Hospitality: Heritage of the Church

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Hospitality, charity and visiting the sick were priorities in the teaching of Jesus and other sages of his day. In the following article, Dr. Marvin Wilson highlights for Christians the importance of hospitality.

Hospitality was a fundamental function of the Jewish home in the time of Jesus. This practice is also central in the Hebraic heritage of the Church.[1] Schooled in a rich rabbinic background, Paul inculcates this teaching in his readers. He instructs the church at Rome to “practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13). Here Paul reflects a sacred duty that was present in Jewish life from the earliest times.

The Stranger

Biblical law specified that it was an obligation to extend hospitality and love to the גֵּר (ger), “alien” or “stranger,” for the Hebrew people themselves once were “aliens [gerim] in Egypt” (Lev. 19:34). Isaiah states that a genuinely righteous person will heed the obligation to “share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter” (Isa. 58:7). In his personal statement of ethical vindication, Job claims, “No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler” (Job 31:32).

The term used in rabbinic literature for hospitality is הַכְנָסַת אוֹרְחִים (hachnasat orhim), literally, “bringing in of guests” or “gathering in of travelers.”[2] Rabbinic literature provides considerable insight into the practice of hachnasat orhim, the very term used in Romans 12:13 in Franz Delitzsch’s classic Hebrew New Testament translation.

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  • [1] This article is adapted from Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., and Dayton, OH: Center for Judaic-Christian Studies, 1989), pp. 219-220, and used by permission.
  • [2] Note the useful treatment of this theme by R. Siegel, M. Strassfeld and S. Strassfeld, The First Jewish Catalog (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1973), pp. 275-277. See also A. E. Kitov, The Jew and His Home (5th ed.; New York: Shengold Publishers, 1963), pp. 90-94.

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