From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Holman Bible Dictionary [1]

Promise Embraces Both Declaration and Deed God's promise begins with a declaration by God; it covers God's future plan for not just one race, but all the nations of the earth; and it focuses on the gifts and deeds that God will bestow on a few to benefit the many. We may define God's promise this way: the divine declaration or assurance made at first to Eve, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then to the whole nation of Israel that: (1) He would be their God, (2) they would be His people, and (3) He would dwell in their midst. The blessing of land and of growth as a nation as well as the call to bless the nations was part of the promise to Abraham. Added to these words of assurance were a series of divine actions in history. These words and deeds of God began to constitute the continuously unfolding divine plan by which all the peoples and nations of the earth would benefit from that day to this.

The Old Testament did not use a specific Hebrew word for promise. It used quite ordinary words to encapsulate the pivotal promise of God: speak, say, swear.

The New Testament, however, does use both the noun promise (51 times) and the verb (11 times).

Promise in these references can denote either the form or the content of those words. They could refer either to the words themselves as promissory notes on which to base one's confidence for the future, or they could refer to the things themselves which were promised. Since God's one promise-plan was made up of many specifications, the plural form of “promises” appears 11 times in the New Testament. Nevertheless, the singular form was greatly predominant.

Varying Formulations of the Promise in the Old Testament In  Genesis 1-11 , the promise of God is represented by the successive “blessings” announced both in the creative order and on the human family—even in spite of their sin. The promise of blessing therefore, was both introductory to the promise and part of the promise itself.

The Promise and the Patriarchs For the fathers of Israel (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) we may speak of the promise in the singular even though it announced three significant elements. Each of the three elements are incomplete without the support of each other and without being interlocked into one promise-plan.

This triple promise included: (1) the promise of a seed or offspring (an heir;  Genesis 12:7;  Genesis 15:4;  Genesis 17:16 ,Genesis 17:16, 17:19;  Genesis 21:12;  Genesis 22:16-18;  Genesis 26:3-4 ,Genesis 26:3-4, 26:24;  Genesis 28:13-14;  Genesis 35:11-12 ), (2) the promise of land (an inheritance;  Genesis 12:1 ,Genesis 12:1, 12:7;  Genesis 13:17;  Genesis 15:18;  Genesis 17:8;  Genesis 24:7;  Genesis 26:3-5;  Genesis 28:13 ,Genesis 28:13, 28:15;  Genesis 35:12;  Genesis 48:4;  Genesis 50:24;) ( Genesis 3:1 ) the promise of blessing on all the nations (a heritage of the gospel;  Genesis 12:3;  Genesis 18:18;  Genesis 22:17-18;  Genesis 26:4;  Genesis 28:14 ).

To demonstrate the eternality and one-sidedness in the gracious offer of God, only God passed between the pieces in  Genesis 15:9-21 thus obligating Himself to fulfill His promises without simultaneously and similarly obligating Abraham and the subsequent beneficiaries of the promise.

The Promise and the Law The promise was eternal, Abraham's descendants had to transmit the promise to subsequent generations until the final Seed, even Jesus the Messiah, came. They had to do more. God expected them to participate personally by faith. Where faith was present, already demands and commands were likewise present. Thus, Abraham obeyed God and left Ur ( Genesis 12:1-4 ) and walked before God in a blameless way ( Genesis 17:1 ). His obedience to God's “requirements,” “commands,” “decrees,” and “laws” ( Genesis 26:5 NIV) was exemplary.

The law extended these demands to the entire life of the people all the while presupposing the earlier promises as the very basis, indeed, as the lever by which such demands could be made ( Exodus 2:23-25;  Exodus 6:2-8;  Exodus 19:3-8;  Exodus 20:2 ). The apostle Paul will later ask whether the promises have nullified the law ( Romans 3:31 ). He answered, “Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” ( Romans 3:31 NIV).

The Promises and David The monarchy, prematurely founded by the whims of a people who wished to be like the other nations, received a distinctive role through God's promise. A lad taken “from the pasture” ( 2 Samuel 7:8 NIV) would be given a name equal to “the greatest men of the earth” (  2 Samuel 7:9 NIV); indeed, his offspring would be seated at God's “right hand” (  Psalm 110:1 ) and inherit the nations ( Psalm 2:8 ).

The Promise and the New Covenant The new covenant of  Jeremiah 31:31-34 both repeats many of the elements and formulas already contained in the previously announced promise-plan of God and adds several new features. The new promise still contains the law of God, only now it will be internalized. It still pledges that God will be their God, and they will be His people. It still declares that He will forgive their sins and remember them no more. However, it also adds that it will no longer be necessary to teach one's neighbor or brother; for everyone, no matter what their station in life, will know the Lord.

In spite of Israel's future loss of its king, its capital, its Temple, and its former glory, God would fulfill His ancient promises by founding new promises on “the former things [foretold] long ago” ( Isaiah 48:3 ). He would send His new David, new Temple, new Elijah, new heavens and new earth—but all in continuity with what He had pledged long ago!

The New Testament Enlarges the Ancient Promises The New Testament promises may be gathered into these groups. The first, and most frequent, are the references to God's promises to Abraham about the heir he was to receive, even Jesus Christ ( Romans 4:13-16 ,Romans 4:13-16, 4:20;  Romans 9:7-9;  Romans 15:8;  Galatians 3:16-22;  Galatians 4:23;  Hebrews 6:13-17;  Hebrews 7:6;  Hebrews 11:9 ,  Hebrews 11:11 ,Hebrews 11:11, 11:17 ). A second major grouping may be made around David's seed and the sending of Jesus as “a Savior according to promise” ( Acts 13:23 ,Acts 13:23, 13:32-33;  Acts 26:6 ). Perhaps we should connect with this group the gift of “the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” ( 2 Timothy 1:1 NIV), the “promised eternal inheritance” (  Hebrews 9:15 NIV), and the promise which “he has promised us, eternal life” (  1 John 2:25 NRSV). This promise is “what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ” (  Galatians 3:22 NRSV).

