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Ἐλπίς is a theologically important word in the New Testament. It is glossed hope, but I have often heard it emphasized that this does not mean hope in the sense of a positive wish or feeling which is the opposite of despair; and this seems to be reinforced by passages such as Colossians 1:5, where Paul uses the word as a metonym for that which is hope for. However almost every translation I looked at stuck with the word hope in this verse (I did not go so far as to try a comprehensive study, but in my experience this holds true almost everywhere). Why is this? Is this purely a matter of tradition, or is there something in the word hope that would be lost by using a word like expectation? Other suggestions for how ἐλπίς might be rendered? Am I wrong in thinking that hope in modern English has more positive connotation than substantive content?

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Is the issue with Greek, or English? :) –  GalacticCowboy Dec 15 '11 at 12:14
    
@GalacticCowboy Both, really, but more with Greek. –  Kazark Dec 15 '11 at 16:19

2 Answers 2

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Below are a few entries from different Lexicons (copied from Bibleworks 8)

Friberg Lexicon

9159 ἐλπίς, ίδος, ἡ hope; (1) as an expected and awaited good hope, expectation, prospect (AC 27.20); (2) as hopeful confidence in a trustworthy person hope (1TH 2.19); (3) as expectation of a divinely provided future (the) hope (CO 1.27); (4) as a Christian attitude of patient waiting, along with πίστις and ἀγάπη hope (1C 13.13); (5) in combination with prepositions: ἐπ ἐλπίδι in (the) expectation of something (RO 5.2); παῤ ἐλπίδα contrary to (all) expectation (RO 4.18)

Louw-Nida Lexicon

25.59 ἐλπίζω ; ἐλπίς, ίδος f: to look forward with confidence to that which is good and beneficial - 'to hope, to hope for, hope.' ἐλπίζω: ἡμεῖς δὲ ἠλπίζομεν ὅτι αὐτός ἐστιν ὁ μέλλων λυτροῦσθαι τὸν Ἰσραήλ 'and we had hoped that he would be the one who was going to redeem Israel' Lk 24.21; ὅτι ἠλπίκαμεν ἐπὶ θεῷ ζῶντι 'because we have placed our hope in the living God' 1 Tm 4.10. ἐλπίς: περὶ ἐλπίδος καὶ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν ἐγὼ κρίνομαι 'I am on trial (here) because I hope that the dead will rise to life' Ac 23.6; ἵνα διὰ τῆς ὑπομονῆς καὶ διὰ τῆς παρακλήσεως τῶν γραφῶν τὴν ἐλπίδα ἔχωμεν 'in order that through patience and encouragement given by the Scriptures we might have hope' Ro 15.4.

LSJ Lexicon (Abridged)

14036 ἐλπίς, ίδος, ἡ, (ἔλπω) hope, expectation, Od.;in pl., πολλῶν ῥαγεισῶν ἐλπίδων after the wreck of many hopes, Aesch.;-with gen. both of subject and object, Πελοποννησίων τὴν ἐλπίδα τοῦ ναυτικοῦ the hope of the P. in their navy, Thuc.

2. the object of hope, a hope, Ὀρέστης, ἐλπὶς δόμων Aesch.

II. apprehension, fear, Id.

14035 ἐλπίζω, f. Att. ι²ῶ: aor. i ἤλπισα: pf. ἤλπικα:-Pass., aor. i ἠλπίσθην: (ἔλπω):-to hope for, look for, expect, τι Aesch., etc.: c. inf. fut. or aor. to hope or expect that, Hdt., Att.

2. of evils, to look for, fear, Soph., etc.

3. with inf. pres. it means little more than to think, deem, suppose, believe that, Hdt., Att.

4. c. dat. to hope in. . , τῇ τύχῃ Thuc.; εἴς τινα, ἐπί τινα N.T.

Thayer’s Greek

1780 ἐλπίς ἐλπίς (sometimes written ἐλπίς; so WH in Rom. 8:20; Tdf. in Acts 2:26; see (in 2 below, and) the references under the word ἀφειδον), ἐλπίδος, ἡ (ἔλπω to make to hope), the Septuagint for בֶּטַח and מִבְטַח, trust; מַחְסֶה that in which one confides or to which he flees for refuge; תִּקְוָה expectation, hope; in the classics a vox media, i. e. expectation whether of good or of ill;

1. rarely in a bad sense, expectation of evil, fear; as, ἡ τῶν κακῶν ἐλπίς, Lucian, Tyrannic. c. 3; τοῦ φοβοῦ ἐλπίς, Thucydides 7, 61; κακῇ ἐλπίς, Plato, rep. 1, p. 330 e. (cf. legg. 1, p. 644 c. at the end); πονηρά ἐλπίς Isa. 28:19, the Septuagint

