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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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In the Old Testament several Hebrew words are translated as "care" or a similar word (e.g., "worry" or "anxious"). In 1 Samuel 10:2 , when Samuel anoints Saul as king, a series of signs are predicted by Samuel to prove God's favor on Saul, culminating in the indwelling of God's Spirit. The first sign is that two men will say to Saul, "The donkeys that you went to seek are found, and now your father has stopped worrying about them and is worrying about you" (NRSV).

The connotation of caring about something to the point of "worrying" about it is picked up in the New Testament. As in the Old Testament, the undertone can be positive or negative. In the New Testament, the principal utilization is negative. The most common Greek word that is translated "care" is the noun merimna [ μέριμνα ] (or the verb merimnao [ μεριμνάω ]).

In Matthew 13:22 in Christ's parable of the four seeds, the third person is represented by the seed that was choked out by the "cares of the world." The enigmatic meaning of the parable is that preoccupation with the world depletes one's devotion to God. Because the world is temporal, inordinate care for the world causes preoccupation with the result of not caring for eternal things; consequently, the Word does not become deeply implanted.

In Luke 21:34 believers are warned to be watchful of the Lord's return and not to be "weighed down with ... the worries of this life" (NRSV). In 2 Corinthians 11:28 Paul lists his sufferings as his glory in his defense against the "superapostles." Besides his external sufferings, his care for all the churches and the subsequent heartache because of an intense concern for those he loved is Paul's mark of true apostleship. It can be seen that care to the point of burden is intended.

Another Greek word for "care" is melo . It, too, can denote anxiety or earnest concern, depending on the context. In 1 Peter 5:7 both the verb melo and the noun merimna [ μέριμνα ] are used: "Cast all your anxiety (merimna [ μέριμνα ]) on him, because he cares (melo [ ἐπιμελῶς ]) for you" (NRSV).

Care to the point of anxiety is seen as harmful and as contrary to faith in God. Matthew 6:25 says, "Do not worry about your life." It is necessary that a person gives basic attention to having food and shelter. The fact that the same words for "care" are also translated "anxiety" or "worry" shows that the derivation of anxiety could be a reasonable care turned awry. When one's desires are inordinate with the result being a focus on temporal existence instead of eternal life, the consequence can be harmful. For example, the negative effects of anxiety can be seen in one's health status. Too much stress can cause manifold health problems. Worry cannot add a single hour to our life span, according to Matthew 6:27 , and therefore, it is a waste of time. Trusting in God when one cannot change a situation is biblical faith. Inactive, worrisome reasoning is diametrically opposed to the Jewish and Christian concept of faith.

Paul says in Philippians 4:6 , "Do not worry about anything" (NRSV). The word merimnao [ μεριμνάω ] does not mean "do not 'care' about anything." Rather, Paul wants the Philippians to "in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." In other words, thankfulness, which is a part of faith, resolves the quandary of anxiety.

Eric W. Adams

See also Anxiety

Bibliography . G. R. Collins, Overcoming Anxiety; B. Narramore and B. Counts, Freedom from Guilt; C. Osborn, Release from Fear and Anxiety; P. Tournier, Guilt and Grace .

Copyright Statement
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, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Care'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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