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HOPE. (תִּקְוָה, H9536, expectation, hope, יָחַל, H3498, to expect, hope, wait; ἐλπίς, G1828, expectation of good, hope, ἐλπίζω, G1827, to hope. Other Hebrew and Greek terms, many of which are at least occasionally translated in English by the word “hope,” often signify attitudes that are related to hope).

Definition of hope

Hope has been defined as “desire accompanied by expectation.” Hope, however, is not always expectant. One may have hope with little or no expectation. He may recognize the possible, though not the certain or probable, fulfillment of something. On the other hand, a man goes beyond hope when he is confident of something and simply expects it to happen. A better definition of hope than desire accompanied by expectation is an interest or desire whose fulfillment is cherished. Defining it thus, distinction can be made between strong and weak hope and between great and earnest hope. Strong hope has better grounds for believing an interest or desire will be fulfilled than a weak hope. It will be more confident and expectant. Great hope may refer to the intensity rather than to the confidence with which something is cherished, whereas earnest hope may designate the seriousness with which it is contemplated.

Occurrence in the Bible

Presence and nature of hope in the Bible

In view of its important function in man’s life, it is not surprising to find hope present in many Biblical accounts long before it is mentioned by name. Eve saw that the forbidden tree was good for food and was to be desired to make her wise, and in the hope of satisfying her appetite and achieving wisdom she took of its fruit and ate (Gen 3:6). The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair, and in the hope of greater happiness married them (6:2). Jacob had hope that by God granting his sons mercy Joseph might send back Simeon and Benjamin (43:14).

Prominence of hope in the Bible

The main reason why hope is prominent in the Bible is its high concept of God and its strongly prevailing faith in Him. Such a God and such strong faith in Him cannot but instill great hope in man. But, a further reason is the freedom the Bible assumes man has. For it, God is ultimately in full control of things, but not in a fatalistic way. His control is one of intelligent and loving purpose, not a matter of blind, unintelligent determination. Furthermore, God leaves man a free agent. He does not force him in his deliberate choices or against his will in that in which he remains responsible, but rather indirectly and directly controls those personal factors that go to form his will freely. Along with this, the Bible also affirms that God has ordained great principles of life for man to rely on, to give meaning and stability to life in a world of vast possibilities.

With such a view of God, man, and the world there is ample room for hope on man’s part. He himself can do much to determine his own future, and an almighty, omniscient God is there to uphold and further what is right and true.

Hope in the Old Testament

Hope in the New Testament

The proclamation of the coming kingdom of God was the central element in the teaching of Jesus, and the message of its near advent (Mr 1:15, etc.), with the certainty of admission to it for those who accepted His teaching (Lu 12:32, etc.), is the substance of His teaching as to hope. This teaching, though, is delivered in the language of One to whom the realities of the next world and of the future are perfectly familiar; the tone is not that of prediction so much as it is that of the statement of obvious facts. In other words, "hope" to Christ is "certainty," and the word "hope" is never on His lips (Lu 6:34 and Joh 5:45 are naturally not exceptions). And however much He taught that the kingdom was present in His lifetime, Jesus indicated that the full consummation of that kingdom, with Himself as Messiah, would take place in the future.

Foundations of hope in the New Testament

Primarily, Christian hope was based on the promises of the Old Testament, which were the basis of Christ’s teaching. Such are often quoted at length (Ac 2:16, etc.), while they underlie countless other passages. These promises are the "anchor of hope" that holds the soul fast (Heb 6:18-20). In part, then, the earliest Christian expectations coincided with the Jewish, and the "hope of Israel" (Ac 28:20; compare 26:6,7; Eph 2:12, and especially Ro 11:25-32) was a common ground on which Jew and Christian might meet. Still, through the confidence of forgiveness and purification given in the atonement (Heb 9:14, etc.), the Christian felt himself to have a "better hope" (Heb 7:19), which the Jew could not know.

Devotion to Christ produced a religious experience that gave certainty to hope. "Hope putteth not to shame; because the love of God hath been shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which was given unto us" (Ro 5:5; compare 8:16,17; 2Co 1:22; 5:5; Eph 1:14, etc., and see Holy Spirit). Even visible miracle|miracles were wrought by the Spirit that were signs of the end (Ac 2:17) as well as of the individual’s certainty of partaking in the final happiness (Ac 10:47; 19:6, etc.).

