At the end of the book of Hebrews is a verse that has perked many folks attention. It is in a list of commands that draw the “exhortation” of the writer to a close. Really the part of the verse that is most controversial (for lack of a better word) is not the main point of the verse. The verse reads:
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
The point of the verse is the command in the first half, “Do not neglect to show hospitality.” The verse is an admonition for Christians to take care of strangers in need. The second half simply provides a reason why.
However, the part that is talked about most often is the second half. Specifically, can we entertain angels today?
- First, whether we can or cannot it doesn’t change the validity of the command. The command is still for us to be hospitable to strangers. If that stranger could potentially be an angel, or could not potentially be an angel, should not change our zeal to obey.
- The clause is primarily looking back in history. I think the verse is meant to draw the reader back to the Old Testament accounts of men helping out strangers, who were actually angels. Specifically, the account of Abraham comes to mind (Genesis 18). It fits in line with the Hebrew writing using “heroes of the faith” as a means to motivate us to good works (Hebrews 11). Thus the main point of the clause is that people in the past have entertained angels.
- I emphasize main point in the last section, because I think we can entertain angels today. I do not believe we will know we are doing it. (I mean it would kind of defeat the purpose of we knew which encounters were with angels and which were not). Nor am I convinced it happens often (in fact I think it is rare, and that it will not happen to most people, namely because of the lack of these type of accounts recorded for us in the Old Testament). The reason, though, I believe is the way the verse reads lends itself to being understood that this can happen to you as well. It fact that makes the “reason” of why we should help out all strangers even more forceful.
Whether you agree or disagree with my assessment, I think we all need to agree that we could do a better job of showing hospitality to all.
If you do disagree, explain why in the comments. If you agree and want to add to the conversation do so in the comments. Basically comment if you like.
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