The Four Key Words Part I
by Jim Myers


                    There are four concepts any Christian student should understand before attempting to comprehend the New Testament. This article will give you a better understanding of what the writers of the gospels and New Testament had in mind as they wrote their accounts.

                    The first concept is ‘righteousness.’ The word ‘righteousness’ is found in the King James Version of the Old Testament 128 times. This is only one of several words used to bring the meaning of tzedakah into English. Others include ‘justice’ and ‘righteous act.’ You will see the significance of both these meanings later.

                    The problem with language is that you cannot simply take a word from the environment of its language and culture, then match it up to a somewhat equivalent word in another language with a different culture, expecting the meaning to miraculously be the same. ‘Righteousness’ and ‘tzedakah’ are similar, but definitely are not identical.

                    Tzedakah means to fulfill all your moral obligations as well as your legal ones. The English word ‘righteousness’ only means to do what is right. Obviously everyone might not have the same picture of right and wrong. By the way, the antonym for someone who does not pursue righteousness is ‘wicked.’

                    Tzedakah is something learned by doing repeatedly. We call that a habit. This is not something done passively, only when the chance arises. Righteousness in the Hebrew sense is actively pursuing one’s obligations.

                    There are many rules for carrying out righteousness in the Books of Moses. The rabbinical literature amplifies what is said there into alms-giving and charity. In fact, they defined many levels of tzedakah. (We might cover them sometime in a later article.)

                    In the American concept of charity we find three main points:

  1. the recipient of the act sees himself as indebted;
  2. the donor’s action is voluntary; and
  3. the recipient is under no obligation after receiving help.

                    In the Hebrew concept we find a much better ideal:

  1. the recipient of the act is not seen as indebted;
  2. 2. the donor is obligated to act; and
  3. 3. by accepting, the recipient obligates himself to in turn give.

                    In the Jewish way of thinking (remember, that was Jesus’ culture), man is only a guardian of God’s wealth. It is the man’s duty to make sure God’s wealth ends up where it needs to be. Those who are in need have a right to charity. And most important, the needy are not perceived to be a burden. After all, if God took back his property from you, you would be needy.

                    There are some things we Americans seem to have confused with charity. For example, two things which come to mind that are not charity are prayer and sympathy. Even giving through societies and organizations does not excuse one from personal tzedakah. It would be much better if we would actively take care of those of us who are in need. Tzedakah helps to maintain social stability.

                    On special occasions, one is expected to give charity. It is forbidden to turn away from one in need - a small amount is better than nothing - wouldn’t you agree? 


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