Shock and Awe: Observing Fear

In a Philosophy Friday I addressed the question “Did Jesus Fear” where I pointed out that it depends on what we mean by fear. Fear, I noted, isn’t wrong in itself and might actually be necessary for basic living. But I wanted to make a textual observation that I really didn’t have room for in that post (and plus, it detracts from the primary philosophical considerations).

The textual observation is in regards to Hebrews 5:7

In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His piety. (NASB)

Personally I think piety (even knowing the definition) is a strange word to use but the NASB has a habit of doing that. The NIV does a better job of getting the idea across by translating it as reverent submission.

The Greek term there (eulabeias) is later translated by the NASB in Heb 12:28 as awe.

What’s interesting is when you look at the KJV family. The KJV translates Heb 5:7 as “because he feared” while Heb 12:28 as “godly fear”. This clues us English readers about the problem with translating words only with their literal meaning.

What does the word eulabeia actually mean? Maybe it is only the good fear like reverence?

Well, that collides with its usage when we see the word being used to mean actually fearing (Acts 23:10) something like moved in Heb 11:7 (although the NASB translates it there as reverence) and in the Septuagint (admittedly, an older Greek) 1 Sam 18:29 the word could mean something like being astounded.

So now you have a word (eulabeia) which could mean reverence and it could mean actual fear. Hrm. Maybe we can differentiate it by looking at one of the other words for fear: phobos?

The Bible is choc-full of references with this word but the problem of literal meaning comes up once again. In Matthew 14:26; Rom 13:3; and 1 John 4:18 it means terror or fear but sometimes it could mean reverence, respect, or honor (1 Pet 1:17; 1 Peter 3:2; Rom 13:7; 2 Corinthians 5:11).

Indeed phobos, in some cases seems to mean that terror-sort-of-fear but in (strangely enough) a positive sense (1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5; Phil. 2:12).

This is all to conclude that textually, you can’t decide on a position merely because of the words being used. The words can mean something differently in different contexts and within those contexts is where you find the proper breeding ground for this or that position. Mind you, this isn’t to say you can embrace whatever you want. Just because the words have a range of meaning doesn’t imply that you can pick or choose from whatever you want within that range.

In this case a simplistic answer of “No.” or “Yes.” To the question “Did Jesus fear” doesn’t do justice to the words themselves, but it also doesn’t do justice to the text since it doesn’t adress all the complexities involved within the text.

It winds up being primarily a philosophical question (as I pointed out in that other post) based on the implications of the theology of the hypostatic union—which is exceedingly Biblical.


Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Vol. 2: Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament

Lust, J., Eynikel, E., & Hauspie, K. (2003). A Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint

Newman, B. M. (1993). A Concise Greek-English dictionary of the New Testament

Thomas, R. L. (1998). New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek dictionaries : Updated edition.

Zodhiates, S. (2000). The complete word study dictionary : New Testament

 

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Philosophy Fridays: Did Jesus Fear?

philosophy

Every now and then, on a Friday, I’ll step into the deep waters of Philosophy, ramble away on some idea and maybe even interact with something I might be reading. Most of the time, a real philosopher could probably read my drivel and speak into it offering a corrective—but for now I’ll speak from ignorance. After all, it is Friday; what better way to have fun than with philosophy. In this post I’ll answer the question “Did Jesus Fear?”  in under 700 words. Heh.

Based on a Biblical text (1 John 4:18) someone might suggest that since perfect love casts out fear then therefore Jesus had no fear.

Technically, this is a philosophical question because the Bible never says if Jesus feared or didn’t fear so making a dogmatic statement either way could be dangerous. So what we have to do is examine the ethics of fear and then examine the possibility of Christ fearing.

Question one: Is there anything wrong with fear?

Well, we need to define our terms. If a car is flying down the street at a toddler running out to get a ball you might rightly feel fear.  Or a child who has previously been burnt rightly feels fear when they see something hot. That being the case, a person might rightly feel fear while thinking about some impending event (fire burning or a car ready to hit a child). It winds up being a mechanism that warns people of harm before the harm actually occurs—it’s actually helpful for self-preservation and survival.

But if that’s built-in, as it were, then we might rightly expand that to include things like fearing the amount of dairy you will be eating tomorrow since you know you are lactose intolerant. Otherwise, humans would just keep doing the same things without any concern for how it affects them.

Now, the Bible also speaks about wisdom beginning with the fear of the Lord (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33) and that seems to be actual afraid-ness when the Lord shows up. Maybe that’s just a reverential concern when you realize your own finitude before the infinite—but doesn’t that sound like fear in general? Indeed, the Bible also mentions a right fear of the coming judgment (Hebrews 10:27) but it is a fear that is mingled with love, respect and trust (Psalms 130:3-4) so somehow there is an afraid-ful/awed expectation of what’s coming even if you’re confident in the end.

Question two: What is John talking about?

John is no dullard and would know his Bible so whatever he’s talking about stands in direct opposition to perfect love. None of the fears I’ve listed in this post stand apart from love. After all, you might fear for the child because you do love her. And you might fear the fire because you love your hand. But in 1 John 4:16 John makes a statement about knowledge (we have come to know) about trust (and believed the love) on an object (which God has for us) and even the way love is perfected (so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment). It’s in this light that he says fear stands in opposition to love.

Did Christ not trust God? Did he deny the future Day of Judgment? Well, in both cases the answer would be no so he didn’t “fear” in that sense but he sure seemed to be a man who was concerned about his impending death (Luke 22:39-46) and I don’t know how to describe that event other than fear even if it was coupled with confidence (Psalm 22).

So did Jesus fear?

Depends on what you mean by fear. Did he have times he was afraid? Sure seems like it. Otherwise he’d be careless. Did he have times where he didn’t trust in God and which is what 1 John might be talking about? Nope.

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