The Hebrew term yir’ah is rendered fear or terror. It denotes some awesome or terrifying thing and it is used in reference to our perspective of God, promoting respect, reverence and piety. From the Greek term phobos we get phobia, meaning fear and terror. We dread the thing that provokes terror. Phobic reactions are visceral, automatic and instinctive. Paul amplifies the picture of appropriate fear before God by adding the descriptor, trembling, from the Greek tromos. This is not merely cognitive or psychological. This is not a literary device to augment God’s awfulness [awe-fullness] – here the whole being, physical and spiritual, is before God, trembling. The experience with God is to be incredibly ‘awful.’ The word now carries an almost exclusively negative connotation; because we have such difficulty with contradictory notions. And yet, God is never understood without an embrace of his radical extremes – he can be known, he can’t be fully known; he forgives, he judges; he is gracious, he is exacting in his edicts; he is holy and must deal with sin and the sinner, he loves the sinner; he is merciful, he is a God of wrath. We dismiss one side of the continuum and end up with half-a-god.  The side we have dismissed in the last few decades, has been to isolate the anger of God, to deny that he judges, to make him soft and cuddly – all about love.

Joachim Jeremias set forth the idea of ‘abba’ as ‘daddy’ equating it with ‘child-babble.’ Almost immediately, the proposal was challenged. James Barr published an article entitled “Abba Isn’t ‘Daddy'” which appeared in the Journal of Theological Studies.[1]  Jeremias retreated from his claim that “abba” connoted “daddy” in the world of etymology, acknowledging that the word was one of respect for seniors and teachers. But he continued to assert that infants did in fact make such a sound, and we that we proudly claim the infant’s ‘dada’ as a term of intimacy; so he claimed abba as an endearing term for God. With the etymological foundation gone, his claim was wishful conjecture, completely disconnected from Biblical language studies. But the idea still persists.

And with it has now come a pervasive one-sided understanding of God. And that is now contributing to the lack of spiritual health in the Church. Intimacy, closeness, warmth? Yes, but not without deep respect!

[1] James Barr, “‘Abba’ Isn’t ‘Daddy’ [Journal of Theological Studies, 1988]; See also: Geza Vermes, Jesus in the World of Judaism [1983], pp. 41, 2.


Taken from ‘The Praying Church Handbook – Volume I – Foundations’, a new release by Alive Publications. Learn more at

1 Comment

  1. Bro Doug,
    Thank you for this awesome series of articles on the fear of God. This is an issue that must be addressed in the Pentecostal movement, lest we, as many previous movements before us, decline into a nominal state.

    God calls us to intimacy, as Jesus said, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” But intimacy with God is not possible without the fear of God. Modern worship leaders sing “Heaven meets Earth with a ‘wet sloppy kiss.’” How sad that intimacy with God is reduced to simple romance, and the worship experience to little more than smooching.

    But I do believe there is a healthy disillusionment developing among many true worshipers, saddened at the condition of the church and its loss of power and influence, and hungry for revival. Keep hammering Brother Doug, the nut is cracking.

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