This is easy. The Greek word is mania
(with the verb mainomai). And this is exactly what it
means in every place, as the context plainly shows: “He hath a demon, and
is mad” (John 10:20). “Paul, thou art beside thyself (said Festus:
Acts 26:24); much learning doth make thee mad.” The Roman governor was, in
effect, saying to Paul: ‘That’s just what you told us yourself ten
minutes ago!’ — for had not the apostle declared: “and being
exceeding mad against them (the Christians), I persecuted them even unto strange
cities” (26:11)? Here the phrase is often read as meaning “very
angry”. But no! Paul meant what he said: In those violent days he had
behaved like a lunatic.
Similarly Rhoda the servant-girl was declared to
be crazy because she announced the immediate answer to the prayers for
Peter’s well-being (Acts 12:15). Those eager to speak with tongues in the
ecclesia at Corinth were warned against the risk of being deemed mad because of
their excitability (1Co 14:23).
The Greek word was “distress in the
house”, ie strong family sympathy, as its basic meaning. The very idea is
enshrined in the lovely words of Psa 103:13: “Like as a father pitieth his
children, so the Lord...” Paul’s phrase also: “Father of
mercies” (2Co 1:3).
The much more common Greek word eleos
means “mercy” in the usual sense of compassion and help, as
when blind men cried after Jesus: “Lord, have mercy on
But more commonly eleos means the
forgiveness of sins. Zacharias celebrated “the tender mercy of our
God” in the gracious work of his son and his son’s successor (Luk
1:78). So also in James’ phrase: “mercy rejoiceth against
judgment...” (2:13). And Peter: “according to his gracious mercy he
saved us...” (1Pe 1:3). Always readers should be on the look-out for this
specialised meaning, or much of value can be lost.
In at least three places the double meaning, of
(a) compassion and (b) forgiveness, shines through. In the parable of the two
debtors: “Shouldest thou not have had compassion on thy fellow
servant, even as I had compassion on thee?” (Mat 18:33). How close
is this to: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass
against us”? Again, the Samaritan is described as “he that had mercy
on him (the stricken wayfarer)” (Luk 10:37). But that parable is also a
picture of the redeeming work of Christ (see “Gospels”, ch.
121); so the inquirer who responded thus was perhaps nearer the Mar than he knew
— or did he?
In the OT “mercy and truth” uniformly
carries the idea of “God’s covenants of promise”. There is
complete consistency in this. See “Bible Studies”, ch. 17.15.
Indeed, in not a few places the two words are used separately with this
An interesting little problem remains in the NT
use of “mercy”. As a greeting, “grace and mercy” is not
infrequent, and tempts the reader to see it as a NT equivalent of “mercy
and truth”. But to Timothy and Titus, Paul writes: “Grace, mercy,
and truth”. Why?