2. much more frequent in the classics, and always in the N. T., in a good sense: expectation of good, hope; and in the Christian sense, joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation: Acts 23:6; 26:7; Rom. 5:4f; 12:12; 15:13; 1 Cor. 13:13; 1 Pet. 1:3; 3:15; ἀγαθή ἐλπίς (often in secular authors, as Plato, Phaedo 67 c.; plural ἐλπίδες ἀγαθαί, legg. 1, p. 649 b.; Xenophon, Ages. 1, 27), 2 Thess. 2:16; ἐλπίς βλεπομένη, hope whose object is seen, Rom. 8:24; ὁ Θεός τῆς ἐλπίδος, God, the author of hope, Rom. 15:13; ἡ πληροθορια τῆς ἐλπίδος, fullness, i. e. certainty and strength of hope, Heb. 6:11; ἡ ὁμολογία τῆς ἐλπίδος, the confession of those things which we hope for, Heb. 10:23; τό καύχημα τῆς ἐλπίδος hope wherein we glory, Heb. 3:6; ἐπεισαγωγή κρείττονος ἐλπίδος, the bringing in of a better hope, Heb. 7:19; ἐλπίς with the genitive of the subjunctive, Acts 28:20; 2 Cor. 1:7 (6); Phil. 1:20; with the genitive of the object, Acts 27:20; Rom. 5:2; 1 Cor. 9:10; 1 Thess. 5:8; Titus 3:7; with the genitive of the thing on which the hope depends, ἡ ἐλπίς τῆς ἐργασίας αὐτῶν, Acts 16:19; τῆς κλήσεως, Eph. 1:18; 4:4; τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, Col. 1:23; with the genitive of the person in whom hope is reposed, 1 Thess. 1:3 (cf. Buttmann, 155 (136)). ἐπ᾽ (or ἐφ᾽ -- so Acts 2:26 L T; Rom. 4:18 L; 8:20 (21) T WH; cf. Scrivener, Introduction, etc., p. 565; (but see above, at the beginning)) ἐλπίδι, relying on hope, having hope, in hope (Euripides, Herc. fur. 804; Diodorus Siculus 13, 21; ἐπ᾽ ἐλπίδι ἀγαθή, Xenophon, mem. 2, 1, 187 (Winer's Grammar, 394 (368), cf. 425 (396); Buttmann, 337 (290)): Acts 2:26 (of a return to life); Rom. 4:18; with the genitive of the thing hoped for added: ζωῆς αἰωνίου, Titus 1:2; τοῦ μετέχειν, 1 Cor. 9:10 (G L T Tr WH); in hope, followed by ὅτι, Rom. 8:20 (21) (but Tdf. reads διότι); on account of the hope, for the hope (Buttmann, 165 (144)), with the genitive of the thing on which the hope rests, Acts 26:6. παρ᾽ ἐλπίδα, beyond, against, hope (Winer's Grammar, 404 (377)): Rom. 4:18 (i. e. where the laws of nature left no room for hope). ἔχειν ἐλπίδα (often in Greek writings): Rom. 15:4; 2 Cor. 3:12; with an infinitive belonging to the person hoping, 2 Cor. 10:15; ἐλπίδα ἔχειν εἰς (Tdf. πρός) Θεόν, followed by an accusative with an infinitive Acts 24:15 (εἰς Χριστόν ἔχειν, τάς ἐλπίδας, Acta Thomae sec. 28; (τήν ἐλπίδα εἰς τόν Ἰησοῦν ἐν τῷ πνεύματι ἔχοντες, the Epistle of Barnabas 11, 11)); ἐπί with the dative of person 1 John 3:3; ἐλπίδα μή ἔχοντες (of the heathen) having no hope (of salvation), Eph. 2:12; 1 Thess. 4:13; ἤ ἐλπίς ἐστιν εἰς Θεόν, directed unto God, 1 Pet. 1:21. By metonymy, it denotes a. the author of hope, or he who is its foundation, (often so in Greek authors, as Aeschylus choëph. 776; Thucydides 3, 57; (cf. Ignatius ad Eph. 21, 2; ; ad Magn. 11 at the end; ad Philad. 11, 2; ad Trall. inscr. and 2, 2, etc.)): 1 Tim. 1:1; 1 Thess. 2:19; with the genitive of object added, τῆς δόξης, Col. 1:27. b. the thing hoped for: προσδέχεσθαι τήν μακαρίαν ἐλπίδα, Titus 2:13; ἐλπίδα δικαιοσύνης ἀπεκδέχεσθαι, the thing hoped for, which is righteousness (cf. Meyer edition Sieffert at the passage), Gal. 5:5 (προσδοκῶν τάς ὑπό Θεοῦ ἐλπίδας, 2 Macc. 7:14); διά ἐλπίδα τήν ἀποκειμένην ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς, Col. 1:5; κρατῆσαι τῆς προκειμένης ἐλπίδος, Heb. 6:18 (cf. Bleek at the passage). -- Zöckler, De vi ac notlone vocis ἐλπίς in N. T. Gissae 1856.*

