643. Alms Giving

Matthew 6:2  •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Some have thought from these words that it was customary, literally, to sound a trumpet before an alms-giver. However this might have been in the streets, it certainly could not be permitted “in the synagogues,” as it would disturb the services there. There is no evidence whatever that any such custom was ever practiced by alms-givers. The words are therefore to be understood in a figurative sense, which is based on the custom of heralds making public announcements; or there may be an allusion to the trumpet which was sounded before actors and gladiators when they were brought into the theater; or to the trumpet which was sounded six times from the roof of the synagogue to usher in the Sabbath. We have corresponding phrases in modern languages. “In German, ausposaunen and an die grosse Glocke schlagen; in English, to sound one’s own trumpet, ‘to trumpet forth,’ every man his own trumpet; in French, faire quelque chose tambor battant, trompetter; in Italian, trompetar, bucinar” (Tholuck, Sermon on the Mount, p. 298). The idea of the text is simply that alms-giving should be unaccompanied by ostentation.
It was customary among the Jews to give alms to the poor who were assembled before the entrance to the temple or synagogue. This is referred to in Acts 3:33Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms. (Acts 3:3), where the lame man asked alms of Peter and John as they were going into the temple. Chrysostom makes reference to the custom as afterward practiced in front of the early Christian churches. See Bingham, Antiquities of the Christian Church, book 13, chap. 8, § 14. It may be that in the text the word “streets” refers to the space in front of the synagogue.
In the synagogues there was a regular form of giving alms, the offerings being deposited in the alms-boxes before the prayers began. Thus the Saviour speaks first of alms-giving, and next of prayer. Sometimes, on special occasions, the congregation handed their alms to the proper officer.