupidity.” Regarding this verse in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary series, Cole (1961) notes, “‘Heard-hearted’ to us means callous or cruel, but to the Hebrew it meant a stubborn resistance to the purpose of God.” The International Critical Commentary on this verse, Gould (1896) remarks, “The expression does not denote, as with us, the callousness of their feelings, but the unsusceptibility of their minds. They were hardened by previous conceptions against this new truth.” Gundry’s (1993) commentary on Mark defines this idiom in Mark 3:5 as “lack of understanding.”

    Regarding Mark 6:52 and 8:17, I don’t need to repeat what I have already said, except to say that the context strongly suggests a resistance to understanding, and that’s why I think the expression αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη there means something like “they were so thick-headed” or “closed-minded.” Mark 8:17 comes in a context similar to 6:52, where Jesus asks his close group of disciples, “Do you not yet perceive or understand?” followed by a use of the expression in question.

    John 12:40 is a translation of Isaiah 6:10, which doesn’t talk about the heart being (or becoming) “hard,” but rather “fat.” The situation in John 12:40 is similar to the one in Mark 6:52, where people aren’t really able to take in what is going on. The difference is that John 12:40 is talking about God doing that to people, i.e., making them unable to understand. The CEB for John 12:40a reads, “He made their eyes blind and closed their minds.” The God’s Word translation, “God blinded them and made them closed-minded.”

    The final instance of this combination in the Greek New Testament is Ephesians 4:18. The context here is about “the futility of their minds/thinking” (in v. 17), “darkened in their understanding,” and “ignorance,” followed by διὰ τὴν πώρωσιν τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν. If I were to translate this into English, I might say something like, “…you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. Their minds are in the dark. They are alienated from God because of their ignorance, because of their stubborn resistance to understanding.” As I have been saying, the idiom of καρδία in conjunction with πωρόω (adjective) or πώρωσις (noun) denotes a resistance to understanding properly. It is not just that they don’t understand, but that they are resistant to understanding things the way they ought. In his Commentary on Ephesians (1907), J.A. Robinson says this means “obtuseness or intellectual blindness.” In II Corinthians 3:14 Paul expresses a sentiment parallel to Ephesians 4:18, but in that case he is referring to a different group of people and uses νόημα instead of καρδία.

    Back to the English idiom “hard hearted,” a number of commentaries have noted that that English expression means something different from the Greek expression in this set of verses. Based on my own knowledge of English and confirming that with dictionaries, the English expression “hard hearted” means “feeling no sympathy, lacking mercy, incapable of pity,” which is not the accurate meaning of the language in Mark 6:52. But, you ask, what about the English expression “learn by heart”? I don’t know. I can’t explain that one. But it is a different idiom. You ask, what about when we say something like, “Joe was in church today but his heart is so hard that the words of the pastor did not move him.” Again, I don’t know, because that is not normal English, and I couldn’t tell you what it means except by context. I think the only place we might find that usage defined might be in a dictionary of Biblish, if there were such a thing.

    I’m sorry I’m so slow in interacting. I have other things going on besides this.

  53. Mike Tisdell says:

    @David Frank
    In my very first response on September 28, 2012, I acknowledged that words for “heart” in Greek and Hebrew convey both the idea of the mind and emotion. My concern was never that some passages translate these words as “mind” but that the translation you have suggested for Mark 6 doesn’t capture the meaning of the idiom in the context of that particular passage.

    You said, “I do not believe that Mark 6:52 is saying that the disciples were “morally culpable””

    And my request to you was “to give examples where the idiom “hard heart” was translated in a way that was morally neutral”

    Let’s take a look at the passage you cited in your response.

    “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom 1:20-21 NASB)”

    This example fails to support your conclusions both because it uses a similar, but different, idiom i.e. “ἐσκοτίσθη ἡ ἀσύνετος αὐτῶν καρδία” and because it does convey the idea of “moral culpability” very strongly.

