Yesterday we looked briefly at how most people understand the passage about the Widow’s Mites, where a poor widow gives her last two coins to the temple. Most people today believe that Jesus praised her for such sacrifice, but the context indicates otherwise.
I think Jesus was actually saddened by what He observed.
Devouring Widow’s Houses
The surrounding context of this passage sheds light on how Jesus felt about what was going on in the temple that day. In Mark 12, right before Jesus observes and comments upon the rich giving from their wealth and the widow giving from her poverty, Jesus condemns the religious leaders for their pride, arrogance, self-prominence, and greed. In highlighting their greed, Jesus says that they “devour widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). According to the Law of Moses, the spiritual leaders were supposed to be taking care of the widows and orphans in the community, and providing for their needs (Deut 26:12). But here they are doing the opposite. They are taking away from the widows what little they have left, leaving them destitute, without even a home to live in.
Could it really be that only three verses later, Jesus is now praising the sacrifice of a widow for giving her last two coins to the temple? How can it be? The temple should be giving to her; not her to the temple! They have already taken her house, and now they take her last two coins as well! Jesus is not happy and encouraged by what He sees, but saddened. He is not upset at the poor woman. Far from it! He is upset and saddened at how far the worship of God in the temple has degenerated that the priests and Levites are teaching and even demanding that poor widows who have no homes and no income give up their last two coins to support the work of the Lord.
If we read Mark 12:43-44 again with this perspective in mind, we can hear that Jesus is not amazed and impressed at her courage and her faith, but is almost choking back the tears at how this poor widow has been caught in the lies of greedy deception by the rich and wealthy religious leaders. She is only doing what she has been told to do. She obeys out of faith, knowing that her sacrifice is probably her death sentence. But she loves God so much, she does it anyway.
But it is not her fault. It is the fault of the religious leaders. They have devoured her house and now they are taking her life as well. Asking widows to tithe from their poverty is like using religion to pick the pockets of the poor. The temple should have been giving to her; not the other way around.
Providing for One’s Family is Most Important
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had also criticized the religious leaders for teaching people that it was their priority to give to the temple if this giving deprived a person’s family of financial support (Mark 7:10-13). Jesus taught, along with the Mosaic Law, that one’s primary responsibility was to support their family. If it was wrong for a person to tithe to the temple while neglecting their family, it would also be wrong to ask poverty-stricken widows to give to the temple, when they had no one to provide for them. This was especially true if this widow had children.
Here is what John Pilch says about this passage in his book, The Cultural World of Jesus:
Jesus does not praise but rather laments this woman’s behavior. She has been taught “sacrificial giving” by her religious leaders, and that is the pity. These authorities promised to redistribute Temple collections to the needy. In actuality, they spent the funds on conspicuous consumption instead: long robes and banquets. This is how they “devoured the estates of widows.”
This was being posted while I was writing my rather longish comment on the previous post. Apparently, we have a similar take on the story.
I understand that lots of Christians have been taught a version of “Biblical” that means giving money to the church, even if you are very poor, to pay for properties, buildings, staff salaries, programs and the like.
I drive past multi-million dollar church properties filled with throngs of wealthy people (as compared to the peoples of this world, today) sitting on cushy chairs or pews, gazing out stained glass windows, and then arrive at my destination – the haunts of the homeless, many of whom have all they own in a backpack or in a shopping cart. Most of what they own would not be acceptable even as a donation to a thrift shop. What comment would Jesus make observing this?
Have we outright “robbed” the poor? How is it that many multi- millionaires pay taxes at the same rate as a single mother who wipes off tables at a fast-food restaurant? Yes, I know the church doesn’t set the tax rates, but is building multi-million dollar properties our response to such inequities?
Jeremy Myers says
Ha! We were reading each other’s minds! Actually, I had scheduled this post in advance, as I do with most of my posts. …
But still, we are thinking in the same directions.
I shudder to think at what Jesus would have to say about our multi-million dollar church buildings while poor people are living in cardboard boxes all over our cities and selling their bodies to get food.
Ha, ha, a good observation about the Pharisees and Scribes’ greediness but not all wealthy people are stingy, many are philanthropists, even unsaved liberals of noted notoriety. However today, many “poor widows” are caught up with “Winning the Lotto mentality” to their own detriment. Indeed, Jesus was smack right on it at that time. There is in big grocery and convenient-liquor stores lines filled with these poor widows of which legitimate customers who have valid returns fuming in line over poor widows self inflicted gambling bug. The same are heavily addicted and they seem unashamed.
