Who Said “Charity Begins at Home”?

Mother and Father Goose

Today’s post is about the origin of “charity begins at home”. Who said “charity begins at home”? On Bible or Not we like to share popular quotes along with the sources of those quotes, whether Bible or Not (hence the name of this blog). It’s also fun to research and share the origin of famous quotes and sometimes get into the etymology of some of the words.

The origin of Charity Begins at Home is usually not attributed to the Bible. One of the people most referenced as the author of this quote is Sir Thomas Browne, an English physician, writer and theologian:

“But how shall we expect charity towards others, when we are uncharitable to ourselves? ‘Charity begins at home,’ is the voice of the world;” – Sir Thomas Browne, 1642

It was also said by other famous writers and theologians:

“‘Charity should begin at himself.” – John Wycliffe 1383

Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.” – Charles Dickens, 1844

I make the argument that while this quote is not verbatim from the Bible, the concept definitely is. Furthermore, those who are most quoted as saying “charity begins at home” were well read in the scriptures. We see in the first letter of Paul to Timothy this verse:

But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. – 1 Timothy 5:4 KJV

When reading this verse in its full context we see that Paul was instructing Timothy about how the members of the Church should be treated, and in particular, widows. While the Church should always be a haven and support for those in need, Paul’s instruction to Timothy was that support should first come from your own family, or in other words, charity begins at home. If the “home” is truly unable to provide support, then the Church will do so.

But you may say that “charity” and “piety” do not mean the same thing, and you would be technically right, but let’s understand the context, and if I dare say, the intent of this verse. The Amplified Bible reads this way:

“But if a widow has children or grandchildren, see to it that these are first made to understand that it is their religious duty [to defray their natural obligation to those] at home, and make return to their parents or grandparents [for all their care by contributing to their maintenance], for this is acceptable in the sight of God.” – 1 Timothy 5:4 The Amplified Bible

The word “piety” in the original greek is “eusebeó” meaning to show respect. It is a form of the word “eusebeia” which means “godliness” or “holiness”. The word “charity” in the original greek is “agapē” which means “love”. So, in the context of this verse I contend that the use of the word “piety” means to be godly and holy, and show respect for your family by providing for their natural needs. This type of action can only be driven by the love of God, which is “charity”. And this charity must first begin at home. Convinced? Leave a comment if you are, or even if you think I’m just an idiot.

So, what’s the deal with the goose photo? I was mountain biking today and came across this pair of geese, and that inspired this post. If you look closely in the background you will see a mother goose sitting on her eggs. As I was riding by, father goose came out hissing at me in order to protect (provide for the safety of) his family…piety begins at home. You see, God has placed this principle even in the animals. This is not to be confused with “never go against the family.” 😉 And speaking of animals, a photographer friend of mine has an extraordinary dog and cat photography website.

God : Family : Country. In that order. God bless.


Who Said “Charity Begins at Home”? — 23 Comments

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  2. I am so relieved to find this, because I did recall reading something like this in the Bible before, but disturbingly I found so many articles saying that the concept of “Charity begins at Home” is not found in the Bible.

  3. I’m so glad that you used literal translations for this analogy! Because charity is the true Love Of Christ, we must too be providing the gospel both in word and by example first. By todays standards most people think of being charitable by means of money or objects which are not things to love according to the gospel. If we do not first have love at home we cannot do what is right nor can we love others as we are commanded to do.

  4. Thanks you so much Linda for your comment and insight. Yes, if we can’t practice charity at home, then how can we have it any where else? GBU!

  5. My wife has used this quote to block me from ever try to help anyone else. I think that the Bible says that we should do our thing six days and rest from ourselves (and our families) on the seventh day and go help others. I think that this quote is saying that before you go to help others make sure that the needs of your family are taken care of so that the church will not be burdened with having to help them. This includes your immediate family and your extended family.

  6. I believe ‘Charity begins at home’ was said by an Anglican Clergyman. What he meant is that we learn charity at home. And because we have learned it ‘at our mothers knee’, we will be charitable and loving in the world. It doesn’t mean our first responsibility is to family. Though it often is.

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  8. When I hear people use the phrase, “Charity begins at home”, it is always a situation where a person of means uses this exuse to NOT give money to a charity. What they say is, “the very Bible itself says we are to take care of ourselves first, last, and always”. In my opinion the quote that trumps any notion of selfishly looking out for our own welfare was voiced by Jesus himself when he said, “If you want to guarantee your place in Heaven, give away all of your wealth and follow Me”. Unfortunately, people always bend Bible translations to fit their own selfish persuits.

  9. Very well said Brian. Yes, unfortunately many a person uses the Bible to justify their inaction at best and hypocrisy at worst. I recall that when Jesus taught that you should love your neighbor as yourself that a scribe, looking to justify himself, asked ‘who is my neighbor?’. Perhaps he expected Jesus to say those in your home, or household or next door. Well, He followed with the parable of the good Samaritan, clearly illustrating your point. Charity begins at home, but it doesn’t end there.

