Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb οικτειρω (oikteiro) means to pity or have compassion. It comes from the noun οικτος (oiktos), meaning pity, which is unused in the New Testament and not overly common in the Greek classics. This is perhaps somewhat curious since pity, empathy and compassion are not uncommon sentiments, and one would expect the enlightened Greeks to contemplate them more enthusiastically. Of course there are other Greek words with comparable meanings — σπλαγχνιζομαι (splagnizomai), to be deeply moved, the familiar verb συμπαθεω (sumpatheo), to be com-passionate, ιλασκομαι (hilaskomai), to be gracious, and ελειω (eleio), to show mercy — so although these words did not convey ideas uncommon to the Greeks, our word οικτος (oiktos) seems to have.
And to add to the mystery: it's utterly unclear where our word may have come from. There is some similarity with the noun οικος (oikos), meaning house — suggesting that to a creative enough Greek poet, an extension of compassion translated to an invitation for dinner, which is not at all outlandish, but the creativity of our Greek poet is not enough to convince of these words' actual etymological familiarity.
Here at Abarim Publications we privately suspect that our word may not be European at all but instead originated in the Semitic language basin and was introduced to the Greek one along with the alphabet and a few dozen terms to jumpstart the later so famous Greek wisdom tradition. The word that thus became οικτος (oiktos) may hence have been drawn from the verb חכה (haka), to wait, as used in Isaiah 30:18: "The Lord longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you." In Psalm 33:20 occurs the term חכתה (hikta): "Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield."
That in turn suggests that our word οικτος (oiktos) does not mean pity at all but rather patient delay: "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9, also see 1 Peter 3:20). Or "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" (Romans 2:4). Or: "The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness" (Psalm 103:8).
The Greeks only knew bellicose and vindictive deities and the idea that the Creator could be deeply concerned with man's salvation and thus prone to give him time to grow out of his foolishness must have seemed like alien fiction to them. That would explain how a Hebrew word that essentially expresses God's parental patience for his growing children became interpreted as pity and compassion.
Our verb οικτειρω (oikteiro), to have patient compassion, is used in Romans 9:15 only (twice). From this verb derives:
- The noun οικτιρμος (oktirmos), meaning patient compassion. It's very rare in the Greek classics but occurs a telling 5 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
- The adjective οικτιρμων (oiktirmon), meaning patiently compassionate. This word is rare in the classics and occurs in the New Testament in Luke 6:36 (twice) and James 5:11 only. Rather strikingly, our word also appears in the Septuagint's version of Exodus 34:6: "Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth, who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.'"