Blaine McAvoy says
Not sure that observation is entirely fair. There are a great many churches ministering to the poor, providing meals daily, giving money to those whose utilities are to be cut off or who are hungry through the church’s benevolent fund, supporting homeless shelters (that many homeless individuals refuse to use because drug and alcohol use is prohibited on the premises), operating food banks, funding and operating orphanages and homes for unwed mothers, etc.
The church I attend and the ones I’ve attended over the course of my lifetime do not fund building construction from the normal tithes and offerings. They recognize that as God’s tithes and offerings. There is a separate building fund that members donate to for construction.
Nevertheless, I get what you are saying and I think certain modern ministries do deserve scrutiny but not all and not even most. There are some (I will not point them out) who prize lavishness and some who have become entrapped in their own pursuits.
TV airtime has replaced the Temple for some They may start out with good intentions to reach the world with the gospel but the organization required to support such a production soon becomes all encompassing demanding and consuming more resources. To feed the beast they created, more demands are made from those to whom they should be ministering to fund the TV production and megalith organization behind it rather than ministering to the needs of those that are reached through the ministry. They justify it as reaching the lost with the Word but, as Jesus showed, ministry ecompasses far more than lip service, a good show, and personal recognition for those in the ministry.
Not all TV ministers fall into this trap. Some simply share the same preaching and teaching that is provided to their congregation. It is a simple, low budget production and nothing is asked of those who receive the Word in the TV audience. Others spend a great deal of time asking for financial support. It’s like attempting to lead someone to Christ and simultaneously “bumming” a few bucks from them. I’ve watched the most egregious target the weak, poor, and elderly. Selling prayer cloths and other merchandise with the promise of health and prosperity for those that buy them. I think Jesus would be appalled.
More like selling their bodies to get drugs!! Food is plentiful in this country and there are millions of programs for anyone needing food and basic necessities. not only in government aid. which is available to absolutely anyone under as certain income bracket..but also literally every street corner or church in every city has some food program or food bank…FOOD is definitely NOT a problem in this country!!!
Clive Clifton says
It’s amazing how much we miss things. I think the separation of the letters into chapters, paragraphs and sentences stops the flow of the letter, this separation causes us to see things as headliners of Jesus teaching. Now I have reread the two verses before the widows mite incident, I can see that Jesus was showing up the hypocritical attitudes of the priests who must have convinced this woman that unless she gave what they said was required she wood be insulting God. The reality that Jesus highlighted was the disobedience of the priests and their lies that put people into bondage.
I’m going to have to take more care in my study. And make sure I get everything into context.
Thank you again Jeremy. Clive
Jeremy Myers says
Yes, the chapter and verse divisions – while helpful for finding verses – sometimes cause problems for understanding that passages. In this case, the context both before and after make the point pretty clear about how Jesus felt when the poor widow gave her last two pennies to the temple.
We will look at the following context (in Mark 13) tomorrow.
A few years ago, Ray Meyhew wrote a short booklet called EMBEZZLEMENT: THE CORPORATE SIN OF CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANITY?. He makes the case the giving to the poor is not optional but is required and to not do so, is robbery or embezzlement.
Many pastors and churches use Malachi 3:8 (“Will a man rob God”) to guilt people into giving to the church while the church is robbing the poor of that which is rightfully theirs by misappropriating these funds into salaries, buildings,etc.
Tom, Thank you for sharing this link! I plan to print copies of this to give away.
As one has read lots of “church history”, I’ve long been aware of much of this, but Ray did a good job a putting it together in this paper.
We try to direct most of our giving to the poor to help make up for the years that most of our giving was directed to local churches to pay for buildings, staff salaries and programs. We’re trying to figure out ways to “unclutter” our lives and give as much as possible to the poor.
Jeremy Myers says
Tom and Sam,
Yes, that is a fantastic article! Very thorough and well-researched.
I had not heard of the Relational Tithe website, and looked around for a while, and then joined. I love the idea!
