Hospitality in the New Testament by Carolyn Osiek

The terrain surrounding Jerusalem is rugged and unforgiving: rocky hills with little water to the west, forbidding desert to the east, scorching temperatures most of the year. Travel could be dangerous, so hospitality to the traveler was an ongoing need and a sacred duty. The New Testament is full of images and stories of guests received, both those already known as friends and those strangers who are taken in and transformed into guests. Among nomadic tribes, the guest comes under the protection of the host, who guarantees inviolable safety. The important elements of hospitality include the opportunity for cleansing dusty feet, scented oil to soften dried skin and mask odors of the road, food, shelter, security, and companionship.

When Jesus sends out disciples on mission, they are to lodge in the houses where they are welcomed. Jesus’ vision of mission is impossible without this reciprocity, the reception of those who are sent by those who receive them (Matt 10:11, Mark 6:10, Luke 9:4, Luke 10:7-8). In the case of hospitality refused, the disciples are to move on.

The many stories of banquets in the Gospels presuppose the practice of hospitality for important events and transition moments: for example, the great dinner (Matt 22:1-10; Luke 14:15-24) or the celebration of the return of the younger son (Luke 15:22-32). These banquets in biblical perspective open horizons toward the kingdom of heaven. How is ultimate happiness imagined—as a banquet in which everyone is happy and fulfilled (Luke 22:30), or as the celebration of a marriage (Rev 19:9)?

Jesus is himself the important guest in the Gospels. There is a wrong way to receive him, typified by Simon the Pharisee, who treats him poorly by offering neither water for foot washing nor oil for anointing nor gesture of welcome, while the “sinner” woman who enters uninvited receives him correctly (Luke 7:36-50). Martha and Mary do not offer the perfect reception, however, for in this intimate place among friends that should feel comfortably familiar, Jesus is brought into a home where there is some underlying family tension (Luke 10:38-42).

Later, Paul and other itinerant missionaries rely on the hospitality of those who receive them as they journey from city to city. The Lord’s Supper was celebrated primarily, though not exclusively, in private homes that would become centers of hospitality and evangelization. At Philippi, Lydia, a merchant of purple cloth, is mesmerized by Paul’s preaching and insists that he accept her hospitality in her home that will become a center of faith (Acts 16:14-15, Acts 16:40). In the miraculous nocturnal delivery of Paul and Silas from prison in Philippi, the jailer, himself saved from suicide by Paul’s quick action, responds by taking them into his own home, where in the middle of the night he and his household give the apostles medical attention and food (Acts 16:29-34). Here, hospitality is the expression of a desire to repair the damage of the past and continue the relationship.

The hearers of the Letter to the Hebrews are warned of the importance of practicing hospitality: some have in this way received angels without knowing (Heb 13:2; compare Gen 18:1-15). Sometimes it goes wrong: the author of 3John 9 has a hospitality problem: the house of Diotrephes will not receive the emissaries sent from the author—for what reason, we do not know.

At the very end of the Bible, hospitality is still an issue: Laodicea, one of the seven cities featured in Revelation, is asked to receive the risen Jesus as a guest who will come for dinner (Rev 3:20). Will they receive him?

Carolyn Osiek, "Hospitality in the New Testament", n.p. [cited 1 Oct 2022]. Online:


Carolyn Osiek

Carolyn Osiek
Professor emirita, Brite Divinity School

Carolyn Osiek is Charles Fischer Catholic Professor of New Testament (emerita) at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. She is author or editor of twelve books and many articles and a past president of the Society of Biblical Literature (2005).

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

Moving from place to place; lacking a permanent location.

A program of good works—or the calling to such a program—performed by a person or organization.

Related to a style of living, communal or individual, that is not rooted to any one location in particular.

Matt 10:11

11Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave.

Mark 6:10

10He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.

Luke 9:4

4Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there.

Luke 10:7-8

7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house.8Whenever you e ... View more

Matt 22:1-10

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet
1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying:2“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banqu ... View more

Luke 14:15-24

The Parable of the Great Dinner
15One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”16Then Je ... View more

Luke 15:22-32

22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.23And get the f ... View more

Luke 22:30

30so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Rev 19:9

9And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Luke 7:36-50

A Sinful Woman Forgiven
36One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table.37And a woman ... View more

Luke 10:38-42

Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.39She had a si ... View more

Acts 16:14-15

14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her hear ... View more

Acts 16:40

40After leaving the prison they went to Lydia's home; and when they had seen and encouraged the brothers and sisters there, they departed.

Acts 16:29-34

29The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.30Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to b ... View more

Heb 13:2

2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Gen 18:1-15

A Son Promised to Abraham and Sarah
1The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.2He looked ... View more

Rev 3:20

20Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

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