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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Long-Suffering

LONG-SUFFERING (μακροθυμία), like another fruit of the Spirit, love (ἀγάπη), has almost entirely non-pagan connexions. The Gr. word occurs 14 times in the NT, while its cognate verb is found 10 times, and the adverb only once (Acts 26:3). Only the verb occurs in the Gospels: Matthew 18:26; Matthew 18:29 (Authorized and Revised Versions ‘have patience’), Luke 18:7 (Authorized Version ‘bear long,’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ‘is long-suffering’). It is both a Divine attribute and a Christian virtue. The word ‘long-tempered’ as opposed to ‘short-tempered’ is not in ordinary English use, but it expresses with fair accuracy the central thought in μακροθυμία. The Latin equivalent is longanimitas (Vulgate ), and Jeremy Taylor amongst others tried to transplant the word into English soil under the form of ‘longanimity,’ but without success.

OT use.—Long-suffering is one of God’s noblest attributes, and is made the subject of a special revelation in Exodus 34:6. The Heb. phrase ’erek ’aph (אָדָךְ אַף) is found frequently in the books that follow, and Joel (Joel 2:13), Jonah (Jonah 4:2), and Nahum (Nahum 1:3) specially dwell upon this element in God’s character.

NT use.—It is significant that the word μακροθυμία is rare in pre-Christian Greek. In the NT it occurs several times in context with ὑπομονή (patience, endurance), from which it must be carefully distinguished (2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 6:6, Colossians 1:11, 2 Timothy 3:10, James 5:10-11). Trench (Synonyms) says μακροθυμία is used of persons, and ὑπομονή of things. As regards NT usage alone, this is near the truth (but see James 5:7, and cf. in OT Isaiah 57:15 [LXX Septuagint ] and in Apocr. [Note: Apocrypha, Apocryphal.] 1 Maccabees 8:4). Perhaps we may more truly say that patience keeps a man from breaking down in despair, while long-suffering keeps him from breaking out in word or action because of some unsatisfied desire. This latter distinction is probably the key to several passages where μακροθυμια has been said to approximate to the meaning of ὑπομονή. In Hebrews 6:12; Hebrews 6:15, for instance, Abraham not only waited patiently for the promise; he did not in heart or word break out into murmurs against God’s delay, and this right attitude won him his reward. So in James 5:7 the husband-man without patience would break down with despair, but if his long-suffering gave out he would probably break out into pulling up his tardy plants. Long-suffering, then, is a passive virtue, and waits God’s time. It is the exact opposite of hasty action or hurried speech. Nevertheless, it is not carelessness. If God is long-suffering, He waits to give further opportunity for repentance, and this may not be presumed upon without risk (Romans 2:4; Romans 9:22, 1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 3:9).

1. Christ’s long-suffering character.—The word itself is not often used of, or by, Christ Himself, but the virtue which it expresses is frequently exemplified in the Gospels. It was His long toleration of manifest injustice that puzzled John the Baptist (Matthew 11:3), and there is long-suffering too in His quiet reception of John’s complaint (Matthew 11:4). In long-suffering He refused to call down fire from heaven on inhospitable Samaritans (Luke 9:54). It was long-suffering too that made Him yield to arrest without resistance (Matthew 26:52-53, James 5:6-7), and refrain from returning scorn for scorn or threat for threat at His trial (Matthew 27:12). And after His ascension we see Him exhibiting the same long-suffering spirit towards those who persecuted the disciples as they had persecuted the Master (1 Timothy 1:16, Acts 9:4; cf. 2 Peter 3:15).

In His teaching He bids His people be partakers of His own long-suffering character. The tares are not rooted up, but grow together with the wheat until the harvest (Matthew 13:30). In the parable of the Unmerciful Servant the prayer of that unworthy man was for long-suffering (Matthew 18:26), but a full pardon was given instead, until his subsequent conduct caused the withdrawal of the boon (Matthew 18:29). In the parable of the Unjust Judge the word μακροθυμεῖ (Luke 18:7) occurs in connexion with a difficult piece of interpretation, for the full discussion of which we have scarcely space here. Christ possibly had in mind a verse in Sirach 35:18 [Gr. 32:22]. If ἐπ ̓ αὐτοῖς refers to the elect, we may say that μακροθυμεῖ here means the vindication of the cause rather than the punishment of the foe. But if we may refer the words to the enemies of the elect, the phrase will be parallel in thought to Romans 2:4.

2. Long-suffering a Christian duty.—In Matthew 18:26; Matthew 18:29 we noted the obligation resting on those who enjoy Christ’s long-suffering to exhibit it to others. This habit we find enforced in the Epistles (1 Corinthians 13:4, 2 Corinthians 6:6, Galatians 5:22, 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 2 Timothy 3:10). It is not a natural characteristic: it has to be acquired (Colossians 3:12). In Ephesians 4:2 it is explained as forbearance, or cessation of hostilities (ἀνοχή). This implies that there may be wrong on both sides. But there is a power from without (Colossians 1:11, Galatians 5:22), the Spirit of God, who will enable Christ’s people to reproduce His long-suffering in face, for instance, of opposition to the truth they teach (2 Timothy 4:2). In James 5:7-10 the word occurs four times. The Christian who is persecuted is to be as long-suffering towards his foe as the farmer who waits till the unproductive field bears a crop after fertilizing showers. There is, perhaps, in addition, a thought of man’s attitude towards God in times of trial. Christ’s long-suffering man refuses both to rail at his enemies and to question the dealings of his God.

Literature.—Trench, Synonyms; Cremer, Lex. s.v.; art. ‘Long-suffering’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ; Paget, Studies in the Christian Character, 177; Morrison, Unlighted Lustre, 188.

H. C. Lees.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Long-Suffering'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdn/l/long-suffering.html. 1906-1918.

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