Jump to: ISBEWebster'sConcordanceThesaurusLibrarySubtopicsTerms
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


Whether Almsgiving is an Act of Charity?
... OF ALMSDEEDS (TEN ARTICLES) Whether almsgiving is an act of charity? Objection
1: It would seem that almsgiving is not an act of charity. ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether almsgiving is an act.htm

Spiritual Almsgiving
... CHAPTER XX. Spiritual Almsgiving. 75. Now, surely, those who live in gross
wickedness and take no care to correct their lives and ...
/.../augustine/handbook on faith hope and love/chapter xx spiritual almsgiving.htm

Whether Almsgiving is a Matter of Precept?
... OF ALMSDEEDS (TEN ARTICLES) Whether almsgiving is a matter of precept? Objection
1: It would seem that almsgiving is not a matter of precept. ...
/.../aquinas/summa theologica/whether almsgiving is a matter.htm

The Excellence of Almsgiving.
... The Homily. Chap. xvi."the excellence of almsgiving. Wherefore, brethren,
having received no small occasion [3969] for repentance ...
/.../unknown/the second epistle of clement/chap xvi the excellence of almsgiving.htm

Almsgiving and Forgiveness
... CHAPTER XIX. Almsgiving and Forgiveness. 70. We must beware, however, lest
anyone suppose that unspeakable crimes such as they commit ...
/.../handbook on faith hope and love/chapter xix almsgiving and forgiveness.htm

Almsgiving Will not Atone for Sin Unless the Life be Changed.
... Chapter 70."Almsgiving Will Not Atone for Sin Unless the Life Be Changed.
We must beware, however, lest any one should suppose ...
/.../augustine/the enchiridion/chapter 70 almsgiving will not atone.htm

Against the Belief of those who Think that the Sins which have ...
... Book XXI. Chapter 27."Against the Belief of Those Who Think that the Sins Which
Have Been Accompanied with Almsgiving Will Do Them No Harm. ...
/.../augustine/city of god/chapter 27 against the belief of.htm

The Righteousness of this Life Comprehended in Three Parts ...
... Eutropius and Paulus. (18.) The Righteousness of This Life Comprehended
in Three Parts,"Fasting, Almsgiving, and Prayer. As long ...
/.../augustine/anti-pelagian writings/18 the righteousness of this.htm

Titus iii. 11-Aug
... which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works"; that is, Discourse
of these things, and from a consideration of them exhort to almsgiving. ...
/.../homily vi titus iii 11-aug.htm

2 Cor. Ix. 10
... For he asks not almsgiving merely, but with largeness. Wherefore also
he continually calls it "seed." For like as the corn cast ...
/.../homilies on the epistles of paul to the corinthians/homily xx 2 cor ix.htm

Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary
(n.) The giving of alms.
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

Alms (13 Occurrences)
... & pl.) Anything given gratuitously to relieve the poor, as money, food, or clothing;
a gift of charity. Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia. ALMS; ALMSGIVING. ...
/a/alms.htm - 22k

Charity (29 Occurrences)
... 1. A New Word 2. A New Ideal 3. An Apostolic Term 4. Latin Equivalents 5. English
Translation 6. Inward Motive 7. Character 8. Ultimate Ideal 9. Almsgiving 10. ...
/c/charity.htm - 23k

Fellowship (114 Occurrences)
... worship in the same class with "the breaking of bread and the prayers." 3.
Contributions: Christian fellowship found a natural mode of expression in almsgiving...
/f/fellowship.htm - 47k

Almug (2 Occurrences)

/a/almug.htm - 10k

... What the writer seeks to make clear is that if they are faithful to their religious
duties, giving themselves to prayer and almsgiving, burying their dead ...
/t/tobit.htm - 34k

Anaharath (1 Occurrence)
... What the writer seeks to make clear is that if they are faithful to their religious
duties, giving themselves to prayer and almsgiving, burying their dead ...
/a/anaharath.htm - 87k

Pharisees (86 Occurrences)
... the Law 5. Traditional Interpretations of the Law by Pharisees (Sabbath, etc.) 6.
Close Students of the Text of Scripture (1) Messianic Hopes (2) Almsgiving III ...
/p/pharisees.htm - 66k

Communion (8 Occurrences)
... worship in the same class with "the breaking of bread and the prayers." 3.
Contributions: Christian fellowship found a natural mode of expression in almsgiving...
/c/communion.htm - 30k

Plentiful (17 Occurrences)
... 10 And God who continually supplies seed for the sower and bread for eating, will
supply you with seed and multiply it, and will cause your almsgiving to yield ...
/p/plentiful.htm - 11k

Bible Concordance
Almsgiving (3 Occurrences)

2 Corinthians 9:9 As it is written, "He has scattered abroad, he has given to the poor, his almsgiving remains for ever."

2 Corinthians 9:10 And God who continually supplies seed for the sower and bread for eating, will supply you with seed and multiply it, and will cause your almsgiving to yield a plentiful harvest.

Daniel 4:27 Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor; if there may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity.
(See JPS)



Related Terms

Alms (13 Occurrences)

Charity (29 Occurrences)

Fellowship (114 Occurrences)

Almug (2 Occurrences)


Anaharath (1 Occurrence)

Pharisees (86 Occurrences)

Communion (8 Occurrences)

Plentiful (17 Occurrences)

Prolonging (5 Occurrences)

Begging (18 Occurrences)

Beggar (5 Occurrences)

Charitable (2 Occurrences)

Alms-deeds (1 Occurrence)

Scatters (12 Occurrences)

Beg (77 Occurrences)

Sermon (1 Occurrence)

Yield (78 Occurrences)

Continually (180 Occurrences)

Poor (276 Occurrences)


Eating (151 Occurrences)

Malchiel (3 Occurrences)



Harvest (109 Occurrences)

Literature (2 Occurrences)

Anem (1 Occurrence)

Bible ConcordanceBible DictionaryBible EncyclopediaTopical BibleBible Thesuarus
Top of Page
Top of Page