Almsgiving Purging Sin


Tobit 12:8-9
“(8) Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, (9) for almsgiving saves from death, and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, (10) but those who commit sin and do evil are their own worst enemies.”

Verse 9 is my confusion. I’ve read much of the Bible, and God’s conditions for forgiving sin have (to my memory) never included almsgiving. Usually, God requires us to forgive others, and then He will forgive us (eg, Mark 11:25). As I understand it, the Church is also capable of removing sin through confession. So what’s different in this verse about almsgiving being capable of purging sin?


Note that it says almsgiving with righteousness. In other words, almsgiving in and of itself is not meritorious, but only as an expression of charity (cf. 1 Cor. 13). Then it wins God’s favor (Heb. 13:16). It is also an act of mercy.

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt. 5:7).

“For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me” (Mt. 25:35-36).

When we give alms, we are loving Christ in others. We are loving our neighbor as ourselves. So it’s not just a magic work which we perform to get automatic forgiveness.

Similarly, the sacrament of Penance is not magic, either. It is Christ who forgives our sins through the ministry of the priest (Jn. 20:23), provided we are truly sorry and intend to sin no more (Jn. 8:11).

As to the “purging of sins,” note that some sins (called mortal) destroy the life of grace and charity in our souls (1 John 5:16-17), while others do not. Venial sins do not incur the eternal punishment of hell, but only temporary punishment (called temporal). Mortal sins incur both kinds of punishment. For a biblical example of temporal punishment, see 2 Sam. 12.

Giving alms, and other acts of charity, can purge the temporal punishment due to sin, including sin already forgiven. It also reduces sinful tendencies: when we are merciful and generous, it makes us less selfish. I do not think that almsgiving can purge mortal sins; for that one needs the sacrament of Penance (or perfect contrition, that is, supernatural sorrow for having offended so good a God).


What is said in Tobit is said elsewhere in the parts of the Bible accepted by Protestants. From Luke:

And the Lord said to him: Now you Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but your inside is full of rapine and iniquity. Ye fools, did not he that made that which is without, make also that which is within? But yet that which remaineth, give alms; and behold, all things are clean unto you (Luke 11:39-41).

Sell what you possess and give alms. Make to yourselves bags which grow not old, a treasure in heaven which faileth not: where no thief approacheth, nor moth corrupteth. (Luke 12:33)

Another example is Daniel.

Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee, and redeem thou thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor: perhaps he will forgive thy offences. (Daniel 4:24 (4:27 in the Protestant versions))


The story of the widows mite/pence assumes that there is a reward for alms proportionate to the amount, or else there is no point in worrying about who put more in.


Ditto this. :o Scripture speaks of sin in both eternal and temporal effects. Almsgiving avails the temporal side of sin. See also What is Purgatory?, which discusses these attributes. :wink:


Clarification. I think that almsgiving can contribute to the purgation of temporal punishment due to mortal sin. (What I’m pretty sure it cannot do is remit the eternal punishment due to mortal sin.)


Just to add to the other Scripture passages cited above, St. Peter taught that “charity covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).


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