There is no one right way to translate μακροθυμεω. However, “patient” may be too bland, and “suffers long” somewhat opaque. “Slow to anger” is a solution which uses the same term as is used in the Old Testament for how the Lord deals with his people. He is “slow to anger.” It is not a passive expression, but alludes to strength and feeling. This passage exhorts us to have love for others of the kind that God has for us. There is another option, however.
Last summer when we were discussing 1 Cor. 13, Carl Conrad sent me his translation of this chapter, remarking that this is not a “literal” version, and definitely involves a distinctive interpretation of the Pauline text in the context of an interpretation of 1 Corinthians as a whole. Although this translation has been used at a wedding ceremony, he expressed some reservations about this.
1. Unless I make my voice show loving-kindness,
the eloquence of orators
and even lyric ecstasy of angels
is meaningless babel.
2. Whatever powers I may have—
to proclaim God’s will on the issues of the day,
to probe secrets of the cosmos and wisdom of sages,
to overcome any obstacle with boundless trust in God,
they are utterly worthless
unless they serve loving-kindness.
3. I might be
a peerless philanthropist
or ready to die for the right cause,
but doing good
is labor spent in vain.
4. Loving-kindness waits out storms;
it is good-hearted and not jealous;
it isn't egotistical, and doesn't put on airs.
5. It doesn't become ugly,
doesn't try to get its own way,
doesn't lose its temper,
and doesn't hold a grudge.
6. Loving-kindness isn’t pleased
when someone gets hurt;
what really thrills it
is integrity winning out.
7. Loving-kindness rises to meet each occasion;
it is absolutely trusting,
full of hope,
withstands every challenge.
8. Loving-kindness will always have a role to play.
But someday great issues will no longer matter;
someday eloquence will have nothing to say;
someday throbbing angelic ecstasy will be hushed;
and someday profound insights will be irrelevant.
9. Our deepest insights, after all,
are always biased;
even our visions of the issues
are colored by our time and place.
10. But when the fullness of time comes,
our biased insights
and matters that seem to us important
will lose their importance.
11. A child has its own way of talking,
its own way of seeing right and wrong,
its own way of thinking.
An adult must think and act in grown-up ways.
12. We are like children now:
our images of each other are at best distorted;
when we grow up,
we will look each other in the face.
My clearest visions now are skewed;
when we are fully grown,
we shall see and understand each other
with the wholeness of authentic selves.
13. So there are these three things that outlive life itself:
and of them all,
the one that counts for most is loving-kindness.
—CWC; August 6, 1988, revised