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I follow Rachel Held Evans’ Blog. Her most recent blog post (18th of April 2011), entitled “How to Make Arminianism Cool Again”, is hilarious.

Nicholas Myra who left a comment on Rachel’s blog reminded me of the concept of nous. In most church circles the idea of nous is not spoken about, even though, hopefully, we experience and use it. So I’ve decided to write a few words on nous, and have borrowed some snippets from Nicholas’s comment.

What is Nous?

Nous is a Greek noun that means “mind” or “understanding.” It involves our senses, our perception, our intellect, and our reason.

Nous in Greek Philosophy

Early Greek Philosophers had various ideas about nous which are impossible to adequately articulate and condense in one paragraph.[1] Many believed that the mind (nous) and the spirit (pneuma) were intrinsically intertwined and that it was with both the nous and pneuma that mortal human beings had the ability to perceive the divine. Some believed that the combination of nous and pneuma had the power to affect the physical world.[2] As Greek philosophy developed, nous, as the creative agent of the cosmos, began to be called by the term logos.[3]

Nous in the New Testament

The Greek word nous is used numerous times in the New Testament, mostly by Paul.[4] It is usually translated into English as “mind” or “understanding.” Here are a few verses to show how the word is used.

Then [Jesus] opened their minds so that they might understand the Scriptures. Luke 24:45

For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians  2:16

And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6

Nous in Eastern Church Theology

The Eastern Church Fathers took the concept of nous and tweaked its meaning. For them, the words nous, spirit, and heart are almost synonymous. One church father stated that the nous is “the mind in the heart.”

Nous describes the unique human faculty which allows us to both perceive and receive God. All humans have this ability, this intellectual acumen and spiritual sensitivity.

Humans also have the freedom to choose or reject God. We can decide either to allow God into our hearts, “opening the nous” to accept his gift of grace, or we can try and hide our hearts from God. The ability to exercise this choice has been termed “Noetic Freedom.”[5] (The Greek word noetikos is an adjectival cognate of nous.)

Spirit and Reason, Heart and Mind

In Romans 12:1, Paul wrote “I urge you … to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. The Greek word translated as “spiritual” in the NASB is the adjective logikos[6]. Other translations, such as the KJV and the NKJV, use the word “reasonable” instead of “spiritual.” Here we can see the overlapping ideas of the logical and rational with the spiritual.

Nous combines spiritual and intellectual understanding. It involves a heart and mind that are sensitive and receptive to God. My hope is that our hearts and minds are open to perceive and receive the fullness of God’s grace. Using our nous is both a spiritual and reasonable thing to do.


[1] Plato, on the other hand, generally used the word nous to simply mean “common sense”.

[2] The metaphysical understanding of nous has become popular with the New Age movement. The concept of nous as an Aeon was, and is, prominent in Gnosticism and Neo-gnosticism. I distance myself completely from these ideas of nous.

[3] Anaxagoras of Clezomenae (b. 500 BC) taught that the nous (mind) arranged and sustains the cosmos in beautiful and proper order. Pythagoras (b. 570 BC) and Heraclitus (b. 535 BC) taught that it is the logos (reason) that arranged and sustains the cosmos. (The Greek’s believed that the Divine could not be in contact with physical matter and so the universe was created by an intermediary agent, the nous or logos.)
John, the Gospel writer, used the Greek concept of logos (usually translated as “Word” in English Bibles) to show the Greeks in his audience that Jesus is the creator and sustainer of the and that Jesus, as the creator Logos, was with God and was God, and not separate or distinct from the Divine (John 1:1-3).

[4] The concept of the human nous in relation to God is very important to Paul. Nous is found in Paul’s letters 21 times, including 6 times in Romans and 7 times in 1 Corinthians.
The following is an incomplete list of New Testament verses where nous occurs: Luke 24:25; Romans 1:28; 7:23; 11:34; 12:2; 1 Corinthians 2:16 (twice); 14:14; Ephesians 4:17,23; Philippians 4:7; Colossians 2:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Timothy 6:5; 2 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:15; Revelation 13:18; 17:9.

Nous is also used many times in the New Testament in verbal and participial forms. For example,

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:20

[5] This idea of freedom of choice is different to Calvinist ideas concerning the appropriation of Salvation

[6] The NIV 2011 translates logikos as “proper.” Logikos is also used in 1 Peter 2:2 to describe the “spiritual” or “sincere” milk.

Image Credit

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Explore more

John’s Prologue: John 1:1-18
4 Ways to Guard Our Hearts and Minds
All-Encompassing Faith
The Fullness of Christ
Love, Obedience, and Sanctification: 1 Peter 1:22–2:3

2 thoughts on ““Nous”: Using your Spiritual Noggin

  1. Hi, Marg,

    I’m glad I was able to serve as inspiration for your post. I probably should have included the “nous translated as mind” thing in my comment on Rachel’s blog, it’s critical to understanding the concept as you know! You don’t have to credit me any more than you already have, which I appreciate.

    Have a wonderful Holy Week and Easter/Pascha/Christian Passover,


  2. Hi Nicholas, thanks for getting back to me.
    Hoping you have a blessed Pascha also!

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