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Holman Bible Dictionary

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Alms, Almsgiving
Greek - alms, almsdeeds

Gifts for the poor.

Old Testament Although the Hebrew language apparently had no technical term to refer to “alms” or “almsgiving,” the practice of charitable giving, especially to the poor, became a very important belief and practice within Judaism. The Old Testament taught the practice of benevolent concern for those in need. Israel's ideal was a time when no one was poor (Deuteronomy 15:4). Every three years, for example, the tithe of the produce of the year was to be brought to the towns and made available to the Levites, the aliens in the land, the orphans, and the widows (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). Every seventh year all debts were to be canceled among the Israelites (Deuteronomy 15:1-3), and the fields were to lie fallow so that the needy of the people might eat (Ex.. Deuteronomy 23:10-11). In addition, the law instructed Israel to give generously to the needs of their Hebrew neighbors (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). Such charitable giving was not a grudging chore nor a loan for repayment. Failure to comply would be sin (Deuteronomy 15:9-10). Israel showed concern for the needy by not harvesting the corners of fields and by leaving the gleanings so the needy and the stranger might gather what remained (Leviticus 19:9-10; Leviticus 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

New Testament The New Testament regards alms as an expression of a righteous life. The technical term for alms (Greek, eleemosune) occurs thirteen times in the New Testament. This does not include Matthew 6:1, where the preferred reading is “righteousness” (NAS, NIV) instead of “alms” (KJV). By the first century A.D. righteousness and alms were synonymous in Judaism. Although Jesus criticized acts of charity done for the notice of men (Matthew 6:2-3), He expected His disciples to perform such deeds (Matthew 6:4) and even commanded them (Luke 11:41; Luke 12:33). Alms could refer to a gift donated to the needy (Acts 3:2-3,Acts 3:10) or to acts of charity in general (Acts 9:36; Acts 10:2,Acts 10:4,Acts 10:31; Acts 24:17).

The principle of deeds of mercy performed in behalf of the needy receives emphatic significance in the New Testament, since such actions are ultimately performed in behalf of the Lord (Matthew 25:34-45). Early Christians voluntarily sold their possessions and shared all things in common to alleviate suffering and need within the church (Acts 2:44-46; Acts 4:32-35). Much of Paul's later ministry involved the supervision and collection of a contribution for the needy Christians in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-28; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 8-9). According to James 1:27, pure and undefiled religion consists, at least partially, in assisting orphans and widows in their distress. John also presented charitable giving as evidence of one's relationship to God (1 John 3:17-18). See Alien; Mercy; Hospitality; and Stewardship.

Barry Morgan

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'ALMS'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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