    “But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. “And some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.” And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! “Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Lk 24:22-27 NASB)”

    This example fails to support your conclusions because it uses a different idiom i.e. “βραδεῖς τῇ καρδία”

    And He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there with a withered hand. And they were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, in order that they might accuse Him. And He said to the man with the withered hand, “Rise and come forward!” And He said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. And after looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.(Mk 3:1-5 NASB)

    This passage uses the same idiom i.e. “ἐπὶ τῇ πωρώσει τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν” but it also strongly suggests moral culpability.

    And immediately He entered the boat with His disciples, and came to the district of Dalmanutha. And the Pharisees came out and began to argue with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, to test Him. And sighing deeply in His spirit, He said, “Why does this generation seek for a sign? Truly I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation.” And leaving them, He again embarked and went away to the other side. And they had forgotten to take bread; and did not have more than one loaf in the boat with them. And He was giving orders to them, saying, “Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they began to discuss with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? “Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember, when I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces you picked up?” They said to Him, “Twelve.” “And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of broken pieces did you pick up?” And they said to Him, “Seven.” And He was saying to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mk 8:10-21 NASB)

    This uses the same idiom i.e. “πεπωρωμένην ἔχετε τὴν καρδίαν ὑμῶν” but it also suggests moral culpability i.e. This story happens shortly after Jesus feeds a large crowd for the 2nd time; while Jesus is trying to warn the disciples of the dangers the Pharisees and the ruling authority present, the disciples ignore him and focus their attention on the lack of food instead of listening to the words of their Lord. In essence, Jesus asks “Why do you not understand? Is your heart hardened?” This is the softest of the examples you provided but there is still a sense of moral culpability that is suggested in Jesus’ question in a way that is very similar to the statement made in the Mk 6 passage.

    “Jesus therefore said to them, “For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes. “While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light.” These things Jesus spoke, and He departed and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him; that the word of Isaiah the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spoke, “LORD, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them.” These things Isaiah said, because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him. Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God. (Jn 12:35-43 NASB)”

    This passage uses the same idiom i.e. “ἐπώρωσεν αὐτῶν τὴν καρδίαν” and indicates a very strong sense of moral culpability i.e. they understood and believed Jesus but would not acknowledge that belief because “loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”

    “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. (Eph 4:17-19 NASB)”

    This passage uses the same idiom i.e. “διὰ τὴν πώρωσιν τῆς καρδίας αὐτῶν” but again indicates a very strong sense of moral culpability i.e. it describes the rebellious and fallen nature of man.

    Again, while I believe that “hard hearted” conveys reasonably well the idea of the Greek text in English, I am not opposed to using different words in English; I am opposed to using any phrase that removes the idea of moral culpability/spiritual rebellion that is inherent it the phrase itself. Phrases like “they did not understand” simply do not convey the moral culpability that is suggested in the Greek idiom.

    As far as the how “heart” is understood in English, I think you are grasping at straws to suggest that the examples I gave were simply anomalies because there are many more of examples that I could have provided that show “heart” used in English in a way that does not convey a sense of “emotions.” How many more examples does one need in order to recognize that these other uses reflect the broader semantic range of meaning of the English word “heart” and are not simply anomalies?

  54. Mike Sangrey says:

    For what it’s worth, the English “your heart is hard” doesn’t convey moral culpability to a degree different than one’s refusal or one’s inability to understand because of a commitment to a contrary understanding.

    In the one case it’s not feeling for someone. In the other it’s not thinking along the same lines as someone.

    Mike T., how about “For they still didn’t understand the significance of the miracle of the loaves. Their bone-headed attitude prevented them.” Would that convey the moral culpability you’re thinking of? It does for me.

    Also, as I see it, the contexts convey the moral culpability quite well, so it’s not necessary for the phrase to convey it. However, even having said that, a hard-headed behavior or attitude, evident in all the usages, conveys a moral culpability just fine to me.

