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Operations of the Spirit: Part 4 of 12, Heart and Reins

This is the fourth of twelve parts to an essay entitled
"Operations of the Spirit." The entire essay is 
just over one hundred pages if printed out, so it is 
presented serially in this blog. These parts should 
be read sequentially, because each builds on the previous 
parts. Hopefully, readers will have comments, suggestions 
and criticisms. The twelve parts are as follows: 
I. Introduction, Part I 
II. Confusing Terms, Part II 
III. Metaphors and Meaning, Parts III through VI 
     A. The still small voice, Part III 
     B. The heart and reins, Part IV 
     C. Light and burning, as in a burning in the bosom, Part V 
     D. Extracting meaning from metaphors,, Part VI 
IV. The Scriptures and the Spirit, Parts VII through X 
     A. The Oliver Cowdery revelations: D&C 6, 8 and 9, Part VII 
     B. Other modern-day scriptures, Part VIII 
     C. Ancient scriptures about the Spirit, Part IX 
     D. Extraordinary events, Part X 
V. The Spirit and Individual Affectations, Part XI 
VI. Conclusion, Part XII 

There are footnotes in this work. You can read the footnotes 
by hovering your cursor over the note, or you can click 
on the note to read it as text. There is a symbol at the end 
of each footnote that allows you to return to the text 
by clicking on it.


B. The Heart and the Reins

The heart and the bosom, which is where the heart is located, are closely related metaphors. The meaning of heart is key to understanding the meaning of bosom and the similarity or interchangeability of these vehicles.

Yoram Hazony is Provost of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and a Senior Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, Political Theory, and Religion. He provides insight into the meaning to be gathered from heart:

The Hebrew word lev (לכ), taken literally, refers to the physical organ we call the heart, and as a consequence most translations use the English heart wherever the original Hebrew has lev. But in most cases, this translation misses the meaning of the biblical authors, and in many it leads to outright mistakes in translation. Classical Hebrew has no parallel to the later Western dichotomy between the “heart” as the seat of emotions and the “mind” as the seat of thought. For the biblical authors, sentiments [about one’s thoughts] are a part of the process of human thought and of reason, and not something separate from it. And when human beings are thinking, or reasoning, or believing, they do so with their lev, which is most directly translated as mind.1

Hazony describes the confusion engendered when heart is used as a trope for the mind.

[The heart, lev (לכ),] quite plainly refers to the faculty of thought and reasoning—a mistranslation whose effect is to make hundreds of passages throughout the Bible seem to be concerned with the emotions when it is human understanding and reason that are being discussed.2

Heart is so well understood in general discourse today to refer to the seat of emotions, that it never occurs to the a listener or reader that heart is a more complicated as a metaphor that used to be understood to mean the seat of reason. The Oxford English Dictionary recognizes the complicated nature of the word. The fifth definition in the OED is

5. a. = mind, in the widest sense, including the functions of feeling, volition, and intellect.

b. In this relation spoken of as having ears, eyes, etc., meaning those faculties of the mind, understanding, or emotional nature, that have some analogy to these bodily organs.3

Like Yoram Hazony’s observation about the use of heart, in the bible, the Book of Mormon uses heart as a reference to the mind. For example, King Benjamin’s speech uses heart as a trope for the mind in the following parallel form typical of Hebrew writing,

I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak,

but that you should hearken unto me,

and [in other words] open your ears that ye may hear, and [and open] your hearts that ye my understand,

and [open] your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.”4

This same scripture can be reformatted to emphasize the internal exergasia or anaphora, another figure of speech common in ancient scripture:

I have not commanded you to come up hither to trifle with the words which I shall speak, but that you should hearken unto me,

and open your ears that ye may hear,
and your hearts that ye my understand,
and your minds that the mysteries of God may be unfolded to your view.5

An exergasia repeats the same thing different ways for emphasis. An anaphora gives emphasis by repeating the same phrase at the beginning of two or more lines. Perhaps, the word and at the beginning of the three repetitions in the middle of this quote is enough to constitute an anaphora, but adding what must be understood to be a part of this repetition, open, certainly qualifies:

and open your ears
and [open] your hearts
and [open] your minds.

