Those existing at the bottom of a society's economic scale. In the OT there is recognition of injustice and inequalities. These impose strong duties on the better‐off to relieve those who have lost out in ruthless competition, perhaps even to the point of selling themselves into slavery (2 Kgs. 4: 1; Amos 2: 6, 7). The prophets denounced conditions which accelerated the divisions between rich and poor (Isa. 3: 14–15) and reminded the nation that God hears the cry of the poor (Ps. 12: 5; Isa. 10: 2). The Law made provision for the poor (Exod. 23: 11) and imposed restrictions on a farmer's unbridled greed (Lev. 19: 9–10).
Charitable giving to the poor was, however, circumscribed by the conviction that poverty was a punishment for wickedness (Prov. 13: 18). There was no systematic help for the army of beggars in NT times, but Jesus' concern for the poor is particularly clear in the gospel of Luke. In the epistles Paul more than once asks his Churches to support his collection for the poor members of the Church in Jerusalem (Rom. 15: 26; 2 Cor. 8–9), who were impoverished after spending all their capital (Acts 4: 32–5) and were severely hurt by the universal famine (Acts 11: 28) of, perhaps, 46 ce.
Such sympathy for the poor was alien to contemporary Graeco‐Roman ways of thinking: gifts were certainly sometimes made by the well‐to‐do but from motives of self‐interest such as honour or prestige. The élite in society regarded the majority with contempt and were apt to parade their superiority. The Church's ideal of holding together in one congregation all strata of society (Paul's aim in 1 Cor.) must have been regarded as extraordinary, and Luke 6: 35 quite outlandish.
Subjects: Biblical Studies — History.