  55. Mike Tisdell says:

    @Mike Sangrey

    Maybe the best way that I can describe what I mean by the idea of “moral culpability” is that it communicates the idea that repentance is necessary. The real question we need to ask is whether there is any sense of “sinfulness” communicated in this phrase at all no matter how minor it may be. We all understand inherently that a person who is “hard hearted,” “stiff necked,” or “rebellious” needs to repent but phrases like “did not understand,” “hard headed,” “stubborn,” or “bone headed” do not inherently convey any sense of “sinfulness.” I can use all of the latter phrases in sentences that do not convey any sense of “moral culpability” i.e. “My 6 year old daughter doesn’t understand calculus,” “Stephen stubbornly held to his faith in Jesus even though it cost him his life,” “Misplacing the manual to my new phone was a bone headed mistake,” “His hard headedness drives him to succeed where others fail.” I do not believe that the options suggested for the translation of this phrase succeed because I believe that the original phrase in Greek (and its Hebrew equivalent) convey a sense of moral culpability that the English phrases that have been suggested inherently do not. Additionally, while you say that these English phrases communicate “moral culpability” to you, they clearly do not convey that sense to everyone. David Frank argues that there is no sense of moral culpability inherent in the passage itself and he has chosen to uses these phrases in translation precisely because they do not convey “moral culpability” to him.

  56. Mike Sangrey says:

    Mike T.

    I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I’ve been trying to be sensitive to those who would want to explain the Disciple’s behavior and attitude as sinful. I continue to think that a translation such as “hard-headed”–in this context–can be easily explained as sinful. I personally don’t agree with that interpretation, though difference between one side and the other is a fine line (at least in my mind). But, I still think it prudent to allow that possibility.

    I’ve been glad for this discussion. For the record, I’ve always thought that sinfulness was part and parcel of a hard heart. Until this discussion.

    The Exodus narrative, where God states he will make Pharaoh’s heart hard, has always troubled me. That understanding was particularly troublesome to me given Israel’s complaint of being required to do something they were not empowered to do (Ex 5:15-16). They were told they were wrong and they had no choice but to “be wrong.” This immediately preceded God’s promise of deliverance. So, that set up a dissonance in the text for me–how could God do the wrong thing to Pharaoh and yet it be the very thing that puts God in motion (5:22-6:1). I do that! But, God doesn’t.

    It wasn’t until this discussion that this Exodus passage now makes sense.

    Pharaoh’s heart (that is, his intent) was always to “not let the people go.” Chapters 1, 2 and 5 make this pretty clear. This attitude produced his sinful actions. God did not form his heart. Pharaoh did.

    However, what God did then, to free his people and display his power, was “harden” that attitude. He did that by presenting an ever increasing amount of pressure. Each time Pharaoh had the complete freedom to back down. But, Pharaoh’s response was an ever increasing entrenchment of his intent. Over the time period of this narrative, Pharaoh became recalcitrant (a possible translation for Greek ‘hard-hearted’). I can think of many “discussions” where I or the other person (or both) proceeded down a very similar path. God knew this would happen with Pharaoh, and I think it safe to say he laid down the pathway for Pharaoh to walk, if he so chose. He did. However, the moral culpability always rested with Pharaoh since at any point, he could have recognized he was wrong. And change. God didn’t make Pharaoh sin. He didn’t make Pharaoh morally culpable for the actions God himself did.

    Greek/Hebrew “hard heart” signifies a committed intent that is contrary to the evidence, a purposed disposition to what one has chosen to think as true even though it isn’t. It is not inherently sinful; but, given that it is contrary to truth, it will always play in a sinful sphere.

    If “hard heart” is inherently characterized by sinfulness (a moral culpability), then I can’t rationalize that with the fact that God himself says he “hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” That’s paramount to saying God made Pharaoh sin. That doesn’t work in my theology (I’m not saying you’re saying that it works in your theology, but I can’t see any other logic that offers a way out of that dilemma. It seems to me that if one assumes sinfulness, then one is stuck with that theological contradiction.

    As I mentioned, this discussion has resolved that dilemma for me. I’m sure this is sour grapes, but I appreciate the help.

    And thank you David for bringing up the topic that exercised my thinking around what it means to have a “hard heart.”

    And, for the record, I don’t think of any one of us in this discussion as having sinful intent, even though it’s obvious that there are entrenched opinions.

    Thank you all again!

