By Charles H. Welch
Fore-Hope. No such term is found in the English Bible, but as it is used sometimes as an alternative to the translation of Ephesians 1:12, "who first trusted", and the passage is of dispensational importance, we must give it a place in our studies. The passage which contains the word thus tentatively translated is Ephesians 1:12, "who first trusted in Christ" proelpikotas. The Greek word is composed of pro "before" and the perfect participle of the verb elpizo "to hope". Very great differences of opinion have been expressed by commentators.
For example, The Companion Bible says that the pronoun "we" here refers to the saved members of the Pentecostal church, closed by the judgment pronounced in Acts 28:25,28. Bloomfield, who does not see any dispensational significance in Acts twenty-eight, agrees so far as to say that if the "we" refers to Gentiles, the pro must thus be sunk, or have assigned to it a frigid sense, hence it is better to suppose that it refers to the Jewish Christians. Conybeare and Howson's comment is that proelpizein might mean, as some take it, to look forward with hope; but the other meaning "who have hoped" appears most obvious, and best suits the context. Compare proelthontes (Acts 20:13) "we went before". Macknight's paraphrase reads, "The inheritance is bestowed even on us Jews . . . who before He came, hoped in Christ for salvation", and he quotes Chandler here, who refers to such passages as Luke 2:25,38 in contrast with Gentiles who had no hope in Christ before He came (Eph. 2:12). Bishop Wordsworth's comment is: "us who befare had hoped. The participle with the article indicates the cause . . . the preposition pro is explained by kai humeis (ye also) which follow. We of the natural Israel were led by our Prophets to preconceive hopes in Christ. You Gentiles received the word of truth, and embraced the Gospel." Dr. Weymouth gives a free rendering, "we who were the first to fix our hopes on Christ".
The Concordant Version translates "we, who are in a state of prior expectancy in the Christ", with the comment, "the perfect or complete form of the verb marks a state rather than an action. The Circumcision looked for signs and did not expect the Messiah until after great affliction. Those who were under Paul's ministry were expecting Him at any time."
The reader will perceive that we have before us a passage upon which a great deal of thought has been expended and concerning which a variety of conclusions have been drawn. The book of Proverbs tells us that in the multitude of counsellors there is safety (Prov. 11:14); but in 10:19 we read the warning, "in the multitude of words there wanteth not sin", and so while we must ponder every honest rendering and comment, we must also remember that truth is not arrived at by the vote of a majority - rather it appears from the testimony of history that the majority has usually been wrong. One of the items that must be settled is the question, To whom does the Apostle refer when he says "we" and "ye"?
It is the opinion of the majority that the "we" were either (1) the Jews, who were taught by their prophets to expect the Messiah, or (2) the Pentecostal Church, who by reason of the fact that this church came into being at the time when the Ephesians were darkened heathen, must therefore have hoped before in Christ, or (3) that the "we" refers to those who were joined together with the Apostle in the hope of their calling.
Let us put this notion to the test. We will read Ephesians 1:3-14, using the reference "we" and "us" as of a company distinct from the Ephesian church and see what happens. We will not push the matter to such an extreme as to question the scope of the word "our" in the words "our Lord Jesus Christ", but continue "who hath blessed us, not you . . . chosen us, not you . . . that WE should be, not you . . . having predestinated US, not you . . . made US, not you, accepted. . . WE have redemption, not you . . . He abounded toward US, not you . . . He made known to US, not you . . . WE, not you, have obtained an inheritance, that WE, not you, should be to the praise of His glory who first hoped in Christ, In Whom YE also, not us, were sealed with that holy spirit of promise, which is the earnest of OUR inheritance, not yours, until the day of redemption."
We sincerely hope every reader will realize that this is taking a leaf
out of Euclid's book, wherein he says, "which is absurd." We have but
to read verses 13 and 14 together to realize the impossibility of thus
interpreting the Apostle's language. We must therefore turn our attention
to other features if we are to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Up
till now our thoughts have revolved around the conception that pro
must refer to time, but it might be weIl to remember that it can apply
to position too. Taking as a key the word "predestination" that occurs
twice in this section, we find that "high favour" is put in correspondence
with "fore-hoping" thus:
Pro in composition may indicate place, time or preference. Romans 3:9 provides an example of preference, "Are we BETTER (proechomai) than they?" Romans 12:10 will provide another, "In honour preferring (proegeomai) one another." Yet again we read in 1 Timothy 5:21, "Without preferring (prokrima) one before another."
Guided by the structure which in its turn indicates the direction of the argument, we see that the emphasis is placed upon the dignity and the greatness of the position given to the church here. We therefore reject the translation "fore-hope" in favour of "prior-hope", but realize that this is still ambiguous, as the word "prior" also can refer either to time, "a prior engagement", as well as a position, "the Prior", or head of a religious house. We repudiate completely the attempt to distinguish "we" from "you" that would make them two companies or callings, and can find no justification for interposing the hopes of either the Jews or of the Pentecostal Church into this great Prison Epistle. As we discover upon reading further, "hope" is intimately associated with "calling" (Eph. 1:18). The state of prior hope in which these believers were found refers to the dignity of their calling "far above all" where Christ sits at the right hand of God. This is a "Prior Hope" indeed.