The Bible uses the word fear in at least three distinct ways.
It is important not to confuse the different ways the Bible uses the word fear, or to miss the fact that there are nuances to the biblical use of this word that need to be taken into consideration by any thoughtful reader of the Bible.
1.The Bible uses fear as a synonym for respect. We are to “fear the Lord,” ie. have deep and profound respect for that presence of beauty, mystery, light, and love that permeates all creation and which the Bible calls God.
Our egalitarian society may not do well with according respect to any Higher Power. But, according to centuries of spiritual tradition, recognizing and honouring the presence of a power greater and more profound than anything we humans can fully embody is only realistic and healthy.
2. The Bible encourages its readers to have a healthy awareness that there are forces at work in the world that are anti-life. We are to be aware that there are powers of violence, hatred, and disrespect that we do well to fear. It is not a mistake to fear the power of unbridled materialism, greed, misogyny, war-mongering, and enemy formation.
Fear that motivates us to positive, creative, life-giving action is not a bad thing. If a grizzly is charging at you, the adrenaline rush of fear is your friend.
3. But, when the Bible uses the word “fear” it is used by far most frequently to suggest that we need have no fear.
There is a neurotic fear that stems from human insecurity and the failure to trust in the deep inner strength that is God’s presence in our lives. This fear, according to the consistent witness of the Scriptures, is completely unnecessary.
The Bible points over and over to the conviction that it is not necessary to give in to the spirit of fear that afflicts us when we cling to this material realm and resist the realities of life as they unfold. The fear that builds walls and retreats behind a fortress has no place in a biblical vision of life.
Here are a few examples (well actually 63) of passages that run through the entire Bible in which the futility of fear is emphasized.
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ (Genesis 15:1)
And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. (Genesis 21:17)
And that very night the Lord appeared to Jacob and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham; do not be afraid, for I am with you and will bless you and make your offspring numerous for my servant Abraham’s sake.’ (Genesis 26:24)
the Lord said to Moses, ‘Do not be afraid…’ (Numbers 21:34)
The Lord said to me [Moses], ‘Do not fear…’ (Deuteronomy 3:2)
[Moses]: ‘It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ (Deuteronomy 31:8)
[Joshua]: ‘I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:9)
Then the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Do not fear or be dismayed…’ (Joshua 8:1)
But the Lord said to him [Gideon], ‘Peace be to you; do not fear….’ (Judges 6:23)
And Samuel said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid…’ (I Samuel 12:20)
Elijah said to her [the widow of Zarephath], ‘Do not be afraid…’ (I Kings 17:13)
Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, ‘Go down with him [captain of Ahaziah king of Samaria]; do not be afraid…’ (II Kings 1:15)
He [Elisha] replied, ‘Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.’ (II Kings 6:16)
Isaiah said to them, ‘Say to your master, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid…’ (II Kings 19:6)
David said further to his son Solomon, ‘Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished. (I Chronicles 28:20)
He [Jahaziel, son of Zechariah] said, ‘Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the Lord to you: “Do not fear or be dismayed… This battle is not for you to fight; take your position, stand still, and see the victory of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.” Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, and the Lord will be with you.’ (II Chronicles 20: 15,17)
[Hezekiah]: ‘Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him; for there is one greater with us than with him.’ (II Chronicles 32:7)
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?… Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear (Psalm 27:1, 3)
In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I am not afraid; what can flesh do to me? (Psalm 56:4)
With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me? (Psalm 118:6)
Do not be afraid of sudden panic, or of the storm that strikes the wicked. (Proverbs 3:25)
Then the Lord to Isaiah… say to him [Ahaz], Take heed, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint (Isaiah 7:4)
the Lord spoke thus to me [Isaiah] while his hand was strong upon me… ‘Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.’ (Isaiah 8:12)
Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts: O my people, who live in Zion, do not be afraid… (Isaiah 10:24)
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.’ (Isaiah 35:4)
Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’ (Isaiah 40:9)
do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God…. For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ (Isaiah 41:10, 13)
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)
Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you in the womb and will help you: Do not fear, O Jacob my servant…. Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock (Isaiah 44:2,8)
Listen to me, you who know righteousness, you people who have my teaching in your hearts; do not fear the reproach of others, and do not be dismayed when they revile you. (Isaiah 51:7)
In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. (Isaiah 54:14)
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 1:8)
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:5)
I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:4)
But as for you, have no fear, my servant Jacob, says the Lord, and do not be dismayed, O Israel; for I am going to save you from far away, and your offspring from the land of their captivity. Jacob shall return and have quiet and ease, and no one shall make him afraid. (Jeremiah 30:10)
You came near when I called on you; you said, ‘Do not fear!’ (Lamentations 3:57)
And you, O mortal, do not be afraid of them, and do not be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns surround you and you live among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words, and do not be dismayed at their looks. (Ezekiel 2:6)
He said to me, ‘Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words…. He said, ‘Do not fear, greatly beloved, you are safe. Be strong and courageous!’ When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, ‘Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.’ (Daniel 10:12,19)
the word of the Lord came by the prophet Haggai, saying… ‘according to the promise that I made you when you came out of Egypt. My spirit abides among you; do not fear.’ (Haggai 2:1,5)
Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing. Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong. (Zechariah 8:13)
But just when he [Joseph] had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid…’ (Matthew 1:20)
[Jesus]: ‘So have no fear of them [the wolves]; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.’ (Matthew 10:26)
[Jesus]: ‘Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul… So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.’ (Matthew 10:28,31)
But immediately Jesus spoke to them [the disciples in a storm-tossed boat who think they are seeing a ghost] and said, ‘Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.’ (Matthew 14:27)
But Jesus came and touched them [Peter, James and John], saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ (Matthew 17:7)
But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.’ (Matthew 28:5)
Then Jesus said to them [the women disciples], ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’ (Matthew 28:10)
But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ (Mark 5:36)
But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. (Luke 1:13)
The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.’ (Luke 1:30)
But the angel said to them [shepherds], ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid…’ (Luke 5:10)
When Jesus heard this, he replied [to Jairus whose daughter whose daughter has just been reported to have died], ‘Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.’ (Luke 8:50)
[Jesus]: ‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.’ (Luke 12:4)
[Jesus]: ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ (Luke 12:32)
he [Jesus] said to them [disciples on a stormy sea], ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ (John 6:20)
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written: ‘Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion. Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’ (John 12:14, 15)
One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent…’ (Acts 18:9)
last night there stood by me [Paul] an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.” (Acts 27:23,24)
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice [fear], but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (II Timothy 1:7)
When I saw him [one like the Son of Man], I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid…’ (Revelation 1:17)
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. (Revelation 2:10)