The third major group is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promises appear after our Lord's resurrection ( Luke 24:49;  Acts 2:33 ,Acts 2:33, 2:38-39 ).

There are other subjects related to God's promise: rest ( Hebrews 4:1 ); the new covenant with its prospect of an eternal inheritance ( Hebrews 9:15 ); the new heavens and new earth ( 2 Peter 3:13 ); the resurrection ( Acts 26:6 ); the blessing of numerous descendants ( Hebrews 6:14 ); the emergence of an unshakable kingdom ( Hebrews 12:28 ), and Gentiles as recipients of the same promise ( Ephesians 2:11-13 ).

The Promise Has Some Notable Differences from Prophecy While much of the promise doctrine is also prophetic in that it relates to the future, there are some notable differences between promise and prophecy. 1. Promises relate to what is good, desirable, and that which blesses and enriches. Prophecy, however, also may contain notes of judgment, destruction, and calamity when people and nations fail to repent. 2. Promises ordinarily implicate the entire human race in their provisions whereas prophecies more typically are aimed at specific nations, cultures, or peoples. 3. Promises deliberately have a continuous fulfillment for generation after generation while prophecies invoke promise when they wish to speak to the distant future. 4. The promise of God is unconditional while most prophecies are conditional and have a suppressed “unless” or “if” you repent attached to their predictions of judgment. Finally, 5. The promise of God embraces many declarations of God (“very great and precious promises,”  2 Peter 1:4 ), whereas prophecies are usually directed to more specific events and particular individuals.

The promise-plan of God, then, is indeed His own Word and plan, both in His person and His works, to communicate a blessing to Israel and thereby to bless all the nations of the earth.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [2]

Undertaking or assurance given to indulge in or refrain from some specific form of activity. Such commitments are made commonly between individuals, and can embrace a wide range of human activity. Simple promises can be both written and oral. They can be temporary in nature or made binding for the indefinite future.

In secular situations the declaration may be sealed by some gesture, such as a simple handshake or a solemn oath; more complicated undertakings may need ratification by witnesses, whether legal officers or not. Specific forms of promise such as the mutual plighting of troth in marriage ceremonies often form part of a religious ritual.

Promises may also be made between groups of people, and because of their greater complexity they frequently necessitate the presence of witnesses. Where important bodies such as governments are involved, such promises generally assume the form of treaties, the provisions of which are accepted as binding on all those participating. Among honest individuals a promise carries with it the expectation that the promisor is both willing and able to fulfill the commitment to the promisee, with the undertaking being accepted by the latter on the basis of good faith.

Should circumstances arise in human society where it becomes evident that the promisor is no longer able to bring the promise to fruition, or that the promise was not made in good faith at the beginning, the promisee has the option of writing off the entire situation and becoming reconciled to whatever loss has been sustained. If this course is not deemed satisfactory, it may be possible for him or her to renegotiate the matter so that at least some portion of the undertaking may be salvaged. A more drastic way of seeking redress would be to apply to the courts for damages because of breach of promise. In interpersonal undertakings, however, such a procedure might be undesirable on a number of grounds, one of which would be the expense involved were the negotiations to be unduly protracted.

Where groups of people are involved, litigation is often resorted to in order to resolve the damage occasioned by the failure of the promisor to fulfill the stated obligations. Where fiscal default is involved, it may be impossible for the promises to be fulfilled, no matter how protracted the litigation may become. In the case of broken international treaties, appeal may be made to an international judicial body for recompense. Under some circumstances, military action might even be undertaken by the aggrieved party, regardless of future consequences. Such intervention could well be pursued in any event if there was evidence of deliberate fraud or bad faith when the commitment was made.

From the foregoing it will appear that promises are to be treated as serious undertakings made between people of good will and solemn intent, in the expectation that the promise will come to fruition as intended by the participants. When the third millennium b.c. Sumerian kings promised the inhabitants of their Mesopotamian city-states that current fiscal and social abuses would be rectified, they furnished evidence of good intent by enacting legislation to resolve the various problems that had arisen. But if the reforming intent was ultimately sabotaged accidentally or deliberately by inefficient or dishonest priestly or civil bureaucrats, the promises remained unfulfilled, even if they had been made under oath to a god. Consequently the credibility of the promisor was impaired, sometimes irreparably, even when he himself was blameless. A situation of this sort would be equally damaging to those persons whose expectations remained unfulfilled.

Agreements between individuals have been recorded in second millennium b.c. Mesopotamia, a classic example being the one between Laban and Jacob ( Genesis 31:43-55 ), when the latter was seeking his independence. What amounted to a covenant was established between them, in which the participants promised not to act aggressively toward one another. Each man swore an oath by his god, and erected a stone marker to solemnize the occasion.

Promises of a prophetic order were also prominent in ancient Mesopotamia, especially where last wills and testaments were concerned. Thus Jacob on his deathbed promised his twelve sons that the future would hold certain prospects for them, and according to contemporary custom this statutory declaration to each one of them gave the pronouncements legal force ( Genesis 49:1-33 ). Subsequent events were to demonstrate how accurately these promises were fulfilled.

