I'm a super-newbie to translating NT Greek, so please be gentle.

I'm curious about how to translate "προηλπικότας", found in Ephesians 1:12.

A couple of translations:

  • ESV: "were the first to hope"
  • KJV: "first trusted"
  • INT: "have fore-trusted"

Lexical definitions I found:

  • Thayer's: "to repose hope in a person or thing before the event confirms it"
  • Strong's: "to hope in advance of other confirmation -- first trust"
  • Mounce: "to have hope and confidence in a person or thing beforehand"

According to the lexical definitions, the INT seems to be the closest to me (even if the language is a bit stilted and awkward). None of the definitions seem to give the sense of being the "first in line", so to speak, but that's how both the ESV and KJV render it (as do many other translations).

The International Standard Version has a very compelling translation (maybe):

so that we who had already fixed our hope on the Messiah might live for his praise and glory.

For some reason, though, I had the sense that this word might be translated where the "first" (the "προ" in the word) might have a sense of primacy rather than a sense of temporality. That is, that it might be something along these lines:

so that we who have placed our trust in Christ above all else might be to the praise of His glory.

However, I cannot find a single translation that even comes anywhere near that understanding. Is there a reason that everyone seems to consistently view this temporally?


This seems to be one where the translations, lexicons, and commentaries are in broad agreement: it's meant temporally.

The syntax of the verse

εἰς τὸ εἶναι ἡμᾶς εἰς ἔπαινον δόξης αὐτοῦ τοὺς προηλπικότας ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ.

so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (ESV)

In this rendering, τοὺς προηλπικότας is understood to be in apposition to ἡμᾶς;1 an alternative is to make it predicative:2

That we, to the praise of his glory, should be those who have before had hopes in Christ.

Either way, τοὺς προηλπικότας is a substantive participle meant to provide further information about ἡμᾶς (we).

The meaning of προηλπικότας

The word is a hapax legomenon within the New Testament, derived from a prepositional prefix προ- (before) and ελπίζω (to hope). Although prepositional prefixes tacked onto Greek verbs are notorious for creating an unpredictable semantic relationship with the root, προ- usually has a temporal connotation.3 From BDAG, προελπίζω:

to be prior in hoping, hope before, be the first to hope

The lexicon comments on Eph 1:12 (abbreviation expanded, link added):

in such case προελπίζω is to be understood syntagmatically: hope is prior to realization

The lexicon also helpfully mentions Romans 11:35 as an example where it is contextually obvious that there is a temporal contrast drawn by the verb prefixed wtih προ- and a later verb:

ἢ τίς προέδωκεν αὐτῷ, καὶ ἀνταποδοθήσεται αὐτῷ;

Or who has given [προέδωκεν] a gift to him that he might be repaid?

The giving must be prior to the repayment.5

In Eph 1:12, there is also a fairly clear indication of the temporal relationship provided in the following verse.

Εν ᾧ καὶ ὑμεῖς....ἐσφραγίσθητε τῷ πνεύματι
In whom you also....were sealed with the spirit

Here, the distinction is drawn between τοὺς προηλπικότας in v. 12 and ὑμεῖς in v. 13. Many (see all three comementaries cited below) have understood 'we' in v. 12 to refer to Jewish Christians as distinguished from 'you,' the Gentile Christians in v. 13. From the Pillar Commentary:4

The prefix προ- can stress the notion of ‘ahead of time’ or ‘beforehand’, and thus the compound verb refers either to those who hoped before Christ’s coming or, as we have taken it, to Jewish believers, the firstfruits of God’s people in the age inaugurated by Christ’s death and resurrection.

1. S.D.F. Salmond. The Expositor's Greek Testament (1897), vol. 3, p. 264.
2. T.K. Abbott, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians (New York: C. Schribner's sons, 1909), p. 20.
3. A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (3rd edition; London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919), 562-3 [2nd edition, pp. 620-1].

4. P.T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), p. 152.
5. This is a much better example in Greek because both are derived from δίδωμι: “has-before-given....after-be-given-back-to”. Or something.

  • 2
    Oh my goodness! Who are you? You're like the Batman of this site! ;-) Thank you so much for the answer! Reading it so much in English, I had never noticed the "we/you" contrast in vv. 12/13. Boy, you've given me a lot to consider. You obviously worked very hard on this answer and I am quite grateful to you. This is a tremendous help! With no (current) ability to go through seminary, how can I get from where I am to where you are? I want to be as familiar with NT Greek as you are. How'd you do it? – mbm29414 May 26 '15 at 12:24
  • @mbm29414 You’re very kind. I actually don’t answer many questions around here; you just happened to pick a couple things that struck my fancy. Please do stop by chat sometime; would love to respond the remainder of the above but probably not appropriate for comments. ;-) – Susan May 26 '15 at 12:30
  • The reason that everyone consistently views this temporally is not due to statistics or comparative analysis. To correctly understand the "προ-" of "προηλπικότας" we must find what event, place, or position the hope precedes. That is pretty clearly before "the sowing of the world order" in verse 4, which the "marked us off before into adoption" of verse 5 and 11 and "placed before" of verse 9 are also before. Therefore "προηλπικότας" is also before that event rather than a place or position. – fumanchu May 26 '15 at 16:52
  • @fumanchu Thanks. I didn't get into before what event because people seem to disagree. I don't think I ran across your interpretation, though - "we who hoped before the foundation of the world" (to use a standard translation of v. 4)? – Susan May 26 '15 at 17:12
  • I'm torn. Part of me wants to translate it as "we who were expected before" even though it doesn't have a middle/passive marker, in the same way that e.g. Php 1:14 uses an active form to mean "having been persuaded"; it's rare but not unheard-of especially when "adjectivizing" a word. But I could be completely wrong and it indeed refers to e.g. the apostles hoping before the Ephesians did. – fumanchu May 27 '15 at 15:40

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.