Word Study #40 — Service/Ministry

March 24, 2010

The handling of the verb diakoneo, with its accompanying noun forms, diakonia and diakonos, provides a vivid illustration of how far the contemporary church has departed from the New Testament pattern, and from the clear instructions of Jesus.
Classically, this family of words referred to any kind of service, the person who performed such service (Thayer summarizes quite well, “to attend to anything that may serve another’s interest”), or the care or support thus rendered. It was actually a very simple idea, even when broadened to include the giving, acceptance, or fulfillment of some specific assignment.

Jesus employed this concept in speaking of his own purpose, “not to be waited-on, but to serve” (Mt.20:28), and in expressing his expectation that his followers should display a similar attitude (Mt.23:11 and parallel in Mk.9:35), giving them the example (although the word is not used on that occasion) by washing their feet (Jn.13). Please refer to chapter 11 of Citizens of the Kingdom for a fuller exploration of this event.
In parables and narratives, diakoneo is frequently used of preparing and serving a meal (Lk.10:40, 12:37, 17:8; Jn.12:2, Mt.8:15, and Mk.1:31), or of a more generalized looking-after-needs (Mt.27:55, Mk.15:41, Lk.8:3, Phm.13), and the relief-offering sent by the Gentile churches to their Judean brethren (Rom.15:25, 15:31; II Cor.9:12, 8:19-20).

Whence, then, came the lofty, nearly-untouchable idea of “ministry/ministers” as members of an institutional, clerical hierarchy, quite set-apart from a disenfranchised “laity” (a word created from laos, “people”, though with the usually unspoken demeaning modifier, “common” or “ordinary.”) Certainly not from Jesus, who flatly forbade titles or elevated positions, reminding us that we are “all brethren” (Mt.23:11-12). See chapter 6 of Citizens of the Kingdom.

I strongly suspect that these varied and distorted translations (which, after all, date only from the 17th century) are the artifacts of the hierarchical patterns that had developed in the institutional churches of the intervening centuries, for they certainly do not occur in the text. Of course this is not the only place where it has become a common practice to alter the text to match one’s “doctrine”, rather than the more faithful reverse process!

Notice the irony that it is the same word which Jesus used of his own purpose to serve, and to urge his followers to offer each other even the most menial of service, that has been wielded as a weapon to demand superior status and/or authority! In the first century, the meaning folks “heard” from the use of diakoneo was simple, selfless service. This was the behavior expected of every faithful follower. In fact, all of the other, more specialized assignments enumerated in Eph.4:12 are specifically said to be for the purpose of enabling that service!

Official positions of course were not unknown in the first century: but they were represented by different words: leitourgia/leitourgos (“to serve in public office; to perform public duties for either the state or the gods”) – notice the English cognate, “liturgy”– and huperetes (“an officer or agent of a government or hierarchy; the rendering of military service, or to serve any entity in a subordinate role: an assistant.”) These appear rarely in the New Testament; the former often referring to the Jewish legal hierarchy or priesthood, the latter when John Mark traveled with Paul and Barnabas as an assistant (perhaps in a sort of apprenticeship).

It is instructive to note the individuals to whom Paul applies the term diakonos. They include Timothy and Erastus (Ac.19:22), all those traveling with him to carry the relief offering to Judea (II Cor.3:3), Onesiphorus (II Tim.1:18), Onesimus (Phm.13), Tychicus (Eph.6:21 and Col.4:7), Epaphras (Col.1:17), Stephen’s household (I Cor.16:15), Archippus (Col.4:17), and Phoebe (Rom.16:1). He labels them ALL with the same word he applies to himself!
Interestingly, it is only Phoebe who is described with an additional title: Paul speaks of her as a prostatis – which L/S defines as “a presiding officer, guardian, patron, or protector” – and says that she has filled that position for him and for many others! We have no clue what that position entailed, or whether it was civil or religious. This is the only use of that word in the New Testament. It is in addition to the more common role of diakonos, (which is here used with a feminine article) in the church at Cenchrea. Traditional translators, bound by their definitions of “ministers”, could not bring themselves to use the word here, but substituted “servant” – a perfectly good translation, if it were not used as if the meaning were different.

