Years ago, in another state, we lived near a group of devoted followers of the Lord Jesus, whose first language was not English. When accosted by zealous “soul-savers” who demanded, “Are you saved?”, their usual – and quite Scriptural (Titus 1:2, 2:13, 3:7) – reply was, “I have a good (or “blessed”) hope!” This usually provoked an attack by the questioner: “HOPE??? If you don’t KNOW you are saved, you aren’t!” This was followed by a memorized lecture on the questioner’s carefully canned and footnoted version of the necessary remedy. As a consequence, the two groups, who could have related as brethren with much mutual benefit, seldom interacted at all, largely because of one misunderstood English word. How sad!
We have already considered (Word Study #5) the continually progressive nature of “salvation”, which should, but probably won’t, put to rest such arrogant discourtesy; we need also to look at the lexical meaning of elpis, “hope.”
Classically, it wasn’t complicated at all. Synonyms include “expectation, confidence, or one’s reason to believe in something or to expect an event.” The uncertainty that accompanies much English usage of “hope” – (“I hope it will – or won’t – rain!”) is completely absent from both classical and New Testament usage. Early English translators coped with this semantic anomaly by translating the verb form, elpizo, as “trust” (18 times, as opposed to “hope” only 10 times), but the Greek word does not “mean” different things in different contexts. It uniformly conveys “confident expectation”.
Similarly, simple expectation is apparent in the 16 “more ordinary” uses of elpizo in the New Testament – fully half of the total. “I hope to see you,” “I hope you know,” appear frequently in the epistles; lending with the “hope” of repayment (Lk.6:34-45), a farmer planting in “hope” of a harvest (I Cor.9:10), and Felix “hoping” that Paul would offer him a bribe (Ac.24:26) certainly involve expectation. So on what grounds do folks feel justified in changing the meaning of the word when it refers to less tangible matters?
Peter’s admonition (I Pet.1:13) to “set your hope[confidence] completely on the grace being brought to you all in the revelation of Jesus Christ,” and Paul’s explanation (Rom.8:24-25) of the true import of “hope” in relation to one’s confidence in Jesus’ provision, clearly intend to convey similar assurance. When Paul writes to Timothy (I Tim.4:10) of “hoping in the living God” as the motivation for his life of constant perseverance despite the concomitant privations, he is not describing wishful thinking, but a settled conviction.
When we turn to elpis, the noun form, the reference is almost entirely to one’s Christian commitment and expectation, as opposed to the “ordinary” affairs of life (which involve only 5 of 53 uses of the word), and the certainty of expectation is, if anything, even more vivid. Interestingly, the word elpis does not appear at all in any of the Gospels. Might that be because of the constant, observable presence of the One who is later identified (I Tim.1:1) as “Christ Jesus, (who is) our hope[confidence]”? Paul asks, rhetorically, in Rom.8:24-25, “Who hopes for what he (already) sees?” Perhaps the time when his people needed “hope” the most, was after Jesus’ physical departure? This seems plausible, when one realizes that ten of the references, (Ac.2:26, 23:6, 24:15; Col.1:5, 1:27; I Thes.4:13, 5:8; and Tit.1:2, 2:13, 3:7) specifically mention either the Resurrection (Jesus’ or ours) or his Return; and several others could be interpreted that way. As Peter put it, (I Pet.1:3) “According to his (God’s) great mercy, he has given us another birth, into a living hope [confidence], by means of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead!”
Among the abundant and glorious benefits of Jesus’ resurrection is the way it “spills over” upon all who follow him! It is this truth that enables all the other “hopes” of his people, including (Rom.5:2) “We revel in the hope [confidence] that comes from (source genitive) the glory of God!”, and (Rom.12:12) “Your confidence [hope] is the means (dative) to keep you all rejoicing!” In Gal.5:5, Paul speaks of our “hope of justice, that comes out of faithfulness”; in Eph.1:18 and 4:4, of “the hope [confidence] of his/our calling”; and in Phil.1:20, of his hope [confidence] that he will be found faithful. Also included are “the hope of the gospel” (Col.1:23), “the hope of glory” (Col.1:27), the “patience of hope [the endurance produced by the confident expectation which has its source in the Lord Jesus Christ]” (I Thes.1:3), “the blessed hope” of Jesus’ return (Tit.2:13), and (Tit.3:7) “the hope [expectation] of eternal life”! These are just a sampling. Grab a concordance and check them all! It cannot help but increase your enjoyment – “hope” – of the goodness of God!
The five uses of elpis in the letter to the Hebrews deserve particular attention, partly because (please see the introductory material in Translation Notes) it was probably written to a second generation congregation, who therefore lacked the privilege of personal memories of the initial arrival of either Jesus himself or “ambassadors” of his Kingdom. They may have been somewhat worn down by years of persecution; hence the early admonition (3:6) to “hang on to our determination and [hope] confident expectation firmly until the end.” Again in 6:11, the instruction is to “demonstrate the same eagerness for complete confidence [full assurance] of hope [expectation] until the end; and 6:18, a reminder to “come running to take hold of the hope that he (Jesus) offered.” In 7:18-19, after a rehearsal of the inadequacy and failure of the old system and its hierarchy, it is summarized, “The previous commandment is set aside, because of its weakness and uselessness – for the law didn’t make anything [or, anyone] complete – but a better hope is introduced, through which/whom we come near to God!” The only place where elpis is not traditionally translated “hope” is Heb.10:23, where someone substituted “faith” – an entirely different word. This is probably one factor which contributed to the erroneous assumption that “faith” was a doctrine to be “professed”, rather that a faithful way of life (see Word Study #1). In the PNT, I offer the alternative, “Let’s hang on to our commitment to our hope without hesitation” – which I consider a more accurate representation of the text – and in harmony with Heb.11:1 – much quoted but little understood or heeded: “Faithfulness is the basis [foundation] of our hope [expectation], the proof [legal evidence] of what is unseen.”
The object of one’s hope is made obvious by his faithfulness – and is intended, among other things, to serve as an incentive (I Jn.3:3) to purity of life, (II Thes.2:16)eternal encouragement, (Gal.5:5) justice, and (Rom.12:12) indescribable joy! Such a life will provoke curiosity, which is why Peter (I Pet.3:15) urges his readers to be ready to answer questions about that hope. This admonition is not a “hunting license” but a mandate to be approachable! (See W.S. #18)
“May the God of hope [or, God, the source of hope] fill you with all joy and peace, in faithfulness, so that you may overflow with hope [confidence] in [by] the power of the Holy Spirit!” (Rom.15:13)