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For inexplicable reasons I've been listening to a lot of Newsboys lately and also recently finished reading Dorothy Day's Auto-Biography. What do these things have in common? Well there's an intensely catchy Newsboys song called "Entertaining Angels" and the biopic of the life of Dorothy Day is also called the same thing.

Since I'd never heard the phrase before I figured I'd ask about it here so I could impress my wife later on. Is it an old-fashioned sort of saying or a Biblical allusion (Gen 18) or something else? Does it mean Angels are laughing at us foolish mortals or we should treat everyone we meet as if they're angels in disguise?

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It's a phrase from Hebrews 13:2:

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (ESV)

Most commentators do think that it refers to the Abraham story, as well as Lot, Gideon, and Samson's parents. See this BH question for more.

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  • This is bang on considering Day’s life after her conversion. – Ken Graham Mar 4 at 23:17
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    I've often heard the phrase entertaining guests in English as synonymous to showing hospitality to your guests, that is, doing what's necessary to making their stay enjoyable. A bit like "entertaining an idea", it means you are dealing with it. – ig-dev Mar 4 at 23:33
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This sort of entertainment is not like a vaudeville act on a stage or a stand up comedian. It's rather more like entertain as you would a dinner guest. Welcome them into your home and make them feel comfortable being there. Hospitality describes it well.

The phrase entertain strangers comes from the Greek word φιλοξενίας (philoxenias) which literally means to love or befriend strangers. Entertaining angels comes from the Greek ξενίσαντες ἀγγέλους (xenisantes angelous) which literally means to receive angels as guests.

Abraham knew he was speaking to angels and that one of the angels was YHWH Himself in angelic form. See Genesis 18:27, 31-32. But others in the Bible spoke to angels and did not know it until after the encounter, to which the verse in the book of Hebrews refers.

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  • The first word of your second Greek quote looks like "xenisantes", not the "philosantes" you give in parentheses as a transliteration. (I guess you copy-pasted parts of the first Greek quote and transliteration.) – Andreas Blass Mar 6 at 1:49
  • @AndreasBlass Without looking up, I think I was referring to two different phrases in separate clauses of Heb 13:2. See answer above mine. But, you're right I did transliterate it wrong. :) – Tear--Here Mar 9 at 22:25
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Just to comment on the Newsboys song portion of your question. When they play this song in concert, written and sung by Phil Joel, they refer Luke 15:10 that says "Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents." This song is about someone who has just accepted Christ as their Savior. The angels are waiting 24/7 for the sinner to repent and come back into a loving relationship. It's also about talking to God and seeking Him. I can't speak for Dorothy Day - but sounds like that may more refer to the Hebrews scriptures since she was known for reaching out into the community.

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  • Cool, thanks for mentioning that (you wouldn't know it from watching the music video). I went to my first Newsboys concert a few months ago (I'm a late convert to Christian rock), they didn't mention it then - but then again the song is like 20 years old. – Peter Turner Mar 4 at 19:21

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