Doug Arnold says
While I agree with the premise of this article I think it was more of a tax than a tithe as an old covenant tithe was never about money
To me this was a tax for the upgrade of the temple
The horrible Herod had to get money to build and upkeep the temple somehow
Jan Willem says
You can read more about the ways people could give money in the temple, in Edersheim’s classic: “the temple – its ministry and service”
You can download it for free from here:
On page 19 it describes the thirteen “chests” or “trumpets” in which you could throw money for specific purposes. One was used by this widow but we don’t know which one…..
Doug Arnold says
I know what they were for or did in the past none were for a tithe as a tithe was never money and poor people didn’t tithe
That was the point of my saying it wasn’t about a tithe
B L says
Another interesting way to look at the widow might story is to ask what was Jesus really emphasizing?
Read Luke 21:-4, then read Luke 20:47, and Luke 4-8. Right before the story of the widow mites, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for devouring widows houses. Right after the story, he tells his disciples that the beautiful stones of the temple will be torn down. Maybe the writer is choosing to highlight something other than her piety?
FOUND THIS VERY INTERESTING
The Tithe Trial of Pastor Jones
Used by permission
Note: Many SDAs have written Truth or Fables wishing they could enter into a class action suit against the Seventh-day Adventist denomination to recover their tithe. They realize now how they have been scammed out of their money by the denomination teaching the old covenant Mosaic Law. The Tithe Trial of Pastor Jones is fictional but makes clear that tithe is not commanded by God for Christians. —Editor
Judge: Mr. Jones you have been charged with multiple counts of extortion. Your crime spree covers 20 years and thousands of victims. You have defrauded people out of their money with fear and manipulation, telling them they had to tithe 10% of their income to your church and that God would bless them if they did. You also told them that if they didn’t tithe God would curse them. How do you plead?
Mr. Jones: I plead not guilty your Honor, I have done nothing wrong. I have only preached what the Bible says. In the Bible Abraham tithed to Melchizedek and God blessed him for his faithful giving. The Bible even says he was rich in silver and gold.
Judge: Is it not true, Mr. Jones, that in Genesis chapter 13 verse 2 the Bible says Abraham was rich with livestock, silver and gold?
Mr. Jones: Yes, you are exactly right, that’s what I just told you.
Judge: Ok, we read about Abraham being a rich man in chapter 13 but it is not until Genesis chapter 14 that we read about Abraham’s tithe to Melchizedek. So Abraham was already a rich man before he tithed to Melchizedek, wasn’t he?
Mr. Jones: Yes, I suppose you are right.
Judge: So his riches were not the result of his tithe to Melchizedek?
Mr. Jones: No.
Judge: Mr. Jones, you also say God blessed him for his faithful giving. How many times is it recorded that Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek?
Mr. Jones: Well, just once.
Judge: So the Bible never said that he gave week after week?
Mr. Jones: No it does not.
Judge: Where did Abraham get the things that he gave to Melchizedek?
Mr. Jones: Well the Bible says it was from the plunders of war?
Judge: So you are telling me that he gave from the plunders of war?
Mr. Jones: Yes that’s what the Bible says.
Judge: So he basically took things that were not really his in the first place and gave them as the tithe?
Mr. Jones: That is what the scripture seems to indicate.
Judge: Is it recorded that he ever took anything from his own possessions and tithed them to Melchizedek or anyone else?
Mr. Jones: I guess not
Judge: You guess not, you are a Pastor and you are only guessing, is it or is it not written that he ever gave any of his own possessions as a tithe to anyone?
Mr. Jones: No it is not written anywhere that I have seen.
Judge: Is it recorded as to what exactly Abraham did give Melchizedek?
Mr. Jones: I believe it says plunder?
Judge: So plunder could be any number of things?
Mr. Jones: Yes, I suppose
Judge: It could have been food, cattle, sheep, the people’s possessions or any number of things. It does not say it was all money correct?
Mr. Jones: Yes you are correct, it does not say just money
Judge: As a matter of fact money is never mentioned in that account at all is that correct Mr. Jones?
Mr. Jones: Yes your Honor, money is never mentioned just goods and food and people.
Judge: So there is no way you can say with any certainty that Abraham in fact gave Melchizedek any money at all?
Mr. Jones: That is right.
Judge: I only have one last question for you Mr. Jones, did God command Abraham to give this plunder tithe to Melchizedek?
Mr. Jones: No, it appears that he did this voluntarily.
