Did you know that the Greek word for “hope” wasn’t necessarily a good thing until the advent of Christ?
Did you know that they could “hope” for something bad?
Ok, I will explain what I mean.
The Greek word for “hope” is elpis, and the verb “to hope” is elpizo. In the writings of Plato, these words were used to describe what was expected of the future. What someone visualized about how the future would occur, would be “hoping.” Plato believed that it was part of human nature to have expectations of the future, and if one believed in a good future, it would provide comfort. If the expectation for the future was negative, then no comfort would be derived.
The Stoic and Cynic philosophers also used elpis and elpizo to mean “an expectation of the future.” Their thoughts regarding an expectation of the future which brings comfort was this: don’t care about the future, be strong in the present. Stoics cared little about the feeling/ emotion that we currently call “hope.” The only confidence and comfort someone has is over their ability to control their body. Epictetus even went so far as to say “do not expect from others, but from yourself” i.e. don’t put your confidence in others–rely on yourself!
When the Old Testament was translated into Greek during the 4th-1st centuries BC, the Greek word for “expect” came to mean two things: hope, or fear.
What defined whether it was a hope or a fear?
It was defined as a hope or a fear based upon what was expected. So, the same word elpizo meant “fear” if what was being expected was war or punishment, but “hope” if the expectation was God’s deliverance.
This definition of “an expectation of God’s deliverance” is what what the authors of the New Testament used when they talked about “hope.”
Hope is rooted in truth and reality. Hope, as seen in the New Testament is a reality that God comforts and renews. Hope is an assurance that the expectation of the future is that God will bring forth peace, comfort, righteousness, love, holiness, and bodies which will not be corrupted by sin.
Our English usage of “hope” might occasionally be shallow, but it is always positive in its connotations.
So, whenever you use the word “hope,” remember that our ideas of it being positive are rooted in how that word was used in the New Testament. And the only reason why it was transformed into something so positive is because of Jesus Christ.
When He appeared he brought hope embodied into the world. This is what we celebrate with the incarnation of Jesus. This is what Advent reminds us.
Source material: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume 2, 517-23.