New Testament Word Studies – Hypostasis, Elenchos, Plerophoria, Parrhesia, Tharreo

The epistle to the Hebrews, perhaps beyond all others, is designed to strengthen the faith, confidence and assurance of God’s people. This is everywhere apparent: the great quality that is extolled in chapter 11 is not zeal or godliness or love but faith; the Israelites, we are told, failed to enter into Canaan because of unbelief, 3. 19; the condition of our having become partakers of Christ is this same confidence of faith, and that not only at the beginning but all the way through, 3. 14; and the ministry of our High Priest is aimed at securing that we do not cast away our confidence, 10. 35, or our confession, 4. 14 R.V., for if a man abandons his confession of faith in Christ, what is he? It will be helpful, therefore, to examine closely some of the words for confidence with which the Epistle abounds.
Hypostasis and elenchos are both used as descriptions of faith in chapter 11. 1. Faith is the hypostasis of things hoped for. The word basically means ‘an underlying, support, foundation’. Then in one direction it develops the meaning ‘substance, substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality’ (so, for instance, Christ is the very image of God’s substance 1. 3 R.v.); in another direction it develops the meaning ‘steadiness, firmness, conviction, assurance’, and from that it is an easy step to the meaning ‘a giving substance to, a guaranteeing’, and so ‘title-deeds’, which are an instrument of guarantee and security. The choice of meaning in chapter 11. 1 is not easy, witness the differences in the versions, but it lies between giving hypostasis a passive meaning, i.e., ‘faith is the inwrought confidence and assurance that one day we shall possess the things we hope for’, and an active meaning, i.e., ‘faith gives substance to our hopes, turning them into solid realities’. If here the active meaning seems preferable, in 3. 14 the passive meaning alone is possible. The expositor, rather than the grammarian, must decide.
A similar situation pertains to the word elenchos, which basically means ‘proof, proving, something which brings conviction’. It is perhaps possible to give it a passive meaning, ‘faith is the inner conviction about things not seen’, but the active meaning is grammatically easier, ‘faith is that which supplies the conviction and makes us certain of things not seen’.
Plerophoria comes from a verb which means ‘to fill completely’. It denotes the state of one who is filled fully with persuasion or assurance or certain hope so that doubt, questioning and wavering are completely ousted. It is used of the confidence with which we may draw near into the holiest, 10. 22, and of the unwavering hope we may show during our present waiting and testings, 6. 11. Such a happy and strong frame of mind comes not from our strugglings but from letting our-
selves be filled to overflowing with a sense of the value of Christ’s sacrifice and priesthood on the one hand and of the unbreakable word and oath of God on the other.
Parrhesia means first ‘the right and freedom of free speech’ and then boldness of every kind that conceals nothing through fear of consequence from others. In the very holiest, 10. 19, and before the throne, 4. 16, God desires us to show this freedom and confidence. His perfect love, mercy and grace would cast out cringing fear, setting us at ease and making us not afraid to be honest with Him and with ourselves. That same boldness He would have us show in our confession before the world, 3. 6; 10. 35.
Tharreo, 13. 6, denotes the boldness and confidence of courage, the opposite of timidity and faintheartedness. In a very competitive
world, where a man, who stands boldly for his faith and acts strictly by Christian principles, may at times lose financially, yet he may let his mind be free from the love of money and be content with what he has. The courage to do so comes first by observing that God has outspokenly committed Himself neither to leave nor fail us, and then by boldly and squarely facing the question: what can man, at the worst, do unto me?
This concludes the series of studies on certain New Testament Greek words by our brother Dr. D. Gooding of Belfast University. We are thankful to him for writing these contributions, and we trust that some readers will be stimulated to enquire further into the deeper and more exact meaning of many words that cannot be brought out in any ordinary English translation.

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