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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

ams, ams-giv'-ing:

The English word "alms" is an abridged form of the Greek word, eleemosune (compare "eleemosynary"), appearing in gradually reduced forms in German Almosen, Wyclif's Almesse, Scotch Aw'mons, and our alms.

The later Jews often used "righteousness" tsedhaqah as meaning alms, that being in their view the foremost righteousness. (Compare our modern use of "charity" to denote almsgiving.) This use is seen in the Talmud and in the frequent translations of the Hebrew word for "righteousness" (tsedhaqah) by "alms" (eleemosune) in the Septuagint, though nothing warranting this is found in the Hebrew Old Testament, or in the true text of the New Testament. This notion of righteousness as alms being well-nigh universal among Jews in Jesus' day, and spreading even among Christians, accounts for "alms" in Matthew 6:1, where the true text has "righteousness": "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them" (the Revised Version (British and American) with Codex Vaticanus, Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Bezae, the Latin versions, etc.). The oriental versions which generally read "alms" may be accounted for on the supposition that "alms" was first written on the margin as explaining the supposed meaning of "righteousness," and then, as according with this accepted oriental idea, was substituted for it in the text by the copyists.

Dikaiosune and eleemosune are both used in the Septuagint to translate chesedh, "kindness," and are also both used to translate tsedhaqah, "justice." Almsgiving was regarded not merely as a plain evidence of righteousness in general but also as an act of justice, a just debt owing to the needy. "No one refuses directly," Mackie says, hence, possibly, Christ's teaching in Luke 11:41, "Let your righteousness (charity) be from within," "Give your hearts to almsgiving."

In the course of time the impulse and command to give alms in a true human way, out of pity, such as is found expressed in Deuteronomy 15:11 the King James Version, "Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land," gave place to a formal, meritorious" practice, possessing, like sacrifice, as men came to think, the power of atoning for man's sins, and redeeming him from calamity and death. For instance, Proverbs 11:4 (compare Proverbs 16:6, 21:3) was expounded: "Water will quench blazing fire; so doth almsgiving make atonement for sins" (Ecclesiasticus 3:30). "Lay up alms in thy storehouse; it shall deliver thee from affliction" (Ecclesiasticus 29:12). The story of Tobit is especially in point: it is simply a lesson on almsgiving and its redeeming powers: "Alms delivers from death and will purge away all sin" (Tobit 1:3, 16; 2:14; 4:7-11; 12:8, 9. Compare Sirach 29:11). Kindred teaching abounds in the Talmud: "Alms-giving is more excellent than all offerings," is "equal to the whole law," will "deliver from the condemnation of hell," will "make one perfectly righteous," etc. According to Rabbi Assi, "Almsgiving is a powerful paraclete between the Israelites and their Father in heaven, it brings the time of redemption nigh (Babha' Bathra' Talmud 10a).

The Roman Catholics, holding the books of Tobit and Sirach to be canonical, find in them proof-texts for their doctrine of almsgiving, and likewise attach great value to the gifts to the poor as atoning for sins. Protestants, by a natural reaction, have failed to hold always at its true value what was and is an important Christian duty (see Luke 12:33 the King James Version, and, compare Matthew 6:19-24: "Sell that ye have and give alms," etc.). It seems to have been so regarded and kept up in the Christian communities until the beginning of the 4th century (Apos Const II 36; Cyprian, De Opera and Eleemos. xiv).

The teaching of Jesus on the subject is important, first, as bearing upon Jewish ideas and practices, and second, as bearing upon present-day Christian ideas and practices.

This teaching appears most conspicuously in the Sermon on the Mount. While showing what is required of the subjects of the Messianic reign, He avowedly sets forth a higher and more spiritual morality than that which was taught and practiced by the scribes and Pharisees: "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). There, too, He lays down the general principle embodied in the words of Matthew 6:1: "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men, to be seen of them," and illustrates it by applying it to the three exercises most valued among the Jews (commended together in Tobit 12:8), namely, almsgiving (Matthew 6:2, 4), prayer (Matthew 6:5-15), and fasting (Matthew 6:16-18). Jewish writers claim that these are "the three cardinal disciplines which the synagogue transmitted to the Christian church and the Mohammedan mosque" (compare Koran, Sura 2 40, 104; 9 54).

Clearly what Jesus here forbids in general is not publicity in performing good deeds, which is often necessary and proper, but ostentatious publicity, for the purpose of attracting attention. (The Greek conveys distinctly this idea of purpose, and the verb for "to be seen" is the one from which comes our word "theater.")

