When I saw “What does the New Testament say about the mind?” on the search list, my first thought was “Not much!” Bad response! “Mind” has been used to represent seven different Greek words in the New Testament. None of them are particularly common. Their classical usage is similar, but not synonymous. Sorting them is challenging. Three of these words can be rather quickly laid aside, because of their rarity.
Phronema, “thought, purpose, aspiration,” or, in a negative sense, “presumption, arrogance” (L/S), appears only in Rom.8:7 and 8:27, referring, in both cases, to the focus of attention, whether on the human nature or on the Spirit.
Ennoia, “thinking, reflection, cogitation”, or “a notion, concept, or idea” (L/S), a common word in the Greek philosophers, likewise appears only twice: I Pet.4:1 and Heb.4:12, both of which tend toward the sense of a deliberately determined attitude by which one’s life is consciously ordered.
Psuche, more commonly translated “life” or “soul”, is rendered three times “mind”: Ac.14:2, Phil.1:27, Heb.12:3. For a more thorough treatment of this word, please refer to W.S.#28.
This leaves us with four words, which may be a little easier to distinguish, since they appear in more contexts.
Noema, “perception, thought, purpose, idea, concept, understanding, mind” (L/S), used six times, occurs only in Paul’s writings. In II Cor.3:14, 4:4, and 11:3, the reference is to the blinding of the “understanding” of those who have refused the guidance of the Holy Spirit; II Cor.2:11 is more specific about where that blockage comes from (the traditional translation there is “devices.” The only positive references are Phil.4:7, promising the protection of their/our minds by the peace of God, and II Cor.10:5, a reminder of the faithful disciple’s responsibility (a present active participle), to “subjugate every mind [thought] into the obedience of Christ (like his)”. In both positive and negative contexts, noema seems to be quite definitely subject to an individual’s conscious decision.
Gnome, “intelligence, means of knowing, thought, judgment, opinion, verdict, intention, consent” (L/S), occurs eight times. This is the word used when Paul states that he has no “word from the Lord” on a matter, but offers his opinion (I Cor.7:25, 7:40; II Cor.8:10), or defers a decision about Onesimus’ future to Philemon’s approval (Phm.4). In Rev.17:13 and 17, the ungodly have also made a deliberate decision to join the enemies of God. Paul’s decision regarding his itinerary (Ac.20:3), and his admonition (I Cor.1:10) to the Corinthian brotherhood to settle their differences, also represent thoughtful determination.
Dianoia, “thought, intention, purpose; notion, idea, intelligence, understanding, intellectual capacity” (L/S), is used thirteen times: once (traditionally) translated “imagination” (Lk.1:51), three times “understanding” (Eph.1:18, 4:18, I Jn.5:20), and nine times “mind”.
The associated words in the parallel passages quoting the admonition to “love God” are interesting. In traditional translations, Mt.22:37 includes only “heart” (kardia), “soul” (psuche), and “mind” (dianoia). Mk.12:30 says “heart, soul, mind, and strength (ischus),” and Lk.10:27 uses “heart, soul, strength and mind”. For treatment of psuche see W.S.#28, and for ischus see W.S.#31. The passage they all are quoting, Dt.6:5, in the LXX uses only dianoia, psuche, and dunamis, completely omitting any word for “heart”. The traditional OT translation says “heart, soul, and might”. The OT text includes one of the Hebrew words for “heart”, and makes no mention of “mind”! This would be an interesting topic for textual scholars to investigate. However, the presence of dianoia in all three synoptics, probably as a LXX quote, would certainly indicate that (1) the mind is definitely expected to be fully involved in one’s love of God, and (2) it is an entity completely separate from any of the others mentioned.
Paul’s reference to one’s dianoia in Eph.2:3, 4:18, and Col.1:21, as well as the Lk.1;51 passage, make it abundantly clear that the unredeemed “mind” can be disposed to lead one to opposition to the Kingdom; but the prophecies quoted in Heb.8:10 and 10:16, as well as Peter (I Pet.1:13, II Pet.3:1), Paul (Eph.1:18), and John (I Jn.5:20), are equally emphatic that the mind/understanding can and must be enlightened, transformed, and reminded to be consciously pointed in the right direction.
Nous, the most common of the words, appearing 24 times – 17 as “mind” and 7 as “understanding”–shows even more vividly that while the mind certainly controls a person’s attitudes, thoughts, and behavior, it is also itself controlled by his deliberate decision. L/S lists “the mind, in the sense of being employed in thinking, perception, feeling, or deciding; to have one’s mind directed toward something; resolve or purpose; reason or intellect;” or even (Anaxagoras) “the active principle of the universe”! Like dianoia, nous can be either a positive or negative force, as Paul laments in Rom.7:23-35.
This is the only word used of “the mind of the Lord” (Rom.11:34, I Cor.2:16) or “the mind of Christ” (also I Cor.2:16), except for a single occurrence of phronema in Rom.8:27.
Paul warns of the danger of “corrupt minds” (I Tim.6:5, II Tim.3:8), or their being “defiled” (Tit.1:15), “reprobate” (Rom.1:28), characterized by “vanity” (Eph.4:17), “shaken” (II Thes.2:2), or having inflated ideas of one’s own importance (Col.2:18); but he also holds out the option of choosing to have one’s life “transformed (see next post) by the renewing of your mind” (Rom.12:2), and to be “renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Eph.4:23), until “we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor.2:16)! He urges the Corinthian church, threatened by factions, to be “joined together in the same mind” (I Cor.1:10).
After his resurrection, Jesus graciously “opened the minds [understanding]” of his mourning disciples, “to understand the Scriptures”, and to realize that he was really alive and in their midst (Lk.24:45). Only then did things begin to make sense to them. It requires “a mind that has wisdom” (Rev.17:9) or a person “that has understanding” (Rev.13:18) to discern the Lord’s hand – and that does not start only at the end of history!
But there are times when even a wise and devoted mind is not enough. Paul goes to great length to explain (I Cor.14:14-19) that while worship, the singing of praises, and prayer may at times need to go beyond the reach of one’s mind/understanding, that does not obviate the need for the mind’s involvement. Expressions both with and beyond the understanding are intended to be supplementary, and not mutually exclusive.
Close attention to many of these references reveals, however, that faithfulness is not a “mind trip”! The mind/understanding, while necessary and helpful, is not an end in itself.
Probably the best summary may be found in Rom.12:2: “Be (continuously) completely changed, by the renewal of your mind (nous), so that you all will recognize what God’s will is” – whereupon Paul spends the next couple chapters describing the practical outcome of that transformation.
When, using a third person imperative of phroneo, Paul writes to the Philippians that they must adopt and internalize the “mind” of the Lord Jesus (Phil.2:5), it is in the midst of admonitions to faithful living.
Committing worries and concerns to the Lord, (Phil.4:7), he concludes, “God’s peace, which greatly exceeds all understanding (nous), will protect your hearts and minds (noema) in Christ Jesus!”
May this confidence spur our hearts and minds to determined faithfulness!