Only five times (out of 30) is diakonos traditionally translated “deacon”, and interpreted as if it were an official title. Four of those are in I Tim.3:8, 10, 12, 13, where qualifications are listed. Nowhere in this passage is there any word indicating an “official position” (see above). Look again at the context: Should this not describe any faithful follower of the Lord Jesus?
Similar qualifications are applied to both men and women: Note that it is a cultural decision, not a linguistic or semantic one, to translate gune as “wife” rather that simply “woman” (both are correct). Other references that specifically connect women with diakoneo and its related words are Mk.8:15 (Peter’s mother-in-law), Mt.27:55 (the women who supported Jesus and his disciples in their travels, and Lk.10:40 and Jn.12:2 (Mary and Martha).

Paul also frequently uses diakonia to refer to an assignment that he was given: (1) to carry the news of Jesus’ Kingdom (Ac.12:25, 20:24, 21:19; II Cor.5:18), (2) to deliver the relief offering to Jerusalem (II Cor.4:1), or similar assignments given to others (Col.4:17 and I Tim.4:6). Perhaps “assignment” or “a task assigned by the Lord” would sometimes be a better translation. Such assignments may vary with the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The recipients of our service may also vary: they may reach as far as the “outside world” (Ac.21:19, II Cor.5:18), or be directed specifically toward the brethren (I Pet.4:10-11, I Cor.12:5, Col.1:25), or toward anyone in need (II Cor.8:19-20, 9:12; Mt.25:44, Rom.5:25). Ultimately, it is all service to the Lord Jesus (II Cor.3:3, Col.4:7, I Tim 4:6, 1:12).

“There are different kinds of service (diakonion) but the same Lord; and there are differing jobs to do (energematon), but the same God who does all the work (energon).” I Cor.12:5-6

There is no better or more accurate conclusion than I Pet.3:10:
“Just as each one has received a spiritual gift [empowerment], SERVE EACH OTHER WITH IT, as good trustees of the many-faceted grace of God,”
determined, with our brother Paul, to “complete (our) race, and the assignment (we) received from the Lord Jesus” (Ac.20:24).
This is the essence of diakonia: ministry/service.

Word Study #39 — “Works”

March 19, 2010

The long-standing “faith vs. works” controversy is a vivid example of the compounded error that results from misunderstood vocabulary and manipulated “proof-texts”. Any consideration of this subject must include the discussion of “faith/faithfulness” in Word Study #1, which you should review before going any farther.

Several different Greek words have been translated by the English “work/works”. The concept itself is really quite simple: someone is doing something. Classical uses of ergon include heroic or noble deeds (Homer), one’s business or profession, anything done or made (Xenophon), or action as opposed to mere words or argument. Lesser-used, similar words include praxis (business or moral action), and pragma (matters or affairs).
The verb forms, primarily ergazomai (used 28 x in the NT) usually referring to one’s employment, katergazomai(14 x) to earn, achieve, or conquer, and energeo (7 x) to be active or effective, do not seem to have attracted as much “theological combat.” Perhaps they are so obvious that twisting the meaning is more difficult!

Actually, there is very little New Testament basis for all the fuss. Jesus plainly expected of his followers behavior that would allow people to “see your good works and glorify your Father” (Mt.5:16) , and he offered his own “work” as evidence of his identity (Jn.5:36, 10:25, 10:32-38, 14:10-12). He challenged some half-hearted adherents, “Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and not do what I say?” (Lk.6:46)
“Work” (ergon) frequently refers to a specific assignment, either for Jesus himself (Jn.17:4) or someone else (Ac.13:2, 14:26), or for the tasks assigned to servants (Mk.13:34). It may refer to Jesus’ miraculous healings (Mt.11:2, Jn.9:3,4), and Paul describes the content of his message (Ac.26:20) as “preaching a changed life* and turning back to God, practicing deeds [works] worthy of a changed life”*. (*see Word Study #6 on “repentance”)

