Is Bravery Biblical? (Not as obvious as it may seem.)

Princess Anna is brave. Jackie Robinson is brave. William Wallace is brave. Sarah of Sarah, Plain and Tall is brave.

Hmmmm. I am rather informed by Hollywood when it comes to bravery.

This week at Velvet Ashes we’ve been looking at the idea of “brave” in anticipation I asked myself three questions:

1. What do I think brave/bravery means?
2. Where did I get this idea?
3. What does God say about brave and bravery?

If you look at my examples above, most involve the extraordinary and a doing something impressive. Is this how God sees Bravery?

Getting no where fast doing google searches of Hebrew and Greek I contacted my friend Karl Helvig and asked for his help. He sent me a treasure trove of information.

He said, In the Hebrew, ‘Brave’ is rare and, when used in translation, translates a root word that encompasses a rather wide semantic range. {OK, so I’ m feeling better about not immediately have verses jump to mind!}

– The semantic range does seem to conflate our senses of bravery and courage
– contexts of battle, fighting, and quarrelsomeness all come up.


“Brave” shows up 19 times in the OT in the NIV, but only a handful of times in other translations and often in the context of battle, fighting, and quarrelsomeness. There are no appearances of “Brave” in the NT in the NIV, ESV, NRSV, or NASB.

But if we look for “Courage” the NIV has 8 NT uses, NASB has 16 NT uses, NRSV 7 NT uses, and ESV has 6 NT uses. For more information of what my friend shared, read here. But suffice it to say, there is overlap in words and concepts and though the OT and NT may not use the word “Brave” it is not foreign to us.

Greek words are translated as “Courage.”

tolmao: verb, to dare, endure, or submit; endure, undergo; in the infinitive form: to have the courage, hardihood, effrontery, cruelty, or the grace, patience, to do a thing in spite of any natural feeling, dare, or bring oneself, to do.

tharreo:  be full of courage, act boldly, be confident, have confidence in, make bold, venture

parresia: openness, frankness; boldness, confidence, assurance; used sometimes to refer specifically to events made in public (as in Acts 4:13)

euthumeo: take courage, be happy. (Acts 27:25) Literally: good feelings, “eu” means: good, well, happy, and “thumos” means: intense feeling; esp. anger or rage.

Andridzomai: be courageous; literally, act like a man (1 Cor 16:13)

And now for the gem from the research. Karl wrote, “I saw one intriguing comment deep in the biggest, fattest lexicon entry on tolmao, it said that to act with courage meant to follow a particular course of action in spite of any natural feelings. 

That implies that we as humans have all sorts of natural feelings that regularly direct us NOT to do certain thing, esp. good things, esp, things for the benefit of others.  Courage, therefore, is to overcome the inner self that would prevent (fear, hesitation, insecurity, etc…) good actions.”

Beauty of Bravery

Final Thoughts on Bravery in the NT:
It looks like, at it’s root, courage is the english word that most accurately captures the root Greek and Hebrew meanings.  However, there is clear overlap in their semantic ranges, so that could simply be a matter of modern vernacular and usage.

If I were to attempt a succinct summary of the etymological foundation upon which stands out modern use of bravery/courage, {Can you see why I knew he’d help me understand what the Bible says about bravery?} it would be this: courage is the act of experiencing a generally internal fear, hesitation, disinclination toward a certain act, then choosing to perform that act inspite of the internal hinderances.

This is referred to and experienced most graphically and (historically speaking)} most commonly on the field of battle as the internal hesitation is clearly linked to an external danger to one’s life.

If I were to contrast this root meaning with some modern usage, I would note most significantly that modern usage seems to emphasize that bravery is what happens when one does not have internal fears, or it is an indication of being stronger or more capable somehow.  This, however, does not seem to square with the historical picture as the historical picture seems to embrace the reality of the internal turmoil, courage is acting in spite of that .  There is nothing negative or derogatory about having that internal struggle, having the struggle may even be part of the beauty of courage.

Hope my thoughts have been helpful, its been fun! Karl


Ah, I can see why bravery is most commonly packaged in a story, be it a movie or a book! And that we have gotten off a bit.  I love that last line: Having the struggle may even be part of the beauty of courage.

