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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

ENTHUSIASM. Enthusiasm means etymologically a Divinely inspired interest or zeal (Gr. ἐνθουσάζω, to be inspired by a god, from ἐν ‘in,’ and θεός ‘god’); and therefore affords an appropriate modern rendering for the phrase πνεῦμα ἅγιον, ‘Holy Spirit,’ in the NT ( Luke 1:5;  Luke 1:35;  Luke 1:41;  Luke 1:67;  Luke 4:1,  Acts 2:4;  Acts 4:8;  Acts 4:31;  Acts 6:3;  Acts 6:5;  Acts 7:55;  Acts 9:17;  Acts 11:24;  Acts 13:9; see Bartlet’s Acts , p. 386). The author of Ecce Homo has called attention to the enthusiasm Jesus required of, and inspired in, His disciples (pp. 141, 152, 154, fifth edition). His own life was marked by enthusiasm, intense and exalted emotions in regard to His vocation. As a youth He was enthusiastic for His Father’s house ( Luke 2:49); at the Baptism He devoted Himself to His calling ( Matthew 3:15), and was conscious of receiving the Spirit ( Matthew 3:16), the spirit of zeal and power. His first enthusiasm to use the new energy afforded the occasion for the temptation in the wilderness ( Mark 1:12 ‘straightway the Spirit driveth him forth’). In His call to His disciples, His teaching and healing, His journeyings from place to place in the early Galilaean ministry ( Mark 1:17;  Mark 1:27;  Mark 1:38;  Mark 1:41), this mood of enthusiasm is dominant ( Luke 4:1). The same impression is conveyed in St. John’s record: His answer to His mother in Cana, the casting out of the traders from the temple, the challenge to the priests, the confession of His Messiahship to the woman of Samaria, the forgetfulness of the needs of the body in His absorption in His work ( John 2:4;  John 2:17;  John 2:19;  John 4:26;  John 4:32;  John 4:34), have all the same characteristic of an intense, exalted emotion. His mood was mistaken for madness by His relatives ( Mark 3:21), and His answer regarding His spiritual relationships would not remove their doubt ( Mark 3:34-35). His demands on His disciples to abandon all, and to cleave to Him ( Luke 9:60;  Luke 9:62;  Luke 14:26), and the Beatitudes He pronounced on the spiritually aspiring, and on the persecuted ( Matthew 5:6;  Matthew 5:12), spring from the same inward source. He was deeply moved by any evidence of faith which He met with ( Matthew 8:10;  Matthew 15:28,  Luke 10:21,  Matthew 16:17,  John 12:23,  Luke 23:43). He even intensely desired to fulfil His vocation in His death ( Luke 12:50). The Baptist contrasted his own baptism with water and the Messiah’s baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire ( Matthew 3:11). His words have been thus interpreted: ‘He baptizes with water, in the running stream of Jordan, to emblem the only way of escape, amendment. Messiah will baptize with wind and fire, sweeping away and consuming the impenitent, leaving behind only the righteous’ (Bruce, ‘St. Matthew’ in Expositor’s Gr. Test . p. 84). When Jesus presented the same contrast in His demand to Nicodemus ( John 3:5), it is not probable that He referred to judgment, but to the inspiration which He brought to men in His ministry, the enthusiasm for God and His kingdom which He imparted. We have abundant evidence that He so inspired men in Galilee by His healing, teaching, forgiveness of sins, companionship ( Mark 1:27;  Mark 1:37;  Mark 2:12;  Mark 2:19), and attracted many ( Mark 3:7;  Mark 6:53-56). The people believed Him to be John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets ( Mark 6:14,  Matthew 16:14). That this mood was temporary Jesus recognized in the parable of the Sower ( Mark 4:5-6). The flame blazed up again for a moment among the Galilaean pilgrims at the triumphal entry ( Mark 11:8;  Mark 11:10). The early ministry in Judaea and in Samaria, as recorded by John, made the same impression ( John 2:23;  John 3:26;  John 4:39-42). After His Resurrection and Ascension the Christian Church received at Pentecost the permanent and communicable gift of holy enthusiasm (πνεῦμα ἅγιον, as explained above).* [Note: In this view of the meaning of Christian enthusiasm, as a power which finds its true source in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we get an interesting glimpse into both the history of language and the philosophy of that history, from the disrepute which attached to the word ‘enthusiasm’ during the age of Rationalism and Deism. Those were days when leaders in the Church set themselves to ‘put down enthusiasm,’ and Christian apologists were anxious to prove that neither Jesus Christ nor His Apostles were ‘enthusiasts.’ Hartley defines enthusiasm as ‘a mistaken persuasion in any person that he is a peculiar favourite with God; and that he receives supernatural marks thereof’ (Observations on Man, i. 490), a definition which entirely corresponds to the contemporary ideas on the subject (see J. E. Carpenter, James Martineau, p. 92). In the 18th cent. enthusiasm was a synonym for fanaticism; an enthusiast was simply a fanatic. And the constant application of the terms to the Evangelical Revival and its leaders shows that this debasing of their value was due to the spiritual deadness of the critics rather than to the extravagances of the enthusiasts. Similarly, the Jewish leaders said of Jesus, ‘He hath a devil, and is mad’ ( John 10:20); Festus said to Paul, ‘Thou art beside thyself’ ( Acts 26:24); and some of the people of Jerusalem, when they witnessed the charismatic gifts bestowed upon Christ’s followers on the Day of Pentecost, exclaimed, ‘These men are full of new wine’ ( Acts 2:13).]

