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KJV Hebrews 13:2 says,

"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."

The tendency is 'gloss past' this passage; it's a reminder to be hospitable, but in every angelic encounter in Scripture, either the angel is identified, or the fact that there was an angelic visitation was identified.

Is Paul merely citing a Jewish proverb, or is there some basis for this saying?

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Just because the text identifies the angels doesn't mean that the human characters had that knowledge, or at least not initially.

The Biblical instances which would be commonly understood to be times when people were unaware they were entertaining angels are:

  • Abraham in Genesis 18
  • Lot in Genesis 19
  • Gideon in Judges 6
  • Samson's parents in Judges 13
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  • I certainly prefer your answer over the other one: but other than Gideon's initial response, it seems in every other circumstance they were aware of an angelic visitation. Do you know of an instant where they weren't? Thank you! – Tau Mar 29 '16 at 5:36
  • @Tau I really don't know what would make you think they were aware that their visitors were angels from the beginning. The offerings of food, the mundanities of much of the conversation all suggest to me that they thought the angels were normal humans. – curiousdannii Mar 29 '16 at 5:48
  • In every instant they used the word 'Lord'(elohim?), it seems there was on some level a 'recognition' that this was a special visitation; which doesn't explain Paul's remark. Could this be because the writer 'acknowledged after the fact', or when angels present themselves, they make sure they are recognized........? – Tau Mar 29 '16 at 12:17
  • @Tau elohim means God, they use the word adonai (or related) which can be translated lord, or just 'master' or 'sir': just a term of respect. – curiousdannii Mar 29 '16 at 12:27
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Could it be something as simple as the possibility that if humans never became aware historically that they were entertaining angels, then it never made it into scriptural accounts? The 'some' in Hebrews 13:2 is not specific to place, time, ethnicity or gender. Also, I propose that the authors or subjects of the Bible were most likely not the only people to whom angels have appeared unknown. Over the course of time (before and after Christ) there must have been many Godly women and men who have entertained angels unaware and who may never know it until the other side of eternity. Matthew 25:37-40 is another reference to entertaining and helping strangers but in this instance seems to be limited to human brothers and sisters in Christ as per Hebrews 13:1. However, the impact is just as significant - serving the body of Christ is equivalent to serving Jesus Himself. Regardless of whether we entertain or assist fellow Christians or actual angels, the emphasis seems to be on serving and helping others.

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I agree with Stephen when he wrote 'Over the course of time (before and after Christ) there must have been many Godly women and men who have entertained angels unaware [...].' Not necessarily Hebrews' letter must refers to Bible cited-characters. In every case, the list of Curious Dannii mentioned a group of people that were (according him) unaware to show ospitality to angels. From the Bible account we are able to assert the following:

1) Lot was unaware he was entertaining angels, until (probably) they performed the miracle of blindness (Gen 19:11) against the Sodom's citizens.

2) Gideon, the same goes for him. He was aware of this only when the angel performed the miracle of the fire flared up from the rock (Kri [Judges] 6:21, 22).

3) Manoah, the same goes for him. He was aware of this only when the angel performed the miracle of the angel's ascension in a flame (Kri [Judges] 13:16, 20, 21). The wife of Namoah, instead, was dubious about the real identity of the man (see Kri 13:6).

As regards Abraham - often cited as one of the Bible people of Hebrews 13:2 - we would conclude he (Gen 18) was aware from the start that the 3 men were angels. We must not forget Gen 18:3 contained the first of the 134 (133 in BHS) 'emendations' performed by the Sopherim. They substituted there the Tetragrammaton with 'Adonai' (see The Massorah, by C. D. Ginsburg, Ktav Publishing House, New York [U.S.A.], 1975, vol. IV, p. 28, § 115). So, if we (in that verse) restore the Tetragrammaton in his original place, we may read: "And said, [IEUE] [יהוה], if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:" (KJV). Ergo, for some reasons, Abraham realized that the 3 men were angels (or, at least, one of them, that one who acted as spokesperson).

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Sometimes we try to read too much into what the scriptures or verse is saying instead of just taking God's word at its face value. I am surprised no one quoted the scripture or passage about Jesus on the road on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection:

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
...
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over."
So he went in to stay with them.
30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"
-- Luke 24:13-16, 28-32 (NIV)

The men did not recognize who Jesus was until He sat down with them and took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them ... then their eyes were open and He disappeared. To suggest that "It is much more likely this verse was simply metaphorical and intended to encourage good conduct and hospitality" is half truth.

The apostle Paul meant what he said in Hebrews:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
-- Hebrew 13:2 (KJV)

God bless!

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  • Welcome to BH.SE! I have formatted the quotes so they stand out from your own words, and moved the quote from Luke up, before your commentary on it. You can re-edit, if you think it necessary. – enegue Jun 1 '17 at 23:55
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    Jesus was not an angel. – Revelation Lad Jan 5 '18 at 17:05
  • @RevelationLad They were unaware of who it was prior to him making himself known. How is Jesus' visit with these men different to the angels' visit with Abraham in Genesis 18, particularly since the narrative there identifies one of the visitors as the LORD? – enegue Mar 16 '18 at 22:56
  • @enegue The difference is Jesus was not an angel. The inability to correctly identify an angel (or not) does not alter the identity of the other party. The two on the road did not recognize Jesus, but their inability does not make Jesus into an angel. – Revelation Lad Mar 18 '18 at 0:58
  • @RevelationLad Do you think what the author of this answer has said, or what I have said, makes Jesus into an angel? – enegue Mar 18 '18 at 1:50
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Preamble

Angels are non-corporeal beings, i.e. they have no body of atoms and molecules that is subject to decay. So, to be sensible to corporeal beings they must either appear in visions and dreams, or else cohabit the bodies of men.

  • All the appearances of angels in scripture that mention wings, flying, multiple eyes, various bodies and/or faces of animals etc, occur in dreams and/or visions, where the angels (spirit beings) are free to assume whatever form their purpose requires.

  • All the other manifestations of angels, including demons/unclean spirits etc, involve cohabiting the bodies of men, which can occur with or without the consent of the host.

    • Without the consent of the host:
      If the spirit of the host is opposed to the presence of a spirit, conflict will arise within the host as control over the body of the host is contested. Such conflict causes convulsions and various other manifestations of self-harm, physical and/or social.

      A good example of this kind of spiritual cohabitation is the incident recorded in Luke 8:26-39, where a man of great strength of spirit (given the great number of spirit beings that had infested him in order to wrest from him control of his body), had confined himself to a life of isolation in the caves outside the city, or fleeing into the wilderness rather than succumbing to whatever the invaders wanted to do with his body. When these beings were given permission by Jesus to leave the man, each one of them escaped into a pig from a nearby herd, causing them to run violently into the lake and drown -- even the spirit of an animal will not yield control of its body to an invading spirit.

      Again, the great natural spirit of this man is attested to by the scope of his evangelism that followed his emancipation -- publishing "throughout the whole city how great things Jesus had done unto him.", despite the obvious opposition he would have had to face from "the whole multitude of the country" who had urged Jesus to leave.

    • With the consent of the host:
      This gives rise to the host being empowered by the spirit to achieve mutually acceptable goals.

      A good example of this kind of spirit cohabitation can be seen in John 13:20-31 where Satan enters Judas, empowering him to proceed with a mutually beneficial goal -- the elimination of Jesus. There was no convulsive wrestling for control of Judas' body, just the quiet withdrawal of the cohabitants into the night -- the disciples thinking Judas was simply leaving on Jesus' instructions to buy necessities for the feast.

      There is also the account from the OT of Saul being possessed of an evil spirit.1 Like the account of Judas, there was no convulsive wrestling for control of Saul's body, just the pursuit of a mutual beneficial goal - the elimination of David.

Cohabitation is not just a phenomenon exclusive to evil spirits, though, but is available to all spirit beings -- angels, demons, the LORD himself:

  • But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
    -- 1 Samuel 16:14 (KJV)

    Here the narrative informs that the Spirit of the LORD ceased to abide with Saul, whereupon an evil spirit took up residence with him.


  • 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
    -- Luke 1:13-15 (KJV)

    Such was the natural inclination to righteousness of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11, Luke 7:28), that the Holy Spirit made His abode with him before he drew his first breath.


  • Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
    -- John 14:23 (KJV)

    Here Jesus says that both he and the Father will take up residence with those who love him. So, believers are cohabited of the Father and the Son and take them wherever they go.


Conclusion

If spirit beings (angels, demons, the LORD himself) can cohabit human beings, as has been demonstrated above, then there is a compelling reason to heed the words of the writer of Hebrews:

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
-- Hebrews 13:2 (KJV)

The only way to discern what manner of spirit might be cohabiting/inhabiting the body of a man is to spend time with him, as did the disciples in Luke 25 who walked with, and invited to dinner, a stranger on the road to Emmaus.


