Fear in the Bible

My article on “Fear,” published in the Holman Bible Dictionary, is available online.  Below is an excerpt from the article.


A broad range of emotions that embrace both the secular and the religious worlds. Secular fear is the natural feeling of alarm caused by the expectation of imminent danger, pain, or disaster. Religious fear appears as the result of awe and reverence toward a supreme power.

Terminology. The English word “fear” is used to translate several Hebrew and Greek words. In the Old Testament, the most common word used to express fear is yir’ah, which means “fear, “terror” (Isaiah 7:25; Jonah 1:10,16). In the New Testament, the word used most often to express fear is phobos which means “fear,” “dread,” “terror” (Matthew 28:4; Luke 21:26).

Secular Fear rises in the normal activities and relationships of life.

Human Fear. Animals fear humans (Genesis 9:2), and humans fear the animals (Amos 3:8); individuals fear individuals (Genesis 26:7), and nations fear nations (2 Samuel 10:19). People are afraid of wars (Exodus 14:10), of their enemies (Deuteronomy 2:4), and of subjugation (Deuteronomy 7:18; Deuteronomy 28:10). People are afraid of death (Genesis 32:11), of disaster (Zephaniah 3:15-16), of sudden panic (Proverbs 3:25), of being overtaken by adversity (Job 6:21), and of the unknown (Genesis 19:30). Fear can reflect the limitations of life (Ecclesiastes 12:5) as well as the unforeseen consequences of actions (1 Samuel 3:15).

Fear can be the regard the young owes to the aged (Job 32:6), the honor a child demonstrates toward parents (Leviticus 19:3), the reverential respect of individuals toward their masters (1 Peter 2:18), and to persons in positions of responsibilities (Romans 13:7). Fear also can be the sense of concern for individuals (2 Corinthians 11:3) as well as the respect for one’s husband (1 Peter 3:2).

Fear as consequence of sin. Fear may come from a strong realization of sin and disobedience. Man and woman were afraid after their act of disobedience (Genesis 3:10). Abimelech was afraid when he realized that he had committed an offensive act by taking the wife of Abraham to be his wife (Genesis 20:8-9). This sense of estrangement and guilt that comes as consequence of sin produces in the heart of individuals the fear of the day of the Lord because they will appear before the judgment of God (Joel 2:1).

Freedom from fear. Freedom from fear comes as individuals trust in the God who protects (Psalms 23:4) and helps them (Isaiah 54:14). The New Testament teaches that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Christians are no longer slaves of fear, for Christ has given them not a spirit of timidity or cowardice, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-control (2 Timothy 1:7).

Religious Fear. is the human response to the presence of God.

Read the article in its entirety by visiting Study Light online here.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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1 Response to Fear in the Bible

  1. Pingback: Biblioblog Carnival February 2012 « Cheese-Wearing Theology

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