(from Gk. eleemosyne, mercy, pity; an alms). Mt 6:14; Lk 11:41; 12:33; Acts 3:2, 3, 10; 10:2, 4, 31; 24:17. Alms means gifts to the poor, but in some sectors of the early ch. alms were divided into 4 parts: for the bps., priests, deacons and subdeacons, and the poor and ch. repair. Almsgiving holds an important place in some primitive cultures (e.g., Aleuts, Eskimos, and Sioux and Muskogee Indians) and has religious value in Buddhism* and Islam.* The OT stresses that the land belongs to God, that all have equal right to its fruits, and that the rule of conduct toward others is: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Lv 19:18, 34; cf. Ex 23:11; Lv 23:22; 25:2528; Dt 15:911; Pr 14:2021; 21:13). After the return from captivity, increasing need caused increasing stress to be laid on almsgiving. The Apocrypha* made almsgiving a meritorious act, even an atonement for sin (e.g., Tob 12:89; Ecclus 3:33). The NT opposes this apocryphal teaching (Mt 6:14) and emphasizes that man is saved by faith alone (Eph 2:89). In view of the fact that works are the fruits and evidences of faith (Mt 7:1520; Ja 2), the NT speaks of rewards (Mt 6:4; 19:21; 25:3440; Lk 14:314; Gl 6:9).
The ch. from its very beginning emphasized almsgiving (Acts 2:4445; 4:3435; 1 Co 16:13). The apocryphal idea of the efficaciousness of almsgiving crept into the ch. and is found in such early writers as polycarp* (Epistola ad Philippenses, 10); Hermas (The Shepherd, Sim. ii; See Apostolic Fathers, 5); 2 Clement 16:4 (not considered authentic; see Clementines); Cyprian* of Carthage (Deopere et eleemosynis); Chrysostom* (Hom. I in 2 Tim.); Ambrose* (Letter LXIII 16); and Augustine* of Hippo (De fide et operibus, 26). These aberrations finally grew into the medieval System of almsgiving.
M. Luther* restored almsgiving to its NT status as a pleasing work of the new life created through faith (WA 32, 407413; 52, 433434; cf. LC I 247). This teaching is also in the Confessions (AC VI; Ap IV 122400 [sometimes referred to as III]; XII 139 [sometimes referred to as VI 42]). EL
See also Charities, Christian.
Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
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