Bible History Online
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
hos-pi-tal'-i-ti, host (philoxenia, "love of strangers," xenos, "guest," "friend"; pandocheus, "innkeeper"):
1. Among Nomads:
When the civilization of a people has advanced so far that some traveling has become necessary, but not yet so far that traveling by individuals is a usual thing, then hospitality is a virtue indispensable to the life of the people. This stage of culture was that represented in ancient Israel and the stage whose customs are still preserved among the present-day Arabs of the desert. Hospitality is regarded as a right by the traveler, to whom it never occurs to thank his host as if for a favor. And hospitality is granted as a duty by the host, who himself may very soon be dependent on some one else's hospitality. But none the less, both in Old Testament times and today, the granting of that right is surrounded by an etiquette that has made Arabian hospitality so justly celebrated. The traveler is made the literal master of the house during his stay; his host will perform for him the most servile offices, and will not even sit in his presence without express request. To the use of the guest is given over all that his host possesses, stopping not even short of the honor of wife or daughter. " `Be we not all,' say the poor nomads, `guests of Ullah? Has God given unto them, God's guest shall partake with them thereof: if they will not for God render his own, it should not go well with them' " (Doughty, Arabia Deserta, I, 228). The host is in duty bound to defend his guest against all comers and to lay aside any personal hatred--the murderer of father is safe as the guest of the son.
2. In the Old Testament:
An exquisite example of the etiquette of hospitality is found in Gen 18:1-8. The very fact that the three strangers have passed by Abraham's door gives him the privilege of entertaining them. When he sees them approaching he runs to beg the honor of their turning in to him, with oriental courtesy depreciates the feast that he is about to lay before them as "a morsel of bread," and stands by them while they eat. Manoah (Jdg 13:15) is equally pressing although more matter-of-fact, while Jethro (Ex 2:20) sends out that the stranger may be brought in. And Job (31:32) repels the very thought that he could let the sojourner be unprovided for. The one case where a breach of hospitality receives praise is that of Jael (Jdg 4 through 5), perhaps to be referred to degeneration of customs in the conflicts with the Canaanites or (perhaps more plausibly) to literary-critical considerations, according to which in Jdg 5 Sisera is not represented as entering Jael's tent or possibly not as actually tasting the food, a state of affairs misunderstood in Jdg 4, written under later circumstances of city life. (For contrasting opinions see "Jael" in Encyclopedia Biblica and HDB.)
3. The Table-Bond:
It is well to understand that to secure the right to hospitality it is not necessary, even in modern times, for the guest to eat with his host, still less to eat salt specifically. Indeed, guests arriving after sunset and departing the next morning do not, as a rule, eat at all in the tent of the host. It is sufficient to enter the tent, to grasp a tent-pin, or even, under certain circumstances, to invoke the name of a man as host. On the other hand, the bond of hospitality is certainly strengthened by eating with one's host, or the bond may actually be created by eating food belonging to him, even by stealth or in an act of theft. Here a quite different set of motives is at work. The idea here is that of kinship arising from participation in a common sacrificial meal, and the modern Arab still terms the animal killed for his guest the dhabichah or "sacrifice" (compare HDB, II, 428). This concept finds its rather materialistic expression in theory that after the processes of digestion are completed (a time estimated as two nights and the included day), the bond lapses if it is not renewed. There seem to be various references in the Bible to some such idea of a "table-bond" (Ps 41:9, e.g.), but hardly in connection directly with hospitality. For a discussion of them see BREAD; GUEST; SACRIFICE.
4. In the City:
In the city, naturally, the exercise of hospitality was more restricted. Where travel was great, doubtless commercial provision for the travelers was made from a very early day (compare Lk 10:34 and see INN), and at all events free hospitality to all comers would have been unbearably abused. Lot in Sodom (Gen 19) is the nomad who has preserved his old ideas, although settled in the city, and who thinks of the "shadow of his roof" (19:8) as his tent. The same is true of the old man in Gibeah of Jdg 19:16 ff. And the sin of Sodom and of Gibeah is not that wanderers cannot find hospitality so much as it is that they are unsafe in the streets at night. Both Lot and "the old man," however, are firm in their duty and willing to sacrifice their daughters for the safety of their guests. (Later ideas as to the position of woman should not be read back into these narratives.) However, when the city-dweller Rahab refuses to surrender her guests (Josh 2), her reason is not the breach of hospitality involved but her fear of Yahweh (Josh 2:9). When Abraham's old slave is in Nahor, and begs a night's lodging for himself and his camels, he accompanies the request with a substantial present, evidently conceived of as pay for the same (Gen 24:22 f). Such also are the modern conditions; compare Benzinger-Socin in Baedeker's Israel(3), xxxv, who observe that "inmates" of private houses "are aware that Franks always pay, and therefore receive them gladly." None the less, in New Testament times, if not earlier, and even at present, a room was set apart in each village for the use of strangers, whose expenses were borne by the entire community. Most interpreters consider that the kataluma of Lk 2:7 was a room of this sort, but this opinion cannot be regarded as quite certain. But many of the wealthier city-dwellers still strive to attain a reputation for hospitality, a zeal that naturally was found in the ancient world as well.