Jewish writers, as also Greek and Roman philosophers, have many notable maxims upon the beauty and importance of being unostentatious in virtue, especially in deeds of benevolence. The Essenes had their treasury in a chamber of their own in the temple that both the giving and the taking should be unobserved (Mishnah, Sheq., v.6). Rabbi Eleazer said, "Alms-giving should be done in secret and not before men, for he who gives before men is a sinner, and God shall bring also the good deed before his judgment" (B.B. 9a; compare Ecclesiastes 12:14).

In applying this principle to almsgiving Jesus teaches His disciple: "When. thou doest alms, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do" (Matthew 6:2). The conjecture of Calvin, followed by Stier and others, and mentioned as early as Euthymius, that it was a practice among Jews for an ostentatious almsgiver literally to sound a trumpet, or cause a trumpet to be sounded before him, in public places to summon the needy is without foundation (Lightfoot); as is also the notion, made current by the rabbis and accepted by Edersheim (The Temple, etc., 26), that by "sounding a trumpet" Jesus was alluding to the trumpet-like receptacles of brass in the temple treasury.

There is no proof that these were found "in the synagogues," or "in the streets." "Sound a trumpet," according to the Greek commentators, and the best modern authorities, is merely a figurative expression common to many languages, for self-parade-efforts to attract notice and win applause (compare our vulgar English saying about "blowing your own horn"). The contrast with the common practice instituted by Jesus is the significant thing: "But when thou doest alms"-"thou" is emphatic by position in the Greek-"let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth," etc., i.e. "So far from trumpeting your almsgiving before the public, do not even let it be known to yourself." Jesus here, Calvin well says, "silently glances at a kind of folly which prevails everywhere among men, that they think they have lost their pares if there have not been many spectators of their virtues." (The traditional saying of Mohammed, "In almsgiving, the left hand should not know what the right has given," is evidently borrowed from this saying of Jesus.) It is worthy of note that, despite popular practice, to give alms with right motives, and only to those who were worthy to receive, was a matter of special solicitude and instruction with the best among Jews as well as among Christians. The words of the Psalmist, "Blessed is he that considereth the poor," are construed to be an admonition to "take personal interest in him and not simply give him alms" (Lev. R. xxxiv). "When thou wilt do good, know to whom thou doest it. Give unto the good and help not the sinner" (Ecclesiasticus 12:1-6; compare Didache 1:5, 6). "He that gives a free offering should give with a well-meaning eye" (Yer. B.D. 4 11). Jesus' words concerning the "single" and the "evil" eye (compare Luke 11:34-36), and Paul's teaching, "God loveth a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7-9) have their counterparts in Jewish teaching. Rabbi Eleazer, referring to Hosea 10:12, taught this high doctrine. "The kindness displayed in the giving of alms decides the final reward" (Suk. 49b). Other kindred teaching in a way anticipated Jesus' supreme lesson, "that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee" (Matthew 6:4).


Commentaries at the place Rabbinical literature in point. D. Cassel, Die Armenverwaltung des alten Israel, 1887.

George B. Eager

1654. eleemosune -- mercy, pity, spec. alms
... alms. Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine Transliteration: eleemosune Phonetic Spelling:
(el-eh-ay-mos-oo'-nay) Short Definition: alms-giving, charity Definition ...
// - 6k

1871. epaiteo -- to beg
... to beg. Part of Speech: Verb Transliteration: epaiteo Phonetic Spelling:
(ep-ahee-teh'-o) Short Definition: I beg, ask alms Definition: I beg, am a beggar, ...
// - 6k

4650. skorpizo -- to scatter
... Phonetic Spelling: (skor-pid'-zo) Short Definition: I disperse Definition: I disperse,
scatter abroad (as of sheep); I dissipate, waste; I distribute alms. ...
// - 6k


Whether Alms Should be Given in Abundance?
... OF ALMSDEEDS (TEN ARTICLES) Whether alms should be given in abundance? Objection
1: It would seem that alms should not be given in abundance. ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether alms should be given.htm

Treatise viii. On Works and Alms.
... Treatise VIII. On Works and Alms. ... Further, admonishing, and showing whence we
may be clean and purged, He added that alms must be given. ...
/.../cyprian/the treatises of cyprian/treatise viii on works and.htm

Whether Corporal Alms are of More Account than Spiritual Alms?
... OF ALMSDEEDS (TEN ARTICLES) Whether corporal alms are of more account than
spiritual alms? Objection 1: It would seem that corporal ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether corporal alms are of.htm

