In the NIV the term "perseverance" occurs thirteen times, all in the New Testament. Verbal forms appear a total of eight times. The noun always translates the Greek word hypomone [uJpomonhv]; the verbs translate several Greek verbs (hypomeno [uJpomevnw], epimeno [ejpimevnw], and kartereo [karterevw]).
The root of hypomone [uJpomonhv], the verb meno [mevnw], is often used of God's permanence in contrast to the mutability of human beings and the world. In hypomone [uJpomonhv] there is the idea of energetic resistance, steadfastness under pressure, and endurance in the face of trials.
In the Septuagint the word refers to either confidence in or tense expectation of ("waiting on") the power or the faithfulness of God, who delivers his people ( Psalm 37:9 ; Isa 51:5 ; Micah 7:7 ; Zeph 3:8 ). It is closely linked with the idea of hope ( Psalm 5:11 ; 7:1 ; 15:1 ; 16:7 ).
Passing into Judaism, hypomone [uJpomonhv] appears as an inward work, of great profit to the righteous in Hebrew life. Abraham persevered in ten temptations (Jub. 17-18); Isaac, Noah, and the prophets stood fast (4 Macc 13:12; 15:31; 16:21); the mother and her seven sons withstood the cruelty of the tyrant (16:1; 17:7) and conquered him (1:11). Such behavior was done "for the sake of God" (16:19).
In the New Testament, the main sense of hypomone [uJpomonhv] is perseverance or endurance. Faith and hope are emphasized, and there is little of the Old Testament sense of "waiting for" or "expecting." One needs to persevere to attain personally to the ultimate salvation of God. Some texts emphasize perseverance in good works ( 2 Cor 12:12 ); others, more passive, show perseverance under suffering ( 2 Thess 1:4 ). Such a stance Paul boasting of the believers because of their steadfastness stands in contrast to the ethics of the Greek world, which regarded this as demeaning behavior.
There are two main strands of teaching about perseverance in the New Testament: (1) the indicative or doctrinal-type statements, which basically describe the nature and the presence of this virtue in the lives of believers; and (2) the imperative or hortatory statements, stressing the need for or the results of perseverance. The only exception to this general pattern is one text in which Paul makes reference to "Christ's perseverance" ( 2 Thess 3:5 ). Many scholars regard the genitive case here as subjective, denoting Christ as the model of perseverance for believers. Such understanding accords well with the frequent New Testament references to Christ as the example for his followers ( 1 Peter 2:21 ; 1 John 2:6 ).
The indicative or descriptive texts occur in the letters of Paul and James, in Hebrews, and in the Apocalypse. They refer to perseverance on the part of Paul ( 2 Cor 12:12 ), his converts ( 2 Thess 1:4 ), Job ( James 5:11 ), Moses ( Heb 11:27 ), and the believers in Ephesus and Thyatira ( Revelation 2:2-3 Revelation 2:19 ).
Paul's life consisted of many sufferings and hardships (see 2 Cor 11:23-33 ), circumstances associated with his ministry as an apostle. The word of the Lord to the newly converted Paul through Ananias was, "I will show him how much he must suffer for my name" ( Acts 9:16 ). As apostle, in both the synagogues and to Gentile audiences, he persisted, God working through him signs, wonders, and miracles.
Paul's converts in Thessalonica had endured persecutions and trials, their lives marked by perseverance and faith. They had suffered from their own countrymen ( 1 Thess 2:14 ); they had undergone trials ( 3:3 ). Paul was concerned that the tempter might have tempted them ( 3:5 ). Yet they had persevered in faith ( 3:7 ) and would be counted worthy of the kingdom of God for which they suffered ( 2 Thess 1:5 ).
James appeals to Job as an example of those who had persevered. While the prophets were examples of patience (makrothymia [makroqumiva], 5:10 , a term meaning "longsuffering" or "forbearance" ), Job's experience mirrored perseverance. He remained steadfast under very difficult situations. The conclusion James draws is that "the Lord is full of compassion and mercy" ( 5:11 ), probably basing his statement on the conclusion of the story of Job ( Job 42:10 Job 42:12 ), where the blessing of the Lord on Job is described.
