Thursday, May 24, 2012

Wednesday Devotional: ‘One Hope’

Johnson's Dictionary (1828 Edition, Google Books)
“Hope” is such a positive, uplifting sort of word, and its linguistic roots and ties suggest that it was invented that way. It’s regularly understood as having a positive spiritual meaning, so much so that it’s sometimes difficult to detach it from its spiritual usage in everyday conversation. Christian can share a common hope for a better future, for salvation, for the destruction of earthly enemies, for the return of Christ, for whatever. What I wasn’t aware of was that the Greek word often translated as “hope” (ἐλπίς) also has a possible negative definition that doesn’t match our choice of English word. According to Thayer and Smith’s “The New Testament Greek Lexicon,” ἐλπίς can convey not only an anticipation or expectation of something desired and pleasurable (the usual interpretation), but also of something evil or fearful.

Although I trust that Bible translators have taken great pains to use our “hope” when the text strongly suggests something positive, I do wonder how an underlying negative sense might alter our understanding of a particular text. For example, in Ephesians 4:1-6 the Apostle Paul stresses the unity of believers who share a common “body,” “Spirit,” and “hope” (ἐλπίδι in 4:4). Although this typically might be interpreted as the first century Church expecting Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead, maybe it also could be the expectation of God’s fierce judgment and the eternal punishment for sin if we don’t comply with His demands. In other words, we’re not just united by our “hopes,” but also by our fears. Rather odd to think about.

This post’s topic is based on the Wednesday Devotional Theme covered tonight at Alhambra Church of Christ.