Archeological discoveries have revealed the existence of international treaties made between Hittite kings and vassal states. In these documents the great king declares his power and beneficence to former subject states, and promises to protect the current participants in a covenant relationship provided that they keep the terms that are agreed upon under oath. In these contracts mechanisms existed for the punishment of disobedient vassals, who by breaking their promises had in effect nullified the oath of the great Hittite king. But if the covenant conditions were observed by the subject state, the king would fulfill his promises and heap blessings upon the people.

A promise that was to bring great blessing to humanity was made by God to Abraham ( Genesis 12:2-3 ), in which the latter, although childless, was to become the progenitor of a great nation. Later this promise was repeated ( Genesis 15:5 ), and to his credit Abraham believed God's utterances. The promise was given added credibility by means of a sacrificial ritual ( Genesis 15:9-17 ), following which God listed the territories that Abraham's offspring would inhabit. On yet another occasion ( Genesis 17:1-27 ) God brought his promise even closer to fulfillment by stating that Sarah would have a son ( Genesis 18:10 ), because nothing was too hard for God to accomplish. Thereafter Abraham rested his confidence in this divine power, and lived to see the Lord's assurances implemented in what Paul, millennia later, was to call the "covenants of the promise" ( Ephesians 2:12; cf.  Galatians 3:6-17 ).

God's promises to Abraham's descendants took definite shape in the Sinai covenant ( Exodus 19-20,24 ), which resembled a Hittite vassal treaty in form. God, the Great King, promised land and rich blessings to the Israelites if they for their part, would worship him alone as their one true God and live in pagan society as a holy nation, thereby witnessing to God's reality and power. This proposition was ratified in a formal ceremony at Sinai ( Exodus 24:3-8 ), and thereafter the sons of Jacob became the chosen people of God.

Coexisting with the promise to Abraham was a more general declaration made by God at the time of the fall ( Genesis 3:15 ), and continued in a promise to David ( 2 Samuel 7:12-13 ) that his seed would continue forever. This messianic utterance still prevailed when, over the centuries, the Israelites became disobedient to God's covenant and ultimately were punished by exile. So desperate was the nation's spiritual condition that Jeremiah promised that God would implement a new, spiritual covenant based upon individual response to him in faith ( Jeremiah 31:31-37 ). In the postexilic period the expectation of a Messiah was quickened by prophecy ( Malachi 4:5-6 ), and when Jesus began his ministry he was expected by some to behave like a conquering king, liberating his people from Roman oppression and fulfilling ancient expectations.

Christ's kingship, however, was not of this world, as he pointed out to his accusers ( John 18:36 ). At his coming he fulfilled the divine promises made to Abraham and David ( Luke 1:68;  Acts 13:23 ). Events occurred just as God had promised, because it was impossible for him to lie ( Titus 1:2 ). Although there was an interval of time between the promise and its fulfillment, the delay did not thereby invalidate the promise, any more than it would for a human promise that was fulfilled eventually.

When the new covenant was initiated in the coming of Jesus Christ, it not merely represented the completion of one phase of promise, but in fact commenced a new dispensation, that of grace, which contained its own promises to be fulfilled by God in future times. The rites and ceremonies inherent in the Mosaic covenant had become obsolete with the appearance of our great High Priest, who is the mediator of a new testament ( Hebrews 9:11-15 ). Instead, while sharing in all the benefits of Abraham's covenant ( Ephesians 3:6 ), the Christian looks forward to a time when the kingdom of God, which was ushered in with the age of grace, will be realized when Christ returns to complete the kingdom of believers and establish it for all eternity before God in heaven.

One important difference between Israel of old and the body of Christ is that the Christian is inspired by the working of the Holy Spirit as a normative part of experience. Before his death, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would be given to believers and would guide them along true ways and instruct them in the deep realities of God. The dramatic bestowal of the Spirit upon the Christians at Pentecost ( Acts 2:1-4 ) fulfilled the Lord's promise, and so possessed the early Christians that they accomplished many deeds of grace by his power.

Paul gave great prominence to the work of the Holy Spirit, teaching that believers were sealed with the promised third person of the Trinity ( Ephesians 1:13 ), thus culminating an ancient Hebrew promise ( Isaiah 32:15;  Ezekiel 36:27 ). For the Holy Spirit to be present in a believer guarantees that person's inheritance ( 2 Corinthians 1:22 ), and points to future glorification when the hope of our salvation becomes a reality ( Romans 8:23 ). Peter stressed the final promise to Christians, that Jesus will return one day in glory to establish new heavens and a new earth ( 2 Peter 3:4-13 ). The promises of God find an emphatic "yes" in Christ ( 2 Corinthians 1:19 ), thus guaranteeing the certainty of the Christian's hope.

R. K. Harrison

See also Fulfillment; Prophetess ProphecyProphet

Bibliography . D. Baker, Two Testaments: One Bible  ; W. D. Davis, The Gospel and the Land  ; W. Kaiser, Towards an Old Testament Theology  ; W. Vischer, The Witness of the Old Testament to Christ .

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [3]

A — 1: Ἐπαγγελία (Strong'S #1860 — Noun Feminine — epangelia — ep-ang-el-ee'-ah )

primarily a law term, denoting "a summons" (epi, "upon," angello, "to proclaim, announce"), also meant "an undertaking to do or give something, a promise." Except in  Acts 23:21 it is used only of the "promises" of God. It frequently stands for the thing "promised," and so signifies a gift graciously bestowed, not a pledge secured by negotiation; thus, in   Galatians 3:14 , "the promise of the Spirit" denotes "the promised Spirit:" cp.  Luke 24:49;  Acts 2:33;  Ephesians 1:13; so in  Hebrews 9:15 , "the promise of the eternal inheritance" is "the promised eternal inheritance." On the other hand, in  Acts 1:4 , "the promise of the Father," is the "promise" made by the Father.

