The Love and Mercy of God Part Five
The previous article focused on God’s eleos mercy as related to eternal salvation. Now we will examine other relationships of God’s mercy expressed through the Greek New Testament words eleos, oiktirmos, and splagxnon.
God’s Eleos Mercy
In Greek, eleos referred to “the emotion roused by contact with an affliction which comes undeservedly on someone else” and, therefore, of “sympathy” for the victim.1
God’s eleos mercy related to His wisdom. James 3:13—4:3 contrasts two types of wisdom. The first type has three sources: (1) “human philosophy”;2 (2) “the life of the natural world and whatever belongs to it, in contrast to the supernatural world,”3 and therefore claims the highest good is the development of mankind or oneself, not God and His glory; and (3) the demonic realm—the part of the angelic spirit realm that rebelled against God in the ancient past and remains in permanent opposition to Him (3:15).
This kind of wisdom is characterized by “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition”4 in one’s heart, “disorder,”5 every “worthless”6 thing, “conflicts,”7 “quarrels,”8 and even “murder”9 (vv. 3:14–16; 4:1–2). These traits imply such wisdom does not generate or promote mercy.
By contrast, the second type of wisdom is “from above” (3:17). Its source is God the Father (1:17). It is “pious wisdom which avoids all self-seeking”10 and is “peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy” (3:17).
God’s eleos mercy related to Paul’s ministry. Paul called himself “one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy” (1 Cor. 7:25). He also said, “Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1).
God’s eleos mercy related to preserving a life and preventing sorrow. Paul wrote the following to believers at Philippi:
Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow (Phil. 2:25–27).
God’s eleos mercy related to requested blessing for a faithful friend and his household. When Paul was in prison, he requested the following:
The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus (2 Tim. 1:16–18).
God’s eleos mercy related to people who live in accord with the rule that their new spiritual birth is (1) based exclusively on the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ and (2) has nothing to do with their ethnic background. Paul wrote,
But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (Gal. 6:14–16).
God’s eleos mercy related to people who, in time of need, come boldly to God through prayer:
Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:14–16).
God’s eleos mercy related to His authority. Paul quoted the following statement that God made to Moses: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy” (Rom. 9:15). The words translated “mercy” are verbs derived from the noun eleos. God’s statement to Moses indicated He exclusively has complete authority over His administration of mercy.
God’s eleos mercy related to greetings. Paul sent the following greeting to Timothy: “Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Tim. 1:2; cf. 2 Tim. 1:2). John sent the following greeting to the elect lady and her children: “Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father” (2 Jn. 3). Jude sent the following greeting to believers: “Mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you” (Jude 2).
God’s Oiktirmos Mercy
The Greek word oiktirmos communicated “pity, mercy, compassion.”11
God’s oiktirmos mercy related to Christian commitment. In light of God’s compassionate mercies toward sinners who became saved, Paul exhorted them to present their bodies to God as living sacrifices for His service: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Rom. 12:1). The word translated “mercies” is oiktirmown.
God’s personal relationship to oiktirmos mercy. Paul said the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). The word translated “mercies” is oiktirmown.
God’s oiktirmos mercy relationship to believers who persevere and endure through trying situations. James used the example of Job: “Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (Jas. 5:11). The word translated “merciful” is oiktirmown.
God’s oiktirmos mercy related to His authority. Paul quoted the following statement God made to Moses: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (Rom. 9:15). The words translated “compassion” are oiktireso and oiktiro. Both are verbs derived from the noun oiktirmos.
God’s Splagxnon Mercy
In ancient Greek, the word splagxnon and its derivatives referred to “the bowels” as “the seat of the emotions.” In modern literature, “the heart” replaces “the bowels” “as the seat and source of love, sympathy, and mercy”; thus the expression “the merciful heart.”12 Thus splagxnon is “a pointed term for personal love.”13
God’s splagxnon mercy relationship to believers who persevere and endure through trying situations. In the James 5:11 text concerning Job’s perseverance and endurance, the word translated “compassionate” is polusplagxnos. Thus it and oiktirmown are used to emphasize the fact that God is “very compassionate and merciful” to believers who persevere and endure through trying situations.
God’s splagxnon mercy relationship to the birth of the promised Messiah. When Zacharias, a priest of Israel and the father of John the Baptist, was filled with the Holy Spirit, he prophesied that it was “through the tender mercy of our God” that the promised Messiah was born (Lk. 1:78). The Greek word translated “tender” is splagxna. And the very next word translated “mercy” is eleous.
God’s splagxnon mercy relationship to His oiktirmos mercy. Paul wrote the following to the believers at Philippi: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy…” (Phil. 2:1). The word translated “affection” is splagxna, and the word translated “mercy” is oiktirmoi. Language scholar Rudolf Bultmann said that, in this passage, the combination of splagxna with oiktirmoi is “obviously a hendiadys” that expresses “heartfelt sympathy.”14 A hendiadys is “a figure in which a complex idea is expressed by two words connected by a copulative conjunction.”15
- Rudolf Bultmann, “eleos,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (hereafter cited as TDNT), ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translated from Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 2:477.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “epigeios,” A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1952: translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Worterbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der ubrigen urchristlichen Literatur, 4th ed.; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 290.
- Ibid., “psuxikos,” 902.
- Ibid., “eritheia,” 309.
- Ibid., “akatastasia,” 29.
- Ibid., “phaulos,” 862.
- Ibid., “polemus,” 691.
- Ibid., “maxe,” 497.
- Ibid., “phoneuo,” 872.
- Friedrich Hauck, “agnos,” TDNT, 1:122.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “oiktirmos,” 564.
- Ibid., “splagxnon,” 770.
- Helmut Koster, ”splagxnon,” TDNT, Gerhard Friedrich, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 7:556.
- Rudolf Bultmann , ”oiktiro,” TDNT, Gerhard Friedrich, trans./ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1967), 5:161.
- The American College Dictionary, text ed. (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1948), s.v. “hendiadys,” 564.