Judge: So are you trying to tell me that because of this voluntary, one time gift by Abraham, that may not have even consisted of money, all Christians everywhere are obligated to bring 10% of their weekly paycheck to a local church?
Considering all the evidence I would say you are beyond any shadow of a doubt guilty of deliberately trying to make the scriptures says things they have not said for financial gain.
Mr. Jones: Ok your Honor, I can see how foolish I was to try and use the story of Melchizedeck to try and get the people to tithe money. But there are many other verses that will support my belief on tithing. Jacob said he would give God 10% of everything. I think we should follow his example.
Judge: Let’s see what Jacob said. Please read the verse you are talking about for me Mr. Jones.
Mr. Jones: In Genesis chapter 28 starting at verse 20 it says. Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and clothing to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, and Yahweh will be my God, then this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, will be God’s house. Of all that you will give me I will surely give the tenth to you.”
Judge: You said we should follow Jacobs’s example, is that right Mr. Jones?
Mr. Jones: Yes that is right, he vowed to give a tenth and we should too.
Judge: Let me point out one thing for you Mr. Jones, Jacob said he would Give God a tenth, ONLY if He blessed him first. So as you said previously, we should follow Jacob’s example and tell God that we will only give him a tenth if he blesses us first. Is that right?
Mr. Jones: That is not what I meant.
Judge: What did you mean then?
Mr. Jones: That we should give God a tenth also.
Judge: There you go again, trying to make the scripture say what you want it to say for your benefit. I would also like you to tell me the scriptures that say that Jacob kept his vow with God. I would also like to know where he gave the tenth to because there was no temple or Levites to give it to at that time.
Mr. Jones: I can not think of any scriptures that say where or if he ever tithed after his vow.
Judge: It seems fairly obvious to me that Jacob made a voluntary and conditional vow to God. This in no way can be used as a reason to demand others to bring their income to you or any other place.
Mr. Jones: I do have a few more scriptures that I believe will show that we are supposed to tithe.
Judge: You have not said anything yet to convince me one little bit that people are obligated to tithe money to the local churches and that you were justified in what you were doing. You have taken scripture and misapplied it to your beliefs and for your gain. But in order to be fair to you I will allow you to present more evidence.
Mr. Jones: In the book of Malachi chapter 3 starting at verse 8 it says, will a man rob God? yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, In what have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the store-house, that there may be food in my house, and prove me now with this, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. So you see your Honor, we are commanded to bring the tithes into the storehouse or God will curse us.
Judge: Answer me this Mr. Jones, were you aware that God never required anyone to tithe money?
Mr. Jones: No I didn’t know that.
Judge: The tithe spoken of here was always edible products never money.
Mr. Jones: well your Honor that is because they didn’t have money at the time so God had them tithe food instead.
Judge: Not true, money is first mentioned in Genesis and Malachi was written hundreds of years later. God had them bring food in so that the levites, the fatherless and widows may eat and be satisfied. The tithe was used mainly to take care of people. Also notice it says in the verse you quoted, that there may be food in my house. The food was the tithe. How do you completely overlook the word food in those verses?
Mr. Jones: I don’t know
Judge: I also want you to know that these verses speak to people under the Old Testament law. As you may or may not know Jesus fulfilled the law, it is no longer binding. Tithing was part of that law that has been abolished.
Once again you have tried to completely take a scripture out of context and apply it to others for your benefit. Can you give me a single scripture where God changed the tithe from food to money?
Mr. Jones: I do not know of any.
Judge: So if God never changed it from food to money who did?
Mr. Jones: Man must have.
Judge: So far all you have done Mr. Jones is take Old Testament scriptures out of context and try to apply it to believers under the New Covenant. Is this all the proof you have?
Mr. Jones: I do have a New Testament scripture that will show that Jesus told us to tithe.
Judge: Ok let me hear it.
Mr. Jones: Jesus said in Matthew 23:23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith. But you ought to have done these, and not to have left the other undone. See Jesus said we should be tithing.
Judge: Let me ask you a question, who was Jesus talking to?
Mr. Jones: The scripture says the scribes and Pharisees.
Judge: Are you a scribe or Pharisee?
Mr. Jones: Of course not.
Judge: Jesus also said in that passage, you have left undone the weightier matters of the law. Are we under the law Mr. Jones?
Mr. Jones: No.
Judge: Why not?
Mr. Jones: Because Jesus fulfilled it.
