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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

PITY. —This word occurs once in the Gospels ( Matthew 18:33 Authorized Version) as translation of ἐλεέω apparently in accordance with the practice of the translators ‘that we have not ‘tied ourselves to an uniformity of phrasing or to an identity of words,’ since the same word ἐλεέω is rendered by ‘have compassion ’ in the verse immediately before, as elsewhere.

1. In the Synoptic Gospels four different words occur which carry with them the notion of ‘pity’ or ‘compassion’: σπλαγχνίζομαι (σπλάγχνα), ἐλεέω (ἔλεος and ἐλεήμων συλλυπέομαι, and οἰκτίρμων.

Of these, the first three are used with reference to Jesus: (1) σπλαγχνιζομαι, ‘moved with compassion,’ found in  Matthew 9:36;  Matthew 14:14;  Matthew 15:32;  Matthew 18:27,  Mark 1:41;  Mark 6:34;  Mark 8:2,  Luke 7:13; (2) ἐλεέω, used in  Mark 5:19 by our Lord Himself to describe His own work in the cure of the demoniac, ‘and hath had compassion on thee,’ καὶ ἠλεησεν σε; (3) συλλυαέομαι,  Mark 3:5, translation ‘ being grieved (for the hardness of their hearts).’ The word occurs nowhere else in NT, but is used by Herodotus and elsewhere with the significance of having pity or compassion (see Liddell and Scott).

By their usage in these passages the Synoptics plainly declare that in His manifestation of human nature our Saviour was drawn towards suffering humanity by that Divine gift of pity which has ever been regarded as one of the higher feelings: sickness, sorrow, being like tired sheep, even bodily hunger, filled Him with compassion for the suffering ones,—while in the solitary use of συλλυπέομαι alluded to above to describe His feeling at the unwillingness of men to receive truth, we can hardly hesitate to give to the word its classical meaning of ‘pity,’ when we remember the outburst of weeping which accompanied His wail over Jerusalem ( Luke 19:41). And while Himself manifesting forth pity towards men and inculcating the same feeling on His disciples, He also most clearly taught them to think of His Father in heaven as One moved with compassion for His earthly family. The ‘tender mercy of our God’ in the Benedictus ( Luke 1:78) is the thought illustrated in the parable of the Good Samaritan, who was ‘moved with compassion’ (ἐσπλαγχνίσθη) at the sight of the wounded man ( Luke 10:33); as in that of the king who forgave the debtor, being ‘moved with compassion’ (σπλαγχνισθείς,  Matthew 18:27); and even more strikingly so in the description of the father of the Prodigal, who, when he saw his son returning, ἐσπλαγχνίσθη καὶ δραμὼν ἐπέπεσεν ἐπὶ τὸν τράχηλον αὐτοῦ ( Luke 15:20). So also the solitary use of οἰκτίρμων in the Gospels (used again only in  James 5:11) is found in our Saviour’s exhortation, ‘Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful’; γίνεσθε οἰκτίρμονες καθὼς ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν οἰκτίρμων ἐστί ( Luke 6:36).

It is true that in speaking of God as the ‘Merciful One’ our Saviour was repeating what is a familiar thought in the OT, רַחוּם, ‘compassionate,’ is there used exclusively as an epithet of God ( Deuteronomy 4:31), while in  Sirach 50:19 we already find the simple רֵחוּם as a name of God (see Dalman, Words of Jesus , p. 204); but in our Saviour’s teaching we recognize a new fulness and meaning in the thought that would have been impossible for men to grasp before He came who could say, ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father’ ( John 14:9).

2. The teaching of St. John’s Gospel .—It is striking that in St. John’s Gospel we never find any word used which conveys the meaning of ‘pity’ or ‘compassion’; Christ is never described as ‘merciful’ or as ‘showing mercy,’ nor does He so speak of the Father; while even the exhortation to mercy as a duty of man to man is not found there.

