Posted by: chuckbumgardner | June 8, 2010

Christians as Recipients of Christian Hospitality

I quoted Andrew Arterbury extensively in my previous post on hospitality, and a suggestion he made opens the door for a related post.  Arterbury is, I believe, misreading some of the NT hospitality commands when he suggests that “despite the fact that both Paul (Rom 12.13b) and the author of Hebrews (13.2) appear to exhort Christians to provide hospitality to all those in need, in reality Christian hosts typically offered hospitality only to Christian travelers.” (Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in its Mediterranean Setting [Sheffield Phoenix Press], 131-32).

While Arterbury suggests that Romans and Hebrews have a broad audience in mind as recipients of Christian hospitality, I would argue that these passages as well as the other NT commands toward hospitality, emphasize fellow believers as recipients, not unbelievers.  I am not arguing that it is inappropriate to show hospitality toward unbelievers.  However, for two reasons, I believe that the NT highlights believers as the primary recipients of Christian hospitality.

First, as I have noted previously, brotherly love is contextually related to both Romans 12.13b and Hebrews 13.2, particularly the latter, which suggests that both Paul and the author of Hebrews are emphasizing hospitality toward believers in particular.  In addition, 1 Peter 2:8-9 makes a similar connection between brotherly love and hospitality, and of course enjoins hospitality “toward one another” (see this post for details).  Further, the hospitality Jesus speaks of in Matt 25:35 (“I was a stranger and you welcomed me”) is said to be that offered to “the least of these my brothers.”

Second, understanding believers to have priority as recipients of Christian hospitality comports with the general NT principle that Christians ought to receive first priority in matters of service, benevolence, and so forth.  This principle is indicated most directly by Paul in Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”  This principle is also suggested by John 13:34: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  It has always struck me that Jesus did not tell his disciples that all people would know of their commitment to Christ by their love for the world at large, but for those in the Christian community.

As I looked for validation of this idea I find at least the following:

“Even in Second Testament letters, where hospitality is encouraged, it is directed not towards outsiders, but rather towards those of the Christian movement.”  T. R. Hobbs, “Hospitality in the First Testament and the ‘Teleological Fallacy’,” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 95 (2001), 21.

“It is thus rather clear that the hospitality of which these texts (Rom 12:13; 1 Pe 4:9; Heb 13:1-2; 1 Tim 3:1-2; 1 Tim 5:9-10) speak is hospitality not to any stranger who comes along, to the outsider, but to the members of the community, which is in line with what we saw in the OT.”  Walter A. Vogels, “Hospitality in Biblical Perspective,” Liturgical Ministry 11 (2002), 171.


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