Whether one Ought to Give Alms to those Rather who are More ...
... OF ALMSDEEDS (TEN ARTICLES) Whether one ought to give alms to those rather
who are more closely united to us? Objection 1: It would ...
/.../ theologica/whether one ought to give 2.htm

Whether one Ought to Give Alms Out of what one Needs?
... OF ALMSDEEDS (TEN ARTICLES) Whether one ought to give alms out of what one
needs? ... Therefore we should not give alms out of what we need. ...
// theologica/whether one ought to give.htm

To Give Alms Aright, we Should Begin with Ourselves, and have Pity ...
... Chapter 76."To Give Alms Aright, We Should Begin with Ourselves, and Have
Pity Upon Our Own Souls. For the man who wishes to give ...
/.../augustine/the enchiridion/chapter 76 to give alms aright.htm

There are Many Kinds of Alms, the Giving of which Assists to ...
... Chapter 72."There are Many Kinds of Alms, the Giving of Which Assists
to Procure Pardon for Our Sins. And on this principle of ...
/.../augustine/the enchiridion/chapter 72 there are many kinds.htm

The Greatest of all Alms is to Forgive Our Debtors and to Love Our ...
... Chapter 73."The Greatest of All Alms is to Forgive Our Debtors and to Love
Our Enemies. But none of those is greater than to forgive ...
/.../augustine/the enchiridion/chapter 73 the greatest of all.htm

Whether one May Give Alms Out of Ill-Gotten Goods?
... OF ALMSDEEDS (TEN ARTICLES) Whether one may give alms out of ill-gotten goods?
Objection 1: It would seem that one may give alms out of ill-gotten goods. ...
// theologica/whether one may give alms.htm

If we Would Give Alms to Ourselves, we must Flee Iniquity; for He ...
... Chapter 77."If We Would Give Alms to Ourselves, We Must Flee Iniquity;
For He Who Loveth Iniquity Hateth His Soul. Those, then ...
/.../augustine/the enchiridion/chapter 77 if we would give.htm

Easton's Bible Dictionary
Not found in the Old Testament, but repeatedly in the New. The Mosaic legislation (Leviticus 25:35; Deuteronomy 15:7) tended to promote a spirit of charity, and to prevent the occurrence of destitution among the people. Such passages as these, Psalm 41:1; 112:9; Proverbs 14:31; Isaiah 10:2; Amos 2:7; Jeremiah 5:28; Ezek. 22:29, would also naturally foster the same benevolent spirit.

In the time of our Lord begging was common (Mark 10:46; Acts 3:2). The Pharisees were very ostentatious in their almsgivings (Matthew 6:2). The spirit by which the Christian ought to be actuated in this duty is set forth in 1 John 3:17. A regard to the state of the poor and needy is enjoined as a Christian duty (Luke 3:11; 6:30; Matthew 6:1; Acts 9:36; 10:2, 4), a duty which was not neglected by the early Christians (Luke 14:13; Acts 20:35; Galatians 2:10; Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4). They cared not only for the poor among themselves, but contributed also to the necessities of those at a distance (Acts 11:29; 24:17; 2 Corinthians 9:12). Our Lord and his attendants showed an example also in this (John 13:29).

In modern times the "poor-laws" have introduced an element which modifies considerably the form in which we may discharge this Christian duty.

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
(n. sing. & pl.) Anything given gratuitously to relieve the poor, as money, food, or clothing; a gift of charity.
Alms (13 Occurrences)
...ALMS; ALMSGIVING. ... The later Jews often used "righteousness" tsedhaqah as meaning
alms, that being in their view the foremost righteousness. ...
/a/alms.htm - 22k

Alms-deeds (1 Occurrence)
Alms-deeds. Almsdeeds, Alms-deeds. Almsgiving . Multi-Version
Concordance Alms-deeds (1 Occurrence). Acts 9:36 And in ...
/a/alms-deeds.htm - 6k

Almsgiving (3 Occurrences)
... Noah Webster's Dictionary (n.) The giving of alms. Int. Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. ALMS; ALMSGIVING. ams, ams-giv'-ing: The English ...
/a/almsgiving.htm - 17k

Beggar (5 Occurrences)
... 1. (n.) One who begs; one who asks or entreats earnestly, or with humility; a
petitioner. 2. (n.) One who makes it his business to ask alms. ...
/b/beggar.htm - 15k

Beg (77 Occurrences)
... 7. (vi) To ask alms or charity, especially to ask habitually by the wayside or from
house to house; to live by asking alms. Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. ...
/b/beg.htm - 37k