Judge: When did Jesus fulfill the law?
Mr. Jones: When He was crucified.
Judge: So the law was still in effect until Jesus death?
Mr. Jones: That is correct.
Judge: I think you know where I am going with this don’t you?
Mr. Jones: Yes your Honor. Since Jesus had not yet been crucified and the law was still binding the Pharisees were required to tithe because it was part of the law. Once the law ended, tithing ended also.
Judge: I want you to take a look at that verse again. Also tell me, what were they tithing?
Mr. Jones: The scripture says it was mint, dill and cumin.
Judge: Is money mentioned?
Mr. Jones: No it was not.
Judge: Once again it was edible products that they were tithing, not money. Do you have anything else you would like to say?
Mr. Jones: If people only tithed edible products like the scripture says, then how would the church survive? We have our mortgage payment, utility bills, my salary and a host of other things that we have to pay each week. We depend on the money from the people.
Judge: The need does not justify the means. In other words, just because you have all these debts does not give you the right to twist and manipulate scripture and cause people to give under fear of being cursed by God to meet your needs. In closing, let me recap a few things for you Mr. Jones. The tithe was never money; the tithe was an Old Testament law, which is no longer binding. When it was binding the tithe was used to take care of people, not buildings. We are under a new covenant now. Paul instructs the Corinthian believers how they are to give. He says in second Corinthians chapter 9 verse 7, Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver. So each believer is supposed to give as he or she has determined in his or her heart. If you are trying to make people give under the threat of being cursed or any other reason you are wrong. Someone can not give cheerfully if they are being forced to give. If your church can not survive on freewill offerings maybe God is not part of your church at all.
Mr. Jones: I never realized all these things, I have always been taught that we had to tithe money to the local church and that is what I have always taught. I can see now that I was completely wrong. I did not study the scripture for myself, I only took mans word for it. Yes I am guilty. I will not teach this error anymore.
Judge: Mr. Jones, I can see that you have done this in ignorance and are repentant, this court will not hold you accountable. It is your responsibility to know the truth. I would advise you and everyone else in this courtroom to really start studying the Bible and seeking God on the subject of tithing and your eyes will be open. Do not just take mans word any longer. Start seeking God as to how and where He would have you give. Court adjourned.
Maybe it was easier for the widow to give the little she had than for the rich people to give away large amounts.
Maybe it’s easier to give your all if your all is tiny anyway.
It must be difficult to give away large amounts of money even if you are rich!
Karen Pickett says
Over 30 years ago, I attended a church that had a very unbalanced view of giving or tithing. They were asking a young single mother on welfare to give a tithe when she could barely afford diapers or formula for,her infant daughter. This is also the same church that backed out twice at providing a ride to the only doctor in the area for prenatal care! I was called in desperation to see if I could take her to the doctors! She was told she could not stay if she could not GIVE. I was sad at the way she was being treated – and continued to give her rides as needed.
Alvin Jones says
Thanks for the liberating info.
I disagree with this somewhat. I believe that in pointing her out, he is honoring her, saying that she hath given more than everyone else, because she gave all the she had! Anyone who tithes and who believes in the spiritual principles of tithing Knows that you can never “outgive God”..No matter how little you have left, giving to God Increases what little you have. In fact this is illustrated in the story of Elisha the prophet and the widow of Zerapath..Why would God ask her to give what little she had left for her child..first to Elisha?? Because God is in the business of taking even the nothing we have and making it something..He wanted her to have faith that even if she gave everything that he would come through for her. And that is the spiritual principal behind giving our all. That God can take what little we have and multiply it many times over! (which is the original premise of tithing he says that he will pour out a blessing that there wont be room enough to receive it.) Yo may not have all you need but you are not with out the seed. The widow probably figured that the tiny amount of money she had left was most likely not gonna provide for her needs, The best thing she could have done with it was make an investment by giving it to God. As he can take nothing and make it something. I think it is not good to try and discourage people from giving even from the very little that they have, as that is how we open the windows of heaven! (I will also add…that even if the church you tithe too, or the organization is corrupt, your act of giving is still blessed. what they are doing with it is between them and God…I have had many ppl say Oh well I don’t tithe because who knows if they are really gonna use my money for good. But that is not our Job, God will deal with anyone who is being dishonest..if you are doing what you are supposed to do, then you will be blessed. Period.