And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us;” Acts 15:8
Knows The Heart – Luke was a Greek physician. Therefore, many students of Scripture assume that Luke wrote to Greeks in Greek with Greek thought patterns. But the language Luke uses actually indicates something else. The problem is that our translations don’t show you this other point of view because the translations also represent a Greek worldview. What Luke actually says is changed to fit the way that the Greek mind would think. As a result, we entirely miss the fact that Luke might have been born a Greek but he thought like a Hebrew. He was a true convert. He changed his mind!
The phrase “knows the heart” isn’t quite right. In the Greek text, this phrase is compressed into a single Greek word, kardiognostes. Literally, the word means “heart-knower.” The unusual thing about this word is that it is not a Greek expression. Greeks did not think of the heart as the center of cognitive activity. The Greek expression would have been “mind-knower.” In Greek thought, the essence of a person is the rational function of the mind, not the fickle center of emotions ascribed to the heart. Luke’s expression is Hebraic, not Greek. It is found in 1 Kings 8:39 where the words are teda et-levavo (from yada – to know – and lev – heart). Because “You [God] know the heart,” says Solomon, “you are able to give to each man according to all his ways.” In other words, in Hebrew thought the heart is the center of personality. God judges actions, emotions, thoughts and attitudes by looking at the heart. Of course, this idea is simply unimaginable in the Greek world.
From this little problem, we learn three important things. First, of course, we learn that the Greek idea of rational priority doesn’t fit the biblical worldview. God is not interested in what you think unless what you think shows itself in how you behave, what you feel and what kind of attitudes you express. You are not your mind. You are the embodiment of God’s animating energy breathed into you – all of you. The radical difference between the compartmentalized Greek world of body, mind and soul, and the unified oneness of the Hebrew nephesh means that your spiritual existence is not separated and segregated from the rest of your life. In God’s world, WYSIWYG applies (What You See Is What You Get).
Secondly, we are reminded of the crucial fact that God judges us according to the center of our personality – the heart. He looks at our true self and He is the only One who can. Luke knew this, even as a native Greek, because Luke thought like a Hebrew. As a physician, this Hebrew perspective gives even more credence to Luke’s shift in point of view.
Finally, we discover that the subtle shift in translation language pushes us away from the unified embodiment of the biblical viewpoint toward a segmented Greek understanding of the world. That subtle shift might not seem like much in this verse, but it leads to the concept that religion and politics don’t mix, that what I believe is my own business and that once I accept the rational tenets of the faith, I am home free. That tiny shift has terrible consequences. On top of all that, we learn that Luke spoke Hebrew. Isn’t that interesting? It just might change the way you think about the New Testament.
Topical Index: Translation