Summary: A Study on the Greek Word for Fear
Franklin Delano Roosevelt said "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself..." That is what I am talking about here. Fear.
Barclay in his New Testament Words says that phobos has three main meanings, the first being that of "panic" or "flight." The idea accompanies this of running from battle. The opposite of hupomone (to stand fast), it would literally mean, to lose your nerves and run.
The second meaning, according to Barclay, would be that of fear in the broadest sense. The opposite of tharros (courage). This meaning would be to lose courage.
The final meaning would be that of awe or reverence for an exalted ruler or God. Barclay says, "It is the feeling which a man experiences in the presence of someone who is infinitely his superior."
Phobos can be used in one of two ways, a positive and a negative. The word is never used in the derogatory in the Synoptic Gospels or the book of Acts, but that leaves a lot of the Bible.
Let us look at the use of the positive. The awe that we hold for God. In I Peter 1:17, Peter says that you should pass the time of your "...sojourning here in phobos." In Acts 19:17, we see that a phobos fell on the church following the botched exorcism in in Ephesus. Barclay makes note of another use of the positive use of phobos. "The Pastoral Epistles have one rather special instance of phobos. Christina discipline is to be publicly
exercised that others may see it and ’fear’ (I Tim. 5:20). It is an interesting thought that Christian discipline is to be execised not only for the sake of the man who has sinned, but also as a means of warning the man who has not sinned to abide in the right way."
There is also an indifferent feeling that there is toward phobos, that of man toward authority. Such as when Paul was brought before Felix and Festus (Acts 24-25). The other indifferent feeling that phobos leaves us with is that of not wanting to do a difficult task.
Now we come to the truly evil side of phobos, the fear of death. Death is something that the modern Christian seems to fear but has no reason to. We have zoe (eternal life) from the God of life. Modern Christians have become pessimists and tend to ignore the real love that God has for us.
That is the true cure for phobos, love. Fear comes from the enemy, it is the opposite of I Corinthians 13. It torments, it punishes, it is vengeful, etc. Perfect love casts out fear. We know this and will know this.
How can we continue to understand and serve God? By leaving negative fear at the door. There is no room for that type of fear with God. We need to respect and revere God, but if we fear him, how can we ever begin to love him? We can’t.
1.Barclay, William. New Testament Words
2.James Strong, New Strong’s dictionary of Hebrew and Greek words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
3.The King James Version, (Cambridge: Cambridge) 1769.
4.W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1996.
5.Youngblood, Ronald F., General Editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, Consulting Editors, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.