  57. aristofanis says:

    [I’m just trying to reach an understanding,
    which is probably too much to expect.]

    I don’t think so.

    1. καρδία_heart is mentioned more than 700 times in the Old Testament and 154 in the New. let’s see some of its traits in the Bible; how acts and is:
    Ge 6,5 thinks |Ex 4,21 hardens |Ex 10,27 wants |Ex 31,6 competent |De 4,29 seeks |De 15,10 grieves |De 20,8 lacking courage |3Ki 8,47 turns |Ne 8,8 understands |Ps 4,7 rejoices |Ps 31(32),5 irreverent to the Lord |Ps 50(51),17 contrite |Pr 3,5 trusts || Ec 9,3 filled |Ezk 36,26-27 stony fleshy taken off added spiritual |Mt 5,8 clean |Mt 11,29 humble |Mk 12,30 loves |Lk 1,51 proud |Lk 8,15 good |Acts 7,51 uncircumcised |Ro 1,21 foolish|1Co 7,37 steady |He 10,22 true etc.

    The above usages go along with its most common Bible definitions that in brief want the «καρδία»_‘heart’ to be the governing personality center. and with Oxford’s Dictionary of current English: “the center of a person’s thoughts and emotions, esp. of love; the ability to feel emotion.”

    2. νοῦς_mind is mentioned 14 times in the Old Testament and 24 in the New used mainly with the following meanings:
    Ex 7,23 doesn’t pay attention |Job 12,11 Ro 7,23.25 14,5 discerns |Re 13,18 calculates
    As from the above it is shown the relative span of meaning and usage between «καρδία»_‘heart’ and «νοῦς»_’mind’ along with the unsuitability of the translation entry “mind.”
    After research, my opinion is that in English the closest term to the «καρδία πεπωρωμένη» of the disciples is mindset.

    3. mindset is a set of assumptions, methods, held by one or more people or groups of people that is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools. This phenomenon of cognitive bias is also sometimes described as mental inertia, “group-think”, or a “paradigm”, and it is often difficult to counteract its effects upon analysis and decision making processes. (Wikipedia.org)
    If this term is chosen and rendered “due to their mindset they considered not [the sign] of the loaves,” then more or less this might be of an equivalent meaning but this would be an interpretation, not a translation.

    4. πεπωρωμένη_hardened(?) grammatically is a participle within a main clause used as a predicate which demands from the translator to specify the subject_καρδία and the verb_ἦν. therefore it is the translator’s task to uncover its adjectival AND its adverbial function and phrase it. as a term, derives from πῶρος, the second lighter stone next to pumice, known today as πωρόλιθος, in English ‘tufa’ or calc-tufa, and is a limestone (basically a porous limestone formed from calcium carbonate (CaCO2)) deposited by water. its derivatives (verb) πωροῦμαι ( Job 17,7 Mk 8,17 Lk 6,52 John 12,40 Ro 11,7 2Co 3,14) and (noun) πώρωσις (Mk 3,5 Ro 11,25 Eph 4,18) are found 9 times in the Bible for metaphorical use only. (Siamakis Konstantinos. 2002. Fossils in the Bible. in Greek. personal publication).
    Metaphorically the meaning involved is an anesthetic sluggish insensible insensitive unfeeling senseless stagnant unresponsive stolid heart because these are the results that limestone deposits cause always and everywhere. therefore to keep on with the original we might use calcified instead.

    In short, their insensitive and predisposed heart made their perception inactive.

    Mark’s observation surely conveys a warning spiritual message valid for all generations to listen and comply.

  58. David Frank says:

    I am going to try to recap the point of my blog post in light of some of the commenting that has taken place. There were two main parts to my overall theme: what a certain phrase means in Greek in Mark 6:52, and how that might be translated into English. Literal translations are valuable for certain purposes, but in this case, a literal translation would tend to lead to an inaccurate interpretation.

