A reflection on timidity.

(Part 2 of a series on how I write about the Bible, looking at a story about Paul and Timothy.)

I always smiled when I read Paul telling Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity.” I thought it was delightful wordplay from a guy often accused of being intense. So I looked at the word. It’s deilia. Which means that it is not a pun at all. Deilia sounds nothing like Timotheos.

But I looked at deilia in Vine’s. It turns out that the word Paul uses to describe the kind of spirit that God didn’t give is used just this one time in the Bible. It’s a noun. It means timid or cowardly or fearful. If we look at the adjective, deilos, it is used three times. Two of them are as part of the same story told by two Gospel writers, Matthew and Mark.

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Jesus and some followers were in a fishing boat. Jesus lay down at the back of the boat and fell asleep. A wind came up on the Sea of Galilee, and started making waves. This was nothing new for that lake. But the waves were higher than usual. The disciples were afraid, at least the ones without fishing experience. “We’re going to sink,” they said. Jesus said. “Why are you so afraid (deilos)?”

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I assume, and it is an assumption, that people can choose words for perfectly good, not manipulative reasons. We intend the differences.

When Matthew and Mark want to talk about being afraid, they usually used phobeomai, a word that means being alarmed or surprised or scared or even in awe of. So all of the places where people are told to not be afraid of angels or of crowds or of events, Mark and Matthew use the other word. But in this one story, they use the word deilos, which means timid or cowardly. And Paul uses that other word several times. But when he is talking to Timothy about the spirit that God does not give, he uses deilia, the attitude Jesus questions the disciples about having.

Paul’s word choice may imply, “God didn’t give you the fear that he scolded the disciples for having.”

So we see some sort of verbal connection between the Mark story and Paul’s letter to Timothy. But in the post last week, I suggested that Paul and Timothy had heard the story from Mark. My implication is that Paul intended that Timothy remember Mark’s story and the words of Jesus to the disciples. How can I explain that kind of leap?

Come back tomorrow and I’ll talk about one way I look at context when I write about the Bible.

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About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

2 thoughts on “A reflection on timidity.

  1. I appreciate you helping us deconstruct the words. We use terms like “fear” in so many contexts that they almost have no meaning. The difference between scared and timid matters and makes these stories richer. Reminds me to dig deeper. Thanks.

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