"Make yourself at home": the tensions and paradoxes of hospitality in dialogue with the Bible

Helen Paynter


Hospitality is a well-identified biblical theme; the consensus among most modern Christian authors is that it is both demonstrated by the deity and expected of humanity, throughout both Old and New Testaments. Often, however, such discussions rely on an assumed transparency of the nature and definition of hospitality, and on the assumption that the biblical attitude to the subject is univocal. However, the biblical witness is not unambiguous, but demonstrates tensions reflecting both the complex nature of hospitality, and the development of the theme through the Bible. In recent years the ambiguous nature of hospitality has been argued in theoretical terms by the deconstructionist Jacques Derrida, and its complexities of praxis by post-colonial critics. This paper sets out to bring these modern critical voices into dialogue with the biblical texts, and it will be shown that when read with a sensitivity to the paradoxes enunciated by these contemporary theorists, the biblical understanding of the hospitality theme is more complex than it at first appears. It will be argued that a more subtle understanding of the developing and complex biblical view of hospitality will aid the development of a more robust Christian ethic, especially in the light of the contemporary challenge of migration.


Hospitality; Derrida; Biblical theology; Deconstruction; Post-colonial studies; Christian ethics

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391