VGNT Dictonary

1352 ἐλπίς
BGU II. 486:6 (ii/A.D.) ὅτε καὶ οἱ νέοι καρ@ποὶ τὰς βελτίσ]τας παρέχουσιν ἡμεῖν ἐλπίδας. P Oxy VII. 1070:10 (iii/A.D.) a pompous letter from a man to his wife in which he beseeches Serapis τῶν χρηστῶν ἐλπίδων τῶν ἐν ἀνθρώποισι νεσνομισμένων (l. νενομð), “for the good hopes that are held by mankind.” Syll 52985 (i/B.C.) καὶ ἐφοδεύοντες διεφύλαξαν τ@ὴν πόλιν ἕω]ς τοῦ ἀποκατασταθῆνα@ι] τὸν δῆμον εἰς βελτίονας ἐλ@π]ίδας. For a disk with the inscr. ἔχω ἐλπίδας καλάς, see JHS xxxiii, p. 84 ff., BCH xxxviii. (1914), p. 94 ff. Christian uses of the word are P Oxy VI. 939:9 (iv/A.D.) (= Selections, p. 128) an affectionate letter regarding a sick mistress—ἐν γὰρ αὐτῇ πάντες τὰς ἐλπίδας @ἔχομεν, and ib. VII. 1059:1 (v/A.D.) a prayer commencing Κu,(ριε) θ(ε)έ μου καὶ ὑ ἐρπίς (l. ἡ ἐλπίς) μου. The word is a proper name in BGU II. 632:20 (ii/A.D.) (= LAE, p. 174) Ἐλπὶς καὶ Φορτου@νᾶτα (cf. 1 Cor 16:17), and in Syll 865:10 of a slave, see also Cagnat IV. 889:15, 1069:2, 1071:2: cf. Ac 23:6 περὶ ἐλπίδος καὶ ἀναστάσεως νεκρῶν κρίνομαι, where Lake (Earlier Epp. of St. Paul, p. 16) translates “for ‘Hope’ and a resurrection of the dead am I being judged.” For the aspirated form ἐφ᾽ ἑλπίδι which WH read in Rom 8:20 cf. Proleg. p. 44, and see s.v. ἀπελπίζω. In Lat. inscrr. we find Helpis, Helpidius. MGr ἐλπίδα, ἐρπίδα, ὀρπί(δ)α.

Gringrich Lexicon

2140 ἐλπίς, ίδος, ἡ hope, expectation, prospect Ac 16:19; 23:6; Ro 4:18; 8:20, 24; 1 Cor 9:10; 2 Cor 1:7. Christian hope Ac 26:6; Ro 5:4f; 1 Cor 13:13; Eph 2:12; 1 Th 1:3; 1 Pt 1:3; (object of) hope 1 Th 2:19; 1 Ti 1:1; hope, something hoped for Ro 8:24; Col 1:5; Tit 2:13; Hb 6:18.

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Quoted so many lexicons! I didn't even know that all of those existed. That's helpful in itself. –  Kazark Feb 6 '12 at 13:35

Merriam-Webster notes an archaic definition of "trust" - "to expect with confidence". Even the modern definition carries something more weighty than its frequently wishy-washy usage would suggest - "to desire with expectation of fulfillment."

This suggests some nuances that are not always considered:

  • Hope must be placed upon something reasonable. There is a vast difference between "I hope we have clear blue skies for our camping trip today" vs. "I hope we have clear yellow skies with pink polka-dots for our camping trip today."
  • Hope is placed upon a desired outcome. One would probably not utter the phrase, "I hope to wreck my car on the way to work today."
  • Specifically in Colossians 1:5, Paul has in view something that was expected or anticipated, even without any concrete evidence at that time of its fulfillment. His hope was in the character of God to fulfill His promises. In fact, the following word, αποκειμενην, carries this weight too - something "reserved", "set aside" or "laid up" on their behalf.
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