FORBEARANCE fôr bâr’ əns (חֶ֫דֶל, H2535, a ceasing, a leaving off, forbearance; ἀνοχή, G496, in secular Gr. armistice, truce, temporary suspension of hostilities; in NT, a holding back, a deferring of punishment, forbearance; μακροθυμία, G3429, patience, longsuffering).

In its religious meaning forbearance is characteristic of the God of Biblical revelation. Jehovah, the God of Israel, was extremely patient with the perverse and recalcitrant people He had elected. In their wickedness He bore with them (Neh 9:30) and proved Himself merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8). Thereby He revealed and exercised His forbearance, i.e. His disposition to hold back or restrain His wrath and to delay the divine punishment which must eventually fall upon the sin which is not covered by repentance and atonement.

God’s forbearance is not an easy and indifferent “tolerance” of sin. For sin God has only negations. Neither will God absolve the unrepentant sinner. The final judgment will call all men into account and seal their destiny for good or ill. But in this age, in the day of grace, He is long suffering. He is both slow to punish and unwilling, even in the face of opposition and alienation, to withdraw His overtures toward peace or cancel His invitation to be reconciled.

God’s forbearance is celebrated in the NT no less than in the OT. Jesus hinted both at it and at His kinship with the Father when He asked, “O faithless generation...How long am I to bear with you” (Mark 9:19). The Apostle Paul proclaims it in Romans 2:4; 3:25; 9:22, where he teaches that God has shown forbearance for a number of reasons: to show His wrath (upon sin), to make known His power, to disclose the riches of His glory for the vessels of mercy, and principally, to lead men to repentance. The same is declared by the Apostle Peter who, faced with the scoffers’ question “Where is the promise of his (Christ’s second) coming?” (2 Pet 3:4), answered “The Lord is not slow about his promise as some count slowness, but is forbearing toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet 3:9).

Christians who wish to lead a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called, are obliged, in imitation of their Lord, to forbear one another in love, with all lowliness, meekness, and patience (Eph 4:2). That is, they are to exercise calm patience under provocation, avoid resentment and retaliation, be slow to judge and punish, and be ever ready to forgive (Phil 4:5; Col 3:13; 2 Tim 2:24).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


"Forbearance" (anoche, "a holding back") is ascribed to God (Ro 2:4, "the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering"; 3:25 the Revised Version (British and American), "the passing over of the sins done aforetime, in the forbearance of God," the King James Version "remission" (margin "passing over") of sins, that are past, through the forbearance of God"); in Php 4:5, to epieikes is translated by the Revised Version (British and American) "forbearance," margin "gentleness"; it is a Christian grace in likeness to God. "Forbearing" (The King James Version, margin) is substituted by the Revised Version (British and American) for "patient" (anexikakos, "holding up under evil") in 2Ti 2:24.