 Galatians 3:16 Genesis 12:1-3 13:14-17 15:18 17:1-14 22:15-18 Romans 9:4 Hebrews 6:12 7:6 8:6 11:17 Galatians 3  Galatians 3:21 Galatians 4:23,28 Ephesians 2:12 2—Corinthians 1:20  Hebrews 11:33 Hebrews 7:6 Ephesians 6:2 1—Timothy 4:8 2—Timothy 1:1 Hebrews 4:1 2—Peter 3:4,9 1—John 1:5 Acts 26:6 Romans 4:20 1—John 2:25 Romans 9:8 15:8 Galatians 3:29 Hebrews 11:9 Romans 4:13,14 Galatians 3:14-22 Hebrews 10:36

A — 2: Ἐπάγγελμα (Strong'S #1862 — Noun Neuter — epangelma — ep-ang'-el-mah )

denotes "a promise made,"  2—Peter 1:4;  3:13 .

B — 1: Ἐπαγγέλλομαι (Strong'S #1861 — Verb — epangello — ep-ang-el'-lo )

"to announce, proclaim," has in the NT the two meanings "to profess" and "to promise," each used in the Middle Voice; "to promise" (a) of "promises" of God,  Acts 7:5;  Romans 4:21; in  Galatians 3:19 , Passive Voice;  Titus 1:2;  Hebrews 6:13;  10:23;  11:11;  12:26;  James 1:12;  2:5;  1—John 2:25; (b) made by men,  Mark 14:11;  2—Peter 2:19 . See Profess.

B — 2: Προεπαγγέλλω (Strong'S #4279 — Verb — proepangello — pro-ep-ang-ghel'-lom-ahee )

in the Middle Voice, "to promise before" pro, and No. 1), occurs in  Romans 1:2;  2—Corinthians 9:5 . See Aforepromised.

B — 3: Ὁμολογέω (Strong'S #3670 — Verb — homologeo — hom-ol-og-eh'-o )

"to agree, confess," signifies "to promise" in  Matthew 14:7 . See Confess.

 Luke 22:6Consent

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [4]

PROMISE . Although the OT is the record of God’s promises to lowly saints and to anointed kings, to patriarchs and to prophets, to the nation of His choice and to the world at large, the word itself is rarely used in the EV [Note: English Version.] , and less frequently in the RV [Note: Revised Version.] than in the AV [Note: Authorized Version.] . The Heb. noun dâbhâr is generally rendered ‘word,’ but ‘promise’ is found in   1 Kings 8:56 ,   Nehemiah 5:12 f. In   Psalms 105:42 the change made in the RV [Note: Revised Version.] reminds us that God’s ‘holy word’ is always a ‘holy promise.’ Similarly, the Heb. verb dâbhar is usually tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘speak’; but ‘promise’ is found in   Exodus 12:25 ,   Jeremiah 32:42 etc. In several passages, as, e.g. ,   Deuteronomy 10:9 ,   Nehemiah 9:23 , the RV [Note: Revised Version.] gives ‘speak’ or ‘say’ instead of ‘promise.’ A complete study of the subject would therefore require a consideration of the whole question of OT prophecy. ‘For thy word’s sake’ is the ultimate appeal of those who can say ‘thou art God, and thy words are truth, and thou hast promised’ (  2 Samuel 7:21;   2 Samuel 7:28 ). See Prophecy.

1. In a few passages (  Joshua 9:21 ,   Nehemiah 5:12 f.,   Esther 4:7 ,   Matthew 14:7 ,   Mark 14:11 ,   Acts 7:5 ,   2 Peter 2:19 ) the reference is to a man’s promises to his fellow-man  ; once only (  Acts 23:21 ) the noun has this meaning in the NT. In   Deuteronomy 23:23 the verb refers to man’s promises to God , and is synonymous with vowing unto God. This passage is instructive, on account of the stress that is laid on the voluntary nature of the obligation that is incurred by him who promises or makes a vow. Driver renders ‘according as thou hast vowed freely unto Jehovah, thy God, that which thou hast spoken (promised) with thy mouth’ ( ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] , in loc .). The thought of spontaneity is an essential part of the meaning of the word when it is used of God’s promises to man , and especially of ‘the promise’ which comprises all the blessings of the Messianic Kingdom (  Acts 2:39;   Acts 7:17 etc.).

2. The Gr. word epangellesthai , tr. [Note: translate or translation.] ‘promise,’ is found only in the middle voice in the NT; its root-meaning is ‘to announce oneself,’ hence it comes to signify ‘to offer one’s services,’ and ‘to engage oneself voluntarily to render a service.’ Dalman derives the NT conception of the ‘promise’ from the Rabbinic phraseology concerning ‘assurance.’ A typical example is Ber. R . 76: ‘for the pious there is no assurance (promise) in this age’; cf. Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] Bar 53. 8, ‘the promise of life hereafter’ ( The Words of Jesus , p. 103). The promises of God are numerous (  2 Corinthians 1:20 ); they are also ‘precious and exceeding great’ (  2 Peter 1:4 ). ‘His every word of grace’ is a promise; even His commandments are assurances of grace, conditional only upon men’s willingness to obey. When God commanded the children of Israel to go in to possess the land, it was as good as theirs; already He had ‘lifted up’ His hand to give it them; but the promise implied in the command was made of no effect through their disobedience. The possession of Canaan, the growth of the nation, universal blessing through the race, are examples of promises of which the patriarchs did not receive the outward fulness (  Hebrews 11:18 ). On the one hand, Abraham ‘obtained the promise,’ because the birth of Isaac was the beginning of its fulfilment (  Hebrews 6:15 ); on the other hand, he is one of the fathers who ‘received not the promise,’ but ‘with a true faith looked for a fulfilment of the promises which was not granted to them’ (cf. Westcott’s note on   Hebrews 11:39 ).