Can we give a reason for this? or is the omission purely accidental? We believe the reason is found in the fact that in St. John’s mind the thought of ‘pity’ is absorbed in that of ‘love.’

To St. John was given the task of presenting the life of Christ upon earth in all its eternal meaning. The human idea of pity, as a feeling called forth by man’s needs, is but one manifestation of love. St. John does not stop to show that Jesus Christ both pitied and also loved men, but in passing at once to the thought of love as the bond of union between God and man manifested forth in the Saviour’s life upon earth, he naturally ascribes to it those actions that the Saviour’s contemporaries had felt as acts of mercy. As an illustration of this, we may take the story of the raising of Lazarus. Here is a miracle performed for those who knew more of Christ than merely that ‘He pitied them.’ The familiar cry for help, found so often in the first three Gospels (ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς), is not the message sent by the sisters, but instead, it is a direct appeal to love—‘He whom thou lovest is sick’ ( John 11:3). The delay in giving the prompt relief which pity would ask for is explained by ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’ ( John 11:5). At the sight of the sorrow of those about Him we are told ‘Jesus wept’; but the Evangelist apparently hastened to add the remark of the Jews, ‘Behold how he loved him,’ that the thought of His love should even here swallow up that of mere pity. And this fuller presentation of Christ’s feelings for men, he shows, had also been accompanied by a teaching of Christ, both as regards man’s duty to his fellow and also God’s attitude towards the world, which went far beyond what bad been already recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. St. Luke had preserved the saying, ‘Be ye therefore merciful,’ but St. John was the first to record how his Master had taught, ‘A new commandment give I unto you, That ye love one another as I have loved you’ ( John 13:34).

Christians had already in their hands the teaching of Christ which spoke of God as the ‘Merciful One,’ but now St. John records words which tell them not of a merciful God, but of a loving Father ( John 3:16;  John 14:23 etc.). It is true that even this conception of God is found in the OT, but a perusal of the passages in which ‘the love of God,’ or God as ‘loving,’ are spoken of, will show that such are always equivalent to the ‘pity’ of God, or God as ‘pitiful,’—that is, in direct relationship to man as a needy creature. In the Fourth Gospel, however, the thought is altogether different: the Father loves men with the same love with which He loves the Son ( John 17:26); that same feeling of real affection with which Christ had let them feel He regarded them, He taught them was also the feeling of His Father towards them ( John 14:21;  John 14:23,  John 16:26 f.). The common bond of fellowship between Christ and the Father and between man and God through the Son was the power of the Divine love ( John 17:26). But whatever doubt may exist as to the meaning of the omission of the thought of pity in this Gospel, its very omission leads us to see how St. John supplies what might be felt as a want, in the first three Gospels, in another particular.

How are men to think of that pitiful, gracious Saviour who in His own life was so sorely tried and afflicted? Now nowhere in the Gospels —nor indeed in any passage of the NT— is Christ presented to men as an object of pity . The thought that seems to underlie the words of some well-known hymns, and even Isaiah 53, is not found in the NT. Pity is the demand for help, and as an object of our help Christ never appealed to men. On the contrary, He said to the women, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me’ ( Luke 23:28); and to the disciple peter, ‘Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?’ ( Matthew 26:53). To the Father alone He cries, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me’ ( Matthew 26:39). But if we are not allowed to pity the suffering Saviour, are we to view His passion with indifference? St. John clearly and abundantly answers this question. While the mystery of pain is not revealed, the message of the Saviour’s agony is declared to be the proof to mankind of His and His Father’s love. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ ( John 15:13). That love manifested in dying is the same love spoken of in  John 3:16,  John 16:27,  John 17:26.