When people who ought to know better respond to an admonition like Paul’s to Titus (3:8) that “those who have become faithful to God (should) be careful to keep practicing good deeds” (traditionally, “to maintain good works”), with a horrified accusation of “That’s works-salvation!” as if they were confronting the prince of evil himself, it would be comical if it weren’t so tragic – even pathetic.
Although in no case is “work” represented as the cause of one’s identification with Jesus, it is consistently expected to be the result of that relationship. Please refer to Rom.13:12, I Cor.15:58, Eph.2:9-10, Col.1:10, II Thes.1:11, I Tim.2:10, 5:10, 6:18, and many other similar statements.
God’s gift of various service-ministries in the Body of his people (Eph.4:11-12) is clearly explained to be for the purpose of (pros) “equipping God’s people (eis) to do the work of service”; and even the very creation of that Body is for the purpose (epi) of the “good deeds [works] which God already prepared, so that (hina) we could live [walk] in them” (Eph.2:10). Every one of these is expressed in a purpose construction.

Face it, folks: everyone is continuously doing “works” of some sort: as we have seen, the word refers to “anything that is done or made”! The only question is the choice of the model, or arbiter, of these “works.” Jesus chose to do the “works” of his Father (Jn.5:36), and bluntly pointed out the source (8:39-41) of his opponents’ behavior. Committed followers of the Lord Jesus are continually admonished to display “works” worthy of their new calling (Ac.26:20, Rom.13:13, and others as noted above). The reputation of our King is on the line, as we interact as his representatives in his world.

I suspect that one reason for the misunderstanding with which Paul and James are contending in Romans 4 and James 2, was the prevalent Jewish attitude toward their Law (see the previous 2 postings.) They do not contradict each other! Both apostles make the point that observance of the minutiae of the Law (“the works of the Law”) has nothing to do with genuine faithfulness to the person, Jesus Christ. But both are equally adamant that one’s behavior constitutes irrefutable evidence of to whose Kingdom he belongs.

Don’t forget that when Jesus spoke of judgment (see word studies 9 and 10) in Mt.25 and Lk.16, he said not a word about what the several individuals “believed”, or to what intricacies of “doctrine” or dogma they may have subscribed. His focus was entirely upon their behavior, specifically their treatment of people in need. Their behavior revealed – it did not create or determine – their allegiance (or, if you prefer, their “spiritual status.”  The same idea is obvious in the interview with Zacchaeus (Lk.19:1-10), where Jesus declared, “Today salvation [deliverance] has come to this house”  in response to his declaration of restitution to those he had been cheating.  No one asked what Zacchaeus “believed.”
Likewise, all the similar passages in Revelation – 18:6, 20:12, 20:13, 22:12 – speak of “giving to (each one) according to his/her/their works/deeds.” Paul wrote to Titus of  people who “claim to know God, but deny him by what they do” (1:16). Jesus begins six of the seven messages to the churches (Rev.2 and 3) with “I know your works”, and gives them instructions on how to straighten up.

There is no legitimate distinction or conflict between “faith/faithfulness” and “works/behavior.”
A much healthier focus would be patterned after the report of the onlookers at Pentecost (Ac.2:11), who spoke of how the newly Spirit-baptized brethren were proclaiming the wonderful works of God! That same refrain echoes around his throne (Rev.15:3) as everyone celebrates his marvelous works and triumphant justice! We have the promise (Heb.13:21/ that “he will establish you all, in everything good, for doing his will!” There is only one appropriate response: “And everything – whatever you do – in word or deed – do everything in the name (W.S. #24) of the Lord Jesus, continually giving thanks to God the Father through him!”
That is the “work” of a lifetime – and more!

Word Study #38 — The Law (Part 2 – Acts and Epistles)

March 12, 2010

Throughout the book of Acts, a refrain recurs persistently: Stephen (6:13) and Paul (18:13, 8:15, and 21:28) are both accused of “teaching things contrary to the law.” Even Jewish converts (15:5, 21:20), as unaware as many well-meaning people today that a new Kingdom has been established, argued fiercely that Gentile converts must be forced into a Jewish mold. Appearing to be “devout according to the law” (22:12, 21:24, 22:3) was taken as a compliment. The keeping of the law was not discouraged; neither was the observance of legitimate civil law. Both were respected (religious law – 13:15, 24:14, 25:8, 28:23; and civil – 19:37-40), and the justice required by both was requested (23:3, 25:11). Nevertheless, something new was in the air.

