The Story and Meaning of the 2 Widow's Mites
"As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in her two mites. "Truly I tell you," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." (Luke 21:1-4)
The Christian lesson of the widow's mites, as relayed in Luke (21:1-4) and Mark (12:41-44), is an enduring testament to the value of faith. A destitute widow has only a few mites to her name, and those she gave selflessly as her donation to the Temple. (Mites were ancient pennies, fairly worthless at the time). Jesus comments that her modest gift was worth more than the ostentatious contributions of the wealthy, for her mites represented all that she had. This virtuous woman had demonstrated true Christian faith in God -- she could not know from where her next meal would come, but she believed that He would provide for her.
"Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things (food, clothes, all material needs) will be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33)
Widow's Mite Coin Descriptions
These bronze widows mite coins were not Roman coins but were in fact true Judean coins that were minted during the inter-testamental period of Jewish history when Israel was a self-governing nation. These coins were minted under King and High Priest Alexander Jannaeus who ruled Israel from 103-76 B.C.
Leptons & Prutahs
There are two distinctive different yet similar coins referred to as “widow’s mites”. These are the smaller lepton coins and the larger Prutah coins, both minted with similar images and both minted under Alexander Jannaeus, King and High Priest of Israel from 103-76 BC. So what is the difference between these two yet similar coins?
The smaller lepton mites were scripturally speaking the coin used by the poor widow referred to in scripture. The common word “mite” is the 1611 King James Version translation for this famous coin. The original Greek used the widow’s mite stories was the word lepton. These leptons were the smallest and lowest denomination coin that circulated in Jerusalem during Christ’s lifetime. These coins were thin and were often carelessly and crudely struck, usually off center and in small flans. Legends are generally unreadable. Actual size of these coins were around 10-12 mm, sometime as small as a the size of a pencil eraser. The value of the coins were based on combined weight with other coins and not on an individual coin value. They are believed to be the coins that referred to in the Biblical story of the poor widow.
Along with the small lepton was the larger prutah coin. Both the lepton and the prutah had the images of the anchor on one side and the star or wheel image on the other. These coins were often intermixed, the same as you will find pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters intermixed today. When looking through hoard quantities of these mites, one will usually find both prutahs and leptons intermixed. So while the scripture references only the lepton, due to the commonalities of these two coins, both coins today are usually and commonly referred to as widow’s mites.
Bronze Lepton, Obverse, anchor with (or without) solid circle around the anchor. Reverse eight ray star sometimes surrounded by writing inscriptions. Bronze Prutah, Obverse BASILEWS ALEXANDROU (King Alexander) around anchor; reverse eight ray star (or wheel) surrounded by diadem (solid circle, sometimes looks like a wagon wheel), Hebrew inscription “Yehonatan the king” between the rays.
The ANCHOR: The anchor was adopted from the Seleucids, who used it to symbolize their naval strength. Anchors are depicted upside down, as they would be seen hung on the side of a boat ready for use.
The STAR: The star symbolize heaven
Widow's Mite Scriptures
The widow’s mite coin, or “lepta” in Greek, as quoted below, is found in three locations in the New Testament Gospels. The passages in Mark 12 and Luke 21 both tell the story of the poor widow who gave two mites, all she had. Luke 12 also references the “very last mite” for how the judge will expect you to pay all you owe, down to the smallest coin in your possession.
Christ used this little coin to teach dual messages:
- Financially, these stories tell us that whether we give willingly, or pay out of obligation, we are to be financially responsible before both God and man.
- Spiritually, the widow’s story teaches us to give from the heart. The judge story teaches us that we are accountable for all of our deeds. Fortunately, since it is impossible for us to repay our debts to God, our God through Jesus Christ is willing to forgive us if we just ask him!
Mark 12:41-44 (The poor widow)
41 Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much. 42 Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. 43 So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them, "Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood."
Luke 21:1-4 (The poor widow)
1 And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury. 2 And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites. 3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all: 4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
Luke 12:58-59 (Paying the "last mite" )
Widow's Mites Available Today
In Israel, quite a few of these coins have been found and are available for purchase, either as the coins themselves, or mounted in jewelry.