What Happened to the Certainty of Hope?

Once upon a time, in an English century long, long, long ago, a once certain hope was lost.

A hope which was real, tangible, and confident had been transformed into something far less captivating.

The original Old English words of hope were hopian (verb) or hopa (noun). Each held theological virtue and meaning. Confidence in God, expectation in Christ, hope for the salvation and mercy of God, and a sincere, confident trust in the Word of God defined their word usage.

When someone uttered, hopian or hopa, it meant:  that something is or will be so.

There was no uncertainty.

There was no doubt.

There was no ambiguity.

What happened to hope?

For today, the English usage of the word hope rarely means confidence.

Instead, we hope for the best, right?

We hope and pray for a good outcome – but we’re not sure it will happen.

We hope for blue skies and warm temperatures – but we’re not certain the weather will cooperate.

We hope our children will behave – but we know they have a will of their own.

We hope our favorite team will win – but we aren’t sure they are up to the task.

We hope our loved ones will have a nice day – but we have no control over that, do we?

We hope we’ll finally get a job – but we have no sure leads and we’re so tired of looking.

See what I mean?

What happened to the certainty of hope?

Etymologists trace the word change to the 13th century. A tremendous amount of history can occur in one hundred years’ time.

Take a look…

Fibonacci introduced Europe to the Hindu system of numerals 0 – 9 in his Book of Calculation.  We can thank him for those familiar numbers that are integrated into every part of our lives.

In the early 13th century Genghis Khan rose to power in Mongolia and his empire would become the largest contiguous empire even after his death.

Believing they were favored by God and were anointed to enact His miracles, The Fourth Crusade sent thousands of children, along with a scattering amount of adults to Jerusalem to rescue the Holy Land from Muslim control. They tragically marched to their death. In addition, this disastrous crusade resulted in the enslavement of thousands of children ultimately ending any and all Crusade support.

Marco Polo embarked upon a four year trek across Europe and Asia to reach the Far East. There he entered into the royal service of Kublai Kahn, the grandson of Genghis Khan. For the next 23 years, Marco Polo developed a comprehensive understanding of the Mongol empire which would one day be retold in “The Travels of Marco Polo.”

At the conclusion of the 13th Century, The Stone of Destiny, the oblong, red sandstone block used for the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland was captured by England and erected at Westminster Abbey – where it would remain for over six centuries.  Scottish nationalist William Wallace led a series of revolts against English preeminence and was ultimately defeated and killed at Falkirk.

When was this uncertain hope first uttered?

Did Fibonacci say, “I hope the Europeans like my number system”?

Did Genghis Khan (obviously with no ties to England) shout, “I hope I become the preeminent world leader”?

Would the marchers express, “I hope we succeed in our crusade”?

Did March Polo ponder, “I hope to retell my adventure that will capture the imagination of the world”?

Would William Wallace cry, “I hope we are able to retrieve the Stone of Destiny”?

I can only guess.

But something happened.

In the 13th century, hope changed from something sure to something not so sure.

Something caused the English focus of one’s hope and confidence in God and His Son Jesus Christ to become an uncertain hope or desire for self and circumstance.

And here we sit, centuries later, still hoping in ourselves and in our circumstances – thanks to the thirteenth century.

We hope for something good in life. Yet, we are hesitant, precarious, and unsure that it will ever come to pass.

We just don’t know.

There is another sure course to hope, however.

It is found in Jesus Christ.

As followers in Christ, our hope and our faith are rooted in the certainty of our Lord and Savior.

In Acts, the first century believing world used the Greek transliterated word, elpis for hope. Elpis is the sure expectation of good. It is a joyful, expectant, and sure confidence of eternal salvation.

There is no acknowledgment or room for doubt, confusion, ambiguity, or distrust with this word.

Elpis was a word upon which one could stand. And stand strong.

It was this confident, sure hope in Christ that the Apostle Paul staked his faith and his life. Paul shaped his testimony upon the Lord’s resurrection as the only sure proof of his hope. God had promised that the Messiah would come and be raised from the dead – defeating sin and death. God’s infinite power and ultimate authority fulfilled this promise. Without the resurrection of Christ, Paul argued, there would be no reason to hope.

Paul lived, breathed, and worked with this resurrection power and faith that heaven was at hand! He was determined to share his hope with whoever would listen.

Paul called, “I stand on trial because of my hope….” Acts 23:6

Paul declared, “I have hope….” Acts 24: 15

Paul explained, “Because of this hope….” Acts 26: 8

And again at the end of life, “Because of the hope….” Acts 28:20

Do we think, talk or act like this?

Do we live in expectation of Jesus Christ’s Spirit to speak and to work in our lives in this powerful, confident way?

Do we keep an eye towards heaven?

Are we prepared for Him?

This is elpis.

This is hope.

This is hope-filled confidence and expectation in God.

This is what the English world of the 13th century somehow abandoned to seek the fulfilment of self-gratuitous wishes and desires instead.

I don’t know why.

This change in meaning hasn’t really helped us all that much, has it?

The hope I choose to embrace is the joyful, confident, expectant faith I have in Jesus Christ – not myself, not someone else, not some performance, and not any circumstance.

In my opinion, we need to take this hope back and reclaim its true and glorious meaning for our lives.

If we did?

We could utter the same words as Paul…

Because of my hope…
I have this hope…
I stand on hope…

If we do, we could change the trajectory of hope’s current English meaning and one day someone might say, “Once upon a time, in an age not so long ago, a courageous people reclaimed their confident hope…..”

May it be so!




“Hope.” Online Etymology Dictionary.  etymonline.com. Web. 12 May 2017.

“13th Century Timeline.” Intriguing History. Intriguing-history.com. Web. 12 May 2017.

2 thoughts on “What Happened to the Certainty of Hope?

  1. Thank you Heather. This is a great post. I need to re-imagine hope to being elpis. Thank you for sharing

    1. Thank you, Jeff! I appreciate you stopping by – isn’t elpis a fabulous word and visual of our confident hope in Christ! Blessings to you and Mollie!

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