Every so often, I run into a verse in the Bible that should be apparent in its interpretation but has been applied in such as way as to distort the interpretation of the verse. I encountered such an issue today when I read Hebrews 13:2. There are ministries founded on the idea that the stranger the writer is talking about here in Hebrews 13:2 is anyone.

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)

The question that popped into my head is “Who is the stranger here?” What’s the context of Hebrews 13:2?

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.

Hebrews 13:1 (NIV)

This verse tells us who the stranger is in verse 2. The stranger is our brother and sister in Christ. This raises another question. How can a brother or sister be a stranger?

I haven’t traveled as much in the last several years as I once did. However, when I used to travel more, I’d visit other churches since it was important for me to attend church and be in the Lord’s house on Sunday. In this way, I was a brother who was a stranger to those at the churches I attended. In the same way, those who serve the Lord as evangelists, missionaries, and the like, travel to places where they are a member of the Christian family but still a stranger to those they are meeting.

Therefore, the stranger is another Christian. However, when taken out of context, we might think the stranger is, well, anyone who is a stranger to us.

I’m not entirely sure why this verse is taken out of context. Perhaps, it’s the desire to help other people, or perhaps it’s because of the part about the angels. I do know, as I did some research today regarding the identity of the stranger, that I’m not the first person to wonder who this stranger is.

The word here in Greek for “stranger” is philoxenias and is only used in one other verse in the Bible.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Romans 12:13 (NIV)

The first thing you might notice is that the word stranger is nowhere in this verse from Romans. That’s because the phrase “to show hospitality to strangers” is what comes from translating philoxenias in Hebrews 13:2. However, here in Romans, this same word is translated as “hospitality.” I’m not a Greek scholar, but I did find out that philoxenias comes from philoxenia, which means “friend to the stranger.” Based on the context of Romans 12:13 and Hebrews 13, the stranger isn’t just any stranger. It’s, as we have surmised, the Christian stranger.

Jesus talked about strangers in Matthew 25:35-45.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.

Matthew 25:35 (NIV)

The Greek word for “stranger” used here is xenos. It means what we think it means. An outsider, a guest, alien, etc. This word is used 14 times in the New Testament and follows the same meaning. One interesting note of usage is in Hebrews 13.

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so.

Hebrews 13:9 (NIV)

I find this interesting because we’re examining the teaching behind the use of the word stranger from this same chapter in Hebrews!

If we consider Jesus’ use of the word stranger here, we might think He’s talking about anyone who we don’t know. However, let’s look at the context and see if we can find clarification.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'”

Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

We can surmise that the brothers and sisters are other Believers. After all, who are the members of the Lord’s family?

He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Matthew 12:48-50 (NIV)

Jesus also says here in Matthew 25:35 that He was thirsty and was given something to drink. This reminds me of something else He said in Matthew.

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

Matthew 10:42 (NIV)

Therefore, we can deduce that the brethren of Jesus’ family are Christians and the “stranger” is also a Christian. “One of these little ones who is my disciple.”

The following verses also confirm how we are to treat other Christians.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35 (NIV)

If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

1 John 3:17 (NIV)

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:20-21 (NIV)

This doesn’t mean we don’t show love and hospitality to people who aren’t Christians. It means that Hebrews 13:2 is talking about other Christians. Galatians reminds us

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Galatians 6:10 (NIV)

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away.

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.