It may well be doubted if any presentation of the Passion which moves our pity is in accordance with the Gospel (see, for a strong indictment against such, Ruskin’s Lectures on Art , ii. §§ 56, 57); but even if we hesitate to accept this, we must confess that unless we are led through pity to understand love, the message of pity has failed. ‘We must look through the suffering to the triumph.… The crucifix with the dead Christ obscures our faith. Our thoughts rest not upon a dead, but upon a living Christ. The closed eye and the bowed head are not the true marks of Him who reigns from the Cross, who teaches us to see through every sign of weakness the fulfilment of His own words, I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself ’ (Westcott, The Victory of the Cross , vi., which see throughout).

Literature.—Trench, NT Synon .8 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , 160 ff., 361; Westcott on  Hebrews 10:28; Lightfoot on  Philippians 1:8;  Philippians 2:1; Liddell and Scott, s.vv.  ; also Maclear on  Mark 3:5 ( Cambr. Bible for Schools ); Butler, Serm. v. vi.; T. G. Selby, The God of the Frail (1902) p. 1.

J. B. Bristow.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]

PITY . This word is entirely synonymous with compassion both in OT and NT, except, perhaps, in   1 Peter 3:8 , where ‘sympathetic’ would better express the meaning of the original word (see RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). Pity was regarded by OT writers as holding an essential place in the relations of God and His people (see   Psalms 78:38;   Psalms 86:15;   Psalms 103:13;   Psalms 111:4;   Psalms 112:4;   Psalms 145:8 ,   Isaiah 63:8; cf.   James 5:11 ). One of the ways in which this Divine feeling became active on their behalf reveals an incipient belief in the dealings of Jehovah with nations other than Israel; for He is often represented as infusing compassion for His chosen into the hearts of their enemies (cf.   1 Kings 8:50 ,   2 Chronicles 30:9 ,   Psalms 106:46 ,   Ezra 9:9 ,   Nehemiah 1:11 ,   Jeremiah 42:12 ). An objective manifestation of the feeling of pity in the heart of God was recognized in the preservation of His people from destruction (  Lamentations 3:22 f.), and in the numerous instances which were regarded as the interventions of mercy on their behalf (cf.   Exodus 15:13 ,   Numbers 14:19 ,   Deuteronomy 13:17; Deu 30:3 ,   2 Kings 13:23 ,   2 Chronicles 36:15 ). The direct result of this belief was that Israelites were expected to display a similar disposition towards their brethren (cf.   Micah 6:8 ,   Isaiah 1:17 ,   Jeremiah 21:12 ,   Proverbs 19:17 ). They were not required, however, to look beyond the limits of their own race (  Deuteronomy 7:16 , See   Deuteronomy 7:9 ) except in the case of individual aliens who might at any time be living within their borders (see   Exodus 22:21;   Exodus 23:9 ,   Deuteronomy 10:18 f. etc.).

In the parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus inculcates the exercise of pity in men’s dealings with each other, and teaches the sacredness of its character by emphasizing its identity with God’s compassion for sinners ( Matthew 18:33; cf.   Luke 6:36 ,   Matthew 5:7;   Matthew 9:18 ). The teaching of Jesus, moreover, broadened its conception in the human mind by insisting that henceforth it could never be confined to the members of the Jewish nation (cf. the parable of the Good Samaritan,   Luke 10:25-37 ). At the same time His own attitude to the thronging multitudes surrounding Him was characterized by profound pity for their weaknesses (  Matthew 15:32 =   Mark 8:2; cf.   Matthew 9:36;   Matthew 14:14 ). Under His guidance, too, Divine pity for the world was transmuted into that Eternal Love which resulted in the Incarnation (  John 3:16 ). Side by side with this development, and in exact correspondence with it, Jesus evolves out of human pity for frailty the more fundamental, because it is the more living, quality of love, which He insists will be active even in the face of enmity (  Matthew 5:43 f.,   Luke 6:27 ff.).