3. The NT phrase ‘inherit the promises’ (  Hebrews 6:12; cf.   Hebrews 11:9 ,   Galatians 3:29 ) is found in Ps. Sol 13:8 (b.c. 70 to b.c. 40). This passage is probably ‘the first instance in extant Jewish literature where the expression “the promises of the Lord” sums up the assurances of the Messianic redemption’ (Ryle and James, Com., in loc .). In the Gospels the word ‘promise’ is used in this technical sense only in   Luke 24:49 , where ‘the promise of the Father’ refers to the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf.   Acts 1:4;   Acts 2:33;   Acts 2:39 ,   Galatians 3:14 ,   Ephesians 1:13 ). The Ep. to the Hebrews is especially rich in passages which make mention of promises fulfilled in Christ (  Hebrews 4:1;   Hebrews 6:17;   Hebrews 7:8;   Hebrews 9:15 etc.); but both in his speeches and in his Epistles St. Paul looks at the Christian gospel from the same point of view (  Acts 13:28;   Acts 13:32;   Acts 26:6 f.,   Romans 9:8 ,   Galatians 4:28 ,   Ephesians 3:6; cf. the only Johannine use of ‘promise’ in   1 John 2:25 ). There are promises to encourage believers as they strive to perfect holiness (  2 Corinthians 7:1 ), whilst ‘to them that love him’ the Lord hath ‘promised the crown of life’ (  James 1:12 ); there is also the unfulfilled ‘promise of his coming’ (  2 Peter 3:4 ). But ‘how many so ever he the promises of God, in him is the Yea: wherefore also through him is the Amen, unto the glory of God through us.’

J. G. Tasker.

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [5]

The idea of promise is one of the great elements of Scripture teaching. It is a peculiarity of the Bible; no other religious book has that as a distinguishing feature. It is the element of promise that runs through its various books, binds them into an organic whole, and unites in a vital union the OT and the NT. The promise of the OT is fulfilled in the blessing of the NT. Many promises may be taken as predictions. They constitute at least part of the content of prophecy. To write about promise in all its relations would involve the discussion of prophecy, the preparation for the coming of Christ, the manifestation of the grace of God, etc. In what follows, reference is restricted to ‘promise’ in the apostolic writings of the NT.

In Acts and the Epistles the element of promise is very prominent. The words ἐπαγγελία, ἐπάγγελμα, ἐπαγγέλλομαι are of frequent occurrence.

(1) They are used in a general sense as in the phrases ‘looking for a promise from thee’ ( Acts 23:21); ‘the first commandment with promise’ ( Ephesians 6:2; also  1 Timothy 4:8;  2 Peter 2:19).

(2) They are employed with special reference to the promises of God, out of which arose the economy of grace as it is set forth in all the variety of its blessing in the NT. Reference is often made (a) to the great fundamental promises given to Abraham, relating to the birth of Isaac, the blessing of his descendants, and the inheritance of the land of Canaan (e.g. ‘for this is a word of promise … Sarah shall have a son’ [ Romans 9:9; also  Romans 4:20,  Galatians 4:23,  Acts 7:17,  Hebrews 11:9;  Hebrews 13:17, etc.]); (b) to the whole spiritual content of the Messianic blessing involved in the promise (e.g. ‘Now I stand here to be judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers’ [ Acts 26:6], ‘strangers from the covenants of the promise’ [ Ephesians 2:12; also  Romans 9:4,  Galatians 3:16-17,  Hebrews 6:12, etc.]). The passage whore the significance of ‘promise’ is expressed is  Galatians 3:6-29 (cf. also  Romans 4:13-21). St. Paul is the chief exponent of the meaning of the promise given to Abraham and his seed. He emphasizes the fact that the promises in all their variety and fullness were fulfilled in Christ, ‘for how many scever be the promises of God, in him is the yea: wherefore also through him is the Amen’ ( 2 Corinthians 1:20). The blessings of the promise are those which Christ brings (‘fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’ [ Ephesians 3:6]). They who receive the blessings are those who belong to Christ: ‘if ye are Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, heirs according to promise’ ( Galatians 3:29). Faith is the general condition of receiving: ‘the scripture hath shut up all things under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe’ ( Galatians 3:22). Particular emphasis is laid on the fact that the promise is of grace, and not of works of the law; ‘for this cause it is of faith, that it might be according to grace; to the end that the promise may be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all’ ( Romans 4:16). The term ‘promise’ is itself a witness to the spontaneity of the grace of God. Among the Messianic blessings the promise is sometimes identified with the gift of the Holy Ghost: ‘that upon the Gentiles might come the blessing of Abraham in Christ Jesus; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit’ ( Galatians 3:14; also  Acts 2:39,  Ephesians 1:13). The forgiveness of sins is also regarded as included in the promise ( Acts 2:38-39).

(3) The Messianic promises of the OT are not only fulfilled in Christ, but out of His work many other promises are referred to, as ‘whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises’ ( 2 Peter 1:4). Among these we must include ‘life’ ( 2 Timothy 1:1), ‘eternal life’ ( 1 John 2:25), ‘the crown of life’ ( James 1:12), ‘new heavens and a new earth’ ( 2 Peter 3:13, etc.).

Literature.-Art._ ‘Promise’ in Hdb_ (J Denney) and CE_ (J. F. Driscoll); J. Orr, The Problem of the OT, 1907, pp. 35 ff., 42.

