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Bible Dictionaries
Stranger, Alien, Foreigner

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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The word ‘stranger’ (from extraneus) has been so long in possession as the rendering of several distinct words in the Hebrew and Greek texts that it is difficult to introduce changes in translation that appear desirable in order to distinguish those words from each other, and doubtful in some instances whether an exact rendering would be tolerable to the ear of English readers. [Note: ‘St. Augustine, in a well-known story, tells us that, when a bishop, reading the chapter about Jonah’s gourd, ventured to substitute St. Jerome’s “hedera” for the established “cucurbita,” such a tumult was raised, that if the bishop had persevered he would have been left without a congregation’ (G. Salmon, Introduction to NT4, London, 1889, p. 126).] Take an instance from the OT, and one from the NT. In Genesis 23:4 and Psalms 39:12, ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner’ could not well be changed for ‘I am a sojourner and a settler’ (or ‘dweller’). In John 10:5, ‘A stranger (ἀλλοτρίῳ) will they not follow … for they know not the voice of strangers (τῶν ἀλλοτρίων),’ we should not welcome the substitution of ‘alien’ for ‘stranger’ in order to distinguish ἀλλότριος from ξένος. ‘Aliens,’ however, might-fitly have been put in Revised Version margin in Matthew 17:25, ‘From their sons, or from strangers (ἀπὸ τῶν ἀλλοτρίων)?’ Cf. Luke 17:18, ‘Were there none found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger?’ where the rendering of ἀλλογενής in Revised Version margin by ‘alien’ heightens the contrast to which our Lord draws attention.

In the numerous NT passages in which changes of a more considerable kind were called for by fidelity to the true meaning of the text, those changes have been judiciously and consistently made by the Revised Version . In Luke 24:18 the question σὺ μόνος παροικεῖς Ἰερουσαλήμ cannot mean ‘Art thou only a stranger?’ and is rightly changed for ‘Dost thou alone sojourn?’ (marg. [Note: margin.] ‘Dost thou sojourn alone in Jerusalem?’), Cleopas implying that none but a solitary sojourner, who had not come in contact with other sojourners at the Passover season, could be ignorant of the death of Jesus. In Acts 2:10 οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες Ῥωμαῖοι are mentioned in the list of nations present at Pentecost. Here the inadequate rendering ‘strangers of Rome’ becomes ‘sojourners from Rome,’ those meant being ‘Romans who had migrated to Jerusalem and had settled in that city’ (Overbeck, quoted by A. Harnack, The Acts of the Apostles [NT Studies, iii.], Eng. translation , London, 1909, p. 67). In the speech of St. Stephen (Acts 7:29, ἐγένετο πάροικος), we should read ‘became a sojourner,’ and in that of St. Paul (Acts 13:17, ἐν τῇ παροικίᾳ) ‘when they sojourned.’ Read also in Acts 17:21 (Ἀθηναῖοι δὲ πάντες καὶ οἱ ἐπιδημοῦντες ξένοι), ‘Now all the Athenians and the strangers sojourning there’: ‘the large number of foreign residents … was always a distinguishing feature of Athens’ (J. B. Lightfoot in Smith’s Dict. of the Bible 2, vol. i. pt. i. p. 36a).

The Christian communities addressed in 1 Peter 1:1 are called ἐκλεκτοὶ παρεπίδημοι διασπορᾶς. Authorized Version loosely translates ‘to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus,’ and wrongly transfers ἐκλεκτοῖς to the verse following. Read with Revised Version ‘to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion,’ or simply ‘to the elect sojourners of the Dispersion.’ It is now generally agreed that ‘St. Peter had in his mind predominantly, though probably not exclusively. Gentile readers,’ and that διασπορᾶς, like the preceding παρεπίδημοι, is used to describe their religious condition, both words being ‘taken from the vocabulary created by Jewish history and afterwards transferred to the Christian Church’ (F. H. Chase in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iii. 783a; T. Zahn, Introduction to NT, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1909, ii. 141, 153, n. [Note: . note.] 5), In 1 Peter 2:11 a strong moral appeal is made to Christians as πάροικοι καὶ παρεπίδημοι: here, πάροικοι having the first claim to ‘sojourners,’ it was necessary that παρεπίδημοι should be translated by a different word, and ‘pilgrims,’ which, in its Latin form peregrini, is used by the Vulgate in this verse, at once suggested itself. It is to be noticed that the rendering ‘sojourners’ for ‘strangers’ in 1 Peter 2:11 connects the appeal made with the exhortation given in 1:17, ἐν φόβῳ τὸν τῆς παροικίας ὑμῶν χρόνον ἀναστράφητε. [Note: Note on ἐπιδημεῖν, παρεπίδημος.-‘In distinction from ἐπιδημεῖν, it [παρεπίδημος] emphasises more definitely the merely temporary character of the residence’ (Zahn, ii. 139).]

