Word Study #63 — Patience

References to patience in the New Testament are primarily representations of three word “families”, which, while quite different in “flavor”, are extremely difficult to separate in any definitive manner. “Easy” definitions do not hold up under closer scrutiny. The best we can do is to outline a “territory” covered by each word-grouping, recognizing that there will be overlap that escapes our best efforts. Frequently, two or more of these are found in the same sentence, so they are clearly not synonyms. Translators have almost randomly said “patience and longsuffering,” “endurance and patience,” “forbearance and longsuffering,” or some similar combination.

Makrothumeo (v.) and makrothumia (n.) are used 11 x and 13 x respectively. Liddell/Scott lists simply “to be longsuffering toward another, to persevere, to bear patiently.” Bauer adds “to delay” and “to be even-tempered”, upon which Thayer elaborates “to be patient in bearing the offenses of others, to be slow in avenging or punishing.” Peter (I Pet.3:20, II Pet.3:9, 3:15) and Paul (Rom.2:4 and 9:22) both ascribe this characteristic to God, but Paul also admonishes the brethren at Ephesus (4:2), Colosssae (1:11 and 3:12), and Thessalonica (I Thes.5:14) to exhibit the same attitude toward one another. He appears to be appealing for a generosity of spirit that teaches gently (II Tim.4:2) rather than imposing demands. Usually (not always) it is demonstrated by someone more mature in the Kingdom toward those less experienced. I have frequently used “generosity” or “generous-mindedness” to render these words, intending them as a description of attitude, not necessarily with material implications.

Hupomeno (v.) and hupomone (n.), used 17x and 32x respectively, on the other hand, deal primarily with one’s response to being abused. Thayer makes a helpful point in noting that the distinction is best seen where both words are used together, or in their opposites. Hupomeno / hupomone refer to “a temper which does not succumb under suffering,” whereas makrothumia is “self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong.” Hupomone is the opposite of cowardice or despondency, and makrothumia is the opposite of wrath or revenge.
Hupomone is the “patience” usually associated with those under persecution (Lk.21:19, Rom.5:3, 15:4 and 5; II Cor.6:4, Heb.10:36 and 12:1; and Rv.2:2,3,19; 3:10, 13:10,14:12), as is its verb equivalent (I Pet.2:20, Rom.12:12; Mt.10:22 and 24:13; Mk.13:13, Heb.10:32 and 12:7; I Tim.2:12).
Bauer, Thayer, and Trench all suggest that this describes a faithful response to unavoidable suffering, and consequently cannot apply to God: but that observation breaks down on the passages in Heb.12:2 and 3, which refer to Jesus, who said clearly that he could have called upon all the hosts of heaven to deliver him, had he so chosen.

Hupomone appears on many of the lists of virtues toward which the faithful are urged to strive – II Tim.3:10, I Tim.6:11, Rom.15:4,5; Col.1:11.
In order to maintain a distinction, I have usually used “endurance” for these words.
James complicates the situation by mixing the two concepts almost at random, using makrothumia in 5:7,8 and 5:10, but hupomone in 5:11 and 1:3,4. Perhaps this is deliberate: your suggestions of any possible pattern or reasoning are welcome!

Finally, we turn to anoche (only used twice) and anechomai (15x). The noun appears only in Romans 2:4 and 3:26, referring to the amazing kindness [forbearance] of God. The verb is variously rendered as “forbear” (Eph.4:2 and Col.3:13), “endure” (II Thes.1:4, II Tim.4:3), and “suffer” (Mt.17:17, Mk.9:19, Lk.9:41, I Cor.4:12, II Cor.11:19,20; Heb.13:22).
L/S notes that anoche classically referred to an armistice or truce, and Trench offers the reminder that a truce is only a temporary cessation of hostility. The word was also used of forbearance, or “bearing with” someone – in more contemporary parlance, “putting up with” difficult people or situations. This was frequently my translation choice. It is clearly the burden of Jesus’ exclamation to his disciples, “How long do I have to put up with this?!” (Parallel passages noted above in the synoptics), and Paul’s sarcastic statements to the Corinthians about their willingness to accept false teaching (II Cor.11:1,4,19,20), as well as Gallio’s to the Jews (Ac.18:14). These words may parallel the idea of “endurance,” but don’t seem to fit very well with “patience” – nor do the two uses of stego or the three of hupophero – both also rendered “endure” or “bear”.

All three categories seem to refer primarily to attitude, rather than to specifics of behavior. This is quite clear in Paul’s instructions to Timothy (II Tim.4:2), whom he sent as a “trouble-shooter” to fledgeling congregations on several occasions. “Administer discipline,” he tells his young deputy, “give rebukes, keep on coaching, with all generosity of mind (makrothumia) as you teach.” Makrothumia does not imply “anything goes” – it is simply the attitude with which instruction is to be given. Likewise, there is nothing in hupomone to imply that “patience” under persecution requires one to adopt “door-mat” status. The beleaguered folks who received the letter to the Hebrews were reminded (10:36),”You all have need of patience [endurance], in order that when [after] you have done God’s will, you may obtain the promise.” Don’t back down, but persist in faithfulness, willingly enduring whatever fall-out that produces.
And despite the somewhat negative flavor of the passages already quoted, there is no grudging condescension in anechomai. In Eph.4:2, it is used in combination with makrothumia – “with a generous attitude, putting up with each other in love.” In Col.3:13, it is paired with charizomai, “being gracious toward one another.” Although traditionally translated “forgive”, charizomai actually has the same stem as charis – “grace” (see W.S.#60).

We are instructed to forbear [put up with] one another’s immaturity and peculiarities, and to forgive [be gracious about] error or offense, but in both cases, patiently to “keep on coaching” (W.S.#53) the team toward greater faithfulness.
Discernment enabled by the Holy Spirit is often required, properly to identify and respond to the situation with which we are confronted.
We all have a lot to learn!


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