Harry Whittaker
Word Studies



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).

Mercy, Pity

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 us.”

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 idiomatic intent.

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?

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