One passage that deserves special attention is 1Co 13:13, "Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three." "Abideth" is in contrast to "shall be done away" in 13:8,9, and the time of the abiding is consequently after the Parousia; i.e. while many gifts are for the present world only, faith, hope and love are eternal and endure in the next world. 1Co 13 is evidently a very carefully written section, and the permanence of faith and hope cannot be set down to any mere carelessness on Paul’s part, but the meaning is not very clear. Probably he felt that the triad of virtues was so essentially a part of the Christian’s character that the existence of the individual without them was unthinkable, without trying to define what the object of faith and hope would be in the glorified state. If any answer is to be given, it must be found in the doctrine that even in heaven life will not be static but will have opportunities of unlimited growth. Never will the finite soul be able to dispense entirely with faith, while at each stage the growth into the next can be anticipated through hope.

Objects of hope in the Bible

Earthly blessings


Besides placing hope in God in seeking individual and collective blessings, the truly religious man also finds his highest longings and hopes directly fulfilled in God Himself. Of the psalms perhaps none offer a better example than Psalms 42 and 40. “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” (42:1f.) The writer’s soul is cast down, but he enjoins it to hope in God, “for,” he says, “I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Ps 42:5). God is his “exceeding joy” (43:4). A similar sentiment is expressed in Psalm 73, where the psalmist asks, “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” and adds, “And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee” (v. 25). Passages like these suggest a love of God with all one’s heart, and with all one’s soul, and with all one’s might (Deut 6:5).

This God-centered attitude of the OT persists in the New, where in John 17:3 Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.” For Paul, to live is Christ, and to depart and be with Him is far better than to remain in the flesh (Phil 1:21, 23). The peace of God is what he cherishes (4:7). John anticipates being like Jesus and seeing Him as He is (1 John 3:2f.).

Geerhardus Vos, in an article on “The Eschatology of the Psalter,” has very aptly expressed something of the fulfillment men find in God. He says,

The Psalmists sometimes succeed in transporting themselves into the midst of the joy and blessedness, wherewith Jehovah Himself contemplates the consummate perfection of His work. This faculty for entering into the inner spirit of God’s own share in the religious process represents the highest and finest in worship; it closes the ring of religion,...(PTR, XVIII [1920], 19).

Fulfillment such as this makes clear why for some men God, or Christ, Himself is the highest object of hope.

A new world

According to the New Testament, Old Testament visions and promises find a special fulfillment in Jesus Christ, but a further fulfillment of some of them (as well as of new promises) awaits the future.

As Rudolph Bultmann sees it, in the Old Testament the godly man was always directed to what God will do, so that his hope for the future consisted in a wholly general trust in God’s protection and help. The time of salvation, he says, was the time of confidence. The attitude of waiting and trusting hope became more and more an expression of knowledge concerning the provisional nature of everything earthly and present, and a hope in the eschatological future (Bible Key Words, V, I, 11; cf. P. S. Minear, “Time for Hope in the New Testament,” Scottish Journal of Theology, VI [1953], 340).

Bultmann’s stress here on what God will do is doubtless justified; but his emphasis on the provisional character of man’s present, earthly situation in comparison with the eschatological future is open to question. One may grant that man by himself is ineffective and weak, that he is a sinner in need of God’s redeeming grace, and that his days are numbered: like a flower of the field he flourishes, for the wind passes over it and it is gone, and its place knows it no more (Ps 103:15f.; cf. Pss 62:9; 144:4). All this refers to the limitations of his power, his commitment to wrong values, the brevity of his present life, and his dependence on God. It does not refer to the intellectual, moral, and spiritual structure of his being, nor to the life that he lives when God’s Holy Spirit|Spirit takes possession of him. As far as basic features go, the life hereafter that the Christian hopes for and his present earthly existence are of one piece. However much imagery and symbolism may be used elsewhere, Paul characterizes this life in sober, literal terms. He says, “So faith, hope, and love abide, these three” (1 Cor 13:13). From this it appears that Paul conceived of “the perfect” that is coming as something living, dynamic, and growing, like the present existence, not as something static or consummated in every way; nor as something totally different from what is known already. Hope is one of the characteristics of human life today. With faith and love it will also be a characteristic of human life on a higher plane hereafter.

