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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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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.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Promise'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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