J. R. Willis.

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

 Job 19:21 Amos 1:11 Psalm 90:13 Psalm 17:10 Psalm 69:20 Isaiah 13:18 Jeremiah 21:7 Deuteronomy 7:16 Deuteronomy 13:8 Deuteronomy 19:13 Psalm 103:13 Isaiah 49:10 Judges 2:18 Psalm 72:13 Psalm 102:13 Psalm 103:13 Isaiah 49:10 Jeremiah 13:14 Jeremiah 20:16 Lamentations 2:17 Lamentations 3:43 Ezekiel 5:11 Ezekiel 16:5 Lo-ruhamah  Hosea 1:6 Hosea 2:23

Pleas for pity are a common feature of healing narratives ( Mark 9:22 Nas, Niv, Nrsv;   Luke 17:13 NIV). Pity moved Jesus to heal (  Matthew 20:34 RSV). Jesus used a compassionate Samaritan as an unexpected example of active pity (  Luke 10:33 NIV). Such active concern for those in need serves as evidence that one is a child of God (  1 John 3:17 NIV).

King James Dictionary [4]

PITY, n. The Latin,Italian, Spanish and Portuguese languages unite pity and piety in the same word, and the word may be from the root of compassion L. patior, to suffer.

1. The feeling or suffering of one person, excited by the distresses of another sympathy with the grief or misery of another compassion or fellow-suffering.

He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth to the Lord.  Proverbs 19

In Scripture however, the word pity usually includes

compassion accompanied with some act of charity or benevolence, and not simply a fellow feeling of distress.

Pity is always painful, yet always agreeable.

2. The ground or subject of pity cause of grief thing to be regretted.

What pity is it

That we can die but once to serve our country!

That he is old, the more is the pity, his white hairs do witness it.

In this sense, the word has a plural. It is a thousand pities he should waste his estate in prodigality.

Webster's Dictionary [5]

(1): ( n.) A reason or cause of pity, grief, or regret; a thing to be regretted.

(2): ( v. i.) To be compassionate; to show pity.

(3): ( n.) A feeling for the sufferings or distresses of another or others; sympathy with the grief or misery of another; compassion; fellow-feeling; commiseration.

(4): ( v. t.) To feel pity or compassion for; to have sympathy with; to compassionate; to commiserate; to have tender feelings toward (any one), awakened by a knowledge of suffering.

(5): ( n.) Piety.

(6): ( v. t.) To move to pity; - used impersonally.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [6]

Is generally defined to be the uneasiness we feel at the unhappiness of another, prompting us to compassionate them, with a desire of their relief. God is said to pity them that fear him, as a father pitieth his children. The father, says Mr. Henry, pities his children that are weak in knowledge, and instructs them; pities them when they are froward, and bears with them; pities them when they are sick, and comforts them,  Isaiah 66:13; when they are fallen, and helps them up again; when they have offended, and forgives them; when they are wronged, and rights them. Thus the Lord pitieth them that fear him.  Psalms 103:13 .

See Compassion Of God

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [7]

pit´i ( חמל , ḥāmal , חוּס , ḥūṣ  ; ἐλεέω , eleéō ): "Pity," probably contracted from "piety," is tender feeling for others in misery or distress. It is allied to compassion (which see), but differs in respect of the object that causes the distress (or feeling). The feeling of pity is excited chiefly by the weakness, miserable or degraded condition of the object; compassion by his uncontrollable and inevitable misfortunes: "We pity a man of weak understanding who exposes his weakness; we compassionate the man who is reduced to a state of beggary and want" (Crabb, English Synonyms ). Pity often becomes allied to contempt; "a pity" is something to be regretted. See Pitiful . In the Old Testament "pity" is closely akin to "mercy." It is most frequently the translation of ḥāmal , "to pity," "to spare," e.g. in Nathan's parable of the poor man's one lamb, it is said that the rich man was worthy to die because he had "no pity" (  2 Samuel 12:6 ).

