What Does the Bible Say About the Mind?
The mind is an enigma to many. Scientific explanations fall short. So what exactly is it? Why do we have one? What does the Bible teach about the human mind?
The fact that you can read and understand this sentence is evidence of your mind at work.
The mind should not be confused with the mere brain, an organ shared by nearly every species in the animal kingdom. Experimentation, and even plain observation, shows that no other life-forms—not even in the upper echelons of the primate family—have the mental capacity to do or think what you can, though they have a brain.
But the negligible physical differences between our brains and those of certain animals begs the question, What makes the human mind different? Why do we have a mind? What enables human beings to think and do the things they do?
What does the Bible say about the mind?
What is the mind?
You can think of the mind as an ordinary physical brain that has been massively supercharged. The result is consciousness, among other things.
No animal knows it is an animal. Human beings, on the other hand, are aware of what they are and who they are. What’s more, consciousness provides innate abilities that place humanity on a plane immensely higher and unreachable by the animals.
Consider how we can contemplate our own mortality. Our minds allow us to ponder the existence of distant starry galaxies and note the beauty of them. We can form goals and accomplish them, enjoy music, appreciate the company of another human being, feel love, think, create and make moral judgments. From the seemingly mundane actions of human existence—like choosing one ice cream flavor over another—to the praiseworthy accomplishments of scientists and engineers, the human mind is responsible for it all.
But more than just distinguishing us from the animal kingdom, our minds confirm another fact: We are like God. To a lesser degree and with some major exceptions, human beings can actually do things that otherwise only God can do.
Maybe you have never thought about the parallels before, but consider the following: God can communicate; He can plan; He can work; He can render judgments; He can change His mind; He can count; He can build; He can laugh; He can feel regret; He can encourage and uplift with words; He can establish relationships; He can be refreshed.
No undirected evolutionary processes are responsible for those similarities. What the world’s leading academics view as the result of coincidence or nature’s gift to mankind is in reality the product of God’s intent and design.
God created the mind and gave each one of us ours.
A brief overview can be found in Genesis 1:26-27:
“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Man is “in the image of God” because of the mind God gave him—the mind that empowers godlike abilities. It is through the mind that we exercise dominion over the animals and experience a likeness to God.
(To learn more, read “What Does It Mean to Be Made in ‘the Image of God’?”)
But how did God create the mind?
We still have not answered the question of how the mind came to be the mind and how the human brain—hardly different from what’s in the skull of a chimpanzee—is capable of such enormous mental output.
What makes the difference?
Said by some scholars to be the oldest book in the Bible, Job contains several relevant statements on the subject of the human mind.
A most profound truth, absent from today’s scientific discussions, comes from Elihu: “But there is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding” (Job 32:8, emphasis added throughout).
Man possesses a spirit. He did not say that man is a spirit or an immortal soul, as many in the professing Christian world would wrongly conclude.
But man has a spirit.
The spirit is not the man, but something in the man.
This scripture does not support the pagan belief that the spirit is a separate conscious life—the real you, some would say—caged and ready to escape when the physical body dies.
(To learn more about this false teaching, see our article “Do Humans Have an Immortal Soul?”)
The lesson Elihu is teaching is twofold: First, the “spirit in man,” or the human spirit, gives us “understanding,” or intelligence. Second, the spirit comes directly from God.
God placed within each of us “the spirit in man,” from which comes our human-specific abilities. In the same discussion, Elihu again confirms these two points, saying that God “teaches us more than the beasts of the earth, and makes us wiser than the birds of heaven” (Job 35:11). God later confronted Job and posed the rhetorical question, “Who has put wisdom in the mind? Or who has given understanding to the heart?” (Job 38:36). He effectively asked, “Who is responsible for why you can even think in the first place, Job? Who gave you the ability to do so?”
The prophet Zechariah also explained that God is “the LORD, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him” (Zechariah 12:1).
