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Perhaps you are like me. I have toddled along for decades believing biblical claims without asking an important question: “Why isn’t the teacher quoting that verse in its context?” In fact, just last week, I fell for it again. I quoted one myself. But that verse remained rummaging around in my brain for a few days, so I actually looked it up, wonder of wonders. The verse in question is this: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).1 Our teachers have used this verse to address a litany of human fears. There is a large list of things of which to be afraid, as you might imagine. Thus, if you are a Christian and a fellow believer heard you say, “I’m afraid,” you probably know which verse would be quoted. It may have happened to you. We evangelicals like to have quick answers and solutions, even ones that are colored by a vague accusation. “You’re being influenced by a bad spirit!”

Let’s begin our investigation of the context in which this verse was written.

“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that it is in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power, love, and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:5–10). 2

When Paul is reminding Timothy of his sincere faith and then encourages him to “kindle afresh the gift of God,” what is Paul doing? He is encouraging Timothy to re-invigorate the gift of God by prayer and biblical thinking, to “step up his game,” so to speak. Timothy has become shy concerning the things pertaining to salvation and our Savior, Jesus. To encourage him to do this, Paul recounts the wonderful things that God has done. Paul tells Timothy that the Spirit that is in him, the Holy Spirit, is not a spirit of timidity. It’s the opposite. It is the Spirit of power, love, and discipline.

Now, concerning the misuse of verse seven. You probably noticed immediately that the word “fear” is not present. The word “fear” is used by the KJV and the ESV, two prominent translations, and one of these is used most often by teachers who want to tell us that we should not be afraid of anything because that is “the spirit of fear.”

However, the word “timidity” is used in the NIV and the NASB. Let’s look at the reason for the difference. The most common word for “fear” in the New Testament is the Greek word “phobos,” from which we get the English word “phobia.” Its meaning in the New Testament is “terror.” We are to fear God. We are not to fear men or anything else because God is our refuge and deliverer. However, the word for “fear” in verse seven is not “phobia.” It is “deilia,” which means timidity, faintheartedness, or cowardice. This is the only place in the New Testament in which that word appears. It seems clear that Paul is referring to Timothy’s timid reluctance to proclaim the truth about Jesus. Is fear involved in his timidity? Yes. Fear of man, repercussions, or punishment for sharing the gospel. But it is misleading to use this verse to teach that being afraid of anything is because that’s the “spirit of fear.” This verse has nothing whatsoever to do with a multitude of fears we experience in our lives.

So, we Christians must not do what I did a few days ago and now must rectify. We must check out the context of out-of-context verses we are taught. Otherwise, we are believing a lie and are being misled. This is dangerous because the words of Scripture can be manipulated to prove just about anything. We must know the truth of Scripture.

1The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.    

2All other Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

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