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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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FIERCENESS.—The word ‘fierce’ occurs twice in Authorized Version (Matthew 8:28 of the two demoniacs [χαλεποί], Luke 23:5 of our Lord’s accusers [ἐπίσχυον Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘urgent’]). But the purpose of the present article is to examine in what sense and to what extent this attribute may be attributed to Christ. The popular conception of Him is perhaps too much that of a speaker of smooth things. It is forgotten that He could utter on occasion words of fierce energy. The beauty of the unanswering innocence of the Passion, that type of silent suffering and enduring, has made His outbursts of fierce reproach or condemnation de from the memory. His ‘judge not’ (Matthew 7:1), or His parable of patience that has its part in the ‘wheat and tares’ being allowed to grow together (Matthew 13:30), or His doctrine of unlimited forgiveness (Luke 17:1-4),—these are thought to be entirely representative. Yet, while they undoubtedly indicate the prevailing elements, something would be lost in our understanding of Jesus it we overlooked the impassioned fierceness with which He sometimes acted and spoke.

Of recorded deeds the incident of the driving out of the vendors and money-changers from the temple precincts (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, John 2:15) is the most notable: but it is in the vigour of His language that the possibilities of fierceness in Him are most revealed. He has small patience with certain failings, such as the lack of an apprehensive faith or worldliness, or hypocrisy, or vanity. There is a denunciatory strain in Him much resembling the force of the Baptist’s ‘offspring of vipers’ of Luke 3:7. It is present in the Nazareth sermon in His OT illustrations of prophets not honoured in their own country (Luke 4); in His declaration of war with evil,—‘I am come to send fire on the earth’ (Luke 12:49), and ‘I came not to send peace but a sword’ (Matthew 10:34); it even finds expression in the very phrase γεννἠματα ἐχιδνῶν used by the Baptist (Matthew 12:34). None of the mildness of diplomacy is in the message to Herod—‘Go ye, and tell that fox’ (Luke 13:32). When He encounters men or communities incapable of the heavenly vision, His words are swords. To trouble about them is to ‘throw pearls before swine’ (Matthew 7:6). They are a ‘faithless and perverse generation,’ or ‘a wicked and adulterous generation’ seeking after a visible and tangible sign of spiritual things (Matthew 16:4); they shall lose the Kingdom of God (Matthew 21:43); the heathen of Nineveh shall show themselves better judges of eternal realities (Luke 11:32); there is more hope for Tyre and Sidon (Luke 10:14) or for Sodom and Gomorrah than for the spiritually blind (Matthew 10:15); ‘Ye are of your father the devil’ (John 8:44). The fierceness which marks His rejection of the third temptation (Matthew 4:10) is paralleled in the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan’ with which Peter’s proffered intervention is repelled (Mark 8:33). The perverter of the simplicity of childhood is told that he had better have been drowned with a millstone about his neck (Matthew 18:6). But the white heat of fierceness in the utterance of Christ comes when He meets with Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the Law, who are unworthy of their high professions. They are ‘false prophets … ravening wolves’ (Matthew 7:15); ‘hypocrites’ is hurled at them in every phrase of Matthew 23, in the close of Luke 11, and in Mark 7:6, where Isaiah’s bitterest words against lip-service are quoted against them. They are ‘whited sepulchres,’ ‘blind guides,’ ‘sons of them that slew the prophets,’ ‘serpents.’ They ‘say, and do not,’ so that ‘the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom’ before them (Matthew 21:31).

Thus to His Divine tenderness did Jesus add a strange fierceness, as though to teach that in faith’s war with darkness lightning has its place. See art. Anger.

Literature.—Seeley. Ecce Homo, ch. xxi.; Butler, Serm. viii.; Dale, Atonement7 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , p. 338 ff.

E. Daplyn.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fierceness'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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