There really is no substitute for having some knowledge of the original languages when it comes to studying the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I have great appreciation for the labors of many of those who have translated the Bible into English. However, when you are able to look at the Greek and see the nuances that don’t come across in the English text it can give great insight into the Spirit-inspired word of God.
Take 2 Timothy 1:7 for example. I’ve been attempting to memorize the book of 2 Timothy this year. I started off strong, then fell off a bit, but now am coming back with vengeance. Anyway, this is how it reads in a few English translations:
- NASB: For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
- KJV: For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
- HCSB: For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.
- ESV: For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
- NET: For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.
Maybe some other day I will deal with whether or not the NET is correct in capitalizing “Spirit” to speak of the Holy Spirit. I tend to lean toward a lower case “s” at the moment, but do you see another anomaly in these translations?
The New American Standard is the only one of those I posted that use the word timidity instead of fear (to its credit, the NIV 1984 also uses timidity). It got me to wondering about the Greek, especially since in several of my sermons in recent months I have stressed that believers are told repeatedly in Scripture to fear one thing, one thing only, and one thing completely… the LORD God Himself.
Sure enough, when I checked out the Greek I found that the word rendered timidity is δειλίας (deilias) and not the more familiar φόβος (phobos), from which we get phobia. δειλίας carries with it the connotation of timidity or cowardice (which is the word the NRSV uses). And while φόβος can refer to that type of “fear,” it is also very often used to describe a proper reverence for the Lord. For example, in famous “fear of the LORD” passages in Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX), the word φόβος is used each time.
The point is that words mean things and only by looking at the Greek is one able to tell the difference in what kind of fear the biblical author, in this case Paul, inspired of course by the Holy Spirit, is talking about. Paul was telling Timothy, a struggling young pastor in Ephesus, that God had not given him a spirit of timidity or cowardice, but instead, by contrast, He had given him a spirit of power, love, and discipline (or self-control). Those latter three things, by the way, cannot be had without a right reverence, or φόβος, for God in the first place.
Let me show you another example of how these different “fear” words are used. When Jesus calms the storm in the Mark 4:35-41, we are told that after He rebuked the wind and basically told the sea to “shut up,” He said to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” And verse 41 says, “They became very much afraid and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?'”
Reading that in English you have no idea that two completely different words for afraid are being used. Jesus used the first type of fear, δειλοί, from the same root word as δειλίας to ask them why they were acting like cowards. Why were they being timid? The answer, of course, is that they lacked faith. Then, after Jesus calmed the storm, in Mark’s editorial comment in verse 41, which he probably received from Peter, he uses φόβον (phobon), from φόβος, to illustrate that the disciples now had a more intense, yet reverential type of fear that was grounded in the faith they gained from seeing what Jesus did. That faith is reflected in the question they ask, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” That is not a faithless question, but a question of marvel at the power of God revealed in His Son who was in their presence and had done this wondrous thing.
So to bring this back to 2 Timothy 1:7, God has not given us a spirit of timidity. We are not to be cowards in this world, no matter the apparent strength of the opposition, no matter the chaos that appears to engulf us. Through faith in Jesus Christ we have a healthy, reverent, awe-inspiring fear of God who, rather than making us cowards, gives us a spirit of power and love and discipline. Therefore, we shall not be ashamed (2 Tim 1:8).
I thank God for those who have taught me Greek, and for the simple truths that leap off the pages when you are able to see the Scriptures and have some understanding of the original languages.