We see definitively then that God placed within each of us “the spirit in man,” from which comes our human-specific abilities.
This is further established by a conclusive statement Paul made in 1 Corinthians 2.
“For what man,” Paul asked, “knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?” (verse 11). In other words, unless the human spirit enabled him, no man could have the understanding he has—the knowledge and abilities and so on. “Except the spirit [in man]” be in each of us, we simply would not have the brainpower—the mental capacity—to do and comprehend all of the things we can.
But, as the name suggests, the spirit in man is just that: spirit. It is not made of matter. The spirit is a nonphysical, invisible component. And since the human senses cannot detect what is spirit, but can detect only what is physical, we are limited in what we can perceive. Thus, science will always fail to solve the mystery of the human mind—because that field deals only with the natural world, the physical world.
Because scientists cannot see any substantive differences between the human brain and the chimpanzee’s, they are left to devise inadequate theories about why human beings have the capacity they do—why the vast gap between man and animal exists.
But the Bible holds the answer: The God-given spirit in man is what transforms the brain into the mind.
Is there anything the mind cannot do?
That the human mind is capable of extraordinary feats of knowledge is hardly debatable, especially considering the landmark discoveries in science and technology over the past century. The coming decades may even see the first man to touch the surface of Mars.
But while the human mind is impressive, the Bible tells us that God has placed limits on what it can understand on its own.
Human wisdom, or “the wisdom of this age,” is what can be discovered by the human mind through logic, reason and analysis (verse 6).
The wisdom of God, however, cannot be comprehended or worked out by the human mind in the same way. Paul described this wisdom as a “mystery” that has been “hidden,” meaning unable to be understood by natural means. In other words, no amount of human intelligence will ever achieve the wisdom of God (verse 7).
So, how do we come to understand the wisdom of God and the “things which God has prepared”?
Paul continued, “But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (verse 10). Not “through the spirit in man,” but “His Spirit”—the Spirit of God.
Human wisdom is discovered through natural means, but the wisdom of God is learned through supernatural means. Only by the aid of God’s Spirit—divine revelation—is man able to grasp the wisdom of God. Without God’s help, he is limited to simply what can be observed and worked out with human reasoning.
In summary, the natural man—with his mind alone—can comprehend only physical things, while the man who has God’s Spirit in him is able to comprehend spiritual things.
Just as the spirit in man separates mankind from the animals, the Spirit of God in someone separates that person from the rest of humanity.
(To learn more about how God’s Spirit works, see our article “What Is the Holy Spirit?”)
True Christians are distinguished by their ability to understand spiritual truths and realities—things the ordinary person is powerless to comprehend and even considers to be “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Answers to “Who is God?” “Why was I born?” “Who is Jesus Christ?” “Why was He crucified?” and “What is the Kingdom of God?” are the spiritual things of God that the mind can understand only if it has been empowered by God’s Spirit.
An example of how this takes place can be found in one of the Gospel accounts. When Peter said he believed Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). God’s intervention to grant spiritual understanding is what makes the difference.
The human mind, though awesome, requires more than just the spirit in man. It needs the Spirit of God.
The mind, God’s Spirit and you
The Bible is the most authoritative source on the subject of the human mind. No scientific journal can adequately explain what the mind is, much less why we all have one.
God gave each of us a mind as part of His grand and breathtaking purpose for us.
The Spirit of God, joined to the human mind, imparts spiritual knowledge. It is also the channel God uses to communicate His will to each of us. He uses His Spirit to lead, guide, direct, fashion and mold us—so that we know His plan for us, and even how He thinks and acts.
The more we submit to God’s Spirit within us, the more we take on His likeness. Gradually, through this process called conversion, our minds are re-formed until they resemble Jesus Christ’s own mind (1 Corinthians 2:16).
Scripture tells the story of how God made us with minds so that one day we could be like Him, not just in abilities, but in character as well.
That is what the Bible teaches about the human mind.