Alien’ occurs twice in the NT (Authorized Version ). In Hebrews 11:34 the fine rendering ‘armies of the aliens’ (ἀλλοτρίων) could not be improved upon. In Ephesians 2:12 Revised Version rightly substitutes the verb for the noun, as required by the Greek text, ἀπηλλοτριωμένοι τῆς πολιτείας, ‘alienated from the common wealth of Israel’ (cf. 4:18, Colossians 1:21).

Foreigner’ (from foraneus) was not a word in common use when the Authorized Version was made, and in the NT is found only in Ephesians 2:19 (οὐκέτι ἐστὲ ξένοι καὶ πάροικοι). We regret the disappearance of the in-spiriting words ‘no more strangers and foreigners,’ but must admit the consistency of Revised Version in translating ‘no more strangers and sojourners.’

In what follows, this study of words is supplemented by some reflexions of a devotional and practical nature.

1. Christ and the stranger.-Kindness to the stranger-guest has always been one of the most attractive features of Eastern life and manners. ‘From the earliest times of Semitic life the lawlessness of the desert … has been tempered by the principle that the guest is inviolable’ (W. R. Religion of the Semites (W. Robertson Smith) 2, London, 1894, p. 76). The description in Genesis 18:2-8 of Abraham’s entertainment of his three mysterious visitors ‘presents a perfect picture of the manner in which a modern Bedawee sheykh receives travellers arriving at his encampment’ (E. W. Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians5, London, 1871, i. 364). The humanitarian laws enjoined on Israel included the following; ‘A stranger shalt thou not wrong, neither shalt thou oppress him; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 22:21; cf. Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18-19). The stranger, who is to be made welcome, and whose rights are to be respected, often comes into view, e.g. in Ruth 2:10, Psalms 94:8; Psalms 146:9, Malachi 3:5. In Greece, Ζεὺς ἀγοραῖος, the Protector of the assembly of the people, was also Ζεὺς ξένιος, the Protector of strangers. The beautiful story of Philemon and Baucis, the aged Phrygian couple who received Zeus and Hermes into their but when others had refused to take them in (cf. J. B. Lightfoot, Colossians and Philemon, London, 1875, p. 370, who uses the legend to illustrate the scene at Lystra, Acts 14:11), must have had its origin in some mind which had conceived it possible that the gods might put men to the proof by visiting them in human form. The truth thus dimly shadowed forth was realized in Jesus Christ. He, when ‘found in fashion as a man,’ accepted the title of ‘Prophet’ as one which, ‘so far as it went, … was a true description of His work’ (H. B. Swete, The Ascended Christ, London, 1910, p. 53), and, in His preaching ministry, was dependent for food and lodging on those who ‘received him’ (Luke 10:38; Luke 19:5-6; cf. 2 Kings 4:9-10). In one of His last discourses He taught that the stranger was, along with others whom He named, one of His ‘brethren’ or next of kin, who had the right to the same ministering love which had been shown toward Himself, and solemnly said that men’s final acceptance before Him as their Judge depended upon their recognizing and doing justice to that right. His authoritative and affecting words ξένος ἤμην καὶ συνηγάγετέ με (Matthew 25:35) impressed it for ever on the heart of the Church that in receiving the stranger she fed and sheltered her Lord. [Note: A. H. McNeile, The Gospel according to St. Matthew, London, 1915, p. 370b: ‘After the Resurrection, and helped by the Influence of Greek thought, Christians were divinely led to the conception of the mystical oneness of an immanent Christ with humanity. εἶδες γαρ, φησίν, τὸν ἀδελφόν σου, εἶδες τὸν θεόν σου (Clem. Strom. I. xix. 94, II. xv. 71). “Vidisti, inquit, fratrem, vidisti dominum tuum” (Tert. De Orat. xxvi.).’] They made care for the stranger a standing rule of Christian life (cf. J. R. Seeley, Ecce Homo11, London, 1873, p. 194). Their effects are seen in Romans 12:13, 1 Timothy 3:2; 1 Timothy 5:10, Titus 1:8, 3 John 1:5, Clem, Rom. i. 1, 2, Didache, xi. 2. It is somewhat remarkable that in Hebrews 13:2 our Lord’s words are not referred to. The marked feature of apostolic Christianity presented to view in these passages pointed forward to the systematic provision which was made for the entertainment of strangers in the ξενοδοχία of post-apostolic times. ‘A “saint,” i.e. a Christian, provided with a letter of recommendation from his church, could travel from one end of the Roman Empire to the other without having any anxiety about a home. Wherever there was a Christian Church he was sure of receiving food and shelter, and attention in case of illness’ (G. Bonet-Maury in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics vi. 804b; cf. Sanday-Headlam, International Critical Commentary , ‘Romans’5, Edinburgh, 1902, p. 363; W. E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals8, London, 1888, ii. 80). It is not necessary to do more than allude to the countless forms of helpful assistance and benevolence which Christ’s compassion for the stranger has prompted in recent times (cf. T. von Haering, Ethics of the Christian Life, London, 1909, p. 402; H. L. Martensen, Christian Ethics [Social], Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1882, ii. 71, 72).

