Many scriptures in the Bible seem to indicate that everyone, including those who are devoted to God, should fear Him. This seems incongruent with the belief that if a person loves someone, that person should not need to be afraid of the one they love, especially if the one they love truly loves them. In this regard, we will consider what various Bible scriptures say about fearing God and the meanings of the original words that are translated as fear or feared in these scriptures.
[Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, unless indicated otherwise. When words in a quoted scripture passage are shown in bold print, the emphasis is our own.]
Old Testament scriptures teach that people should fear God. Among these scriptures are the following:
Leviticus 25:17: [God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites] “[Y]ou shall not oppress one another, but you shall fear your God; for I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 8:6: [Moses states] “Therefore you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him.”
Deuteronomy 10:12: [Moses declares] “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul,”
Deuteronomy 31:12-13: [Moses says] Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess.”
2 Kings 17:39: [T]he Lord your God you shall fear; and He will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.
Psalm 96:4: [T]he Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.
Ecclesiastes 12:13: Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.
According to Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word yare that is translated as fear in all of the preceding scriptures is “Used of a person in an exalted position. Yare connotes ‘standing in awe.’ This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect.”
Another Old Testament scripture which teaches that people should fear God is Psalm 89:7, which declares, “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.”
In reference to this scripture, Strong says the Hebrew word arats that is translated as fear may refer to awe or dread, which is similar to the translation of the Hebrew word yare that was used in the previously mentioned Old Testament scriptures.
New Testament scriptures also teach that people should fear God. These scriptures include the following:
2 Corinthians 7:1b: [L]et us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
Strong’s explanation of the Greek word phobos, which is translated as fear in this scripture, refers to “‘reverential fear’ of God, as a controlling motive of the life, in matters spiritual and moral, not a mere ‘fear’ of His power and righteous retribution, but a wholesome dread of displeasing Him. . . .”
1 Peter 2:17: Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Strong indicates that the Greek word phobeo translated as fear in this verse is used “to show reverential fear . . . of God.” Thus, this Greek word has a meaning very similar to that of the Greek word phobos, which was used in the previously referenced New Testament scripture.
Hebrews 12:28: [S]ince we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.
With regard to this last scripture, Strong states that the Greek word eulabeia translated as fear in this verse “means apprehension, but especially holy fear, that mingled fear and love which, combined, constitute the piety of man toward God. . . .” It is not clear what distinction Strong makes between “holy fear” in this scripture and “reverential fear” in the prior two scriptures.
So, does the preceding discussion mean that no one needs to fear God in the usual sense of the word fear, which Webster’s Dictionary defines as “a feeling of anxiety and agitation”? In responding to this question, consideration needs to be given to the biblical accounts of the severe consequences suffered by people who failed to conduct themselves in accordance with what God wanted them to do or not do. Among these accounts are the Great Flood (Genesis, chapters 6 and 7), the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis, chapter 19), and the deaths of the firstborn Egyptian sons (Exodus, chapters 11 and 12). These accounts and others recorded in the Bible indicate that people who do not conduct themselves in accordance with God’s precepts should fear God.
Strong’s explanations of the meanings of the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as fear in the foregoing scriptures indicate that people who are genuinely devoted to conducting themselves in accordance with God’s precepts do not need to fear Him in the usual sense of the word fear. However, they should have awe and reverence for God, as the previous discussion indicates.
In contrast, it is crucial for people who fail to conduct themselves in accordance with God’s precepts to realize that, despite the fact that God loves them, they would be foolish not to fear Him, as evidenced by the biblical accounts of God’s punishment of many people who failed to conduct themselves in accordance with His precepts.
If those who fail to conduct themselves in accordance with God’s precepts are Christians, but they have become estranged from God because they have not sincerely confessed their sins and genuinely repented within a reasonable period of time, God may discipline them – perhaps, severely – to motivate them to do what is necessary to restore their relationship with Him. And, if they still fail to sincerely confess their sins and genuinely repent, they can expect to face some form of negative consequence when they enter eternity.
As for people who are not Christians, although they may not be disciplined by God during their lifetime for failing to conduct themselves in accordance with God’s precepts, they ultimately will suffer eternal punishment, unless they confess their sins, repent, and trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior before they die. [For a discussion regarding how to be assured of eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]