Awe, Awesome

Awe, Awesome

Webster's dictionary defines awe as mingled dread, veneration, and wonder. English Bible translations employ the words "awe" or "awesome" almost exclusively to refer to the person or work of God. While the word "awe" appears only rarely in the KJV, modern English versions such as the NASB and NIV translate as many as six different Hebrew words and three different Greek words as "awe" or "awesome." The most common Hebrew word, yare [aer"y], occurs in various forms over 400 times in the Old Testament, and is commonly translated "fear." Both the NIV and NASB, however, often render "awe" (e.g., Exod 15:11 ; 1 Sam 12:18 ; Psalm 119:120 ; Hab 3:2 ).

In the Gospels and Acts, the Greek phobos [fovbo"], the common word for fear, is occasionally translated "awe, " or "filled with awe." It describes people's reaction to astonishing works of God such as Jesus' demonstration of authority to forgive sins ( Luke 5:26 ), the raising of the widow's son ( Luke 7:16 ), or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the early church ( Acts 2:43 ).

When confronted with God's awesome presence the inevitable human response is to quiver and cower. In fact, the Bible never records a direct personal encounter with God in which the individual was not visibly shaken by God's awesomeness. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, Moses hid his face and trembled before God ( Exod 3:6 ). When Isaiah saw the Lord in his glory and majesty, he cried, "Woe is me, I am ruined!" ( 6:5 ). When the risen Christ appeared to Saul the persecutor on the Damascus road, Saul prostrated himself in fear and trembling ( Acts 9:3 ). The Bible emphasizes, however, that genuine awe is primarily a disposition rather than merely an emotional state. God's person and his works of creation, providence, redemption, and judgment are astounding and demand both sober contemplation and humble submission. God's people are commanded to show proper regard for his power and dominion — his absolute authority to rule ( Job 25:2 ; Jer 33:9 ) and his power to perform what he will ( Deut 4:34 ; 34:12 ; 1 Sam 12:18 ; Hab 3:2 ). On the other hand, the Bible makes it clear that there will come a day when persons who refuse to acknowledge God's awesomeness will tremble and wail before his vengeful presence and his righteous judgement ( Jer 2:19 ; Zeph 2:11 ).

Ralph Enlow

See also Fear

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Awe, Awesome'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.