It is noteworthy that Bultmann interprets hope in the New Testament in a way similar to his interpretation of it in the Old. Taking hope in that sense, he holds that it will persist. In virtue of its idea of God, he says, Christian being, also in perfection, cannot be conceived apart from hope; from hope, namely, that is a trust in God that looks away from itself and the world and patiently waits for God’s gift, and that when God has granted His gift is confidently assured He will maintain what He has given (id., 37; see also TWNT, II, 529). Bultmann’s contention that hope will persist is doubtless right; but he fails to recognize that since the love of which Paul speaks is a love of man (vv. 4-7) as well as of God, the hope springing from it can hardly be simply the kind of trust he says it is. It is rather a hope both in God and in the future as man envisions it on the basis of the knowledge, faith, and love that will be his.

Implications for the Christian life

Man a hopeful being

Because man is limited in his knowledge of the future and aware of alternative eventualities, he is hopefull, for he naturally seeks fulfillment and meaning in life. The Stoics, who recommended apathy as the rational way of life still hoped to attain happiness thereby. Nietzsche held that hope was the worst of evils, because it prolongs the torment of man; but his life was largely marked by hopeful efforts to interpret the world acceptably. Man is inherently a hopeful being.

Function of hope in man’s life

Hope is not the only activating and guiding principle in man’s life; faith, thankfulness, intellectual curiosity, bodily desires and needs, moral ideals, social interests, and religious objectives and zeal also motivate man. Hope, however, is a major factor among them all and is intimately associated with the others. None of the other factors spur one to action without some measure of hope or certainty that his action will satisfy him in a given way. Dr. Karl Menninger (Pastoral Psychology, XI [1960], 11-24) speaks of the sustaining function of hope. Animals are known to die quickly when hopeless and to revive quickly when given new hope. Furthermore, evidence shows that helplessness and hopelessness can develop organic disease in man. Samuel Johnson was not far wrong when he observed that where there is no hope there can be no endeavor.

The role of hope in Christianity

The translation of the eschatological language into modern practical terms is not always easy. The simplest method is that already well developed in gospel of John, where the phrase "kingdom of God" is usually replaced by the words "eternal life," i.e. for a temporal relation between this world and the next is substituted a local, so that the accent is laid on the hope that awaits the individual beyond the grave. On the other hand, the cataclysmic imagery of the New Testament may be interpreted in evolutionary form. God, by sending into the world the supernatural power seen in the Christian church, is working for all humanity as well as for the individual, and has a goal in store for His whole creation, as well as for individual souls. The individual learns through the cross that even his own sins do not rob him of his hope. But both of the above interpretations are needed if religion is to fairly represent the spirit of the New Testament. A pure individualism that looks only beyond the grave for its hope empties the phrase "kingdom of God" of its meaning and tends inevitably to asceticism. And, in contrast, the religion of Jesus cannot be reduced to a mere hope of ethical advance for the present world. A Christianity that loses a transcendent, eschatological hope ceases to be Christianity.


  • G. Vos, “Eschatology of the Psalter,” PTR, XVIII (1920), 1-43

  • F. J. Denbeaux, “Biblical Hope,” INT, V (1951), 285-303

  • P. S. Minear, “Time of Hope in the New Testament,” Scottish Journal of Theology, VI (1953), 337-361

  • D. V. Steere, “Hope of Glory and This Present Life,” ThT, X (1953-54), 367-374

  • H. J. A. Bouman, “Christian Hope,” Concordia Theological Monthly, XXVI (1955), 241-255

  • K. Menninger, “Hope,” Pastoral Psychology, XI (1960-61), 11-24

  • H. C. Snape. “Man’s Future on Earth and Beyond; the Christian Hope Today,” The Modern Churchman, VII (1963), 84-92

  • R. E. Osborne, “Hope beyond History and Fulfillment in History: the Christ-faith and Eschatology,” Encounter, XXIV (1963), 41-60

  • D. D. Williams, “Tragedy and the Christian Eschatology,” Encounter, XXIV (1963), 61-73

  • G. Kittel, ed., Bible Key Words, V, I (1963), 1-13, 33-43

  • C. F. D. Moule, The Meaning of Hope (1963); D. Moody, The Hope of Glory (1964).