Many commonly misunderstand "the fear of God" as a biblical trope. Systematic and constructive theologians have often left it unexamined; biblical theologians have explicated it from one of three perspectives: either as a response to "the Holy" (drawing on Rudolf Otto), as a human emotional reaction to God, or as human obedience to God. This essay argues against the first two options and for the third as the best understanding of the scriptural term and does so on the basis of theological exploration of the Torah and the Gospel of Matthew. The account concludes that fear of God is a human disposition encouraged, learned, and grown within the covenant people of God. Fear of God might be summarized therefore as an appropriate relational disposition toward God, involving obedience to God above all others; furthermore, this obedience to God implies being just and loving toward others. Fear of God does not paralyze or overwhelm the human creature but is the basis for proper human acting and thinking. This disposition of fearing God leads to human flourishing, but sees this human flourishing as genuine only when understood against the greater horizon of meaning that is God and God's kingdom. Thus fear of God, far from being the hiatus of human agency, is the form of sociality given by God for humanity.

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