It is a difficult problem whether in His early ministry Jesus was not led by His enthusiasm to show less reserve in the expression of His claims and less restraint in the exercise of His powers than was His practice afterwards, when He had learned from experience the peril this course involved of a premature close of His ministry. The solution of the problem depends on the answer given to the wider question, whether such a change of method, due to the teaching of experience, would be compatible with His unerring moral insight and sinless moral character, and the Divine guidance He constantly sought and found in the fulfilment of His vocation. If not, we cannot assume any such change. The question is discussed in The Expositor , 6th series, vol. vi. ‘The Early Self-Disclosure.’

Literature.—Arthur, Tongue of Fire  ; J. C. Shairp, Studies , 362 ff.

Alfred E. Garvie.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [2]

To obtain just definitions of words which are promiscuously used , it must be confessed, is no small difficulty. This word, it seems, is used both in a good and a bad sense. In its best sense it signifies a divine afflatus or inspiration. It is also taken for that noble ardour of mind which leads us to imagine any thing sublime, grand, or surprising. In its worst sense it signifies any impression on the fancy, or agitation of the passions, of which a man can give no rational account. It is generally applied to religious characters, and is said to be derived from the wild gestures and speeches of ancient religionists, pretending to more than ordinary and more than true communications with the gods, and particularly in the act or at the time of sacrificing. In this sense, then, it signifies that impulse of the mind which leads a man to suppose he has some remarkable intercourse with the Deity, while at the same time it is nothing more than the effects of a heated imagination, or a sanguine constitution. That the Divine Being permits his people to enjoy fellowship with him, and that he can work upon the minds of his creatures when and how he pleases, cannot be denied.

