Biblical Counseling Coalition | Mind vs. Brain: Gaining Biblical Clarity on the Difference (2023)

The ’90s marked a watershed moment for mental health. On June 7, 1999, the White House held a conference on Mental Health.[1] First Lady Hilary Clinton said these words: “This is an historic conference, but it is more than that; it’s a real signal to our nation that we must do whatever it takes not only to remove the stigma from mental illness, but to begin treating mental illness as the illness it is on a parity with other illnesses.”[2] It was at this conference that the ideas, terms, and policies surrounding the care of the inner person shifted. The brain was conflated with the mind and the mind with the brain. In this short blog, I aim to show you that the Bible differentiates between the mind and the brain and then draw out potential dangers of not understanding the Bible on this matter.

The Mind

The mind, according to Scripture, is more than just your thoughts. It is a “way of thinking, mind, attitude, as the sum total of the whole mental and moral state of being.”[3] Take, for instance, Romans 12:2 (a well-known verse):

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (emphasis added).

Paul’s argument is for the inner mind (i.e., “nous”) to be totally transformed. This stands in juxtaposition to a mind that is of this world, as mentioned in Ephesians 4:17 or Colossians 2:18. The unbeliever’s mind is existent yet blind to eternal realities (Titus 1:15). But the redeemed mind is being renewed, according to Ephesians 4:23.

In each of these instances, we see that the mind is closer to what you and I would most likely call an attitude or disposition. If we use the term mind as the Bible uses it, then we mean the immaterial aspect of who we are that typically refers to the faculty of cognition.[4] However, throughout Scripture, the heart is also said to think, have intentions, and to purpose. Thus, the Bible would paint your mind as part of your inner person, which is most frequently called your heart.[5]

The Brain

The brain is an organ of the human anatomy. It is tangible, organic, and observable. When the Bible speaks of the brain, it correlates to our outer man or body. Passages that teach this dichotomy are evident throughout the Scriptures from the account of creation (Gen. 2:7) to the time of death (2 Cor. 5:8-9). Our outer person is indeed wasting away, but our inner person should be renewed day-by-day (2 Cor. 4:16-18).

The organ of the brain is a physical, outer-person reality. It is not the mind, and it stands in contrast to the mind. To be most biblical—which makes us most accurate—we should speak of the brain as the outer person and the mind as the inner person.

The Confusion of the Mind vs. the Brain

At the same White House conference mentioned above, Dr. Steven Hyman said these words:

We have also learned some very important facts about these illnesses, and if I can just encapsulate them briefly, it’s that these are real illnesses of a real organ—the brain. Just like coronary artery disease is a disease of a real organ—the heart. We can make diagnoses, and these diseases are treatable.[6]

Note, Dr. Hyman is speaking of the immaterial mind at a “Mental Health” conference, referring to the mind as an organ. If you confuse the two, as Dr. Hyman has done, then you will confuse the treatment of people. Let me say that again—if you misunderstand people, then you will misunderstand how to help people. Therein lies one of the greatest dangers of misunderstanding the mind versus the brain.

The Dangers of Confusing the Mind vs. the Brain

Biblically, the mind cannot become ill, as in a pathological disease or sickness infecting the mind. To be insane is possible, as evidenced throughout the Bible.[7] Yet, insanity is a reference to faulty senses. Literally, your senses are not working as they should; thus, you are considered “out of your mind.”[8] However, insanity is not mental illness. Mental illness is defined as “health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these).”[9] Of note, the term “health conditions” speaks to the biological etiology of these mental illnesses.

It is beyond the scope of this article to critique mental illness, but mental illness ideology is a direct outworking of the conflation of the mind and the brain. The immaterial is not—and will never be—infected by the material. It can be affected but not infected. For instance, the body can undergo some significant organic change that influences the inner person: cancer, pneumonia, broken bones, and so forth. However, cancer cannot infect the mind. Do you see the difference? One of the predominant dangers of misunderstanding the mind and the brain is to accept, part and parcel, the entirety of mental health ideology. The White House Conference of 1999 is an example of that.

A Way Forward

The way forward is understanding people as the Bible has described them. I have shown that the Bible differentiates between the mind and the brain, and misunderstanding this has certain dangers. One danger is that we will misunderstand people. To fundamentally misunderstand people is to fundamentally fail to help them. Despite benevolent intentions and sincere compassion, we cannot help those we do not understand. To get people wrong, we will get their problems and solutions to their problems wrong. A biblical anthropology stands central to a Christian worldview because when we change the nature of people, we change the nature of the gospel. People’s problems are no longer a matter of salvation and sanctification; they’re a matter of the body and physiological treatment.

Let the Bible inform your understanding of the mind versus the brain, and you will see clearly through the lens of Scripture how God views people. This view allows for clarity, yes, but also accuracy. To conflate the mind with the brain, as some are doing, is to neglect what the Bible says about people. Such a neglect results in confusion and a lack of clarity. May God’s authoritative Word give us clarity on how to view people, all for His glory!

Questions for Reflection

  1. Can you take some time of your personal devotions to study the mind as it’s delineated in Scripture?
  2. What do these conclusions mean about mental illness?
  3. What would be helpful ways to continue to clarify the mind versus the brain going forward in your own counseling?

[1] “White House Conference on Mental Health,” accessed February 4, 2021,

[2] Ibid.

[3] William Arndt, et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 680.

[4] Cf. 2 Corinthians 2:11, 3:14, 4:4, 10:5, 11:3; Philippians 4:7. νόημα, ατος, τό (since Hom.; also LXX; En 5:8; Just.; Ath, 27, 2). that which one has in mind as a product of intellectual process (BDAG, 675).

[5] See Genesis 6:5 and Hebrews 4:12 for examples of the heart being the source of cognition.

[6] “White House Conference on Mental Health,” accessed February 4, 2021,

[7] Cf. Acts. 12:15, 26:24-25; 1 Cor. 14:23 and John 10:20.

[8] See passages in FN #7. “Be mad, be out of one’s mind beside δαιμόνιον ἔχειν and as a result of it: have no control over oneself” in BDAG, 610.

[9] “What Is Mental Illness?,” accessed March 14, 2022,

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