What Does Biblical Hospitality Mean?

By Rondell Treviño, Founder, The immigration Project

The Greek term that is often translated into the English term “hospitality” is the word φιλόξενος. The word is a combination of two concepts, that break down as follows:

φιλό (pronounced Philao) is one of several words for “love” in Greek. Being a more precise language than English, classical Greek has a few different ways to express the word “love.” In this case, the word that is used means “brotherly love” or “to love like a brother,” and is how we get the name Philadelphia — the City of Brotherly Love.

The word ξενος (Xenos) which makes up the second half of the word we render “hospitality” actually means Stranger or Immigrant, and is where we get the word xenophobia which is the fear of strangers/immigrants.

In light of these two words being combined, hospitality as commonly understood, isn’t exactly the best way to express this biblical truth. Instead of simply “entertaining guests” the word becomes “one who loves strangers/immigrants like you would your own brother.” That’s a big difference, and completely changes the way we see this term used in scripture. For example:

In Romans 12 we are told to “practice hospitality.” Whereas a simple reading with a prima facie understanding of the English term would lead us to think we should practice hosting our friends for dinner, we instead see that we are to practice (go out of your way to do it) loving strangers and immigrants as if they were our siblings.

In 1 Timothy 5, we see that widows who received financial support from the early church, needed to have a reputation of loving strangers and immigrants like they were her own siblings.

ξενος (stranger/immigrant) means more

Within the semantic range and historical uses of ξενος, we find that it didn’t simply mean stranger or immigrant. Historically, this word has a dual usage that includes “enemy” since some cultures used the same word to refer to both groups. In addition, “strangers” were often seen or assumed to be enemies, giving the word strong connotations of stranger, immigrant and enemy.

So then, in this case the word “hospitality” becomes “One who loves their enemies in the same way they love their brother. In other words, for those who see undocumented Immigrants as enemies because they broke the law, you are still commanded to love them as Christ has loved you. There is no place in Scripture that gives a free pass to hate undocumented Immigrants.

As we live life, let us be reminded that Biblical hospitality means to love Strangers and Immigrants as if they were our siblings–or as my family would say, “Love Strangers and Immigrants as your familia!”


The immigration Project exists to engage issues of Immigration from a Biblical perspective.

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