Of some ten Hebrew nouns and eight verbs that are regularly translated "fear, " "to fear, " "to be afraid, " and the like, only one of each is commonly used in the Old Testament and they both spring from the root yr (the noun being yira [h'a.rIy] or mora [a'r/m] and the verb yare [aer"y]). The New Testament employs phobos and phobeo almost exclusively as noun and verb, respectively, and these are the terms consistently used by the Septuagint to translate Hebrew yira [h'a.rIy] or mora [a'r/m] and yare [aer"y].
The fundamental and original idea expressed by these terms covers a semantic range from mild easiness to stark terror, depending on the object of the fear and the circumstances surrounding the experience. There is no separate Hebrew of Greek lexeme describing fear of God so presumably such fear was from earliest times, the same kind of reaction as could be elicited from any encounter with a surprising, unusual, or threatening entity. In time, however, fear of God or of manifestations of the divine became a subcategory of fear in general and thus developed a theological signification pervasively attested throughout the Bible. While the normal meaning of fear as dread or terror is retained in the theological use of the terms, a special nuance of reverential awe or worshipful respect becomes the dominant notion.
Fear of God or of his manifestations appears in the Bible either in the abstract, in which just the idea of God alone generates this response, or in particular situations such as theophany or miracle, the occurrence or performance of which produces fear. Examples of the latter are Israel's fear of the Lord following the exodus deliverance ( Exod 14:31 ) and the fear of Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, when he saw the angel of the Lord ( Luke 1:12 ). More common by far are the reactions of fear by God's people as they contemplate who he is and what he has done.
Fear as a response to God and his deeds is so important an aspect of biblical faith and life that Fear actually occurs as an epithet of God himself. Jacob describes the Lord as the "Fear of Isaac" his father ( Gen 31:42 ; cf. v. 53 ), suggesting that Isaac had such reverential submission to the Lord that the Lord, to him, was the embodiment of fear. Usually, however, the fear of the Lord is an inducement to obedience and service: to fear God is to do his will. This equation appears most prominently in covenant contexts, especially in Deuteronomy, where the appeal is to serve the Lord as evidence of proper recognition of his sovereignty. The Lord as King demands and deserves the awesome respect of his people, a respect that issues in obedient service.
Fear of God also lies at the heart of successful living in the world. Wisdom literature makes it clear that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, a fear equated with the "knowledge of the Holy One" ( Prov 9:10 ; 1:7 ; Psalm 111:10 ). To fear God is to know him and to know him is to fear him. Such healthy fear enables one to praise God ( Psalm 22:23 ; Rev 14:7 ); to enjoy benefits and blessings at his hand ( Psalm 34:9 ; Psalms 103:11 Psalms 103:13 Psalms 103:17 ); to rest in peace and security ( Psalm 112:7-8 ); and to experience length of days ( Prov 10:27 ; 19:23 ). But fear of God also produces fear of wrath and judgment in those who do not know him or who refuse to serve him. There are, thus, two sides of the fear of the Lordthat which produces awe, reverence, and obedience, and that which causes one to cower in dread and terror in anticipation of his displeasure.
Eugene H. Merrill
See also Awe, Awesome
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fer (yir'ah, yare'; phobos, phobeo):
"Fear" is the translation of many words in the Old Testament; the chief are:
yir'ah, "fear," "terror," "reverence," "awe," most often "the fear of God," "fear of Yahweh" (Genesis 20:11; 2 Chronicles 19:9, etc.); also of "fear" generally (Job 22:4; Isaiah 7:25; Ezekiel 30:13, etc.); yare', "to be afraid," "to fear," "to reverence" (Genesis 15:1; Leviticus 19:3,14; Deuteronomy 6:2, etc.); pachadh, "fear," "terror," "dread" (Genesis 31:42,53; Deuteronomy 11:25; 1 Samuel 11:7 the King James Version; Job 4:14; Isaiah 2:10 the King James Version, etc.).
"Fearful" (timid) is the translation of yare' (Deuteronomy 20:8; Judges 7:3); "to be feared," yare' (Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 28:58; compare Psalms 130:4); in Isaiah 35:4, it is the translation of mahar, "hasty," "them that are of a fearful heart," margin "Hebrew hasty"; perhaps, ready to flee (for fear).
"Fearfully" (Psalms 139:14):
yare', "I am fearfully (and) wonderfully made," so the Revised Version (British and American); "and" is not in the text, so that "fearfully" may be equivalent to "extremely," to an awesome degree; compare Psalms 65:5, "by terrible things .... in righteousness"; 66:3, "How terrible are thy works (yare' "fearful "); the Septuagint, Peshitta, Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) have "Thou art fearfully wonderful."
"Fearfulness" occurs In Psalms 55:5 (yir'ah); Isaiah 21:4 (pallatsuth), the Revised Version (British and American) "horror"; Isaiah 33:14 (re`adhah, "trembling"), "Fearfulness hath surprised the hypocrites," the Revised Version (British and American) "Trembling hath seized the godless ones."