    Before going into that again, I’m going to try to deal with a few matters that have arisen along the way, in the dialogue. First, am I using a straw man argument when I argue that καρδία would best be translated as “mind” or “understanding” in certain contexts? No. As I said, there are two parts to any translation decision: what something means in the original, and how that meaning might be translated into another language. If everybody reading this is already convinced that καρδία in Greek includes components of both emotion and thought, I’m glad for that agreement, that common understanding. The other part of this equation is how that meaning might be translated into English, and I just wanted to get it clear that καρδία in some contexts might be translated as a word in English other than “heart”—a word such as “mind” or “understanding,” for example. If everybody is agreed on that, that’s great, but I wanted to get it out in the air so we could make sure we all agree on it. Saying what something means is one thing, and saying what is the best way to translate that into another language is another, slightly different, thing. Of course the two are related, but one doesn’t automatically lead to the other.

    Might I be grasping at straws to make my argument? I don’t see how citing lots and lots of commentaries and dictionaries in support of my thesis amounts to grasping at straws.

    Finally, before returning to the my original point, I will just momentarily address the question of whether or not one should be able to find instances where the combination of καρδία + πωρόω/πώρωσις is ever translated in a way that is morally neutral. But the question doesn’t make sense. (Are we asking whether the act of translation is morally neutral?) I would agree that somebody characterized in Greek as αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη is guilty of something. The expression denotes resistance. It might mean that they resist understanding properly, which is not a good thing. It means they are guilty of something, namely, they are guilty of lacking the understanding they should have. The information about whether or not the resistance is symptomatic of a moral problem would have to come from the context. In this particular verse, yes, we can find translations that do not portray this particular instance of “hard-heartedness” as an instance of moral culpability. I have cited several of them in my blog post and in my follow-up comments, and I have Weymouth to add now too (“their minds were dull”). Furthermore, whether or not the guilty people in other contexts were “morally culpable,” commentators on this particular verse generally agree that the meaning of moral culpability that a literal translation would seem to suggest doesn’t apply in this particular context. I have cited some of these commentators, and I will cite some more, below.

    Oh, before moving on, did I ever either say that the phrase in question means that the disciples simply didn’t understand? No. The first part of Mark 6:52 says that the disciples didn’t understand. I focused on the second part of this verse and explicitly said, “The meaning here is not just that the disciples failed to understand, but that there was resistance to understanding. The first part of this verse says that the disciples failed to understand, but the second part adds that there was something in them that resisted understanding.”

    Now, positively-speaking, I want to go over again what this verse means and how that might be translated into English. The focus of this blog is on translation and not exegesis, but of course careful exegesis is necessary to translating accurately. Translation involves two basic steps: determining what the original text means, and expressing that in a different language. I’m sure this is getting very repetitive, but in summary I want to go over these two main things again.

    Exegesis: What does αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη mean in Mark 6:52? It means that the disciples were resistant to a proper understanding of who Jesus was and what he was capable of doing. They had seen the evidence, but it didn’t sink in the way it should have. They were guilty of cognitive resistance. This understanding of the verse may be hard to catch on to for someone who has only considered it in a literal English translation. We have already cited a number of English translations that translate the phrase in question more or less along the lines of the meaning I am suggesting here, including the TEV, CEV, God’s Word, Jerusalem Bible, the Twentieth Century Version (pointed out by Russell Allen), the Better Life Bible (pointed out by Dan Sindlinger), Moffatt, and Weymouth. I cited the International Critical Commentary (1896), which points out that this expression in Mark 6:52 does not denote “blunted feelings and moral sensibilities” despite, they say, what a literal translation of “hardness of hearts” might suggest, but rather that the disciples’ minds were “so calloused as to be incapable of receiving mental impressions.” In the course of dealing with comments I have done further research and have found the following additional commentaries cited on the Online Parallel Bible that agree that the meaning of this expression in this verse is not what a literal translation into English would suggest, i.e., not that they were being sinful and in need of repentance, but rather that their minds were incapable of properly dealing with the information they were faced with. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible: “Their heart was hardened – Their ‘mind’ was dull to perceive it. This does not mean that they were ‘opposed’ to Jesus, or that they had what we denominate ‘hardness of heart,’ but simply that they were slow to perceive his power.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: “Their heart was hardened, or ‘blinded,’ not by sin, or against Christ, much less in a judicial way: but there was a great deal of dulness and stupidity, and want of attention in them.” Wesley’s Notes on the Bible: “Their heart was hardened – and yet they were not reprobates. It means only, they were slow and dull of apprehension.” Some people might not agree with this, but this is my conclusion, along with some very good commentators.

