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“Longsuffering”

By Kyle Pope

The term “long-suffering” is first recorded in English in William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament (Oxford English Dictionary  ‑ 1526: Galatians 5:22 ‑ longe sufferynge).  Tyndale used this to translate the Greek word makrothumia,  a compound formed from the adjective makros, meaning “long” and the noun thumos.  Derived from the verb thuo, referring to offerings made by fire, the Greeks viewed the thumos as an aspect of the heart, soul or mind of a person.  The thumos was associated with strong passion, wrath or courage (see Liddell, Scott & Jones, 9th ed. Greek-English Lexicon).  Plato felt the name was drawn “from the raging and boiling of the soul” (Cratylus, 419e).

            To possess makrothumia was to have the capacity to hold this boiling or raging of the soul under control until the appropriate time.  In the Greek Old Testament it is God’s makrothumia which allowed Him to hold back although His people were persecuted (Jeremiah 15:15).  It was makrothumia within a faithful person which,  could persuade a leader (Proverbs 25:15).  In  non-biblical apocryphal literature it is pictured as the quality which restrains the wrath of God like the reins on a horse (Apocalypse of Baruch, P. Oxy. III. 403).

            In the New Testament, makrothumia is a Divine quality and a virtue which Christians should possess. Peter tells us that the longsuffering of the Lord is “salvation” (II Peter 3:15).  Paul reveals that God endures “with much longsuffering” the vessels of His wrath with whom He is angry because of their sin (Romans 9:22,23).  God displayed makrothumia while waiting for the ark to be finished (I Peter 3:20).  As a consequence, to disobey the will of God is to “despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering”  (Romans 2:4). 

            For the Christian, makrothumia is included in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). The elect of God must put on longsuffering (Colossians 3:12).  To walk worthy of the call of the gospel is to walk with longsuffering (Ephesians 4:1,2).  A preacher is to “exhort with all longsuffering and teaching” (II Timothy 4:2).  In general, the promises of God are only inherited by faith and makrothumia (Hebrews 6:12).

            The sinful and rebellious world in which we live tests the “longsuffering” of God everyday.  When we sin, we forget that it is God’s patient restraint which has not given us what we deserve.  Let us follow this example, and patiently endure when we are mistreated, tempted or when our soul “rages” and “boils” within.

Pope, Kyle. "Longsuffering" Biblical Insights 1.2 (February 2001): 28.  

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