Speaking of Jesus’ resurrection, Paul’s message (13:39) was, “In this man (Jesus), everyone who is faithful is made just from all those things that the Law of Moses couldn’t make right!”
The rest of the New Testament could be said to consist of elaborating upon that one glorious piece of news: Jesus has done what no one else could do!

I was surprised to discover that the law is not mentioned at all in Mark’s gospel, in Paul’s letters to Corinth (II), Colossae, Philemon, Thessalonica (I and II), Timothy (II), and Titus, either of Peter’s letters, those of John and Jude, or the Revelation!
Of course, Paul manages to make up for it in his letter to the Romans (and you thought laws today were complicated??!). In many cases scattered through Romans, it is unclear whether Paul is referring to civil or religious law. Try reading it both ways, realizing that nomos can refer to either. Some places, of course, it is clear, when he speaks of Jewish convention. But perhaps some of this ambiguity is deliberate, since one of the main points (3:19-20) is that no one is able to keep any law perfectly. Notice, he is not saying that law (civil or religious) causes violations: it rather reveals them.
The remedy (3:22) is the faithfulness OF the Lord Jesus. Please notice the genitive case here (refer to the grammatical appendix to Translation Notes.) A genitive form indicates primarily possession, and may also designate a source. The “standard” translation, “faith IN Christ”, cannot possibly be correct, as that would require a dative case (or a preposition with the accusative). It is Jesus‘ faithfulness upon which we may depend!
Both the death/resurrection figure of baptism (chapter 6) and that of marriage laws (chapter 7) are closing in on the same concept: a completely new life, as the gracious gift of God, in identification with Jesus’ resurrection! (8:3) “For what could not possibly come from the law, in its weakness because of human nature, God (created, by) sending his own Son.”

Paul devotes much of his letter to the Galatians to the same theme: the futility of achieving faithfulness by adherence to the law. He concludes both arguments the same way: (Gal.5:14, Rom.13:8). The fulfillment of the law, is simply to live in love for one’s neighbor – an echo of Jesus’ own summary (Mt.7:12, Lk.10:26, Mt.22:36).
In the Ephesian letter, another element is added (2:15), “He (Jesus) eliminated the law of commands and decrees, in order that he might create (Jew and Gentile) into one person, thus making peace!”
In Philippians, Paul summarily renounces the privilege and prerogatives of his own “pedigree” with respect to the law (chapter 3), in favor of identification with Christ.

The clearest treatment of all comes in the letter to the Hebrews, which is almost entirely devoted to the superiority of Jesus to everyone and everything that had gone before. The futility and failure of the old system is methodically laid bare, and summarized (7:18-19) “the previous commandment [instruction] is set aside, because of its weakness and uselessness – for the law didn’t make anything [or, anyone] complete, but a better hope is introduced, through which we come near to God!”
Chapter 8 speaks of Jesus mediating “a superior covenant, which is established upon superior promises” (v.6), and, referring to the old prophecy of a “new covenant” (8:13), “in saying “new”, he has made the first “old”, and what has become old and been superseded, is near to disappearing!”

Heb.10:1: “The law had only a shadow of the good things that were coming, not the real thing!” That the writer may have been exposed to Plato’s ideas of “shadows” and “forms” does not impugn the integrity of the message. It is simply a useful way of making the point. A “shadow” is ok, as long as it leads one to the reality (Jesus) that has cast the shadow.
“He (Jesus) is taking away the first, in order to establish the second!” (10:9)

The writer then concludes the argument (10:19-25) with a confident summary of the complete solution for all the problems and inadequacies of the old ways: There is no longer a “veil” between God and his people (please see chapter 8 of Citizens of the Kingdom), as Jesus has provided for us complete freedom of access (19). He himself is the only “priest” (mediator) that we need (21).
This provides the grounds for the brotherly admonition:
(22) “Let’s approach him with a true heart, in abundant confidence [complete faithfulness].”
(23) “Let’s hang on to our commitment to [acknowledgment of] our hope [expectation] without hesitation – for the one who made the promise is faithful!”
(24) “Let’s concentrate on prodding each other, with love, and good deeds” – no longer the rigid requirements of an unbending law, but the joyful response of our hearts to the King’s glorious invitation to share his own life!
(25) “Let’s don’t neglect getting together … but keep on coaching each other, more and more…!”