In  Jeremiah 13:14 we have, "I will not pity nor spare, nor have mercy," the Revised Version (British and American) "compassion"; compare   Jeremiah 21:7;  Lamentations 2:2;  Ezekiel 5:11;  Ezekiel 7:4 , in all of which passages "pity" stands in a negative connection; we have it positively attributed to God in  Ezekiel 36:21 , "I had pity for mine holy name," the Revised Version (British and American) "regard";  Joel 2:18; ḥūṣ , probably meaning, primarily, "to cover," "protect," hence, to pity, to spare, is translated "pity" ( Deuteronomy 7:16;  Deuteronomy 13:8;  Ezekiel 16:5 , etc., all negative;  Jonah 4:10 , positive: "Thou hast had pity on the gourd (the Revised Version (British and American) "regard for") and should not I spare (the Revised Version (British and American) "have regard for," ḥūṣ ) Nineveh," etc.); ḥānan , "to incline, toward," "be gracious," "pity," is thrice rendered "pity" ( Job 19:21 , "Have pity upon me, have pity upon me";  Proverbs 19:17;  Proverbs 28:8 , "he that hath pity upon the poor"); rāḥam , "to feel warm," "to love," twice ( Psalm 103:13 , "like as a father pitieth his children";  Isaiah 13:18 , "no pity"); once in plural raḥămı̄m ( Amos 1:11 ); other words once so translated are ḥemlāh , "pity" ( Isaiah 63:9 ); ḥeṣedh , "loving-kindness" ( Job 6:14 , the Revised Version (British and American) "kindness"); maḥmāl , "object of pity" ( Ezekiel 24:21 ); nūdh ," to move," "bemoan" ( Psalm 69:20 ). In the New Testament "pity" occurs once only as the translation of eleeō , "to be kind," "tender" ( Matthew 18:33 , the Revised Version (British and American) "mercy"). In 2 Macc 3:21 we have (the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American)) "pitied" in the obsolete sense of exciting pity, "Then it would have pitied ( eleeı́n ) a man to see the multitude," etc.

The Revised Version (British and American) has "pity" for "mercy" ( Proverbs 14:21 ); "have pity on" for "spare" ( Psalm 72:13 ); for "favour" ( Psalm 109:12;  Psalm 102:13 ,  Psalm 102:14 ), "Have pity upon her dust." See Mercy; Compassion .

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [8]

is usually defined to be the uneasiness we feel at the unhappiness of others, prompting us to compassionate them, with a desire for their relief. God is said to pity them that fear him, as a father pitieth his children ( Psalms 103:13). Pity is thus a Christian grace, to the practice of which we are exhorted by the apostle: "Love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous" ( 1 Peter 3:8). The phrase נָשַׁים רִחֲמִנַיּוֹת , Nashim Rachamaniyoth, rendered "pitiful women" in our version ( Lamentations 4:10), properly refers to the tenderness and affectionate love which is the distinguishing trait of the female character; and that such women should in the "siege and the straitness" be driven to and adopt the terrible expedient of feeding upon their own children, as in this passage they are stated to have done, is an awful instance of the literal fulfillment of the threatenings of the Lord in the event of the disobedience of the house of Israel ( Deuteronomy 28:57). The same horrible expedient was resorted to also in the last siege of Jerusalem, as it had formerly been at the siege of Samaria, in the reign of Ahab ( 2 Kings 6:28-29).

Pitiful is a word whose derivations have by modern usage been almost limited to the sense of mean, contemptible, or insignificant. In the Bible and Prayerbook the old and primary meaning of full of mercy compassionate, or tender, is retained. The English Prayer-book gives us these examples: "... though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us." Occasional Prayer. Again: "Pitifully behold the sorrows of our hearts;" which petition in the Litany is thus altered in the American Prayer-book, "With pity behold the sorrows of our hearts." In these the original and better sense of the word is alone intended. In the Primer of king Edward VI there is this expression: "O pitiful Physician, and Healer both of body and soul, Christ Jesu!" And Latimer, in his sermon on the birth of Christ, remarks: "Preachers exhort us to godliness, to do good works, to be pitiful and liberal unto the poor;" that is, to be compassionate, tenderhearted, and sympathizing to them.