John Reid.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [6]

Israelites of the Old Testament era made their promises usually in the forms of covenants, oaths and vows. They therefore understood the promises of God in relation to such forms ( Exodus 6:8;  Deuteronomy 9:5;  Ephesians 2:12;  Hebrews 6:13; see Covenant ; Oaths ; Vows ). In the New Testament, although the idea of the covenant is present, there is little concerning oaths and vows. Usually the emphasis is on the promise, and most of the promises are made by God ( 2 Corinthians 1:20;  Titus 1:2).

Some of these promises are in the nature of fulfilled prophecies, where God’s promises of Old Testament times find their fulfilment in the events of Christ and the gospel ( Luke 1:32-33;  Luke 1:72-73;  Acts 13:23;  Acts 13:32;  Romans 1:2;  Romans 15:8;  Galatians 3:14;  Hebrews 9:15; cf.  Genesis 12:1-3;  2 Samuel 7:16;  Jeremiah 31:31-34). Others concern the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church ( Luke 24:49;  Acts 1:4;  Acts 2:33;  Acts 2:39), and the blessings of the believer in the age to come ( Hebrews 10:36;  James 1:12;  James 2:5;  2 Peter 3:4;  2 Peter 3:13;  1 John 2:25).

The New Testament therefore refers to the entire gospel and its blessings as being based on promise. That is, salvation is God’s gift, dependent on God’s faithfulness and in no way a reward for human effort or merit ( Galatians 3:18;  Galatians 4:23-28;  2 Timothy 1:1;  Hebrews 4:1;  Hebrews 10:36). God’s promises are contrasted with the law given to Israel; for whereas the law demanded obedience, the promises require only faith to accept them ( Romans 4:13-16;  Galatians 3:17-18;  Galatians 3:21-22;  Ephesians 3:6;  Hebrews 8:6;  Hebrews 11:13).

God is always faithful to his promises. He has given added assurance of this by giving the Holy Spirit to the believer as a guarantee that he will do what he has promised ( Ephesians 1:13-14;  Hebrews 6:13;  Hebrews 10:23;  2 Peter 3:9). God’s people likewise should be faithful to their promises, even when it involves them in personal inconvenience ( Deuteronomy 23:23;  Psalms 15:4;  2 Corinthians 1:17-20).

King James Dictionary [7]

PROM'ISE, n. L. promissum, from promitto, to send before or forward pro and mitto, to send.

1. In a general sense, a declaration, written or verbal, made by one person to another, which binds the person who makes it, either in honor, conscience or law, to do or forbear a certain act specified a declaration which gives to the person to whom it is made, a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of the act. The promise of a visit to my neighbor, gives him a right to expect it, and I am bound in honor and civility to perform the promise. Of such a promise human laws have no cognizance but the fulfillment of it is one of the minor moralities, which civility, kindness and strict integrity require to be observed. 2. In law, a declaration, verbal or written, made by one person to another for a good or valuable consideration, in the nature of a covenant, by which the promiser binds himself, and as the case may be, his legal representatives, to do or forbear some act and gives to the promisee a legal right to demand and enforce a fulfillment. 3. A binding declaration of something to be done or given for another's benefit as the promise of a grant of land. A promise may be absolute or conditional lawful or unlawful express or implied. An absolute promise must be fulfilled at all events. The obligation to fulfill a conditional promise depends on the performance of the condition. An unlawful promise is not binding, because it is void for it is incompatible with a prior paramount obligation of obedience to the laws. An express promise, is one expressed in words or writing. An implied promise, is one which reason and justice dictate. If I hire a man to perform a day's labor, without any declaration that I will pay him, the law presumes a promise on my part that I will give him a reasonable reward, and will enforce much implied promise. 4. Hopes expectation, or that which affords expectation of future distinction as a youth of great promise.

My native country was full of youthful promise.

5. That which is promised fulfillment or grant of what is promised.

He commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father.  Acts 1

6. In Scripture,the promise of God is the declaration or assurance which God has given in his word of bestowing blessings on his people. Such assurance resting on the perfect justice,power, benevolence and immutable veracity of God, cannot fail of performance.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promises.  2 Peter 3

PROM'ISE, To make a declaration to another, which binds the promiser in honor, conscience or law, to do or forbear some act as, to promise a visit to a friend to promise a cessation of hostilities to promise the payment of money.

1. To afford reason to expect as, the year promises a good harvest. 2. To make declaration or give assurance of some benefit to be conferred to pledge or engage to bestow.

The proprietors promised large tracts of land.

PROM'ISE, To assure one by a promise or binding declaration. The man promises fair let us forgive him.

1. To afford hopes or expectations to give ground to expect good. The youth promises to be an eminent man the wheat promises to be a good crop the weather promises to be pleasant. 2. In popular use, this verb sometimes threatens or assures of evil. The rogue shall be punished, I promise you.

Will not the ladies be afraid of the lion?

--I fear it, I promise you.

In the latter example, promise is equivalent to declare "I declare to you."

3. To promise one's self, to be assured or to have strong confidence.

I dare promise myself you will attest the truth of all I have advanced.

Webster's Dictionary [8]

(1): ( a.) That which causes hope, expectation, or assurance; especially, that which affords expectation of future distinction; as, a youth of great promise.

(2): ( a.) In general, a declaration, written or verbal, made by one person to another, which binds the person who makes it to do, or to forbear to do, a specified act; a declaration which gives to the person to whom it is made a right to expect or to claim the performance or forbearance of a specified act.

(3): ( a.) An engagement by one person to another, either in words or in writing, but properly not under seal, for the performance or nonperformance of some particular thing. The word promise is used to denote the mere engagement of a person, without regard to the consideration for it, or the corresponding duty of the party to whom it is made.