The rest of the letter, recognizing the seriousness of faithfulness, continues in the vein of encouragement to constancy. Faithfulness is no effortless “trip to glory”. But “The one who made the promise is faithful”, and it is his faithfulness upon which we may depend, from which we may learn, and which, by constant, deliberate exposure, we may absorb!
“The law (that comes from) the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, (definitively) set you all free from the law (that comes from) failure and death!” (Rom.8:2)

Thanks be to God!

Word Study #37 — The Law (Part 1 – in the Gospels)

March 12, 2010

Ever since the first Council of the first century Christian church (Acts 15), faithful followers of Jesus have differed in their attitudes toward “the Law”. Some of them point to “verses” by which they demand adherence to the entire Old Testament system, and others resist any standard of conduct whatsoever. There is also a broad spectrum in between those positions. Can we find any coherent pattern in the New Testament? Possibly not; but careful examination can yield helpful principles.

“Law” – nomos – was used, classically, both of established civil or religious codes, and the habitual custom of a group. Aristotle used it of his natural observations, and several centuries earlier, Alcman had applied it to the music used to accompany recitations of epic texts. (L/S)*
Bauer* notes that early writers applied the term to instructions purportedly received from Zeus, Hermes, or Apollo; and therefore the word was naturally adopted in the LXX to refer to the principles codified by Moses. “Since the law and its observance are the central point of Jewish piety, the word became synonymous with their religion.” Actually, the LXX mixed nomos with logos and onoma almost at random (L/S)*, but this does not occur in New Testament writings.
Thayer* adds that over time, nomos was expanded to include the prophets, and all of the “sacred literature”, since the Jews did not distinguish between civil, moral, and ceremonial requirements.
(*See the Bibliography in Translation Notes for reference to these lexicons.)

Out of 195 occurrences of nomos in the New Testament, only 50 are in the Gospels. Only Luke (2:23,24, 39) adds the phrase “of the Lord”, and this appears only in his narrative of Jesus being taken to the temple as a baby. Elsewhere in the same passage, he refers to “the law of Moses” (2:22), or simply “the law” (2:27).
The Pharisees, opposing Jesus, refer to “our law” (Jn.19:7), as does Nicodemus advocating for his fair treatment (Jn.7:51).
Pilate challenges the mob to deal with Jesus “according to your law” (Jn.18:31), to which they respond, “we have a law…”. They also used it as a tool to crush those whom they presumed to dominate (Jn.7:49) “This crowd, that’s not acquainted with the law – they are cursed!”

BUT – let’s get to our perennial question: WHAT DID JESUS SAY? And the answer is, “not very much”, but what he did say was hugely significant. For starters, he never called it “the law of God.”
Five times (Lk.24:44, Jn.1:45, 7:19, 7:23, 8:5) Jesus refers to “the law of Moses,” while John himself comments in his introduction, (1:17) “The law was given through Moses, but graciousness and truth (came into being) through Jesus Christ.”
Addressing his opponents, Jesus pointedly refers to “your law” (Jn.8:17, 10:34); and speaking to the disciples (15:25) he calls it “their law.” Elsewhere, he uses no possessive at all, and says simply “the law.”

As he lays out the “constitution” of his Kingdom, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says plainly (Mt.5:17), “Don’t conclude that I came to destroy the law and the prophets. I did not come to destroy, but to fulfill [make complete]!” He then devotes a large section of that sermon to correcting prevalent misconceptions about the Law. Similar corrections are recorded scattered through Mark’s and Luke’s accounts. Jesus summarizes the true intent of the law (Mt.7:12, 22:36, 22:40, 23:23), as love toward God and one’s neighbor, or turns a questioner to its principles (Lk.10:26, Mt.12:5). The same positive idea appears in Mt.19:16 and parallels in Mk.10:17 and Lk.18:18, but without the word “law.”

