This is the first post reflecting my ongoing study of fear in the New Testament.
When I think of Mary’s husband Joseph being afraid, I think of this passage in Matthew 1:20-21:
Joseph had this in mind [the problem of Mary’s pregnancy and his decision to break the marriage agreement] when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said to him, “Joseph, descendant of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus [He Saves], because he will save his people from their sins.”
It sounds like the fear Joseph was apparently struggling with there was fear of disobeying the law of God. He just wanted to do the right thing.
But the fear I’ve been pondering more lately is shown when, after Joseph found out Herod was dead, he took Mary and little Jesus back to Israel.
But when he heard that Archelaus had succeeded his father Herod as king of Judea, Joseph was afraid to go there. Warned in a dream, he left for Galilee and made his home in a city called Nazareth. (Matthew 2:21-22)
Now it sounds like he was afraid of a person, afraid of what that person would do. And not only a person, but an authority, the king.
Isn’t that the kind of fear preachers tell their listeners they’re not supposed to have? Isn’t that the kind of fear that is so often and so commonly called sin?
As part of my ongoing study of fear in the New Testament, I want to be sure to define the word “fear” each time it’s used, to the best of my ability. Though there are only two Greek words used for fear in the New Testament, just like the English words “fear” and “afraid,” they can mean different things at different times.
In this post, there are two meanings. The one is what I call “physical-safety fear,” which is an alertness to danger that prepares a person for action. The second is a respect for authority, sometimes combined with a foreboding of punishment from God if the authority is not obeyed.
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