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Luke 24:38 New International Version

He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

English Standard Version

And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?

Why this difference in translations? Which is better?

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This is an old chestnut! How to translate so that it makes sense in the receiving language? Here is a more glaring example in Rev 2:23

and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

The word translated "mind" is actually νεφρός = kidney!! However, almost every modern version translates this as, "mind" because translating "kidney and heart" makes no sense to the modern reader.

What the modern reader does not know - the idiom of the time believed that the kidneys were the center of emotions and affections. The heart was the center of cognitive thought.

In modern idiom, the heart is the center of emotion and affection and the mind is the center of cognitive thought. Thus, the correct idiomatic way to translate "kidney and heart" is "heart and mind" respectively.

The same problem occurs in Luke 24:38 - translating καρδία literally as "heart" makes the modern reader think of the center of emotions but the original intent is the center of cognitive thought - the mind in modern language. This is precisely why many modern versions translate καρδία as "mind".

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    Good answer, but if you have any references we could consult on the ancient idioms it would be a great answer ;) – curiousdannii Apr 10 at 0:56
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    @curiousdannii - this is common knowledge as per the lexicons and standard commentaries. Look at the OT where "nosing" is used for "anger". – Dottard Apr 10 at 3:57
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The ESV is more faithful to the Semitic world in which Jesus lived, and is the way someone in that time & place would have actually said it. The NIV is more faithful to the way this would be understood in English--the ESV conveys the word, the NIV conveys the meaning.

The thinking organ

A useful passage to reference is found in Deuteronomy 6

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord:

5 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Citing the above passage, Claude Tresmontant observed:

When we translate literally the Hebrew be-kol lebabeka as 'with all you heart,' we evidently cannot be faulted too badly. After all the Hebrew leb does mean 'heart.' Nevertheless because the 'heart' was considered by the ancient Hebrews to be the organ of the intelligence and not of affectivity, we fail to render the true meaning of the sentence when we translate leb literally. To love with all one's heart for us it to love with very great emotion and affection; understanding this command in that fashion, we are unlikely to realize that we were really commanded in this passage to love God with all our mind or intelligence. (The Hebrew Christ p. 190)

New Testament usage

It is interesting therefore to note how the Gospel of Matthew renders the passage from Deuteronomy when quoted by Jesus:

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. (Matthew 22:37)

Despite being very faithful to the Hebrew structure of the passage in Deuteronomy (more-so than are Mark or Luke), the Greek of Matthew preserves meaning by adding a word not found in the original Hebrew text (although Matthew also excludes a word too). The rendering/translation of this passage is discussed by Tresmontant as well:

"[The writer] was evidently well aware of the full meaning of leb and the full range of possible translations. Accordingly, he included both of the applicable Greek words." (The Hebrew Christ p. 191).

Greek vs. Hebrew

The word in Luke is καρδίᾳ ("hearts"); whether this conversation happened in Greek, Aramaic, or Hebrew the effect is the same--this was a culture in which the heart was the thinking organ. "Heart" in English does not convey that meaning, and so the sense of the word has been lost.

This is a genuine translator's dilemma--which is why it is unsurprising that different translators have handled the passage differently. Do you translate the word (heart) or the meaning (the thinking organ)?

Conclusion

There's no reason to question that He said "hearts", and in the world in which He lived, it conveyed what we today would more appropriately render as "minds".

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  • The Greek word kardia means 'heart'. I fail to see what the Hebrew has to do with this. 'Probably' said ? 'Likely' the way ? It is kardia which Luke definitely reports. – Nigel J Apr 9 at 15:19
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    @NigelJ I have amended my post to address your concern. I don't take a position on what language Jesus was speaking on this occasion; the key to the NIV translation is the culture. Whether we read Deuteronomy in Hebrew or Luke in Greek, the word, as you've noted, is "heart". I'm looking to the culture to understand what they meant by "heart". – Hold To The Rod Apr 9 at 16:15
  • I understand that one may 'think in one's heart' but that does not suggest translating 'heart' as 'mind' . . . . in my view. Translation and interpretation are separate disciplines and rarely are any gifted with both abilities in a superlative way. A deceitful heart thinks (in the mind) in a different way from those that are pure in heart. – Nigel J Apr 9 at 16:33
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    An excellent answer, +1, but actually a little concerning. Since when should translators be applauded for interpreting meaning instead of translating the text? Luke could easily have used the word for ‘mind’ instead of ‘heart’ - if that’s what he meant/wanted. There are distinct [Greek] words for both* ‘mind’ and ‘heart’, and both are used extensively - and I suggest ‘by design’. And .... Greek is a very precise language. – Dave Apr 9 at 18:39
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    @Dave You cannot translate a text without interpreting it. Absolutely impossible to do. There is only interpreted translation - anything without interpretation is not a translation, but some weird textual cipher. – curiousdannii Apr 10 at 0:59

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