There are, however, two strong statements that are consistently overlooked by folks who adhere to a “flat book” interpretation of Biblical authority (assuming equal force and authority between the Old and New Testaments). Both Matthew (11:13)and Luke (16:16) record Jesus’ announcement of a very basic “change of government.” The accounts are worded slightly differently, but the message is clear. “The law and the prophets were (in effect) until John (the Baptist). Since then, the Kingdom of God is being proclaimed!” Things are different now!

Luke follows that declaration by a partial quote, which Matthew recorded elsewhere in more detail (5:18): “Until heaven and earth are done away with [pass away], one iota or accent mark will not be removed from the law, until it all happens [is completed]!” Matthew connects this with v.17, where Jesus declared his purpose to fulfill the law. (Please see the discussion of pleroo and teleioo in word study #13.)
Remember that enroute to Jerusalem (Lk.18:31, 22:37) Jesus had told his disciples everything that was about to happen, “so that everything written … about the Son of Man will be completed [fulfilled]”. Remember also that he had just spent three years sorting out for them which parts of “everything written” were actually “about him”! His “list” differed sharply from that of the powerful religious leaders — and many of the “lists” currently in vogue today.

In John’s account of the crucifixion (remember, he is the only one of the gospel writers who says that he was personally present), he records (19:28) that Jesus “knew that everything had been completed…” and (19:30) surrendered his life with the words, “It has been completed!” – a shout of triumph, not a whimper of defeat! This is a perfect tense (see appendix to the Notes). Luke reserves that conclusion until after the resurrection (24:44) “This is what I told you!”

As we turn in the next post, to consider the “law” in the early church (Acts) and the epistles, please remember that with Jesus’ death and resurrection, a monumental transition has occurred.
“Everything has been completed!” The new Kingdom has been established!

Word Study #36 — Hope

March 4, 2010

Years ago, in another state, we lived near a group of devoted followers of the Lord Jesus, whose first language was not English. When accosted by zealous “soul-savers” who demanded, “Are you saved?”, their usual – and quite Scriptural (Titus 1:2, 2:13, 3:7) – reply was, “I have a good (or “blessed”) hope!” This usually provoked an attack by the questioner: “HOPE??? If you don’t KNOW you are saved, you aren’t!” This was followed by a memorized lecture on the questioner’s carefully canned and footnoted version of the necessary remedy. As a consequence, the two groups, who could have related as brethren with much mutual benefit, seldom interacted at all, largely because of one misunderstood English word. How sad!
We have already considered (Word Study #5) the continually progressive nature of “salvation”, which should, but probably won’t, put to rest such arrogant discourtesy; we need also to look at the lexical meaning of elpis, “hope.”

Classically, it wasn’t complicated at all. Synonyms include “expectation, confidence, or one’s reason to believe in something or to expect an event.” The uncertainty that accompanies much English usage of “hope” – (“I hope it will – or won’t – rain!”) is completely absent from both classical and New Testament usage. Early English translators coped with this semantic anomaly by translating the verb form, elpizo, as “trust” (18 times, as opposed to “hope” only 10 times), but the Greek word does not “mean” different things in different contexts. It uniformly conveys “confident expectation”.

Similarly, simple expectation is apparent in the 16 “more ordinary” uses of elpizo in the New Testament – fully half of the total. “I hope to see you,” “I hope you know,” appear frequently in the epistles; lending with the “hope” of repayment (Lk.6:34-45), a farmer planting in “hope” of a harvest (I Cor.9:10), and Felix “hoping” that Paul would offer him a bribe (Ac.24:26) certainly involve expectation. So on what grounds do folks feel justified in changing the meaning of the word when it refers to less tangible matters?
Peter’s admonition (I Pet.1:13) to “set your hope[confidence] completely on the grace being brought to you all in the revelation of Jesus Christ,” and Paul’s explanation (Rom.8:24-25) of the true import of “hope” in relation to one’s confidence in Jesus’ provision, clearly intend to convey similar assurance. When Paul writes to Timothy (I Tim.4:10) of “hoping in the living God” as the motivation for his life of constant perseverance despite the concomitant privations, he is not describing wishful thinking, but a settled conviction.