But, then, what is the criterion by which we are to judge, in order to distinguish it from enthusiasm? It is necessary there should be some rule, for without it the greatest extra-vagancies would be committed, the most notorious impostors countenanced, and the most enormous evils ensue. Now this criterion is the word of God; from which we learn, that we are to expect no new revelations, no extraordinary gifts, as in the apostles' time; that whatever opinions, feelings, views, or impressions we may have, if they do not tend to humble us, if they do not influence our temper, regulate our lives, and make us just, pious, honest, and uniform, they cannot come from God, but are evidently the effusions of an enthusiastic brain. On the other hand, if the mind be enlightened, if the will which was perverse be renovated, detached from evil, and inclined to good; if the powers be roused to exertion for the promotion of the divine glory, and the good of men; if the natural corruptions of the heart be suppressed; if peace and joy arise from a view of the goodness of God, attended with a spiritual frame of mind, a heart devoted to God, and a holy, useful life: however this may be branded with the name of enthusiasm, it certainly is from God, because bare human efforts, unassisted by him, could never produce such effects as these. Theol. Misc. vol. 2: p. 43.; Locke on Underst. vol. 2: ch. 19.; Spect. No. 201. vol. 3:; Wesley's Ser. on Enthusiasm; Mrs. H. More's Hints towards forming the Character of a young Princess, vol. 2: p. 246.

Webster's Dictionary [3]

(1): ( n.) A state of impassioned emotion; transport; elevation of fancy; exaltation of soul; as, the poetry of enthusiasm.

(2): ( n.) Lively manifestation of joy or zeal.

(3): ( n.) Inspiration as if by a divine or superhuman power; ecstasy; hence, a conceit of divine possession and revelation, or of being directly subject to some divine impulse.

(4): ( n.) Enkindled and kindling fervor of soul; strong excitement of feeling on behalf of a cause or a subject; ardent and imaginative zeal or interest; as, he engaged in his profession with enthusiasm.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [4]

( Ἐνθουσιασμός from Ἔνθεος , Inspired; God-Possessed; Rapt) is used both in a good and a bad sense.

1. In the first, which springs from its derivation, it signifies divine inspiration in general; or, secondarily, any extraordinary mental or moral exaltation. "The raptures of the poet, the deep meditations of the philosopher, the heroism of the warrior, the devotedness of the martyr, and the ardor of the patriot, are so many different phases of Enthusiasm. " In this sense it "is almost a synonyme of genius; the moral life in the intellectual light, the will in the reason; and without it, says Seneca, nothing truly great was ever achieved" (Coleridge). "There is a temper of mind called enthusiasm, which, though rejecting the authority neither of reason nor of virtue, triumphs over all the vulgar infirmities of men, contemns their ordinary pursuits, braves danger, and despises obloquy, which is the parent of heroic acts and devoted sacrifices, and which devotes ease, pleasure, interest, ambition, and life to the service of one's fellow-men" (Mackintosh, Miscellaneous Works, London 1851, page 731).

2. The bad sense of the word was formerly in much more common use than now. According to it, an enthusiast is one who substitutes his own fancies for reason and truth, especially in matters of religion. "Every enthusiast is properly a madman; yet his is not an ordinary, but a religious madness. The enthusiast is generally talking of religion, of God, or of the things of God, but talking in such a manner that any reasonable Christian may discern the disorder of his mind. Such enthusiasm may be described, in general, as a religious madness arising from some falsely imagined influence or inspiration of God; at least, from imputing something to God which ought not to be imputed to him, or expecting something from God which ought not to be expected from him" (Wesley, Sermon On Enthusiasm, Works, 2:331 sq.). Warburton similarly defines enthusiasm as "that temper of mind in which the imagination has got the better of the judgment" (Div. Leg. book 5, Appendix). James Blair (Sermons, 1740, 4:274) makes religious enthusiasm to consist especially in "' setting up the private spirit to assert anything contrary to Scripture." So Waterland (Works, Oxford, 1843, 4:422) says that "enthusiasm, in the bad sense, is a subtle device of Satan upon ill-meaning or unmeaning instruments, making use of their ambition, self-admiration, or other weakness, to draw them by some plausible suggestions into a vain conceit that they have something within them either of equal authority with Scripture, or superior to it." On the stupid misapplication of the term enthusiasm by worldly men to designate true Christian life, see Wesley's sermon above, and also Taylor, Natural Hist. of Enthusiasm (N.Y. 1834, 4th ed. 12mo).