The Promises of God from Aramaic
There is a distinction in the words for promise in the Aramaic that sheds light on the meaning of how we share in the promise of Abraham. Abraham was the father of faith and we are the heirs of the promise made to him. What is the promise?
In Greek there is only one word for to promise or promise - epangellomai and epangelia. In Aramaic, there are two words and they are not used interchangeably. This is noteworthy because in the comparison of the two languages, the majority of the time there is more than one Greek word for a single Aramaic word. When the reverse is true, it is time to find out why.
The two words for promise in Aramaic are shudaya and mulkana. We will look at shudaya first. Shudaya is formed from the Shaphel tense of the verb yada. Yada means to profess, confess or promise. This is similar to the Greek word. Shudaya, which is the noun, has a narrower sense than the Greek. The noun means a promise, declaration (a confession intensified) which has a manifested result or fulfillment. The emphasis and distinction of this word for promise is on the result or fulfillment. 1 Timothy 4:8 is an example of how this word is used.
1 Timothy 4:8:
For bodily exercise profiteth little, but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.
Godliness is profitable for all things. In other words, it shows results or an outward fulfillment in life now and also in that to come. Acts 13:32 is another use of shudaya.
And we declare unto you glad tidings, how that the promise which was made unto the fathers, God hath fulfilled the same.
The emphasis is on the fulfillment, not necessarily on the declaration of the promise.
Shudaya is used of “the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4) and the promise of Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33, 39 and Galatians 3:14). The promise of Holy Spirit was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost and the manifested result was speaking in tongues and magnifying God. This was the outward witness that God’s promise had come true.
Mulkana, on the other hand, is from the verb melak. This verb means to counsel or advise in four verses. The rest of the verses are to promise. It means to make an arbitrary declaration and this declaration is from an absolute owner. An example would be a decree issued from a king or president. In fact, other nouns that are derived from this verb are king, queen, kingdom and decree. In this sense, the promise is unearned and not dependent on anything other than the one who declares it.
And being fully persuaded that, what He had promised, he was able also to perform.
In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;)
The one who is promising has the absolute authority to do so and it is his job to ensure that the declaration comes to pass. The emphasis then is on the declaration and not the fulfillment.
The noun mulkana is this promise, which is an absolute declaration. It also has an added definition of the promise having to do with lands, property or inheritance. A king would make an absolute decree that certain lands or property would belong to someone. Then it would be so and the lands would continue to be passed down to that person’s heirs. That is why this word mulkana is chosen especially with regard to Abraham and the promise of the land of Canaan for his inheritance.
For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.
Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.
And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.
For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
Galatians 3:16 says “promises.” The mulkana to Abraham has three parts. The promise to Abraham was an absolute declaration that 1) he would inherit the land, 2) Christ (the seed) would come from his lineage, and 3) he would be a father of many nations. The promise was revealed to Abraham over a period of time beginning in Genesis 15:1. God counted righteousness to Abraham because he “believed in the Lord” (Genesis 15:6). Abraham took the declared words of God and believed them literally. The promise is further elaborated in Genesis 17.
As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.
The Aramaic for the phrase, “father of many nations,” is “father to a multitude of the Gentiles” in Romans 4:17. This three-fold promise of the land as an inheritance, the seed of Christ, and the father of many nations was a mulkana to Abraham. It was not earned; it was an arbitrary declaration made by God to him. Romans 4:21 says that Abraham “being fully persuaded that, what he had promised (melak), he was able also to perform.” God will bring to pass His declaration.
There are two passages where the two different Aramaic words for promise occur together. These now become clearer when the different emphases of the words are understood. The two passages are Galatians 3:14-29 and Hebrews 6:12-17. The whole context of Galatians 3 is that the law did not annul the promise made to Abraham. This promise, as we have seen, included the land, blessings upon the nations and that the seed would come from him. All of the uses are mulkana except in two verses, 14 and 19.
Galatians 3:14, 18, 19 (MGI translation):
that the blessing of Abraham might be on the Gentiles by Jesus Christ and [that] we would receive the promise (shudaya) of the Spirit through faith.
Now if the inheritance was by the law, then it was not by promise (mulkana). But God gave it to Abraham by promise (mulkana).
Why then [was] the law? It was added because of transgression until that seed should come to whom was the promise (shudaya). And the law was given by way of angels, by the hand of a mediator.
Shudaya is used when it is talking about the Holy Spirit because the gift is the outward witness or manifested fulfillment of the promise. The gift of Holy Spirit was dependent on the fulfillment of the promise of the seed, Christ. All of the rest of the discussion has to do with the law not negating the promise of the land and blessings to Abraham, which was a mulkana, an arbitrary declaration of God. The whole mulkana will be completely fulfilled during the millennium when all the land described in Genesis will belong to Abraham and his descendants.
Hebrews 6:12-17 discusses the promise to Abraham, how God confirmed it with an oath, how Abraham did obtain part of the promise (verse 15) (of the land and of a son). In verse 17 the two words are used together.
Because of this, God especially wanted to show to the heirs of the promise (mulkana) that his promise (shudaya)would not change, so he bound it with oaths.
Murdock translates the last phrase with shudaya: “that his promising [counsel - KJV] was irreversible”. God personally guaranteed the promise and it will be completely fulfilled.
The last two uses of the words for promise show the contrast as well.
2 Corinthians 1:20:
All the promises (mulkana) of God are yea and amen, unto the glory of God by us.
2 Peter 1:4:
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises (shudaya): that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
All the declarations of God are faithful and can be relied upon. They are absolute declarations from someone who is able to bring them to pass. We have been given the fulfillment of part of the promise to Abraham, because we have Holy Spirit and are partakers of the divine nature from the seed, Christ. Holy Spirit is the manifested witness and fulfillment (shudaya) of the promise. We are also heirs of the rest of the promise (mulkana) to Abraham. That includes the declaration that the land will be ours and the blessings to the nations.
Someone once counted over nine hundred promises in the Bible. God is faithful to keep each and every one, for if He declared it (just like a king), it will come to pass. Which one do you need to see fulfilled in your life?
For the promise (shudaya) is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.