When we turn to elpis, the noun form, the reference is almost entirely to one’s Christian commitment and expectation, as opposed to the “ordinary” affairs of life (which involve only 5 of 53 uses of the word), and the certainty of expectation is, if anything, even more vivid. Interestingly, the word elpis does not appear at all in any of the Gospels. Might that be because of the constant, observable presence of the One who is later identified (I Tim.1:1) as “Christ Jesus, (who is) our hope[confidence]”? Paul asks, rhetorically, in Rom.8:24-25, “Who hopes for what he (already) sees?” Perhaps the time when his people needed “hope” the most, was after Jesus’ physical departure? This seems plausible, when one realizes that ten of the references, (Ac.2:26, 23:6, 24:15; Col.1:5, 1:27; I Thes.4:13, 5:8; and Tit.1:2, 2:13, 3:7) specifically mention either the Resurrection (Jesus’ or ours) or his Return; and several others could be interpreted that way. As Peter put it, (I Pet.1:3) “According to his (God’s) great mercy, he has given us another birth, into a living hope [confidence], by means of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead!”

Among the abundant and glorious benefits of Jesus’ resurrection is the way it “spills over” upon all who follow him! It is this truth that enables all the other “hopes” of his people, including (Rom.5:2) “We revel in the hope [confidence] that comes from (source genitive) the glory of God!”, and (Rom.12:12) “Your confidence [hope] is the means (dative) to keep you all rejoicing!” In Gal.5:5, Paul speaks of our “hope of justice, that comes out of faithfulness”; in Eph.1:18 and 4:4, of “the hope [confidence] of his/our calling”; and in Phil.1:20, of his hope [confidence] that he will be found faithful. Also included are “the hope of the gospel” (Col.1:23), “the hope of glory” (Col.1:27), the “patience of hope [the endurance produced by the confident expectation which has its source in the Lord Jesus Christ]”  (I Thes.1:3), “the blessed hope” of Jesus’ return (Tit.2:13), and (Tit.3:7) “the hope [expectation] of eternal life”! These are just a sampling. Grab a concordance and check them all! It cannot help but increase your enjoyment – “hope” – of the goodness of God!

The five uses of elpis in the letter to the Hebrews deserve particular attention, partly because (please see the introductory material in Translation Notes) it was probably written to a second generation congregation, who therefore lacked the privilege of personal memories of the initial arrival of either Jesus himself or “ambassadors” of his Kingdom. They may have been somewhat worn down by years of persecution; hence the early admonition (3:6) to “hang on to our determination and [hope] confident expectation firmly until the end.” Again in 6:11, the instruction is to “demonstrate the same eagerness for complete confidence [full assurance] of hope [expectation] until the end; and 6:18, a reminder to “come running to take hold of the hope that he (Jesus) offered.” In 7:18-19, after a rehearsal of the inadequacy and failure of the old system and its hierarchy, it is summarized, “The previous commandment is set aside, because of its weakness and uselessness – for the law didn’t make anything [or, anyone] complete – but a better hope is introduced, through which/whom we come near to God!” The only place where elpis is not traditionally translated “hope” is Heb.10:23, where someone substituted “faith” – an entirely different word. This is probably one factor which contributed to the erroneous assumption that “faith” was a doctrine to be “professed”, rather that a faithful way of life (see Word Study #1). In the PNT, I offer the alternative, “Let’s hang on to our commitment to our hope without hesitation” – which I consider a more accurate representation of the text – and in harmony with Heb.11:1 – much quoted but little understood or heeded: “Faithfulness is the basis [foundation] of our hope [expectation], the proof [legal evidence] of what is unseen.”

The object of one’s hope is made obvious by his faithfulness – and is intended, among other things, to serve as an incentive (I Jn.3:3) to purity of life, (II Thes.2:16)eternal encouragement, (Gal.5:5) justice, and (Rom.12:12) indescribable joy! Such a life will provoke curiosity, which is why Peter (I Pet.3:15) urges his readers to be ready to answer questions about that hope. This admonition is not a “hunting license” but a mandate to be approachable! (See W.S. #18)

“May the God of hope [or, God, the source of hope] fill you with all joy and peace, in faithfulness, so that you may overflow with hope [confidence] in [by] the power of the Holy Spirit!” (Rom.15:13)