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In Hebrews 5:7 Jesus has his 'prayer heard in what he feared' or 'heard in respect to what he feared' - 'εισακουσθεις απο της ευλαβειας'.

The ESV had his prayer was heard 'because of his reverence' implying a godly fear of God. However some few translations seem to render this fear to be the nervous sort, indicating his prayer was answered in that he was 'relieved and from his serious nervousness'. That nervous fear was obviously over the task of bearing the sins of the world and wrath of God.

The ESV has it:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. (Hebrews 5:7, ESV)

A version that makes more sense to me:

who in the days of his flesh both prayers and supplications unto Him who was able to save him from death -- with strong crying and tears -- having offered up, and having been heard in respect to that which he feared (Hebrews 5:7, Young's Literal)

These two versions all seem to be based on the understanding of this word 'ευλαβειας' in the context and both are easy to defend doctrinally. My question is what evidence could be raised from the original Greek that understands this fear as Christ's fear of death (not his fear of God)? I ask as the overall context of the chapter seems to me to support this alternate view, but I can't determine how it is derived from the Greek alone.


Note: This question seems very close to this: In what way was Jesus' prayer heard (Hebrews 5:7)?. However it is not really the same as I am only interested in the translation of 'απο της ευλαβειας' and how that may be interpreted to indicate Christ's fear of enduring the wrath of God.

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2 Answers

After pondering for some time I think it is fair to say that regardless of how the Greek is translated the answer may possibly be both at the same time. For in the context when Christ was to have all the sin of the world put upon him and then face the creator of the law and vindictive judge of all who break it what kind of reverence would he have of God if not chiefly a fear of how terrible this wrath was going to be. If he did not fear such an incomprehensible and infinite death that alone could approach breaking that indissoluble union that the Son eternally had with the Father, then he had no reverence for God at all.

Therefore, being heard in that he feared must have meant his prayer to sustain that wrath and obtain redemption of the elect, being victor over death. He was heard in answer to his fear of the eternal death he was about to bear for us, which is a religious fear central to his apprehensions of God's wrath and willing obedience to his moral Lordship. The answer to his prayer was that his offering of himself as an atoning sacrifice did survive that wrath and his obedience did overcome sin and death.

All these ideas seem implicit in one of his prayers very relevant to the meaning which these verses must mean:

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42, NIV)

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This is not the standard word for fear, which would be phobos. Rather eulabeia, ultimately comes from the verb lambano, which has various meanings, but here captures the meaning of "to take."

Eulabeia has at its root the meaning of to take hold of, in the sense of devotion, taking hold of God. It is not a fear based thing, but a conscious choice. Examining the uses in the NT of the word and its close cognates it is used in Luke, and Paul. Luke in Lk 2:25; Act 2:5; 6:2 and Paul here and Heb 12:28. In all the Lucian texts it plainly means devout, and I see no reason to think it different here in Hebrews.

One other point: phobos in classical Greek does have the meaning of fear, as opposed to reverence. However, the common Hebrew word for fear yare' has both meanings. It seems to me that this dual sense has bled into the usage of phobos in the Koine, most likely via the LXX, and its strong influence on the corpus of the NT.

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+1 for taking a stab at it. However I do not think this is a cut and dry easy answer as some very knowledgable theologians very familiar with the greek have translated this as not reverent fear of God but reverent fear of death. Eg. John Owen in his commentary of Hebrews. What I am looking for is the reason why they would translate it this way based on Greek secular usage of the word or maybe the particular order of the words together in the context? I do not know? –  Mike Nov 10 '12 at 7:18
    
also Kittel admits this might be appropriate (i.e. fear of death) but them argues against it without fully showing the logic of those who take that side. –  Mike Nov 10 '12 at 7:20
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@Mike, you know one thing that I didn't comment on here is the proposition apo used before eulabeia. YLT give it with the mouthful "in respect to that which he...", which I don't quite see the justification for. Normally apo denotes a point of origin, "from". ESV's "because" seems good. The source of God's listening was Jesus' reverence. Are we to believe that God listened because Jesus was scared to die, or because he was a faithful servant. I think the testimony of both Hebrews and the NT clearly tells us which is right. I don't find this ambiguous, theological machinations notwithstanding. –  Fraser Orr Nov 11 '12 at 2:08
    
Thanks for the tip that might help me understand Owen's view. BTW Owen would never suggest the fear was fear of physical death but a serious reverence and nervous respect of taking the whole universe of sin upon his soul and to suffer the infinite wrath of God for it. If Jesus was merely afraid of death he would be more cowardly than a courageous martyr. No, the concept is that as he sweat drops of blood, ready to take on hell, his crying an tears were answered. Like I said both translations are easily defended theologically. –  Mike Nov 11 '12 at 3:48
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