Maybe you have heard of “the patience of Job” since it is an idiomatic phrase. It refers to someone who can wait for a prolonged period of time despite challenging circumstances.

People might use this phrase to refer to someone who is undergoing suffering or harsh trials but continues waiting for the Lord.

For instance, someone might say, “I can’t imagine what he’s going through. He must have the patience of Job.”

Even though the expression is popular in everyday speech, there is a misunderstanding about the phrase based on its biblical basis.

Although the King James Version of the Bible popularized the use of “patience” when referring to Job, there is evidence that the word is better translated as “perseverance.”

Furthermore, Job was not always patient with the Lord. Instead, he held onto his faith despite his suffering and worshiped God even when his life was falling apart.

The Origin of the Phrase

The phrase stems from the wording of the King James Version of the Bible. In James 5:11, Scripture reads, “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (KJV, emphasis mine).

As is seen from this version of the Bible, some of the words are outdated or confusing to modern readers, such as “ye,” “pitiful,” and “tender mercy.”

Even though the word choices of the King James Version are not as relevant for readers of English today, the influence of this version is preserved in common usage and sayings.

Many phrases in English come from the King James Bible, such as “the apple of my eye” and “holier than thou.” Another one of these sayings is “the patience of Job,” which reflects the beloved phrasing of the King James Version.

Patience or Perseverance

Although the KJV chose to use the word “patience,” other versions translate this word in James 5:11 differently. The New International Version uses “perseverance.”

Similarly, the English Standard Version chose to translate it as “steadfastness.” A more modern translation, such as the New Living Translation, uses “endurance” instead of “patience.”

Some people might wonder why word usage is important, but slight variations in words do affect meaning. Most English speakers think of patience as waiting expectantly for a long period of time.

In contrast, modern readers are more likely to think about continuing in the face of hardship when talking about perseverance.

In James’ epistle, he uses the example of Job’s perseverance or steadfastness despite hardship to encourage his readers who were undergoing persecution (James 5:11).

Hence, this fits better with James’ discussion of hardship producing perseverance, which leads to maturity:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

The support for the translation of perseverance instead of patience is found in the original Greek. As J. Ronald Blue states in his commentary on James, “James did not say that Job had makrothymia, ‘patience,’ but that he had hypomonen, ‘steadfastness, endurance, perseverance’” (Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament Edition).

Using the word “patience” is not the best choice of words since James is using Job as an example of faithful perseverance in times of suffering.

Was Job Always Patient?

Many commentators and Bible teachers have pointed out that Job was not always patient with God. In fact, there were times when he acted impatiently.

In his suffering, he complained bitterly. He even cursed the day of his birth and wished he had been born as a stillborn child (Job 3:1-13).

Despite his reputation as a “patient” man, Job was not waiting expectantly for God to restore his life. He was not aware of Satan’s role in tormenting him and did not know that God was going to bless him with more children and livestock. Instead, all he saw was his suffering.

Elisabeth Elliot cut straight to the matter when she said, “We may often hear Job called a patient man but if you read the book of Job you won’t really find a lot of evidence that he was patient” (Suffering is Never for Nothing).

Job presented God with raw questions about his suffering. He even wanted to plead his case before God (Job 23:3-4).

Therefore, Job has a reputation for being patient, because of the King James Bible, but he did not always wait peacefully during his trials.

He mourned the loss of his children and cried out to God with honest questions about his pain (Job 7:19-20). Sometimes, he even made audacious claims about his own righteousness (Job 33:9). Job was impatient with the Lord at times.

Job’s Steadfast Faith

However, Job remained steadfast in his faith throughout his intense trials of losing his children, wealth, and health (Job 1:13-19; 2:7). He complained about his suffering and presented the Lord with challenging questions, but he maintained a strong faith in God.

Despite everything he experienced, he declared: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes — I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” (Job 19:25-27).

He did not know that God would speak to him or restore his life (Job 38:2-3; 42:7-17). Also, there is no indication that he was ever told about Satan’s accusation about his character (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5).

Job did not know what his future held during his pain and suffering, but he persevered by trusting in God.

In the New Testament, James used the example of Job to encourage his readers to persevere in the faith despite tribulations due to persecution. James and his readers knew the end result of Job’s hardships and found comfort in God’s compassion and mercy (James 5:11).

Although Job could have given up in despair, he “endured and he was steadfast, though he was impatient with God” (J. Ronald Blue, Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament Edition).

Believers today can also find hope in Job’s authentic example of faith during painful trials. We might not receive all the answers we look for about our suffering, but we can trust our Lord and Savior just as Job did.

Why Does This Matter?

Many people are familiar with the idiomatic expression of “the patience of Job.” Borrowing from the word choice of the King James Version, people often use this phrase to refer to someone who can wait for extended periods of time for God.

Despite the popular usage of this expression, a better way to describe Job is that he was able to remain steadfast in his faith and persevere through challenging times.

He was not always patient in the way English readers today understand the word, but he did stand firmly in his faith even when his life was crumbling.

While patience is an important quality to develop, Job’s example reminds us to remain steadfast in our faith and not give up.

The God we serve and trust in is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8). Our trust in His character is what gives us the strength to endure painful times of loss and suffering.

For further reading:

How Can We Grow in Biblical Patience?

What Does it Mean Patience Is a Virtue?

Who Was Job in the Bible?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Andrii Zorii


Sophia Bricker is a freelance writer who enjoys researching and writing articles on biblical and theological topics. In addition to contributing articles about biblical questions as a contract writer, she has also written for Unlocked devotional. She holds a BA in Ministry, a MA in Ministry, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing to develop her writing craft. As someone who is passionate about the Bible and faith in Jesus, her mission is to help others learn about Christ and glorify Him in her writing. When she isn’t busy studying or writing, Sophia enjoys spending time with family, reading, drawing, and gardening. 




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