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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Fear

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(φόβος, φοβεῖσθαι, φοβερός; ἀφόβως, ‘without fear’; ἔκφοβος, ‘exceedingly afraid’)

While there is a natural fear in the presence of danger-e.g. in a hurricane at sea (Acts 27:17)-which is not specifically human, spiritual fear is distinctive of man, whose motives and actions lack their finest quality unless they are influenced by it. The last count in the indictment which St. Paul draws up against both Jew and Gentile-comprehensive and explanatory of all the rest-is that there is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:18). This is the stupid, unthinking fearlessness of men who are blind to the realities of the spiritual world to which they belong. If they but know God, they could not but fear Him, supposing they are guilty of even a fraction of the sins which are here laid to their charge. So soon as their eyes are opened, and their consciences quickened, they discover that it is a fearful thing (φοβερόν) to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). But if, conscious of demerit, they cry to Him for mercy, their sins are forgiven, and’ henceforth they live as in His sight, recognizing that to fear God and keep His commandments is the whole duty of man.

This was the religion of the devout Jew, and when the Gentile, dissatisfied alike with the old gods of Olympus and the cold abstractions of philosophy, came to the synagogues of the ‘dispersion’ in search of a higher faith and a purer morality, he was taught to ‘fear God.’ He became a φοβούμενος (or σεβόμενος) τὸν θεόν, though he might never completely judaize himself by accepting the mark of the covenant. The God-fearer is very frequently referred to in the Apostolic Age (Acts 10:2; Acts 10:22; Acts 10:35; Acts 13:16; Acts 13:26 etc.), and many of the earliest Gentile converts to Christianity were men and women whose fear of God had prepared them for the reception of the gospel. The Torah was thus a tutor to bring them to Christ. The religion of law, in which God was a Sovereign to be obeyed and a Judge to be dreaded, was consummated by the religion of love, in which God is a Father and Christ a Saviour-Brother, It is the distinctive message of Christianity that God wills men to serve Him without fear (ἀφόβως, Luke 1:74), with a love which casts out fear (1 John 4:18), with a boldness which seeks His immediate presence (Hebrews 10:19), with a freedom and familiarity which prompt the cry ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans 8:15). ‘Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but ye have received the spirit of sonship,’ Ἐλευθερία, παῤῥησία, and ἀγάπη-dominant notes in the gospel of St. Paul, the writer of Hebrews, and St. John-are all antipodal to fear. The atmosphere of the household of God is filial trust, not servile suspicion and dread.

In the Christian life, nevertheless, there is a new place for the old instinct of fear. Wearing a fresh livery, it is transformed into a guardian of the believer’s dear-bought possessions. Godly repentance has wrought-what fear! (2 Corinthians 7:11). Thus there is an ethical fear which accompanies a great responsibility, a passionate love, and a noble heroism. There is a fear which is the opposite of high-mindedness (Romans 11:20), and without which no man can work out his salvation (Philippians 2:12) or perfect his holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1). There is a fear of personally coming short and permitting others to come short (ὑστερηκέναι, Hebrews 4:1). There is the paranymph’s jealous fear lest the Bridegroom should lose His bride (2 Corinthians 11:3), the Apostle’s anxious fear lest his converts should be found unworthy (2 Corinthians 12:20). There is the scrupulous fear of Bunyan’s Mr. Fearing, who ‘was, above many, tender of sin; he was so afraid of doing injuries to others, that he often would deny himself of that which was lawful, because he would not offend’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:13). There is a fear, like that of the angels in Sodom, animating those who snatch erring ones as brands from the burning, while they hate even the garment spotted by the flesh (Judges 1:23).

From the natural fear which listens either to the whispers of inward weakness or the threats of outward despotism, Christianity suffices to deliver men. For the sensitive human spirit, which often pathetically confesses its ‘weakness and fear and much trembling’ (1 Corinthians 2:3; cf. 2 Corinthians 7:5), Christ indeed shows the utmost tenderness, and again and again St. Paul received night-visions in which his Lord hade him ‘Be not afraid’ (μὴ φοβοῦ, Acts 18:9; Acts 27:24). But for the timidity which sacrifices principles and shirks duties Christianity has no mercy. To this fear it gives a special name, calling it not φόβος but δειλία (2 Timothy 1:7), a fearfulness which is synonymous with cowardice, and the fearful (δειλοί, Revelation 21:8), who prove apostates in the hour of danger, denying Christ and worshipping Caesar, stand first in the black list of those who go down to the second death.

The NT shrinks from attributing φόβος to Christ, yet something would have been lacking in His matchless character if He had not given the best illustration of the presence of fear in even the most filial life. In the hour of His agony, when His Father’s will was the one certainty which nothing could obscure. His godly fear of swerving an inch from the line of duty gave Him the supreme moral victory. He was heard for His εὐλάβεια, that perfect reverence which dictated a perfect submission: ‘exauditus pro sua reverentia’ (Vulgate ).

James Strahan.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Fear'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/f/fear.html. 1906-1918.

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