Paul charged Corinthians, “faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13, NASB). The Greek πίστις (pistis) has a Hebrew equivalent — אֱמוּנָה (emunah). It may surprise you, but the meaning of this Hebrew word is only partially related to the concept of “belief” or the “act of believing.” In Hebrew, the term conveys a “steadiness,” “stability,” and “reliability” that manifests as “trustworthiness” and “faithfulness.”
The Greek ἐλπίς (elpis) — “hope” — can correlate to several words in Hebrew. The ancient Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, the Septuagint (LXX), uses ἐλπίς to translate תִּקְוָה (tikvah; “hoping for the best”) and בָּטַח (batach; “trust” or “reliance”). The ancient Israelites lived in expectation of a future that would be either good or bad — hoping, of course, for the best possible outcome. As the famous New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann notes, Biblical Hebrew has “no neutral concept of expectation. An expectation is either good or bad and therefore it is either hope or fear” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 522).
The Greek ἀγάπη (agape) “love” usually corresponds to the Hebrew אַהֲבָה (ahavah). There are different types of love, of course. One can see it as a strong selfish desire and, at the same time, as a truly selfless ideal. Further, there is another kind of love in Biblical Hebrew — חֶסֶד (chesed) “steadfast love”, “kindness”, “faithfulness”, and “loyalty” — that is often tied to God’s character and the divine loyalty to keeping covenant promises. God’s chesed is the glue that binds our relationship with the Lord and ensures our continued place in the divine plan.
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