Karl emailed me four or five times in the last week and every time emphasized exploring these ideas was fun. Every now and then it’s good to “get our geek on” and root around in what has formed us. I know this might be a bit more academic than most posts, but it’s good for us. The messy middle isn’t just for simpletons :).

The practice of paying attention is harder and easier than it seems

At Velvet Ashes I’m leading a weekly discussion as we work our way through Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the WorldThe following was written for the chapter entitled The Practice of Paying Attention


Picture this, I read it in the quiet of my home thinking holy thoughts about paying attention to God at work, and before I could write this post, I traveled internationally. To say there is a world of difference between the version of how I WANT to be when I am at my best (i.e. sitting alone desiring and picturing myself to be this piece of calm floating through the world) versus when real people and situations get in the way of my idealized version of life, would have Jesus and the saints rolling on the ground in laughter.

Kind of like when I see a pre-schooler pitching a fit. At times it’s just so cute.

Pay attention on plane

Did anyone else smile as you read about Barbara laying with her dad and sister on a blanket looking at the night sky? Thinking, YES, yes, I love those magical moments when the curtain between here and eternity is lifted and we can peek underneath.

And then she shared about a more down to earth experience with her dad and learning to clean a gun. “This ritual, among many others, introduced me to the practices that nourish reverence in a human life: paying attention, taking care, respecting things that can kill you, making this passage from fear to awe.”  I marked this in the book thinking, Yes, yes, this is what paying attention looks like. Ritual. Reverence. I’m all in!

The practice of paying attention, however, “really does take time. Most of us move so quickly that our surroundings become no more than the blurred scenery we fly past on our way to somewhere else. We pay attention to the speedometer, the wristwatch, the cell phone, the list of things to do, all of which fee our illusion that life is manageable. Meanwhile, none of them meets the first criterion for reverence, which is to remind us that we are not gods.”

As the chapter went on she shared about outward visible signs pointing to inward and spiritual connections. And she wrote about those bird feathers “glancing off the windshield” as she drove, becoming a sign of where food comes from and the ways God provides.

We live in noisy, colorful worlds ourselves, don’t we? Potential connections can be made all around us. I’m all in when paying attention will lead me to star-filled moments or quiet insights. But we’ll also have bird feather moments.

I don’t know why, but of all I read in this chapter, it was those feathers that stuck with me as I traveled. Maybe because, let’s be honest, sure, traveling can be fun, but over the years its lost its glamor for me. Luggage and waiting and sitting and wondering who will be in my row and movies I don’t care about and custom lines, are part of the jig, right? A means to an end. Do I hear an Amen?

With those feathers floating in my mind, the meal consumed and the first movie over, I pulled out my eye mask, blew up my neck pillow and leaned my seat back.

“OH NO, this will not do. You put your seat up right now. My wife is working and this will never do. Put your seat up.”

Came into the gap between my seat and the row behind me. I was a bit taken a back by the commanding nature with which it came and turned to see the eye of an older gentleman who repeated the message. I tried to explain I was going to sleep and can’t sleep sitting up and that the lady in front of me was also leaned back.

By this point he had pushed the call button and summoned the flight attendant. (Side note, you guys, I am not that passenger! I am not the one who is obnoxious and gets beeped. What was happening?! How did it all turn tense so quickly?)

The flight attendant explained I had the right to lean my seat back and if they needed more space they could lean theirs back.  He handled it professionally, and I was impressed with his calm demeanor. I’ll spare you the details, but you can imagine how this sat with the man and his wife.

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. He kept leaning forward and mumbling through the gap, “Some people are just so inconsiderate.” I wanted to mumble back, “Do you see the irony?!” but refrained.

Pay attention I am here.

This was a bird feather moment. I sat there, eye mask on, head resting on the neck pillow and prayed. I pictured them in their kitchen going over plans for their trip abroad and how this might have been a life long dream to visit a far off land. But they had never been on a plane this long and had not pictured or mentally prepared for the travel. I prayed for their trip to a land I love dearly and hoped they too would love her. I slipped in and out of sleep. I prayed and dosed and woke and prayed.

I wanted to be annoyed and I was a tiny bit. But mostly I paid attention and by paying attention I saw more of what was really going on.


How about you? What moments are you more drawn to pay attention to? What parts do you say, “I’m all IN!” and where would you rather turn your eyes and not pay attention?  Have you read this book?


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