2:40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. 42 And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
Fear? That word keeps popping up in Scripture. The followers of God fear Him. "Fear filled every soul" Luke tells us. What in the world does that mean?
Here is some analysis of the original Greek word to chew on:
5401 phóbos (from phebomai, "to flee, withdraw") – fear (from Homer about 900 bc on) 5401 (phóbos) meant withdrawal, fleeing because feeling inadequate (without sufficient resources, Abbott-Smith).
Fear (5401 /phóbos) is commonly used in Scripture – sometimes positively (in relation to God) but more often negatively of withdrawing from the Lord (His will).
[Fundamentally, 5401 /phóbos ("fear") means withdraw (separate from), i.e. flee (remove oneself) and hence to avoid because of dread (fright).]
Pretty clear now why there is confusion. It's one of those words that can be used two ways which are almost opposite. In English the word 'wicked' fits in this category. Wicked is generally associated with evil. However it can be used positively. A hockey player can be described as having a "wicked shot". The common factor between the two opposite uses of the word is that both the evil person and the shot are way outside the norm or extraordinary.
With that in mind what idea was Luke trying to convey when he said fear came on every soul that joined The Way? The basic meaning of the root word that has been translated 'fear' is 'to withdraw from'. This word 'phobos' is where we get our word phobia. If I have a phobia of something I avoid it. I seek to withdraw from wherever it is found whether my phobia be darkness or spiders or whatever else. Is that what Luke had in mind? The new believers in Jesus developed a phobia of Him and wanted to withdraw from Him? Clearly not. The context does not leave any room for this explanation. They were meeting regularly to learn more about Him, spend time together and with Him, sharing meals and praying. It's hardly a scene of withdrawing from fear (terror) of Him.
So what then? What were they withdrawing from? Note it never says that a fear of God came over them. Luke just says fear came on every soul. The next thing that happened as a result was that they came together and had everything in common and sold their stuff and shared with anyone who had need. Interesting.
They saw Jesus. They saw how He had nothing and gave everything. Fear came. They withdrew from "normal". They developed new eyes and a new way of seeing things. The purpose of life was not to get but to give. Success was not in acquiring but in sharing. They saw the great differences between them and Jesus. They felt His tremendous love and at the same time felt so inadequate. Their love was nothing like His love. Their developing phobia was not a phobia of Jesus but a phobia of themselves. They looked at Him and then in the mirror and felt an overwhelming need to withdraw from what they had been and draw close to Him.
I know that feeling. I feel it new every morning. He is so amazing and I marvel at the great gulf between us. He is everything I want to become and the most amazing part is that His love is relentless no matter how wide or deep the gulf. What a Saviour.