Patience (in the Bible)

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The quality or virtue of patience is presented as either forbearance or endurance. In the former sense it is a quality of self-restraint or of not giving way to anger, even in the face of provocation; it is attributed to both God and man and is closely related to mercy and compassion. In the latter sense it is a virtue by which one bears the trials of this life with resignation to God's will, and is therefore associated with hope [see hope (in the bible)]; obviously in this sense it is predicated only of man. This article discusses patience as forbearance, patience as endurance, and continues with a discussion on the eschatological aspect of patience.

Patience as Forbearance. God's patience with men is one of His most frequently stressed attributes in the Old Testament; compare especially the use of the Hebrew roots rm and nn. He is called upon as "a merciful [rāûm ] and gracious [annûn ] God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity" (Ex 34.6; see also Nm 14.18; Wis 11.2412.1; Jl 2.13; Neh 9.17). The psalmists praise Him because He does not punish men harshly, but is patient with them [Ps 77 (78). 3839; 85 (86).15; 102 (103).8; 144 (145).89]. The greatness of His patience exceeds that of man (Sir 18.813) and therefore is not easily understood by impatient man (e.g., Jer 15.15; Jon4.2). The purpose of this patience is to bring man to repentance (Wis 11.23; 12.810); man remains free to abuse itbut he does so to his own detriment (Is 5.18;57.1113). The New Testament reflects the same doctrine; cf. especially the use of the Greek μακροθυμíα. God "endures with great patience vessels of wrath" (Rom 9.22), and has shown his forbearance in condoning former sins in the vicarious death of Christ (Rom3.2526). Therefore, man should not misuse God's patience (Rom 2.45), but rather should come to repentance (1 Pt 3.9).

The Old Testament praises the patient man because he possesses much good sense (Prv 14.29), allays discord (Prv 15.18), and is stronger than a warrior (Prv 16.32). According to the New Testament, patience purifies faith (1 Pt 1.6), fosters hope (Rom 8.25; 15.4), leads to perfection (Jas 1.4), and pertains to charity (1 Cor 13.4, 5, 7). Thus, it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5.22), deriving its power from God (Col 1.11). It is, moreover, God's own patience that Christians must imitate in dealing with others (Mt 5.45; 18.2335). Therefore their patience must be universal (1 Thes 5.14) and prudent (2 Cor 11.19), and must pervade their daily conduct (Eph 4.2; Col 3.12). There should be no complaining against one another (Jas5.8), because by bearing one another's burdens they can fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6.2). Such patience is especially necessary for those who would spread the kingdom of God. St. Paul performed his apostolic work "in all patience" (2 Cor 12.12) in order not to give offense and in order to prove himself a worthy minister of God (2 Cor6.46). He wished his patience to be an example to Timothy (2 Tm 3.10) and urged him to work patiently (1 Tm6.11; 2 Tm 4.2) and to be a "forbearing teacher" in instructing others (2 Tm 2.24). Writing to Titus, he recommended the same virtue for the elders of the Church (Ti2.2).

Patience as Endurance. The Christian's bearing of suffering (expressed especially in the Greek term [symbol omitted]υπομονέ) has its precedent in the Old Testament where the afflicted put all their trust in God [e.g., Ps 24 (25).3; 26 (27).14; 32 (33).20] and where the Prophets call Yahweh "the Hope of Israel" (Jer 14.8; 17.13). Christ tells us that it is only through this patient endurance of suffering that our life will bear fruit (Lk 8.15). St. Peter exhorts the Christians to endure unjust suffering because it is of great value in the eyes of God (1 Pt 2.1920). St. Paul, too, recommends patience in affliction (Rom 12.12), rejoices in his own sufferings (Rom 5.3; 1 Cor 4.12; 2 Cor1.6), and praises the endurance of his recent converts (2 Thes 1.4) because through such endurance they will enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14.21).

Eschatological Aspect. The Christian's patience is also eschatological. Although the coming of Christ is certain, the day and the hour are not (cf. Mt 24.151; Mk 13.137; Lk 21.538; 1 Thes 4.135.11; 2 Thes 2.112). Hence, the life of Christians here on earth consists in "looking for the blessed hope and coming of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (Ti 2.13). They should not be easily shaken from their right minds (2 Thes 2.2), but should patiently wait (Jas 5.78; Heb 10.36; 12.1), for only those who persevere until the end will be saved (Mt 10.22).

See Also: parousia; suffering.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 175860. x. lÉon-dufour, ed., Vocabulaire de théologie biblique (Paris 1962) 764767. c. spicq, "Patientia," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 19 (1930) 95106. j. horst, g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935) 4:377390. r. bultmann, ibid. 4:585595.

[j. bukovsky]