Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words
"is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it. It is used (a) of God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4 , and who has provided salvation for all men, Titus 3:5 , for Jews, Luke 1:72 , and Gentiles, Romans 15:9 . He is merciful to those who fear him, Luke 1:50 , for they also are compassed with infirmity, and He alone can succor them. Hence they are to pray boldly for mercy, Hebrews 4:16 , and if for themselves, it is seemly that they should ask for mercy for one another, Galatians 6:16 ; 1 Timothy 1:2 . When God brings His salvation to its issue at the Coming of Christ, His people will obtain His mercy, 2 Timothy 1:16 ; Jude 1:21 ; (b) of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another, Matthew 9:13 ; 12:7 ; 23:23 ; Luke 10:37 ; James 2:13 ."Wherever the words mercy and peace are found together they occur in that order, except in Galatians 6:16 . Mercy is the act of God, peace is the resulting experience in the heart of man. Grace describes God's attitude toward the law-breaker and the rebel; mercy is His attitude toward those who are in distress."* [* From Notes on Galatians, by Hogg and Vine, pp. 340,341.] "In the order of the manifestation of God's purposes of salvation grace must go before mercy ... only the forgiven may be blessed ... From this it follows that in each of the Apostolic salutations where these words occur, grace precedes mercy, 1 Timothy 1:2 ; 2 Timothy 1:2 ; Titus 1:4 (in some mss.); 2 John 1:3 " (Trench, Syn, xlvii).
"pity, compassion for the ills of others," is used (a) of God, Who is "the Father of mercies," 2 Corinthians 1:3 ; His "mercies" are the ground upon which believers are to present their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, as their reasonable service, Romans 12:1 ; under the Law he who set it at nought died without compassion, Hebrews 10:28 ; (b) of men; believers are to feel and exhibit compassions one toward another, Philippians 2:1 , RV "compassions," and Colossians 3:12 , RV "(a heart) of compassion;" in these two places the word is preceded by No. 3, rendered "tender mercies" in the former, and "a heart" in the latter, RV.Acts 13:34 the phrase, lit., "the holy things, the faithful things (of David)" is translated, "the holy and sure blessings," RV; the AV, following the mss. in which the words "holy and" are absent, has "the sure mercies," but notices the full phrase in the margin.
akin to A, No. 1, signifies, in general, "to feel sympathy with the misery of another," and especially sympathy manifested in act, (a) in the Active Voice, "to have pity or mercy on, to show mercy" to, e.g., Matthew 9:27 ; 15:22 ; 17:15 ; 18:33 ; 20:30,31 (three times in Mark, four in Luke); Romans 9:15,16,18 ; 11:32 ; 12:8 ; Philippians 2:27 ; Jude 1:22,23 ; (b) in the Passive Voice, "to have pity or mercy shown one, to obtain mercy," Matthew 5:7 ; Romans 11:30,31 ; 1 Corinthians 7:25 ; 2 Corinthians 4:1 ; 1 Timothy 1:13,16 ; 1 Peter 2:10 .
akin to A, No. 2, "to have pity on" (from oiktos, "pity:" oi, an exclamation, = oh!), occurs in Romans 9:15 (twice), where it follows No. 1 (twice); the point established there and in Exodus 33:19 , from the Sept. of which it is quoted, is that the "mercy" and compassion shown by God are determined by nothing external to His attributes. Speaking generally oikteiro is a stronger term than eleeo.
in profane Greek meant "to conciliate, appease, propitiate, cause the gods to be reconciled;" their goodwill was not regarded as their natural condition, but as something to be earned. The heathen believed their gods to be naturally alienated in feeling from man. In the NT the word never means to conciliate God; it signifies (a) "to be propitious, merciful," Luke 18:13 , in the prayer of the publican; (b) "to expiate, make propitiation for," Hebrews 2:17 , "make propitiation." That God is not of Himself already alienated from man, see John 3:16 . His attitude toward the sinner does not need to be changed by his efforts. With regard to his sin, an expiation is necessary, consistently with God's holiness and for His righteousness' sake, and that expiation His grace and love have provided in the atoning sacrifice of His Son; man, himself a sinner, justly exposed to God's wrath (John 3:36 ), could never find an expiation. As Lightfoot says, "when the NT writers speak at length on the subject of Divine wrath, the hostility is represented, not as on the part of God, but of men." Through that which God has accomplished in Christ, by His death, man, on becoming regenerate, escapes the merited wrath of God. The making of this expiation [(b) above], with its effect in the mercy of God (a) is what is expressed in hilaskomai. The Sept. uses the compound verb exilaskomai, e.g., Genesis 32:20 ; Exodus 30:10,15,16 ; 32:30 , and frequently in Lev. and Num. See PROPITIATION.
"merciful," akin to A, No. 1, not simply possessed of pity but actively compassionate, is used of Christ as a High Priest, Hebrews 2:17 , and of those who are like God, Matthew 5:7 (cp. Luke 6:35,36 , where the RV, "sons" is to be read, as representing characteristics resembling those of their Father).
"pitiful, compassionate for the ills of others," a stronger term than No. 1 (akin to A, No. 2), is used twice in Luke 6:36 , "merciful" (of the character of God, to be expressed in His people); James 5:11 , RV, "merciful," AV, "of tender mercy."
"propitious, merciful" (akin to B, No. 3), was used in profane Greek just as in the case of the verb (which see). There is nothing of this in the use of the word in Scripture. The quality expressed by it there essentially appertains to God, though man is underserving of it. It is used only of God, Hebrews 8:12 ; in Matthew 16:22 , "Be it far from Thee" (Peter's word to Christ) may have the meaning given in the RV marg., "(God) have mercy on Thee," lit., "propitious to Thee" (AV marg., "Pity Thyself"). Cp. the Sept., 2 Samuel 20:20 ; 23:17 .
"unmerciful, merciless" (a, negative, n, euphonic, and A, No. 2, or C, No. 3), occurs in James 2:13 , said of judgment on him who shows no "mercy."
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Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Merciful, Mercy'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words. http://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/m/merciful-mercy.html. 1940.