5. Christ and Hospitality:
Christ's directions to the apostles to "take nothing for their journey" (Mk 6:8, etc.) presupposes that they were sure of always finding hospitality. Indeed, it is assumed that they may even make their own choice of hosts (Mt 10:11) and may stay as long as they choose (Lk 10:7). In this case, however, the claims of the travelers to hospitality are accentuated by the fact that they are bearers of good tidings for the people, and it is in view of this latter fact that hospitality to them becomes so great a virtue--the "cup of cold water" becomes so highly meritorious because it is given "in the name of a disciple" (Mt 10:42; compare 10:41, and Mk 9:41). Rejection of hospitality to one of Christ's "least brethren" (almost certainly to be understood as disciples) is equivalent to the rejection of Christ Himself (Mt 25:43; compare 25:35). It is not quite clear whether in Mt 10:14 and parallels, simple refusal of hospitality is the sin in point or refusal to hear the message or both.
6. First Missionaries:
In the Dispersion, the Jew who was traveling seemed always to be sure of finding entertainment from the Jews resident in whatever city he might happen to be passing through. The importance of this fact for the spread of early Christianity is incalculable. To be sure, some of the first missionaries may have been men who were able to bear their own traveling expenses or who were merchants that taught the new religion when on business tours. In the case of soldiers or slaves their opportunity to carry the gospel into new fields came often through the movements of the army or of their masters. And it was by an "infiltration" of this sort, probably, rather than by any specific missionary effort that the church of Rome, at least, was rounded. See ROMANS, EPISTLE TO THE. But the ordinary missionary, whether apostle (in any sense of the word ) or evangelist, would have been helpless if it had not been that he could count so confidently on the hospitality everywhere. From this fact comes one reason why Paul, for instance, could plan tours of such magnitude with such assurance: he knew that he would not have to face any problem of sustenance in a strange city (Rom 16:23).
7. In the Churches:
As the first Christian churches were founded, the exercise of hospitality took on a new aspect, especially after the breach with the Jews had begun. Not only did the traveling Christian look naturally to his brethren for hospitality, but the individual churches looked to the traveler for fostering the sense of the unity of the church throughout the world. Hospitality became a virtue indispensable to the well-being of the church--one reason for the emphasis laid on it (Rom 12:13; 16:1 f; Heb 13:2). As the organization of the churches became more perfected, the exercise of hospitality grew to be an official duty of the ministry and a reputation for hospitality was a prerequisite in some cases (1 Tim 3:2; 5:10; Tit 1:8). The exercise of such hospitality must have become burdensome at times (1 Pet 4:9), and as false teachers began to appear in the church a new set of problems was created in discriminating among applicants for hospitality. 2 and 3 Jn reflect some of the difficulties. For the later history of hospitality in the church interesting matter will be found in the Didache, chapters xi, xii, Apology of Aristides, chapter xv, and Lucian's Death of Peregrinus, chapter xvi. The church certainly preferred to err by excess of the virtue.
An evaluation of the Biblical directions regarding hospitality for modern times is extremely difficult on account of the utterly changed conditions. Be it said at once, especially, that certain well-meant criticism of modern missionary methods, with their boards, organized finance, etc., on the basis of Christ's directions to the Twelve, is a woeful misapplication of Biblical teaching. The hospitality that an apostle could count on in his own day is something that the modern missionary simply cannot expect and something that it would be arrant folly for him to expect (Weinel, Die urchristliche und die heutige Mission, should be read by everyone desiring to compare modern missions with the apostolic). In general, the basis for hospitality has become so altered that the special virtue has become merged in the larger field of charitable enterprise of various sorts. The modern problem nearest related to the old virtue is the question of providing for the necessities of the indigent traveler, a distinctly minor problem, although a very real one, in the general field of social problems that the modern church has to study. In so far as the New Testament exhortations are based on missionary motives there has been again a merging into general appeals for missions, perhaps specialized occasionally as appeals for traveling expense. The "hospitality" of today, by which is meant the entertainment of friends or relatives, hardly comes within the Biblical use of the term as denoting a special virtue.
For hospitality in the church, Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity, II, chapter iv (10).
Burton Scott Easton
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'hospitality; host'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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