  10. Thank you for the post bible or not it really encouraged me and let me know that I am on the right page I am a preacher’s kid and have a father that puts everything before his family like the church I am a minister in his church and we only talk on sunday I live nearby for 6 years and he has never visited me in my family he never encourages me and makes me feel like a failure sometimes I just want to leave the church but trying to be a good son and christian I have stayed praying to god that 1 day he will realize that charity starts at home please pray for me

  11. I will definitely pray for you. Stay strong, be a blessing, and God will see you through.

  12. Yes, charity begins at home. If you won’t take care and love your own, who will? We often take our loved ones for granted, when they should be our number one priority. I lost my 19 year old boy to a pedestrian accident. I can tell you all his friends loved him and were devestated at the loss. But six years later, who still feels the sting? Who still dreads his birthday and date of passing? Who has dreams of him at various ages throughout his growing up? Who still cannot bear to look at his pictures?
    Who will take care of your elderly parents and do for them the things they are no longer capable of doing? The church? The neighborhood? Think again. Friends may drop in from time to time, but they are just part of the sweetness of life, thank God for them. But they ain’t scrubbing the toilet and doing the laundry. Doing good works for other people is a noble thing indeed. But, sadly I have found that there are folks who need an audience to feel appreciated and will do the good deeds as long as it furthers their social climbing.
    These people are the ones who need to think the whole charity starting at home thing through a little more carefully. As PK above illustrates for us. A godly man who cannot even get recognition from his own father. Hurtful and such a shame.

  13. It is quoted “charity starts at home , then spreads abroad”. What we must understand is God is holy and orderly. He will not let his word
    return void , therefore, when God presents Himself to man (Jesus) he will show us a perfected image. One cannot instruct one in another environment unless he/she is called, converted, and then taught how to love Gods’ way through Jesus. Peter , who called, then converted and taught how to love was a perfect example of this text. Peter before convertion tended to be loud, aggressive, and defensive. But Jesus taught him a more excellent way. Then Peter could love at home and finally abroad (to all nations ,which was a commandment of Jesus ). Jesus said all will know you are my disciples if you love one another as I have love you.

  14. I am not a church-goer, but I do believe. When I hear this phrase, I hear a translation “you have to be able to help yourself before you can help others.” In other words, yes, charity begins at home, but it doesn’t have to end their. Too many people abuse this phrase to quell giving to those in need, or it may come across that way. For me, that’s any excess I find I don’t need, I try to give to others that do. I have extra household items, canned food, or clothes, I give to homeless, donation centers, food banks. I have extra time, I give to another family member, a friend, or volunteer. I have extra money, even if just pocket change, I give to the salvation change pot, I put in the kind lady’s tip jar at the local store, I give to (or buy food for) the kind homeless person on the street I pass. But when my family is needing (not wanting, there is a difference) I turn that inwards. Change goes in a jar, items are reused as needed, if something is upgraded that needs to be then we might hang on to the older one a bit longer than normal in case something happens.

    I was actually verbally attacked by a friend, who expected more when she knew I was at a time when I had little of everything, when she came to me with a list of items because even though her family was in need like mine she took a lot of others under their wing, and I think it was because she needed to feel like she was helping someone even though she couldn’t help her own any more than she could already. Because she kept attacking me, I had to tuck our friendship away for awhile. I told her this phrase, and told her if she had extra to give that was great and I was happy she could pass things along and felt bad I couldn’t at that time, but I had just given everything we didn’t need earlier that year to either her to pass out to people she knew or I donated. I had nothing else I knew to give, especially since everything she listed (not asked, listed as if I was expected) was items that we were using or going to use. I knew exactly what we have because we have no storage space and are a family of 2. She had massive items in 2’s and 3’s, triple the closet size (and filled to the brim for two people) to spare and has a family of 8. I felt bad that a member of a church and as often an attendee as her would attack me since everyone knows it’s not true, just because i couldn’t spare anything at this time and reminded her of this phrase while she continued to berate me for being selfish along with other things.

    One of the many ways i guess that this could be misinterpreted in use, not just in source…

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  16. To respond to pk – you will not be happy whilst you are trying to gain your father’s respect. You must follow your heart. Maybe God has another path for you, which may not be in the church but something for which you are perfectly suited in any case. I made the same mistake, studying endlessly to try to impress my mother, who pushed us to achieve academically. When I realised I was trying to please my mother, even after she died (!), I felt released from an obligation I was never under in the first place. Your father may be the type who will not be able to support you whatever you do, so be brave – you have nothing to lose and you will gain a lot of SELF- respect. Good luck!

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  19. You should have included I Timothy 5:8 in this as well as it nails it that Charity does indeed start with family first. Not outsiders.

  20. Charity like understanding doesn’t end where it begins, and there’s another proverb that’s relevant -prov. 27:10- which suggests neighborhood community is important, whoever your neighbours are – and of course the greatest commandments, when Jesus asks who is my mother and brothers and implicated anyone who was with him, when he talks about the Samaritan traveller showing agape to a wounded fellow traveller, when he suggested loving your enemies, when he identities himself as a prisoner, hungry, thirsty, as the least.

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