The point of this injunction by King Benjamin is for the people to listen to what he has to say so they can understand as he unfolds the mysteries of God to them. They are there to learn, in other words, and they do that listening, understanding, and setting it in their minds.

Heart is a reference to the mind in another Book of Mormon setting where it is used to describe the thoughts—not feelings—of the silent prayers offered by the people in the land of Helam,

[T]hey began to cry mightily to God. And Amulon commanded . . . that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death. And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.6

The parallel in this scripture is the pouring of thoughts from their hearts and the resulting knowledge of what was poured out, thoughts. This same parallel is used in the New Testament. For example, Paul uses heart and mind this parallel reference to the mental process,

I will put my laws into their hearts,

and in their minds will I write them.7

The metaphorical use of heart is often associated with a hard heart—for those who do not choose to understand—while the mind is characterized as blinded—for those who do not bother to read or listen or remember. For example, Nephi speaks of Laman and Lemuel as hard in their hearts and blind in their minds because they would not hearken to the word, had seen an angel, knew the great things done for them by the Lord;8 Nephi speaks of being convinced and saved or destroyed because of hard hearts and blind minds;9 Nephi observes that notwithstanding miracles they had seen, the children of Israel hardened their hearts and blinded their minds;10 Amalickiah appointed men to speak to the Lamanites against the Nephites and accomplished his design because he hardened the hearts and blinded the minds of the Lamanites;11 the Nephites forgot signs and wonders, being less astonished at a sign or wonder, so they were hard in their hearts and blind in their minds;12 and Nephi was grieved by hardness of hearts and blindness of minds, so he began to teach.13

Hazony uses the word sentiments to differentiate what one senses or, more colloquially, feels when realizes a truth. There is a sentiment, but it it is not an emotion that originates, metaphorically speaking, from the heart. In other words, there is always a sentiment associated with thought; i.e., does this thought seem right? This sentiment is a mental attitude about the rightness or wrongness of a conclusion and comes with a realization, but the realization is not an emotional response.

The use of heart as a metaphor for the mind has elucidating and illuminating effects on scriptures that describe one’s heart as hardened. For example, Nephi told his brothers that their close mindedness, using heart as his trope in the chiastic presentation he prepared thirty or more years after the fact, is the reason they had not had received the same knowledge—not knowing what the Lord had said—as Nephi:14

A And I said unto them, have you inquired of the Lord? And they said unto me: We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.

B Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord?

C How is it that ye shall perish because of the hardness of your hearts?

D-d Do you not remember the things the Lord has said?—

c If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive,

b with diligence in keeping my commandments,

a surely these things shall be made known unto you.15

The refusal to sense or think about what is right and wrong, a hard heart, is not as bad as being past feeling. “Behold, thou knowest the wickedness of this people; thou knowest that they are without principle, and past feeling [sense of right and wrong]; and their wickedness doth exceed that of the Lamanites.”16

Being past feeling or not sensing right and wrong has nothing to do with emotions. The seat of passion or emotion anciently was the kidneys. Kidneys must have seemed a little anatomical to the King James translators, so the word for the kidneys is translated in the Bible as bowels, reins, or loins, as in bowels of compassion. Hence, the kidneys and bowels or loins are associated with emotions.