(4): ( a.) Bestowal, fulfillment, or grant of what is promised.

(5): ( v. t.) To engage to do, give, make, or to refrain from doing, giving, or making, or the like; to covenant; to engage; as, to promise a visit; to promise a cessation of hostilities; to promise the payment of money.

(6): ( v. t.) To afford reason to expect; to cause hope or assurance of; as, the clouds promise rain.

(7): ( v. t.) To make declaration of or give assurance of, as some benefit to be conferred; to pledge or engage to bestow; as, the proprietors promised large tracts of land; the city promised a reward.

(8): ( v. i.) To give assurance by a promise, or binding declaration.

(9): ( v. i.) To afford hopes or expectation; to give ground to expect good; rarely, to give reason to expect evil.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [9]

Is a solemn asseveration, by which one pledges his veracity that he shall perform, or cause to be performed, the thing which he mentions. The obligation of promises arises from the necessity of the well-being and existence of society. "Virtue requires, " as Dr. Doddridge observes, "that promises be fulfilled. The promisee, 1: e. the person to whom the promise is made, acquires a property in virtue of the promise. The uncertainty of property would evidently be attended with great inconvenience. By failing to fulfil my promise, I either show that I was not sincere in making it, or that I have little constancy or resolution, and either way injure my character and consequently my usefulness in life. Promises, however, are not binding,

1. If they were made by us before we came to such exercise of reason as to be fit to transact affairs of moment; or if by any distemper or sudden surprise we are deprived of the exercise of our reason at the time when the promise is made.

2. If the promise was made on a false presumption, in which the promiser, after the most diligent inquiry, was imposed upon, especially if he were deceived by the fraud of the promise.

3. If the thing itself be vicious; for virtue cannot require that vice should be committed.

4. If the accomplishment of the promise be so hard and intolerable, that there is reason to believe that, had it been foreseen, it would have been not accepted, or if it depend on conditions not performed."

See Doddridge's Lec. lec. 69; Grot. de Jure, lib. il. cap. 11; Paley's Mor. Phil. ch. 5. vol. 1; Grove's Mor. Phil. vol. 2: p. 2. 100: 12; Watts's Ser. ser. 20.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [10]

an assurance given by God, in his word, of bestowing blessings upon his people,  2 Peter 1:4 . The word in the New Testament is usually taken for the promises that God heretofore made to Abraham, and the other patriarchs, of sending the Messiah, and conferring his Holy Spirit and eternal life on those that should believe on him. It is in this sense that the Apostle Paul commonly uses the word promise,  Romans 4:13-14;  Galatians 3:14;  Galatians 3:17-18;  Galatians 3:21-22;  Galatians 3:29 . The promises of the new covenant are called better than those of the old,  Hebrews 8:6 . because they are more spiritual, clear, comprehensive, and universal than those of the Mosaic covenant. The time of the promise,  Acts 7:17 , is the time of fulfilling the promise. The "children of the promise" are,

1. The Israelites descended from Isaac, in opposition to the Ishmaelites descended from Ishmael and Hagar.

2. The Jews converted to Christianity, in opposition to the obstinate Jews, who would not believe in Christ.

3. All true believers, who are born again by the supernatural power of God, and who by faith lay hold on the promise of salvation in Jesus Christ.

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [11]

Used by Paul to denote the spiritual gifts of God, chiefly the Messiah, the Holy Spirit, and the fullness of gospel blessings, of which an assurance was given to Abraham and other saints in behalf of themselves, and of believers who should come after them,  Romans 4:13-14   Galatians 3:14-29 . The "children of the promise" are either Isaac's posterity, as distinguished from Ishmael's; Jews converted to Christianity; or all true believers, who by faith lay hold on the promise of salvation in Christ. In  Hebrews 11:39 , "promise" means the thing promised,  Acts 1:4 . The "exceeding great and precious promises" of God include all good things for this life and the future; which are infallibly secured to his people in Christ,  2 Corinthians 1:20   1 Timothy 4:8   2 Peter 1:4 . On the ground of the infinite merits of their Redeemer, infinite love, unbounded wisdom, and almighty power are pledged for their benefit; and having given them his only son, God will with him freely give them every inferior blessing he sees to be desirable for them,  Romans 8:32 .

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [12]

