What Is “Widow’s Mites” – An Introduction

Widow’s Mites
What Is “Widow’s Mites” – An Introduction

Bible Quotations About the Widows Mite

Mark 12:42 (KJV) – “And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.”

Luke 21: 1-3 (KJV) – “And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. And he said ‘Of a truth, I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all.”

So – what were the two mites?

No one knows with certainty, but many numismatists believe that they were prutot (singular – prutah or pruta) of Yehonatan (103-73B.C.) – better known as Alexander Jannaeus, king of Judea and high priest.

What are prutot?

Prutot was formally known to be a currency denomination used in Israel before 1960, derived from Aramatic word, which was implied “a coin of smaller value”

The Ptolemies and Widow’s Mite

In the Greek test, the coin is a “lepton” – lepta in the plural – with the connotation of something thin and/or small. These small bronze coins (they are 12 – 20 mm. in diameter) circulated for many years, and are known to have been in common use during the lifetime of Jesus.

After the Jewish return from Babylonian exile, probably 539/538 B.C., Palestine was a province of the Persian empire and Persian and Greek coins would have circulated, although coins as we know them, were still quite new, having appeared only around 640-600 B.C.

In 334 B.C. Alexander the Great invaded the near east, getting as far as northern India. Alexander died in 323 B.C. and his generals carved up his empire.

Palestine was first ruled by Ptolemy I (Soter) as part of Egypt – his coins and those of his successors were widely used.

Egyptian rule in Palestine was overthrown in 198B.C. by Antiochus III of Syria, a member of the Seleucid dynasty, so-called for its founder, Seleucus, another of the land-grabbing generals.

The Ptolemys and the Seleucids were Greeks, and so, introduced Greek religion and customs into the conquered territories.

Hellenizing of Palestine led to the suppression of Jewish observances and, 167 B.C., eventually desecration of the Temple.

The result was rebellion. The revolt had some initial success – the cleansing of the temple is still remembered in Hanukkah – but was crushed in a few years.

Peace terms, though, were favorable to the Jews with freedom of worship granted and eventual political independence from Syria in 142 B.C. under the Jewish family dynasty known as the Maccabeans or Hasmoneans.

In 138 B.C. the Jewish high priest, Simon Maccabeus, was granted the right to coin his own money. He apparently did not use this privilege, but his descendants did. Simon’s grandson, the Alexander Jannaeus mentioned above, struck coins and on them refers to himself as “king”.

The small bronze, prutot in plural form, poorly struck, and often off-center on the flan are still found. There are three common types:

(1) Obverse, an inscription within a wreath; reverse, two cornucopiae with a poppy fruit between them;

(2) On the obverse a flower (probably a lily); reverse an anchor, probably symbolizing stability, and a common symbol on Syrian coins.

(3) Obverse an anchor; reverse either a star with rays or a wheel with spokes – depending upon how one perceives it.

If it is a star, Alexander might have intended it to refer to the prophecy in Numbers 24: 17 – “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.”

They are neat little coins and fun to have; a search on “ancient coins” or “Jewish coins”, etc. will bring up dealers who carry them.

Summary of the Widow’s Mite

The synoptic gospel of Mark 12:41 – 44 and Luke 21: 1 – 4 summarizes the story thus: Jesus sat opposite the treasury while He was teaching at the temple in Jerusalem while He watched the crowd present their offering in the treasury.

Many rich presented large sums of the offering; He looked up and saw a poor put in two mites worth of a few cents.

Jesus called upon His disciples and said to them, “Truly, I say unto you, the poor widow has given more than all who had contributed to the treasury”

For they have taken some proportion out their abundance, but the poor widow, put in her whole livelihood, all she had to live on, out of her poverty.

Major lessons from the Widow’s Mite

  1. God sees our sacrifices

The major lesson from the bible story “the widow’s mite” teaches us that God sees everyone’s sacrifice.

According to the bible version, when the widow put in her two mites, Jesus observed it immediately and said, “This poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their surplus wealth have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in the entire livelihood that she had.” Luke 24: 1 – 4.

2. God encourages generous giving

God encourages every Christian to always give generously, for generosity is central to our Christian faith. He cheerfully gave His only begotten son to redeem the world, and so, He loves a cheerful giver.

Further, God encourages generous giving in 2 Corinthians 9: 7 (KJV) – ” Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver”. And God is able.

According to the translation in New International Version, 2 Corinthians 9:7, (NIV) “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

3. Faith in God

The sacrifice of the poor widow signifies that she has complete trust, confidence, and belief in the reliability, and power of God.

She had nothing but two mites, and while the rich were taken out their abundance, she took the whole two mites and put in the treasury, and trusted that the almighty who she was giving will provide.

God rewards every true Christian who has faith in Him, and actually puts it in good work because is like a body without the spirit. “Faith without good work is dead” – according to James 2:26.

Final Words

The widow’s mite is one of the most eminent ancient coins, stuck in bronze by Alexander Jannaeus and other Maccabean Kings. The story of the coins in the Bible signifies a little monetary contribution willingly and wholeheartedly given by someone who is poor.

Jesus praises this poor widow and wants every Christian to emulate the sacrificial giving of giving all we have just as she did. She gave all she had to live on and trusted that God will provide in spite of her poverty.