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Greek Word Study - Panic-Stricken

The Scythians were fierce warriors, but they were no match for the Persian army of Darius. They fled as he advanced into Scythia, managing to stay one day’s march ahead of him. But Darius would not give up the chase. This created a real problem for the next country, toward which both armies were headed. When first the Scythians, and then the Persians, raced into their land, what were the local folks to do? The answer: they fled panic-stricken into the desert.

In this ancient history recorded by Herodotus, the Greek word for “panic-stricken” was tarasso (tah RAH so). To be “tarasso-ed” meant to be disturbed, thrown into disorder, confused, upset, agitated or alarmed. It was used of physical things like wind and water; it was used of military and political situations. In people it described a strong turmoil of emotions.

In the New Testament tarasso is used seventeen times, in places such as these: Zechariah is “startled” to meet an angel. King Herod is “disturbed” to hear a king was born. The disciples are “terrified” to see Jesus walking on the sea. The city of Thessalonica is “thrown into turmoil” when Paul preaches the gospel there.

Most famously, tarasso is used in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” But Jesus is not chiding the disciples for being upset. He himself has known the same emotion in each of the three preceding chapters (11:33; 12:27; 13:21). Now Jesus speaks a word of loving encouragement, a word to quiet their feelings of panic. “Don’t worry. Trust God, and trust me, too. In spite of everything, it’s going to be all right.”