prom´is (most frequently in the Old Testament דּבר , dābhār , "speaking," "speech," and דּבר , dābhar , "to speak" also אמר , 'āmar , "to say," once in   Psalm 77:8 , 'ōmer , "speech"; in the New Testament ἐπαγγελία , epaggelı́a , and the verbs ἐπαγγέλλομαι , epaggéllomai , and compounds): Promise holds an important place in the Scriptures and in the development of the religion that culminated in Christ. The Bible is indeed full of "precious and exceeding great promises" ( 2 Peter 1:4 ), although the word "promise" is not always used in connection with them. Of the more outstanding promises of the Old Testament may be mentioned: (1) the proto-evangelium Genesis 3:15 ); (2) the promise to Noah no more to curse the ground, etc. ( Genesis 8:21 ,  Genesis 8:22; 9:1-17); (3) most influential, the promise to Abraham to make of him a great nation in whom all families of the earth should be blessed, to give to him and his seed the land of Canaan ( Genesis 12:2 ,  Genesis 12:7 , etc.), often referred to in the Old Testament ( Exodus 12:25;  Deuteronomy 1:8 ,  Deuteronomy 1:11;  Deuteronomy 6:3;  Deuteronomy 9:28 , etc.); (4) the promise to David to continue his house on the throne ( 2 Samuel 7:12 ,  2 Samuel 7:13 ,  2 Samuel 7:18;  1 Kings 2:24 , etc.); (5) the promise of restoration of Israel, of the Messiah, of the new and everlasting kingdom, of the new covenant and outpouring of the Spirit ( Isaiah 2:2-5;  Isaiah 4:2;  Isaiah 55:5;  Isaiah 66:13;  Jeremiah 31:31-34;  Jeremiah 32:37-42;  Jeremiah 33:14;  Ezekiel 36:22-31;  Ezekiel 37:11 f;   Ezekiel 39:25 f, etc.). In the New Testament these promises are founded on, and regarded as having their true fulfillment in, Christ and those who are His (  2 Corinthians 1:20;  Ephesians 3:6 ). The promise of the Spirit is spoken of by Jesus as "the promise of my Father" ( Luke 24:49;  Acts 1:4 ), and this was regarded as fulfilled at Pentecost. The promise of a Saviour of the seed of David is regarded as fulfilled in Christ ( Acts 13:23 ,  Acts 13:32 ,  Acts 26:6;  Romans 1:2;  Romans 4:13;  Romans 9:4 ). Paul argues that the promise to Abraham that he should be "heir of the world," made to him before circumcision, is not confined to Israel, but is open to all who are children of Abraham by faith ( Romans 4:13-16; compare  Galatians 3:16 ,  Galatians 3:19 ,  Galatians 3:29 ). In like manner the writer to the Hebrews goes back to the original promises, giving them a spiritual and eternal significance (4:1; 6:17; 11:9, etc.). The New Testament promises include manifold blessings and hopes, among them "life," "eternal life" ( 1 Timothy 4:8;  1 Timothy 6:19;  2 Timothy 1:1;  James 1:12 ), the "kingdom" ( James 2:5 ), Christ's "coming" ( 2 Peter 3:9 , etc.), "new heavens and a new earth" ( 2 Peter 3:13 ), etc. For "promise" and "promised" in the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) has frequently other terms, as "word" ( Psalm 105:42 ), "spake," "spoken" ( Deuteronomy 10:9;  Joshua 9:21;  Joshua 22:4;  Joshua 23:5 ,  Joshua 23:15 , etc.), "consented" ( Luke 22:6 ), etc. References to the promises occur repeatedly in the Apocrypha (Baruch 2:34; 2 Macc 2:18; The Wisdom of Solomon 12:21; compare 2 Esdras 3:15; 5:29).

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [13]

(some form of אָמִר , To Say, or דָּבִר , To Speak; Ἐπαγγελία ) is a solemn asseveration, by which one pledges his veracity that he will perform, or cause to be performed, for the benefit of another, the thing which he mentions. A promise, in the scriptural sense of the term, is a declaration or assurance of the divine will, in which God signifies what particular blessings or good things he will freely bestow, as well as the evils which he will remove. Promises differ from the commands of God, inasmuch as the former are significations of the divine will concerning a duty enjoined to be performed, while the promises relate to mercy to be received. The "exceeding great and precious promises" are applicable to all believers; they appertain to the present and the future life ( 2 Peter 1:4). Some particular promises are predictions, as the promise of the Messiah, and the blessings of the Gospel ( Romans 4:13-14;  Galatians 3:14-29). Hence the Hebrews were called the "children of the promise" ( Romans 9:8). So all the true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are called "children" and "heirs of the promise" ( Galatians 4:20;  Hebrews 6:12;  Hebrews 6:17). There are four classes of promises mentioned in the Scriptures, particularly in the New Test.:

1, promises relating to the Messiah;

2, promises relating to the Church;

3, promises of blessings, both temporal and spiritual, to the pious; and,

4, promises encouraging the exercise of the several graces and duties that compose the Christian character.

The first two of these classes, indeed, are many of them predictions as well as promises. (See Prophecy). The consideration of the others should prove.

1, an antidote to despair;

2, a motive to patience under affliction;

3, an incentive to perseverance in well-doing;

4, a call for prayer.

PROMISE is a solemn asseveration by which one pledges his veracity that he shall perform, or cause to be performed, the thing which he mentions. The obligation of promises arises from the necessity of the well-being and existence of society. "Virtue requires," as Dr. Doddridge observes, "that promises be fulfilled. The promise, i.e. the person to whom the promise is made, acquires a property in virtue of the promise. The uncertainty of property would evidently be attended with great inconvenience. By failing to fulfil my promise, I either show that I was not sincere in making it, or that I have little constancy or resolution, and either way injure my character, and consequently my usefulness in life. Promises, however, are not binding,

1, if they were made by us before we came to such exercise of reason as to be fit to transact affairs of moment; or if by any distemper or sudden surprise we are deprived of the exercise of our reason at the time when the promise is made;

2, if the promise was made on a false presumption, in which the promiser, after the most diligent inquiry, was imposed upon, especially if he were deceived by the fraud of the promise;

3, if the thing itself be vicious, for virtue cannot require that vice should be committed;

4, if the accomplishment of the promise be so hard and intolerable that there is reason to believe that, had it been foreseen, it would not have been an accepted case;

5, if the promise be not accepted, or if it depend on conditions not performed." But really this question concerning the Validity and obligation of a promise given or obtained under false views is a matter that falls within the Casuistry of Ethics a very uncertain ground. See Grotius, De Jure, lib. ii, cap. xi; Paley, Moral Philosophy, vol. i, ch. v; Grove, Moral Philosophy, vol. ii. ch. 12:p. 2; Watts, Sermons, ser. 20; Dymond, Essays; Verplanck, On Contracts. (See Obligation); (See Probabilism).