In the ancient system of physiology the kidneys were believed to be the seat of desire and longing, which accounts for their often being coupled with the heart.17

The OED defines reins as follows:

l. The kidneys.
2. The region of the kidneys; the loins.
3. In or after Biblcal use: The seat of feelings or affections18

These figures of speech—reins, loins, bowels—are common in the bible, Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. E.g. 1 John 3:17 (“But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”); 3 Nephi 17:6, 7 (“my bowels are filled with compassion towards you. . . .I have compassion upon you; my bowels are filled with mercy”); D&C 101:9 (“notwithstanding their sins, my bowels are filled with compassion towards them. I will not utterly cast them off; and in the day of wrath I will remember mercy”); D&C 121:3, 4 (“and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them. . . . thine eye pierce; let thy pavilion be taken up; let thy hiding place no longer be covered; let thine ear be inclined; let thine heart be softened, and thy bowels moved with compassion toward us”).

Understanding the difference between the ancient metaphors allows the reader to give sense to otherwise obtuse scriptures. E.g., Psalm 7:9 (“God trieth the hearts and reins”); Psalm 16:7 (“I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons,” cf. 2 Nephi 33:3, “mine eyes water my pillow by night”); Psalm 26:2 (“Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.”) Proverbs 23:16 (“my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things”); Isaiah 11:5 (“righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins”); Jeremiah 11:20 (“O Lordof hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart”); Revelation 2:23 (“I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts”).

Some of the foregoing examples may seem like hendiadyses because of the conjuntion, and, between reins and heart. But these should not be so read because an hendiadys says the same thing two different ways. Thus, “try my reins and my heart” solicites judgment on both emotions and thoughs. Contrariwise, “in your mind and in your heart” is an hendiadys because nothing is aid about emotions; rather, the conjoined words addresses the mind in two ways.

Thoughts, of course, can result in emotions. For example, “They knew not what to think [but were] filled with exceedingly great joy.”19 “[W]hen they thought . . . they were filled with sorrow.”20 “[W]hen they thought . . . they were filled with pain and anguish.”21 In other words, emotions and thoughts are often coupled together when the thought is affecting.

A personal experience all can understand elucidates the watershed between emotions and sentiments engendered by thoughts. My son died when he was 34. He left a widow and a two-year-old son who does not remember him. The emotional impact on me and my wife was and remains ineffable. I was not sure my marriage would survive this traumatic event in our lives because we had a hard time identifying with the way the other was mourning this loss. He died in 2006 from complications, as hard as this is to believe, after a hernia surgery. He should not have died. I still cannot talk about his death without getting emotional. I weep. I talk in a halting voice. I am affected by just the thought of his death and speaking about it turns me into a person I am not. That affectation is nothing like feeling good or bad about a conclusion I have reached, for example, about the meaning of a particular metaphor, the latter being a sentiment and former an emotion.

Unfortunately, most in the Church, it seems to me, confuse an emotional response with the Spirit. They identify a frisson with what they think is an essential character of a spiritual manifestation, a burning in their bosom, the subject of the next part of this essay.


  1. Yoram Hazony, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012) at 171.
  2.  Id. at 194.
  3. Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition on CD-ROM (v. 4.0)(Oxford University Press, 2009) s.v. heart.
  4. Mosiah 2:9b.
  5. Mosiah 2:9b.
  6. Mosiah 24:11-13.
  7. [Hebrews 10:16.
  8. 1 Nephi 7:8. How an angel could actually appear to Laman and Lemuel to no effect presents a conundrum for many members of the Church. How this can be and whether an angel appeared in propria persona is beyond the scope of this essay. This problem will be the subject of a later blog posting.
  9. 1 Nephi 14:7.
  10. 1 Nephi 17:30.
  11. Alma 48:3.
  12. 3 Nephi 2:1.
  13. 3 Nephi 7:16.
  14. See 2 Nephi 5:28–34.
  15. 1 Nephi 10:8–12.
  16. Moroni 9:20.
  17. Smith’s Bible Dictionary s. v. reins (i.e. kidneys).
  18. Oxford English Dictionary, 2d ed. on CD–Rom, v. 4 (Oxford University Press, 2009) s. v. reins.
  19. Mosiah 25:8.
  20. Mosiah 25:9.
  21. Mosiah 25:11.

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