According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, Moses persevered in the face of the Egyptian king's anger "because he saw him who is invisible" ( Heb 11:27 ). One "sees" the "invisible" by faith, an expression used three times to describe Moses' response ( Hebrews 11:24 Hebrews 11:27 Hebrews 11:28 ).
Finally, in two of the letters addressed to the churches of Asia, the risen Lord assures believers that he knows of their perseverance ( Revelation 2:2-3 Revelation 2:19 ). In the face of threats against orthodox teaching and against hardships they stood fast. The former were pressures from without; the latter inward endurance of trial, whatever the source.
The imperative or hortatory sorts of statements occur once in the Gospels ( Luke 8:15 ), and in the letters of Paul ( Rom 5:3-4 ; 1 Tim 4:16 ), James ( James 1:3-4 James 1:12 ), Peter ( 2 Peter 1:6 ), and the epistle to the Hebrews ( 10:36 ; 12:1 ).
In the parable of the sower, those who hear and produce a crop stand in contrast to the second and third types in the parable who fall away in time of trial, for they do not remain constant in adversity and they apostasize, or do not grow into maturity ( Luke 8:13-14 ). Thus, Jesus' parable is meant to encourage believers to produce "for the long haul."
In Paul's only use of the noun hypomone [uJpomonhv] ( Rom 5:3-4 ) he shows the crucial importance of growth between justification ( 5:1 ) and the anticipated glory ( 5:2 ). In the interim there will be suffering, but that produces steadfastness, which in turn produces (approved) character. But, one may ask, how does this occur? Do not many rebel at suffering, and even curse God? Here the end of the process is in view, what suffering finally achieves.
Timothy is called to persevere (epimeno [ejpimevnw]) with respect to his duties as a leader in the church ( 1 Tim 4:16 ). His persevering will result in his personal reputation being saved (cf. 1 Cor 9:27 ), and the people to whom he ministers attaining salvation.
Similar to Paul's words in Romans is the text in James 1:3-4. Testing leading to approval or showing genuineness, "develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete." But an important addition by James is the promise of "the crown of life" to those who, by their perseverance, show their love for God ( 1:12 ). Those who do persevere show their confidence in God's goodness and care, their sense that God loves them. That is an important motivation for withstanding the trial.
The list in which perseverance occurs in 2 Peter 1:5-7 is more extensive. This literary form, sometimes called climax or gradatio, was common in Stoicism and Greek popular philosophy, and occurs also in early Christian writings, although it is found otherwise only in Romans 5:3-5 among the New Testament lists of virtues. This example of perseverance is set between God's gift of life ( 1:3-4 ) and the anticipation of being welcomed into the eternal kingdom of Christ ( 1:11 ). It is because of what God has bestowed that believers are exhorted to employ faith in producing virtue. Each of those listed is the means whereby the next is produced.
The writer of Hebrews stresses the need to persevere in order to "receive what he [God] had promised" ( 10:36 ). The expression "you need to persevere" underlines the moral effort involved in doing the will of God, and thus being eligible to receive the salvation God has promised (see 11:39 ). In 12:1 the writer calls on readers to divest themselves of everything that would hinder running the race, and persevere, while fixing their eyes on Jesus. He is the supreme model of perseverance, and the one who gives ultimate motivation.
Because God has bestowed the gift of life by grace through faith, continuance is urged upon believers. Growth into maturity is of the nature of salvation ( 1 Peter 2:2b ). God's grace continues to uphold and enable. Faith must be nurtured and strengthened. Hope points forward to the eschatological climax of salvation. That which God has prepared as an inheritance of believers can be attained. To those who persist he will give eternal life ( Rom 2:7 ).
Walter M. Dunnett
Bibliography. F. Hauck, TDNT, 4:581-87; A. S. Martin, DAC, 2:186-90; J. M. Gundry Volf, Paul and Perseverance.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[T] indicates this entry was also found in Torrey's Topical Textbook
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Perseverance'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".