Hebrews 13:2

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

This passage states that one reason to be nice to "humanoids" (my term) that you meet is that some of them may be angels in disguise, instead of ensouled human beings.

Q: Has this concept ever been invoked by prominent theologians as an answer to solve any theological problems?

Here is an example of the type of problem that could be solved by "angels among men". I just saw a pastor tweet that we have such a shallow view of God's love. I immediately thought of all the suffering from hunger and torture. Sometimes I hope that the bad guys have full culpability for their sins, but the humanoids they are abusing were instead angels walking among men, somehow able to take it or not lose their soul with a hateful response.

2 Answers 2


You may not agree with me, but your question conflates a number of issues we need to unpack and reframe. If you bear with me I will try to explain why and perhaps in the process provide an answer to your question.

If I infer correctly from the paragraph that follows your question (in bold print), you are wondering if any Christian thinkers have ever used Hebrews 13:2 to provide at least a partial answer to the theological problem called theodicy. My answer, simply, is no. Let me explain.

If a theodicy is an explanation for how a holy, just, and loving God could allow sin and suffering to exist in the world He created, then we somehow, it is thought, need to come up with a way to reconcile these two seemingly and intuitively irreconcilable notions in an intellectually satisfying way. On the one hand, God is holy, just, and loving. This is a given in traditional Christian theology.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of sin and suffering in the world, and the scriptures do not seem to sugarcoat this fact (e.g., not just Romans 3:23, but the entire book of Job!). How, then, can we square the one with the other, if at all?

The specific "theological problem" you cite is "suffering from hunger and torture," both of which (i.e., hunger and torture) are evident in the world today. You need not have seen those commercials for Christian charities on television that feature African babies with bloated stomachs to know that suffering caused by hunger is very real indeed. Furthermore, a quick perusal of a newspaper makes it eminently clear that torture is part and parcel of repressive regimes and conflicting ideologies throughout the world. Or read Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ. [By the way, when is the last time you prayed for the persecuted church in China, North Korea, Egypt, or Sudan?]

How, then, do we reconcile--if indeed it is possible--the one with the other?

First, no Christian thinker or theologian of whom I am aware ever used Hebrews 13:2 as a basis for an intellectually satisfying theodicy. The writer of Hebrews 13:2 was likely thinking of Abraham and his encounter with the three men, one of whom was YHWH. During this encounter, YHWH told Abraham that his wife Sarah, who was well beyond the age of childbearing, would give birth to a son, the son of promise (see Genesis 18).

While we cannot say for certain the two men who accompanied YHWH were angels, Abraham nevertheless entertained two strangers (and YHWH) and showed them hospitality by having their feet washed and by providing them a meal, complete with veal parmesan!

The primary interpretation of Hebrews 13:2, then, is that as Christians, we should be hospitable (literally, "lovers of strangers"), because strangers could in fact be angels sent by God. One application of the verse is to the situation James described in James 2:1-9, in which believers show partiality in their assembly to a stranger who is evidently rich but give short shrift to a stranger who is evidently poor. To show partiality based on appearances alone is a failure of the royal law, as James puts it, which is to love one's neighbor as oneself (vv.8,9).

Hebrews 13:2, then, is not relevant to the existence of suffering caused by hunger and torture. While I do not even remotely suggest I have an intellectually satisfying answer to the problem of suffering, I do suggest that we can find at least a hint of a theodicy in Romans 8:28, where we read

"And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."

Clearly, this verse does not say all things are good. By implication, however, it does say that all things, both good and bad, work together for good. Paul also said in Ephesians 1:11 that God

"works all things after the counsel of His will . . . to the praise of His glory."

While verses such as these are tremendously comforting to believers, since their application is to "those who love God," they are also, I suggest, of significance to lost and suffering humanity to whom believers are commissioned to reach out in the "sacrificial service of worship." It is natural and even understandable to curse the darkness; it is super-natural, however, to light a candle in the darkness, if in doing so we bring relief in the name of Christ to those who are suffering.

God does not need for us His children to come to His defense. He has broad shoulders and thick skin. We do need, however, to do two things: 1.) we need to own up to our own contribution to the suffering in the world through our own sinful actions or inactions (see James 2:10); and 2.) we need to light a candle by going into all the world, preaching the gospel, making disciples, baptizing, and teaching all peoples even to the remotest part of the earth that God loves them and that we love them too (Ma 28:18-20; Mk 15:15,16; Acts 1:8).

There is no complete, intellectually satisfying theodicy. Frankly, I am not completely satisfied with my "defense" of God as laid out above. Job tried unsuccessfully to get a satisfying answer from God as to why God allowed him (whom God described as blameless and upright) to suffer (Job 1:8). God told him simply, in the form of two rhetorical questions,

"'Will you really [attempt to] annul My judgment? Will you [dare to] condemn Me that you may be justified?'" (40:8).

Over and over again, I come back to Isaiah 55:8,9, which says

"'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,' declares the LORD. 'For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.'"

In conclusion, when Christians are faced with seemingly unanswerable questions, God is not annoyed with us when we attempt to wrestle with the issues and use the Scripture, discussion, and prayer to guide us in answering those questions. At some point, however, when faced with an unsatisfying answer, we must simply bow to God in humble recognition of His flawless character, on the one hand, and our imperfect, incomplete, and often self-serving, self-justifying criticisms of Him, on the other.

Did He allow sin and suffering to enter the universe? Yes. Is He therefore to blame for sin and suffering? No. He may have allowed evil to come into existence, but each of us has perpetuated that evil by being sinners. Furthermore, each of us needs to bear his or her share of blame for the suffering in the world, especially if and when we fail to light our candles in the presence of the darkness.


It's the same set up as the start of Beauty and the Beast (how often stories echoes fact) where the prince spurns a poorly old hag but then regrets his actions when it is revealed that she is, in fact, not ugly but a lovely enchantress. Sometimes even the best of us spurn others because we assume (for whatever reason) that they are 'lesser' than us or not worth dealing with... So it helps to use 'angels disguised' as a good symbol to show that every being might well be more than they seem to be and that we musn't judge or ill-treat out of judgement. Is it more than just a metaphor; a true symbol? I don't know. Probably. We are, as yet, unable to define 'angel' except as a messanger of the Lord- any greater attempt seems to stray into more folklore and superstition than biblical truth. I almost imagine them as abstract 'thoughts' sent by God (not his own consciousness but created thoughts) rather than people with wings. And Satan is the 'thought' that rebelled against goodness and decided to become the degregation of good. The thought that plagues man.

  • In other words...yes...though I am not sure whether they literally appear as 'men' or not. It is a true statement however literal the event!
    – Sehnsucht
    Aug 16, 2013 at 17:23
  • A decent answer, apart from the personal, extra-biblical, and off-topic speculation about the nature of angels.
    – Flimzy
    Aug 18, 2013 at 2:35

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .