A Short History of Hospitality

I’ve been reading Christine Pohl’s book on hospitality.  Below are some words and thoughts about hospitality. 


To talk about the history of hospitality is to talk about the location of hospitality.  The location of hospitality always includes space where people are welcomed.  In several biblical and non-biblical instances the place where people were welcomed was the home.  As we look at the OT scriptures we see that the home became a place where people were welcomed.[1]  In the NT the household also became a central place where people were welcomed.[2]

During the fourth and fifth centuries hospitality changed and this was due mainly in part to Christianity moving from a persecuted sect to a recognized religion by the Roman government.  It was during this time that hostels provided care for strangers, hospitals were established and monasteries welcomed various travelers.  In A.D. 362 the Emperor Julian, in an attempt to reestablish Hellenic religion, instructed the high priest of the Hellenic faith to imitate Christian concern for the strangers.  Julian wrote, “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism?  [Atheism in this context refers to Christianity].  Julian would continue,

For it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galilaeans [Christians] support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.  Teach those of the Hellenic faith to contribute to public service of this sort.[3]

During the fourth century the first hospital was established.  After many years these hospitals became separate institutions to care for the various needs people (orphans, widows, strangers, sick and the poor) would have or encounter.  According to Pohl the first hospital to receive considerable mention in historical writings is the hospital built and founded by Basil, bishop of Caesarea in 370.  During a severe famine and in response to this famine Basil gathered the victims of the famine and what food he was able to collect and supplied the poor and hungry with food to eat and also provided for the physical ailments.  Shortly after this Basil established several institutions to provide care for the sick. 

 As we have looked briefly at the history of hospitality we have seen that hospitality has moved away from the home (as seen in the Biblical writings) to places of institution.  This of course brought with it an unfortunate manner.  Hospitality became not something that we as individuals do but something that the church as a whole should do.  Thus it was easy for churches to offer hospitality and inadvertently allow individuals not to practice or maintain the practice of hospitality.  Recognizing this John Chrysostom began to again remind and teach the church that even though the church as a whole practiced offering hospitality it did not exclude the individual from offering hospitality.  Chrysostom asked, “If another man prays, does it follow that you are not bound to pray?”  Chrysostom urged the people of the church to build a guest chamber in their own home so that they too could practice hospitality.[4]

As I look at this short history of hospitality I wonder what hospitality might look like in our churches.  I wonder how our churches can create places of welcome.  I wonder how our homes can become places of welcome.  Hospitality is not a good habit, it is essential to living the Christian faith.  May God help us become hospitable people.

[1] See Gen 18-19; Josh. 2; 1 Sam. 25; 1 Kings 17:8-24; 2 Kings 4:8-37.

[2] See Acts 2:43-47; 9:42-10:48; 16:14-15; 18:1-11.

[3] Christine Pohl, Making Room, 44.

[4] Ibid., 45.

Published in: on January 8, 2008 at 1:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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