In the New Testament the chief words are phobos, "fear," "terror," "affright" (Matthew 14:26; 28:4,8; Luke 21:26; 1 John 4:18, etc.), and phobeo, "to put in fear" (both used of ordinary fear) (Matthew 1:20; 10:26; 28:5; 2 Corinthians 12:20, etc.); of the fear of God, the noun (Romans 3:18; 2 Corinthians 7:1), the verb (Luke 18:4; 23:40, etc.); deilia, "timidity," "fear," occurs in 2 Timothy 1:7, "God hath not given us the spirit of fear," the Revised Version (British and American) "a spirit of fearfulness"; ekphobos, "frightened out (of one's senses)," "greatly terrified" (Hebrews 12:21; compare Deuteronomy 9:19; The Wisdom of Solomon 17:9 the King James Version); apo tes eulabeias is translated (Hebrews 5:7) "(of Christ) who was heard in that he feared," the Revised Version (British and American) "having been heard for his godly fear"; so all the Greek commentators; eulabeia, properly, "caution," "circumspection," is used in the New Testament for godly fear (Hebrews 12:28, the Revised Version (British and American) "reverence and awe," margin as the King James Version); compare eulabes (Luke 2:25; Acts 2:5; 8:2); eulabeomai, "to act with caution" (Acts 23:10). Deilos, "fearful," "timid," occurs in Matthew 8:26; Mark 4:40; Revelation 21:8, "Their part shall be .... the second death"; phoberos, "fearful," "terrible" (Hebrews 10:27,31); phobetron, "something fearful," "a terrible sign or portent" (Luke 21:11, Revised Version (British and American) "terrors").
Fear is a natural and, in its purpose, beneficent feeling, arising in the presence or anticipation of danger, and moving to its avoidance; it is also awakened in the presence of superiors and of striking manifestations of power, etc., taking the form of awe or reverence. Fear has been said to be the source of religion, but religion can never have originated from fear alone, since men are impelled to draw nigh with expectation to the object of worship.
"Fear" is certainly a prominent element in Old Testament religion; the "fear of God" or of Yahweh, "the fear of the Lord," is indeed synonymous with religion itself (Psalms 34:11; Proverbs 1:7; Isaiah 11:2,3; Jeremiah 2:19; Ecclesiastes 12:13, "the whole duty of man," the Revised Version, margin "the duty of all men"). But although the element of dread, or of "fear" in its lower sense, is not always absent and is sometimes prominent in the earlier stages especially, though not exclusively (Exodus 23:27, 'emah; 1 Samuel 11:7; 2 Chronicles 20:29; Psalms 119:120; Isaiah 2:10,19,21), it is more the feeling of reverent regard for their God, tempered with awe and fear of the punishment of disobedience. As such it is a sentiment commanded and to be cherished toward Yahweh (Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 6:13; Joshua 4:24; 1 Samuel 12:24; Job 6:14; Psalms 33:8; 34:9; Proverbs 23:17; Ecclesiastes 5:7, etc.). It is an essential element in the worship and service of Yahweh (2Ki 17 often; Psalms 2:11, etc.); it is a Divine qualification of the Messiah (Isaiah 11:2,3). This "fear of Yahweh" is manifested in keeping God's commandments, walking in His ways, doing His will, avoiding sin, etc. (Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 6:13,14; 2 Samuel 23:3; Psalms 34:4,9 parallel Proverbs 8:13; 16:6). It is the true wisdom (Job 28:28; Psalms 25:14; Proverbs 1:7; 15:33); it gives life (Proverbs 10:27, etc.), blessedness (Psalms 128:1,4), sufficiency (Psalms 34:9), Divine friendship (Psalms 25:14), protection (Psalms 34:7), deliverance (Psalms 85:9), forgiveness (Psalms 130:4). In Psalms 90:11 the King James Version has "According to thy fear so is thy wrath," the Revised Version (British and American) "and thy wrath according to the fear that is due unto thee"; the meaning probably is "thy wrath is in proportion to thy fear."
The "fear of the Lord" is a frequent phrase in Apocrypha, and is highly exalted, e.g. Ecclesiasticus 1:11-30; the idea of it became gradually more and more elevated; in 2:15,16 it is joined with the love of God.
"Fear" is the natural consequence of sin (Genesis 3:10; 4:13,14; Proverbs 28:1); it comes as a punishment (Deuteronomy 28:25,28). The fear of man and of evils are dangers to be avoided, from which the fear of God delivers (Numbers 14:9; 21:34; Psalms 23:4; 31:14, etc.).
In the New Testament dread, or fear of God in the lower sense, is removed; He is revealed as the loving and forgiving Father, who gives to men the spirit of sonship (Romans 8:15; 2 Timothy 1:7; 1 John 4:18); we are invited even to come "with boldness unto the throne of grace," with confidence, assurance (parrhesia), which, however, may have its literal meaning of free "utterance" (Hebrews 4:16; 10:19); but there remains a filial fear and sense of awe and of the greatness of the issues involved (Romans 11:20; Ephesians 5:21, the Revised Version (British and American) "of Christ"; 1 Timothy 5:20; Hebrews 4:1); all other fears should be dismissed (Matthew 8:26; 10:26-28,31; Luke 12:32); in Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5, "fear" is used in the sense of "stand in awe of," so perhaps Luke 23:40; to "fear God" is sometimes used in the New Testament as equivalent to religion (Luke 18:4; Acts 10:2,35; 13:16,26, used of proselytes); in Hebrews 10:27, it is said that if Christ be willfully rejected, nothing remains but "a fearful looking for (the Revised Version (British and American) "expectation") of judgment," and 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," in which places "fearful" means "terrible," something well to be feared. the Revised Version (British and American) gives frequently a more literal rendering of the words translated "fear."
W. L. Walker
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