παρρησίᾳ (parrēsia) – 1. Freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech; openly, frankly, i.e. without concealment; without ambiguity or circumlocution; without the use of figures and comparisons. 2. Free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance. 3. The deportment by which one becomes conspicuous or secures publicity.
A French philosopher, Michel Foucault (1926-1984), who was influenced, by all people, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (best known for his “God is dead” philosophy), wrote extensively about this important Greek word.
“Foucault’s most complete conceptual analysis of parrēsia appears in his last lecture series, published as The Courage of Truth, when, in the first lecture, he summarizes the previous years’ lectures on parrēsia. To paraphrase Foucault: parrēsia occurs when a speaker, at risk to himself or herself, speaks an unwelcome truth or gives unwelcome advice to a powerful person or group (9–11). After defining parrēsia thus, Foucault offers this detailed analysis:
‘In short parrhēsia, the act of truth, requires: first, the manifestation of a fundamental bond between the truth spoken and the thought of the person who spoke it; [second], a challenge to the bond between the two interlocutors (the person who speaks the truth and the person to whom this truth is addressed). Hence this new feature of parrhēsia: it involves some form of courage, the minimal form of which consists in the parrhesiast taking the risk of breaking and ending the relationship to the other person which was precisely what made his discourse possible. In a way, the parrhesiast always risks undermining that relationship which is the condition of possibility for his discourse (Courage of Truth 11; translator’s interpolation).’”
Puritan theologian John Gill, in his commentary on Acts 4:29, defined παρρησίᾳ (parrēsia) this way:
“. . . that with all boldness they may speak thy word; and not their own, or another’s; the Gospel, which is God’s speech, or a word, a message of grace and mercy from him to sinful creatures. The request of the whole church is, that the ministers of the word might not be intimidated by the menaces of the sanhedrim; but go on to declare it with all freedom of expression, with all boldness, courage, and intrepidity of mind, and all openness and faithfulness, and in the most public manner. And such a petition shows, that as it is gift of God to speak his word, or preach his Gospel, so it also is, to speak it freely, boldly, and faithfully, as it should be spoken.”
Occurrences in Scripture (ESV)
This is not an exhaustive list. The English translation of the Greek word παρρησίᾳ (parrēsia) is indicated in red. Following each verse/passage of Scripture are my brief notes (italicized).
“And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man’” (Mark 8:31-33).
What comes to mind when you hear someone say, “That man is ‘plain-spoken?'”
“After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him. Now the Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ For not even his brothers believed in him” (John 7:1-5).
Boldness carries with it the idea of being open, up front, and in plain sight. A bold person is never in hiding.
“And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, ‘He is a good man,’ others said, ‘No, he is leading the people astray.’ Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him” (John 7:12-13).
Fear is the opposite of boldness. God has not given the Christian a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-control (see 2 Timothy 1:7).
“Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, ‘Is not this the man whom they seek to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Christ’” (John 7:25-26)?
Boldness is a behavior that testifies to the character trait of courage. Boldness is not simply seen in the mirror; it is seen by others.
‘Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews, but went from there to the region near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and there he stayed with the disciples’ (John 11:54).
Those who are bold often maintain higher profiles–not as attention-seekers, but as those who, even in humility, are a presence or a force with which to be reckoned.
“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end” (2 Corinthians 3:12-13).
See 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6 for more context.
“3:12-18 It is the duty of the ministers of the gospel to use great plainness, or clearness, of speech. The Old Testament believers had only cloudy and passing glimpses of that glorious Saviour, and unbelievers looked no further than to the outward institution. But the great precepts of the gospel, believe, love, obey, are truths stated as clearly as possible. And the whole doctrine of Christ crucified, is made as plain as human language can make it. Those who lived under the law, had a veil upon their hearts. This veil is taken away by the doctrines of the Bible about Christ. When any person is converted to God, then the veil of ignorance is taken away. The condition of those who enjoy and believe the gospel is happy, for the heart is set at liberty to run the ways of God’s commandments. They have light, and with open face they behold the glory of the Lord. Christians should prize and improve these privileges. We should not rest contented without knowing the transforming power of the gospel, by the working of the Spirit, bringing us to seek to be like the temper and tendency of the glorious gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and into union with Him. We behold Christ, as in the glass of his word; and as the reflection from a mirror causes the face to shine, the faces of Christians shine also.”
“Make room in your hearts for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy” (2 Corinthians 7:2-4).
With biblical boldness comes humility, other-mindedness, contentment, and joy.
“Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory” (Ephesians 3:7-13).
The Christian’s boldness not only comes from Christ, but his boldness is also in Christ. The same boldness that gives us the confidence to approach Christ is ours also to approach people on behalf of Christ.
‘In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:16-20).
All Christian boldness not only includes, but requires and demands the opening of the mouth.
“What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
“Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:18-21).
If you are not a bold witness for Christ, could it be that you are ashamed of Christ? And if this is the case, where does your assurance of salvation lie? Might you need to examine yourself, and test yourself, to see if you are even in the faith?
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:13-15).
At the cross, Christ boldly and publicly shamed his enemies–all of them. The triumphant boldness of Christ on the cross shames not only His enemies, but also should shame the Christian who fears man to the point of causing him to refuse to open his mouth to testify for and about the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).
How can any Christian claim to have confidence to approach the very throne of the King, while living comfortably and cowardly with a lack of confidence to call others to repent and believe the gospel?
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (1 John 5:13-15).
Because of Christ’s propitiation and our redemption as a result, we can boldly petition our God, with the confidence of knowing He will answer.
“‘And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:12-13).
Christian boldness is an astonishing thing to behold, even to the unbeliever.
“‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29-31).
Boldness was part of the first Christians’ new nature, and it is part the nature of those of us who are Christians today. The first Christians prayed for more of the same–for more of the same boldness they already had. The worse the persecution, the greater the opposition, and the more costly their faith, the more boldness the first Christians wanted.
Christian: your faith in Christ was never intended to be a private matter. The purpose of a lamp is always to shed light. Unless a lamp is lit, it is a useless ornament and nothing more than a decorative piece of furniture.
God has given every Christian boldness–some more than others–but every Christian has boldness as part of their new nature. The question is will you light the room by boldly opening your mouth to proclaim the gospel? Or will you settle for being an ornament, a decorative piece, serving little to no purpose.
And here is the audio of the study.