Whilst reading Psalm 7 this morning, I came across a strange expression at the end of verse 9:

O let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins."

This is from the King James Version.

I am curious to know why the word "reins" has been used here and what it means within the context of this verse.

  • 2
    Up-voted +1. See 'reins' and kidneys in Oxford English Dictionary. 2. The region of the kidneys. a. In or after Biblical use: this region as the seat of the feelings or affections Also Dictionary.com (especially in Biblical use) the seat of the feelings or affections, formerly identified with the kidneys.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 6 at 11:18

2 Answers 2


From Brown-Driver-Briggs:

Hearts = inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding

Reins = kidneys, 1a) of physical organ (literally), 1b) of seat of emotion and affection (figuratively)

The two words are very closely related. KJV and YLT both renders 'reins' and the ESV renders 'minds'. I suspect a distinction is intended in these two words between between the actual thoughts of the 'heart' and the affections of the 'heart' which often act to control (as with reins) our thoughts and behaviors.

Our first and highest affection should be the Lord our God. This affection then drives our thoughts and behaviors.

  • That's helpful, thank you. The NIV said "bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure" which didn't seem to have any bearing on the KJV.
    – Lesley
    Feb 6 at 17:59

The Hebrew word is כִּלְיָה (kilyah) mean "kidney". The Septuagint is also a witness for this, where לבבות וכליות was translated νεφροί καὶ καρδίαι (nephroi kai kardiae) - lit. "kidneys and hearts". In ancient Greek, the kidneys were believed to be the seat of the emotions and the source of courage, hence they were sometimes referred to metaphorically as the "seat of emotions". Something similar was true in Hebrew.

Rein is an archaic English word for kidney, derived from the Norman French rène and ultimately from the Latin ren. At the time the King James Bible was translated, the meaning was still current but it has since fallen into disuse.

"Hearts and kidneys" seems strange in modern contexts, so modern versions like the ESV have reworded to something like "hearts and minds".

The same Hebrew phrase לֵֽבָבֹ֥ות וּכְלָיֹֽות (levavot u'klayot) - hearts and reins - appears in two other places (albeit with hearts and reins reversed):

Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; Try my reins and my heart [כְּלָיוֹת וּלְבָבוֹת] (Psalm 26:2).

But, O LORD of hosts, that judgest righteously, that triest the reins and the heart [כְּלָיוֹת וּלְבָבוֹת], let me see thy vengeance on them: for unto thee have I revealed my cause (Jeremiah 11:20).

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