Notes:

  1. See my answer here for an explanation of the expression "from the LORD".
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  • Thank you for your response! My only response is I have personally seen, along with several other individuals 2 angels, each of them at different times. They were NOT visions. In one instance, my father and I picked up what appeared to be an 80+ year old man, who my father assumed was lost. We brought him home in our car(I was 9 years old at the time), and he and my mother tried to help him find his "Next of kin". When he and my father were alone, he spoke directly to my father and told him "Everything will be OK", then he touched him. (Cont.) – Tau Mar 17 '18 at 2:46
  • After he touched him, my father said it was like someone poured liquid honey all over him, he felt so elated. He then went to sit on the lawn right next to the car I was sitting in(the front seat next to the door), and when I turned my head away from him for a brief minute, he was GONE! We drove up and down the alleys and all over the neighborhood-but couldn't find him. He didn't move very fast when he was with us, yet disappeared before our eyes! My occasion was I had a "distinguished looking" black man sit down next to me on a bus in San Diego. He said he was a Master Chief (cont.) – Tau Mar 17 '18 at 2:53
  • And had fought in 3 wars. I was an E5 in the Navy during Vietnam at the time. He was at 1st very pleasant, and then basically "read my mail"(ie: tell me about my life, and what was I doing that was wrong). I wasn't a Christian at the time, and although I listened and respected him, I got very angry. I got off the bus in downtown San Diego, and I was so angry I ran about a block to meet the same bus and tell him what I thought. I made sure he didn't get off. When I got on the bus, he was GONE! I looked in every seat, and I was ready to look underneath the seats-he wasn't there. (cont.) – Tau Mar 17 '18 at 3:00
  • I had this very strange feeling that something happened that was "beyond" the normal, and "the Fear of the Lord" took over. So, I have personally witnessed angels unawares. I suppose the Lord could have bi-located or 'translated' individuals-they didn't show me their "angel badge". But it was very clear both had a mission and purpose, and when it was finished-"poof"-they were gone. – Tau Mar 17 '18 at 3:05
  • So who were the men who the angels Abraham met inhabiting? Does this theory have a name? I do not see why angels who do not by nature have flesh cannot take on (or be given by God) flesh at times without that flesh being a preexisting human. – curiousdannii Mar 17 '18 at 14:58
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There is no known Jewish proverb about entertaining angels, but Hebrews 13:2 reflects a strong cultural injunction throughout the ancient Hellenic world. Even pagans feared offending strangers who could be gods in disguise. In Euripides' play, The Bacchae, the god Dionysis disguises himself and, through him, King Pentheus learns the consequences of inhospitality to strangers. It would be surprising if the Second-Temple Jews did not, in some way, share the same concern for hospitality.

The author could still have known of a Jewish proverb or tradition with which he simply assumed his audience were familiar, but there is no evidence of this. It is much more likely this verse was simply metaphorical and intended to encourage good conduct and hospitality.

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    "Had the author of Hebrews known of actual examples..." Scripture has several examples, wouldn't the author be aware of these? Is a play by Euripides more relevant than events in the life of Abraham, Lot, etc? – Revelation Lad Mar 29 '16 at 4:26
  • @RevelationLad As the OP say, "in every angelic encounter in Scripture, either the angel is identified, or the fact that there was an angelic visitation was identified." This includes the cases of Abraham and Lot. Nevertheless, I will clarify my answer along the lines I intended.. – Dick Harfield Mar 29 '16 at 4:48
  • @SteveTaylor The jury has spoken. I have removed what you call conjecture. – Dick Harfield Mar 29 '16 at 20:41
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This passage, actually, is ironic, and it reprimands those indiscrete and rustic minds, who think that angels are greater than men. However, contrary is true: men are greater than angels, and being hospitable to men is not to be viewed as means to please angels, but this is a normal obligation of all men to be hospitable, even if angels did not exist at all (they exist though). To say: "you should be hospitable to humans, for by this you are hospitable to angels" is the same to say: "do not cheat on exams, for teachers will like your honesty and be well disposed towards you", but to be honest has absolute priority over teachers' disposition towards me, as does the being hospitable towards humans - the absolute priority whether angels will be or will be not pleased by it. We are not to be hospitable because of angels, but human being, who is higher than angels, is perfectly enough to oblige us being hospitable towards him/her.

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