Begging (18 Occurrences)
... 3. Begging and Alms-taking Denounced in Jewish Literature: The first clear denunciation
of beggary and almstaking in Jewish literature is found in ...
/b/begging.htm - 18k

Deacon (4 Occurrences)
... This jealousy early appeared in the Christian community. It was alleged by the
Hellenists that their widows were overlooked in the daily distribution of alms. ...
/d/deacon.htm - 14k

... the observances of that religion at Jerusalem. Moreover, he fasted regularly,
gave alms freely. and buried such of his fellow-countrymen ...
/t/tobit.htm - 34k

Anaharath (1 Occurrence)
... the observances of that religion at Jerusalem. Moreover, he fasted regularly,
gave alms freely. and buried such of his fellow-countrymen ...
/a/anaharath.htm - 87k

Doest (53 Occurrences)
... Matthew 6:2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before
thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may ...
/d/doest.htm - 22k

Bible Concordance
Alms (13 Occurrences)

Matthew 6:1 Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 6:2 Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

Matthew 6:3 But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:

Matthew 6:4 That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Luke 11:41 But rather give alms of such things as ye have; and, behold, all things are clean unto you.

Luke 12:33 Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

Acts 3:2 And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;

Acts 3:3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.

Acts 3:10 And they knew that it was he which sat for alms at the Beautiful gate of the temple: and they were filled with wonder and amazement at that which had happened unto him.

Acts 10:2 A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway.

Acts 10:4 And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.

Acts 10:31 And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God.

Acts 24:17 Now after many years I came to bring alms to my nation, and offerings.



Alms: Asking

Alms: Commandments and Practices Concerning

Alms: Giving: Cornelius

Alms: Giving: Dorcas

Alms: Giving: The Early Christians

Alms: Giving: Zaccheus

Related Terms

Alms-deeds (1 Occurrence)

Almsgiving (3 Occurrences)

Beggar (5 Occurrences)

Beg (77 Occurrences)

Begging (18 Occurrences)

Deacon (4 Occurrences)


Anaharath (1 Occurrence)

Doest (53 Occurrences)

Deaconess (1 Occurrence)

Goods (231 Occurrences)

Verily (146 Occurrences)

Unfailing (29 Occurrences)

Otherwise (78 Occurrences)

Lapse (9 Occurrences)

Wax (32 Occurrences)

Wear (56 Occurrences)

Interval (5 Occurrences)

Interpreted (19 Occurrences)

Instantly (39 Occurrences)

Inexhaustible (2 Occurrences)

Faileth (26 Occurrences)

Female (95 Occurrences)

Tabitha (2 Occurrences)

Recognizing (10 Occurrences)

Recognised (10 Occurrences)

Remembrance (74 Occurrences)

Render (95 Occurrences)

Righteousness (442 Occurrences)

Draweth (52 Occurrences)

Destroyeth (38 Occurrences)

Dole (2 Occurrences)

Manasses (1 Occurrence)

Memorial (54 Occurrences)

Memory (181 Occurrences)

Pious (18 Occurrences)

Provide (74 Occurrences)

Possessions (84 Occurrences)

Possess (193 Occurrences)

Bags (16 Occurrences)

Basket (40 Occurrences)

Communicate (7 Occurrences)

Consume (136 Occurrences)

Corban (2 Occurrences)

Corrupteth (2 Occurrences)

Cornelius (10 Occurrences)

Collection (7 Occurrences)

Charity (29 Occurrences)

Community (77 Occurrences)

Approacheth (4 Occurrences)

Affrighted (60 Occurrences)

Awe (32 Occurrences)

Almsdeeds (1 Occurrence)

Stephen (13 Occurrences)

Supplicating (1 Occurrence)

Solicit (2 Occurrences)

Several (40 Occurrences)

Sacrifices (186 Occurrences)

Almost (27 Occurrences)

Fixed (284 Occurrences)

Placed (297 Occurrences)

Heed (223 Occurrences)

Trophimus (3 Occurrences)

Rather (176 Occurrences)

Draw (212 Occurrences)

Sweat (3 Occurrences)

Poor (276 Occurrences)

Arrived (129 Occurrences)

Bringing (288 Occurrences)

Asking (111 Occurrences)

Afraid (361 Occurrences)

Sat (222 Occurrences)

Jesus (10891 Occurrences)


Synagogue (52 Occurrences)

Bishop (4 Occurrences)



Gate (248 Occurrences)

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