    Translation: I think everybody agrees that the New Testament Greek concept of καρδία is semantically complex. Of course, it doesn’t just refer to the literal, physical heart, and in fact, that literal usage is virtually non-existent in the Bible. In the scriptures, used metaphorically, it doesn’t just represent sentiments, but rather the center of the whole person, including the will, the intellect, and feeling. As the New Bible Dictionary (2nd ed., 1982) explains, “‘Mind’ is perhaps the closest modern term to the biblical usage of ‘heart’.” The BDAG Greek lexicon goes into more detail about the different senses of καρδία in focus in different contexts. More pertinent to the topic of translation, I hope everyone also agrees that it is appropriate to translate καρδία into English sometimes with a word other than ‘heart,’ for example, ‘mind’ or ‘understanding’ (at least in certain contexts). What about when καρδία is combined with a form of πωρόω as in Mark 6:52? Might that not be fairly translated into English as “their hearts were hard(ened)”? What does “hard-hearted” mean in English? That is an English idiom that, according to both my intuition and to various English dictionaries, means “unsympathetic, inexorable, cruel, pitiless” (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary); ‘incapable of being moved to pity or tenderness; unfeeling” (Oxford Dictionaries); “not able to feel sympathy or other positive emotions” (Macmillan Dictionary); “not caring about other people’s feelings” (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English For Advanced Learners); “not kind or sympathetic toward other people” (Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary); “lacking mercy, incapable of pity” (The Phrase Finder). The English Collins Dictionary says that “if you describe someone as hard-hearted, you disapprove of the fact that they have no sympathy for other people and do not care if people are hurt or made unhappy.” Without the hyphen, various English dictionaries define “hardhearted” as “unfeeling, unmerciful, pitiless” (Dictionary.com); “unkind or intolerant” (Collins World English Dictionary); “unfeeling, pitiless, cruel” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary); “lacking in feeling or compassion; pitiless and cold” (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language); “lacking in compassion, cold and pitiless” (Wiktionary). I doubt anybody believes this verse is saying that the disciples were being pitiless, unsympathetic, unkind, intolerant, and uncaring about Jesus’ feelings. Ah, but what if instead of saying “hard” + “heart”, we considered a phrase involving the word “harden”? According to the following dictionaries, the meaning of “harden your heart” agrees with the normal English meaning of the figure “hard-hearted”: “to make yourself stop feeling kind or friendly towards something” (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus); “to make yourself stop caring or being affected by things” (Macmillan Dictionary); “to make yourself not feel pity or sympathy for someone” (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English); “become less easily affected emotionally and less sympathetic and gentle than before” (English Collins Dictionary); “feel no sympathy for” (American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms). I don’t think we want to translate this verse into English in a way that suggests that the disciples had stopped feeling friendly toward Jesus, or that they stopped caring for him, or stopped having pity for him, or were less sympathetic toward him than before.

    So it would be problematic, to say the least, to translate αὐτῶν ἡ καρδία πεπωρωμένη in Mark 6:52 as “their hearts were hardened.” In terms of the normal English meaning and use of “harden one’s heart,” that would express the wrong concept. They weren’t feeling pitiless and unsympathetic. Rather, in this context, their intellects, their minds, were hardened against understanding what Jesus had already accomplished and how that could be extended to the present situation. Thus, as some English translations have translated this expression in this verse, “their minds were closed.” Or, to use an English body part idiom to translate a Greek body part idiom, we might say they were “hard-headed” or “thick-skulled.”

    Well, my commenting has taken up a lot more time and space than my original blog post, but the dialogue has given me occasion to offer further support and explanation of what I was trying to say. Thank you to those who have interacted with me about this and offered additional insights.

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