Word Study- Hope – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The word elpizo is used quite frequently, and plays a key role in the context of 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 since the main idea of learning of the Rapture is to comfort those fellow believers. The way our word hope is used today is much different from the usage in Bible times. Hope today often has no expectation of outcome whereas in the Biblical definition it appears to have an earnest expectation of that hope coming to pass. This is important in 1 Thessalonians, as Paul commands the church “comfort one another with these words,” if we are to comfort one another with these words, it is important we have the proper understanding of the word hope. In chapter 5 Paul mentions the “hope of salvation,” and it seems to be a contrast to those who have “no hope” in 4:13. By understanding how the word hope is used in 4:13 should aid in understanding the comfort of 4:18, also this should aid in understanding the other times hope occurs in the book of 1 Thessalonians.
In classical usage, elpizo means “hope for, look for, expect.” This translation is found in Xenophon’s, Xenophontis opera omnia. Here it is used in the context of hoping for greater things, and earlier in the context is translated as confidence. This word is also used in references to evils defined as “look for, fear.” This usage is found in Sophocles, Trachiniae. Here it is used in the context of fearing the journey her husband will take in which she expects him not to return. elpizo is also used as a present infinitive to mean, “deem, suppose that.” This usage is found in Plato’s, Republic and is translated as, “expects” in reference to ruling over others. Finally, this word can be used with the dative to mean, “hope in.” This usage is found in Thucydides’, The Peloponnesian War, and is translated as “trusting,” speaking of the general trusting/hoping in his fortune. Therefore, the meaning of this word in classical literature ranges from hope for to fear.
The word elpizo has multiple usages in the papyri. The clearest example of papyri usage is in a soldier writing to his father, and he says, “I hope to be quickly promoted, if the gods will.” This usage of hope appears to a desire as opposed to an expectation. There are also five untranslated examples of elpizo. The usage in the papyri appears to be only used of a hope as a desire or wish.
Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) Usage
In the Septuagint, the word elpizo is used to translate multiple different Hebrew words. The main word that it is used to translate is bth which is the Hebrew word to trust; to be confident. This usage is very prominent in the book of Psalms to refer to putting one’s trust in the Lord. In the book of Judges it is also used to mean putting one’s confidence in a military leader. The second most common usage of this word is used to translate the Hebrew word hsh which means to take refuge. This usage is always found in the book of Psalms, and is translated as putting one’s trust in the Lord as a place of refuge. The third most prominent usage of this word is used to translate the Hebrew word yhl which means to wait; to cause to hope. This usage is found in Psalms, and Isaiah. It is often translated as hoping and trusting in the Lord. The three main usages of evlpizw in the Septuagint are translated as hope or trust, and all refer to a hope that is confident because of the person in whom the trust is placed.
New Testament Usage
elpizo occurs in the New Testament thirty-one times. The word is translated as trust; trusted seventeen times in the New Testament. This usage is most prevalent in Pauline writing, however, it is also used in the Gospels, by Peter, and John. Most often it is used in context of trusting in God, emphasizing more the person whom is being trusted rather than the trust itself. Paul, and John also use this word in the context of hoping to see the people who they were writing to in person. It was an expectation that they would see them.
This verb is translated eleven times in the New Testament as hope, hoped, or hoping. This usage is in the context of something being expected. It is used twice of rulers expecting something from the Lord, and Paul. They were not merely hoping for these things, but expecting them to perform that which they hoped for. Peter uses this word to hope or expect the grace that will come when the Lord returns. This is a reality, and not just a desire or wish. In every context this is used it signifies an expectation.
This word is also used one time to mean hopeth, we have hope, and trusteth respectively. It is used in 1 Corinthians 13:7 in reference to love that it “hopeth all things…” It is used in 1 Corinthians 15:9 for the hope we have in Christ. This word is also used in 1 Timothy 5:5 to speak of a widow that “trusteth in God…” These translations also carry the idea of an expectation in God or Christ in the contexts they are used.
When elpizo is used in the New Testament, it is speaking of hope or trust that is more than just wish or desire, but an expectation which is reality. Especially when the word is used in reference to God or Christ it is a reality that will be met. There is no question in the author’s mind that the Lord will provide that which He has promised to provide.
The word elpizo is found throughout Greek writings, and especially in the Old and New Testament Greek writings. This word can range in meaning from a hope to an expectation, and can even be used in reference to fear. In the Classical data there are examples of the word being used in reference to confidence, and not just a mere wish or desire. The word is used to translate words in the Old Testament Septuagint that are not just a desire or wish, but many times as an expectation in the Lord. It is used mainly in the Psalms which are written as the song book of the nation of Israel. This usage points to the Person’s character in whom the trust or confidence has been placed. There is no doubt in God’s faithfulness when the author’s used this word to translate the Hebrew into Greek. Another evidence for the reality of the hope or expectation is the usage in the New Testament often points to God or the Lord, and uses their faithfulness to back the expectation. When the author uses the word in reference to hoping to see the people who they are writing to, they are not merely showing a desire, but I believe expecting in their hearts to see them soon.