Fear of God

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"Fear of the Lord" generally refers to a specific sense of respect, awe, and submission to a deity, while Fear of God suggests apprehension of Divine punishment. Jewish philosopher and Torah scholar Maimonides spoke of the fear of the Lord as the feeling of human insignificance derived from contemplation of God's great and wonderful actions and creations.

In the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Torah Psalm), "Fear of the Lord" refers to Torah. This is easily discerned through the parallelism in Psalm 19:7-9 (a Torah Psalm)

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple.

8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 

In vv7-9, "fear of the Lord" (v9a) is paralleled with "ordinance of the Lord" (v9b). V9 is also in parallel with v8, where "fear of the Lord" is paralleled with "precepts" and "commands." V8 is then in parallel with v7, specifically "law of the Lord" and "statutes.

Similar associations are also seen in the following:

The "fear of the Lord" is taught. See Psalm 34:11, "Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD."

The "fear of the Lord" is "knowledge of God." See Proverbs 2:5, "[Be diligent,] then you will understand the fear of the LORD and [even] find the knowledge of God."

The Ancient Near Eastern wisdom tradition is subordinated to Torah. See Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.


The first mention of the fear of God in the Hebrew Bible is in Genesis 22:12, where Abraham is commended for putting his trust in God. In Isaiah 11:1-3, the prophet describes the shoot that shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, "The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord, and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord." Proverbs 9:10 says that "fear of the Lord" is "the beginning of wisdom".[1]

Having the fear of God is most often considered to be a positive sign of spiritual well-being. It is raising ourselves up in a sense of awe to our possibilities and divine glory. It is to be like Moses, who, whilst being humbly aware of his greatness, defied a king to lead a nation from enslavement to freedom in God's honor and glory.

Alternatively, the fear of God is understanding how God can raise us up if He so chooses to use us as He did Moses. It was not anything Moses could do or understand himself to himself - it was his humility that God expected of him as supreme ruler of the universe.[citation needed]

The Hebrew words יִרְאַ֣ת (yir’aṯ) and יִרְאַ֣ת (p̄aḥaḏ) are most commonly used to describe fear of God/El/Yahweh.

Bahya ibn Paquda characterized two types of fear as a lower "fear of punishment" and a higher "fear of [divine awe] glory." Abraham *Ibn Daud differentiated between "fear of harm" (analogous to fear of a snake bite or a king's punishment) and "fear of greatness," analogous to respect for an exalted person, who would do us no harm. Maimonides categorized the fear of God as a positive commandment, as the feeling of human insignificance deriving from contemplation of God's "great and wonderful actions and creations." [2][3]


According to Jerry Bridges, "There was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people. This was a badge of honor."[4]

From a theological perspective "fear of the Lord" encompasses more than simple fear. Robert B. Strimple says, "There is the convergence of awe, reverence, adoration, honor, worship, confidence, thankfulness, love, and, yes, fear."[5] In the Magnificat (Luke 1:50) Mary declaims, "His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him." The Parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18:1-8) finds Jesus describing the judge as one who "...neither feared God nor cared for man." Some translations of the Bible, such as the New International Version, sometimes replace the word "fear" with "reverence".

It can also mean fear of God's judgment.

Roman Catholicism counts this fear as one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. In Proverbs 15:33, the fear of the Lord is described as the "discipline" or "instruction" of wisdom.[6] Writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Jacques Forget explains that this gift "fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him."[7] In an April 2006 article published in Inside the Vatican magazine, contributing editor John Mallon writes that the "fear" in "fear of the Lord" is often misinterpreted as "servile fear" (the fear of getting in trouble) when it should be understood as "filial fear" (the fear of offending someone whom one loves).[8]

Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto coined the term "Numinous" to express the type of fear one has for the Lord. Anglican C. S. Lewis references the term in many of his writings, but specifically describes it in his book The Problem of Pain and states that fear of the numinous is not a fear that one feels for a tiger, or even a ghost. Rather, the fear of the numinous, as C. S. Lewis describes it, is one filled with awe, in which you "feel wonder and a certain shrinking" or "a sense of inadequacy to cope with such a visitant of or prostration before it". It is a fear that comes forth out of love for the Lord.

The Fear of God is felt because one understands the "fearful expectation of judgement". Still, this is not a fear that leads one to despair, rather it must be coupled with trust, and most importantly, love. In Psalms 130:3-4, it is said, "If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared."

In the New Testament, this fear is described using the Greek word φόβος (phobos, "fear/horror"), except in 1 Timothy 2:10, where Paul describes γυναιξὶν ἐπαγγελλομέναις θεοσέβειαν (gynaixin epangellomenais theosebeian), "women professing the fear of God", using the word θεοσέβεια (theosebeia).


In the Bahá'í Faith, "The heart must be sanctified from every form of selfishness and lust, for the weapons of the unitarians and the saints were and are the fear of God."[9]

Alternate views[edit]

Many theological positions reject the notion of a 'fear of God.' Some theological positions propose the possibility of theological realities without having gods to be feared. The concept of a fear of God is resolutely denied in Buddhism, as well as in pantheism and pandeism.

In Buddhism, Gautama Buddha did not endorse belief in a creator deity.[10][11]

In pantheism and pandeism, God either is or has become our Universe, and so fear of God would be no more rational than fear of ourselves, which are part of God, and the notion of God acting in a way to be feared towards us is no more rational than the idea of God acting in a way to be feared towards itself.

Author Boyd C. Purcell and atheist Sam Harris have each compared doctrines promoting the fear of God to living under the Stockholm syndrome, where hostages feel a misplaced sense of connection and affection for the hostage taker.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The New Jewish Publication Society of America Version translates the Hebrew as discipline.
  2. ^ "Fear of God". Jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Office of the Chief Rabbi Archived October 25, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Bridges, Jerry. The Joy of Fearing God, p.1, WaterBrook Press, 1997
  5. ^ "The Fear of the Lord". Opc.org. Retrieved 12 January 2015. 
  6. ^ The New Revised Standard Version translates the Hebrew as instruction.
  7. ^ Forget, Jacques. "Holy Ghost." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 3 September 2016
  8. ^ Mallon, John (April 2006). "The Primacy of Jesus, the Primacy of Love". ISSN 1068-8579. 
  9. ^ "Fear of God", Bahá'í Library Online
  10. ^ Thera, Nyanaponika. "Buddhism and the God-idea". The Vision of the Dhamma. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society. In Buddhist literature, the belief in a creator god (issara-nimmana-vada) is frequently mentioned and rejected, along with other causes wrongly adduced to explain the origin of the world; as, for instance, world-soul, time, nature, etc. God-belief, however, is placed in the same category as those morally destructive wrong views which deny the kammic results of action, assume a fortuitous origin of man and nature, or teach absolute determinism. 
  11. ^ Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia by Anne M. Blackburn (editor), Jeffrey Samuels (editor). Pariyatti Publishing: 2003 ISBN 1-928706-19-3 pg 129
  12. ^ Spiritual Terrorism: Spiritual Abuse from the Womb to the Tomb, by Boyd C. Purcell, page 199, 2008, ISBN 1434378888.

External links[edit]

* Compilation of Bible verses
* "Pope: Fear of the Lord an alarm reminding us of what's right"