“What’s a “nous”?”
In the last 500 years, since about the time of the Protestant Reformation (16th century) and Enlightenment (17th century), Western culture has been obsessed with the rational, reasoning, logical mind. It has become so dominant in our thinking, that it is now the sole measure of human intelligence. Our fixation with the rational mind is not without foundation. The power of the rational mind has been the engine that gave us the scientific method of inquiry; it brought us the Industrial and Scientific revolutions; the Information Age. It has largely shaped the modern world. So, in modern society, when we speak of “mind” or “intelligence” we mean one thing and one thing only: the rational, reasoning human mind.
For Christians trying to understand the New Testament (originally written in Greek) and other early Christian spiritual writings (also predominantly in Greek), the exclusive association of “mind” and “intelligence” with man’s rational, reasoning faculties is problematic. In Christian spiritual tradition, the rational, reasoning faculty of man is not the only definition of “mind” and “intelligence”. In fact, it is not even considered the highest or most developed definition of “mind” and “intelligence”. That distinction belongs to the “nous”.
What? What’s a “nous”? I’ll bet most Westerners, even mature Christians, have never heard the word “nous”. The word “nous” (pronounced “nooce”) is Greek (νοϋς) and can be found throughout the Greek New Testament (it appears explicitly 22 times in the NT) and in scores of other early Christian (Patristic) writings.
The term “nous” can be thought of as a perceptive or receptive ability to hear God’s voice and to, perhaps, experience Him in His energies. It has often been translated simply as “mind”, as in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind [nous], that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (12:2)
More next post.