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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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BEGGAR.—Though beggars are seldom spoken of in the Gospel narratives (Matthew 20:30-34; cf. Mark 10:46-52, Luke 18:35-43, John 9:1-41, and Luke 16:19-31 parable of Rich Man and Lazarus), they undoubtedly formed a considerable class in the Gospel age.* [Note: As equivalents for ‘beg,’ ‘beggar’ of EV, we find two radically different words in the text of the Gospels—on the one hand, the verbs τροσαιτέω (Mark 10:46, Luke 18:35), ἐταιτεω (Luke 16:3), and the noun προσαίτης (John 9:8 Revised Text); on the other, the adj. πτωχός (Luke 16:20; Luke 16:22). In the former case the root idea is that of asking (αἰτέω), while πτωχός suggests the cringing or crouching (πτώσσω) of a beggar. But ττωχος is the ordinary NT word for ‘poor,’ whether in the sense of needy (Matthew 19:21) or humble (Matthew 5:3).] This is evident both from the references to almsgiving in the Sermon on the Mount and from the mention of beggars in connexion with places of a public character: the entrance to Jericho (Matthew 20:30 and parallels), a city through which so many pilgrims went at festival seasons, the neighbourhood of rich men’s houses (Luke 16:20), and the gates of the temple (Acts 3:2).

The prevalence of the beggar class was due to various causes besides indolence—to the want of any system of poor relief, to the ignorance of proper medical remedies for common diseases like ophthalmia, and to the impoverishment of Palestine under the Romans owing to cruel and excessive taxation. (For the last, see Hausrath, History of NT Times, vol. i. 188 [English translation, Williams & Norgate]). Edersheim thinks that the beggar’s appeal for alms may have been enforced by some such cry as ‘Gain merit by me,’ ‘O tender-hearted, by me gain merit, to thine own benefit’ (Life and Times of Jesus, vol. ii. 178). It is worthy of notice, however, that no beggar is recorded to have enforced his appeal to Christ by any reference to the merit to be gained by a favourable response to his appeal (though it must be remembered, on the other hand, that the appeal of a blind beggar to one who had power to restore his sight would naturally differ from his attitude to those from whom he merely sought an alms). It is also observable that the begging ‘saint’ of Mohammedan countries is not found in the Gospels.

The remark of the unjust steward in the parable (Luke 16:3)—‘To beg I am ashamed’—favours the conclusion that begging, under any circumstances, was regarded as an unfortunate mode of existence, and, in the case of the indolent, was condemned as strongly by public opinion as it was in the days of Jesus the son of Sirach (Sirach 40:28-30).

Literature.—The standard Lives of Christ; G. M. Mackie’s Bible Manners and Customs; The Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v.; cf. Day’s Social Life of the Hebrews.

Morison Bryce.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Beggar'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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