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Heart as Figurative language

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  • Heart as Figurative language

    The New Testament uses the term “heart” 172 times to refer to the source of ones character, thoughts, or actions. Here in 2017 evangelical Christians understand the above statement as being accurate. However, in the age before 1967 many evangelicals understood the references to heart in a more literal sense. That is, the heart operated something like the brain in determining faith and character. This idea was challenged on 3rd December 1967 when Dr. Christiaan N. Barnard, a South African surgeon, performed the world's first human heart transplant.

    The immediate response by many Christians was to ask if this heart transplant meant the spiritual nature of the donor was now in the recipient or did this change the person-hood of the recipient? Such ideas where elements of human biology were the actual residing place of human personality and spirituality were common and un-examined by many Christians. For some in the Church the heart transplant made the assertions of the New Testament invalid. Accordingly, these people no longer confessed faith in Christ. The first heart transplants brought on a crisis of faith for many. Today, such an understanding of the biblical term “heart” would be considered very naïve or just an illiterate interpretation. Likewise, Christians are aware the term “flesh” as often used in the Pauline epistles refers to natural human desires and not the muscle and skin of the human body.

    This past issue concerning the term “heart” is remembered because of concern there remains many terms of the Bible which are not literal but continue to be understood literally by many Christians. Such literalism results in incorrect understanding and unrealistic expectations. It is good practice to remain aware that a verse may have figurative meaning rather then a literal one. The more bizarre, convoluted, or requiring an extended explanation the more likely an interpretation should not be made as having a literal meaning.