Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The noun φοβος (phobos) means fear (hence our English word phobia). It comes from the verb φεβομαι (phebomai), meaning to flee in terror or be put to flight. This verb isn't used in the New Testament, and in turn stems from the Proto-Indo-European root bhegw-, meaning to run.
The issue of fear in the Bible is curious. The prohibition (fear not) is the most repeated command in the Bible, yet fear also describes man's proper and prescribed attitude toward the deity (Deuteronomy 6:13). In our article on the Hebrew equivalent of our Greek noun, namely ירא (yara'), we propose that fear is a natural reaction to the unknown and uncontrollable. Man was commanded to rule the beasts (Genesis 1:26) and God instilled the fear of man in them (Genesis 9:2), which means that if man feared beast, the natural order was reversed.
Mankind was endowed with the gift of convention (and not intelligence, as the myth dictates), which allowed him to agree with others to the point in which he could devise speech and script and other technology that would help him understand creation and be safe in it. Knowledge allowed very little to be beyond man's control and man's natural reaction to the unknown and unexpected became humor and laughter (on a physical level, laughing and screaming with fear are pretty much the same thing). This is possibly why the "son of the promise" was called Isaac, which means He Will Laugh.
Here at Abarim Publications we suspect that the term "the fear of the Lord" is a trick-phrase like "the love of money"; it consists of two mutually exclusive elements, and that's how the issue is explained. The love of money — which in addition to all confusion, is often misinterpreted as the love for money, but no, it's the love of money — is a force that works between people just like love, which causes them to exchange goods and services, just like love. But money-love is entropy based and will always seek balance without creating anything new. Real love gives without wanting anything in return and thus propels the very realm it exist in onto a whole new existence.
To a human who is fully aware and in control of the whole of creation, the only thing that remains unknown is God. By that time, man's reaction to the unknown will have evolved from a basic fight or flight reaction to a super-collective sense of adoration and great joy (Jude 1:24).
Our noun is used 47 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the preposition α (a), meaning without: the adverb αφοβως (aphobos), meaning fearlessly. This adverb is used 4 times; see full concordance.
- Together with the common preposition εν (en), meaning in: the adjective εμφοβος (emphobos), which literally means "en-feared": terrified. This adjective is used 6 times; see full concordance.
- The verb φοβεω (phobeo) meaning to endow with fear, or rather more specific: to cause to flee. In the New Testament this verb only occurs in the passive or middle deponent voice, meaning to be endowed with fear, to become afraid. Often this verb comes with an object (they feared such and such) but it also often doesn't (they were afraid).
The idea of a static experience of fear isn't native to Greek thought, which suggests that the famous "fear of the Lord" was never meant to describe a private reverence of the powers that be, but rather an impetus to move toward the Lord by increasing the knowledge of creation and thus turning raw fear into glorious joy (as elaborated above). This mesmerizing verb is used 93 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- Together with the preposition εκ (ek), meaning out: the verb εκφοβεω (ekphobeo), meaning to alarm or freak out (2 Corinthians 10:9 only). From this verb in turn comes:
- The adjective φοβερος (phoberos), meaning terrifying or fearful (Hebrews 10:27, 10:31 and 12:21 only).
- The noun φοβητρον (phobetron), which describes something terrifying; a dreadful sight, appearance or event (Luke 21:11 only).
The verb τρεμω (tremo) means to tremble (hence the word), but particularly to tremble with fear (Mark 5:33, Luke 8:47 and 2 Peter 2:10 only). It stems from a Proto-Indo-European root "trem-", to tremble with fear, hence also the word tremor. From the same PIE root comes the verb τρεω (treo), which relates to the English word terror. The latter verb is not used in the New Testament. From the former derive:
- The noun τρομος (tromos), meaning a tremor or a trembling from terror. This noun is used 5 times, see full concordance, and from it in turn comes:
- Together with the preposition εν (en), meaning in, at, on: the adjective εντρομος (entromos), meaning trembling by induced or injected fear (the en-part implies a fear that is generated internally from an external impulse; it's a word like enraged or encumbered). It occurs in Acts 7:32, 16:29 and Hebrews 12:21 only.