New Testament Key Words: Hope

Expectation vs. Desire

The word from the New Testament most commonly translated as “hope” in English is the Greek word elpis. In that original language the word carried with it more an idea of expectation rather than desire (for which there is a different word). Understanding this difference is key to understanding the original intention of the New Testament writers. In modern usage, “hope” has become a somewhat flippant term used for wish lists or for dreams which seldom are connected with expected reality.

A “Sure Thing”?

However, such an understanding would create much doubt when connected with New Testament ideas such as the Hebrew writer declaring that “this hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil” (6:19, NASU). If we were at employ the modern usage of “hope”, this Scripture would make little sense. How could a “dream” be considered “sure and steadfast”?

Two Different Approaches

To illustrate this difference, we could consider two different approaches to future planning and retirement. The approach similar to the “modern” understanding of hope would be an individual who does not plan at all but “hopes” that things will “work out”. Perhaps they will inherit money from some unknown source or win the lottery. The approach similar to the New Testament understanding of hope would be an individual who plans carefully and knows that something is set aside and ready for him to enjoy in retirement. It is based more than upon feeling or desire, but instead upon fact and reality.

This illustration is of course imperfect, for one never has total control over the future. However, it is adequate enough to show the difference between the two ideas. When connected with one’s spiritual future, the term takes on an all-important meaning. Does one have a “dream” of a future in heaven, or does one know of a future of heaven based upon reality? The difference is one’s understanding of hope.

A Damaging Misunderstanding

The great tragedy is that many in the world approach eternity with the “modern” understanding of hope, just trusting that things will “work out”. God has told man that this is not the case, for those who do not have the reality of hope found in Christ, they have “no hope” and are “without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12).

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