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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Poor Poverty

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The terms used in the NT to describe the poor are πένης, πενιχρός, ἐνδεής (once each), and πτωχός. In the great majority of instances it is obvious that these words describe the man who has little material wealth, but there are certain passages which suggest a larger meaning.

In the Epistle of James and in the Gospel of Luke the word ‘poor’ (πτωχός) is used occasionally in a manner which suggests that, while it has in part its literal sense, it may also denote one who possesses certain virtues which may have been conceived of as usually associated with poverty. ‘Did not God choose them that are poor as to the world to be rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he promised to them that love him? But ye have dishonoured the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you, and themselves drag you before the judgement-seats?’ (James 2:5-6). Our Lord’s words ‘Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God,’ and ‘Wce unto you that are rich! for ye have received your consolation’ (Luke 6:20; Luke 6:24) may be thought to convey the same suggestion. In Matthew 5:3 our Lord’s words are repeated in a different form-‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’; and while we may be inclined to think that Luke gives us the more original form of the words, the gloss, if it be such, of Matthew’s Gospel is very possibly just in substance. When we examine the OT literature we find that it is possible that the word ‘poor’ is often used rather in a spiritual than in a literal sense, e.g. Psalms 35:10; Psalms 40:17.

It has been suggested that this points to some relation between the NT conception of the poor and some supposed body of Ebionites or pious men who are also called poor, but the material is too scanty to enable us to form any very positive judgment.

For the question of the position and treatment of the poor in the Apostolic Church see the artt._ Alms and Community of Goods.

A. J. Carlyle.

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

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