2. The sheep and strangers.-Neither Authorized Version nor Revised Version gives the proper emphasis to δὲ οὐ μή in John 10:5. These words enrich the comparison between the two voices. We should read ‘But a stranger will they by no means follow,’ or ‘will they certainly not follow.’ Christ speaks with confident expectation of how His sheep will act. They will assuredly not follow a stranger: ‘on the contrary (ἀλλά) they will flee from him.’ ‘Fleeing’ implies a feeling of danger and alarm. The voice of the stranger whom they know not scares the sheep (cf. W. M. Thomson, The Land and the Book, London, 1864, p. 203; F. Godet, Com. on St. John’s Gospel, Edinburgh, 1876-77, ii. 382). The words may be applied to the Church of the Apostolic Age in a variety of ways. They who ‘knew that the Son of God was come’ (1 John 5:20) were not led astray by false Messiahs. They were gifted with a quickness of apprehension and a sharpness of penetration that enabled them to see the tendency and temper of false teaching. They accounted as strangers those teachers who came ‘to act as spies on the liberty which they had in Christ’ (Galatians 2:4), as well as others, still more dangerous, who sought to lead them into the thicket of Gnostic speculation in which they would have lost sight altogether of the nature and work of their Redeemer (Colossians 2:8). The same faculty of discrimination, created and guided by the Spirit of Christ, enabled them to take the first steps in sifting the writings of the Apostolic Age, and setting apart those which spoke to them with the voice and authority of the Chief Shepherd.

3. Christians not ξένοι but πάραιχοι.-It is worthy of attention that Christians are not called ξένοι in the NT. The Gentile believers addressed in Ephesians had once been ξένοι τῶν διαθηκῶν τῆς ἐπαγγελιας (Ephesians 2:12), but are now συνπολῖται τῶν ἁγίων καὶ οἰκεῖοι τοῦ Θεοῦ (Ephesians 2:19), fellow-citizens with full rights (cf. Philippians 3:20), and in household fellowship with the family of God. When Christians are described as ξένοι in early Christian literature, the word is used in a typical or metaphorical sense-as in the Epistle to Diognetus, Philippians 3:5 : πάνθʼ ὑπομένουσιν ὡς ξένοι· πᾶσα ξένη πατρίς ἐστιν αὐτῶν, καὶ πᾶσα πατρὶς ξἑνη. St. Peter’s impressive adaptation of Hosea 2:23 to the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor, οἵ ποτὲ σὐ λαὸς νῦν δὲ λαὸς θεοῖ (1 Peter 2:10), is immediately followed by his appeal to them as πάροικοι καὶ παρεπίδημοι. They are thus reminded that they are sojourners on earth, dependent on the protection of God, whose property the earth is, and to whom it belongs to determine the length of their sojourn and what mercies they shall receive. Such seems to be the force of the words ‘with thee’ in Psalms 39:12 (cf. A. F. Kirkpatrick, Book of Psalms, Cambridge, 1902, p. 207). In the Church the Christian finds ‘a home for the lonely’ (J. H. Newman, Parochial Sermons, new ed., London, 1868, iv. 196): but ‘so long as we are still at home (ἐνδημοῦντες) in the body, we are in a sort of exile from our home (ἐκδημοῦμεν) in the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5:6; cf. A. Plummer, International Critical Commentary , ‘2 Corinthians,’ Edinburgh, 1915, pp. 124, 151). ‘Exilium vita est’ was the inscription carved above the doorway in Victor Hugo’s room at Hauteville, Guernsey.

Literature.-To the works cited throughout the article may be added: S. R. Driver, The Book of Exodus, Cambridge, 1911, p. 231, International Critical Commentary , ‘Deuteronomy’2, Edinburgh, 1896, p. 165; C. L. W. Grimm, Lexicon in Libros NT, Leipzig, 1868, s.v. ξένος, πάροικος, παρεπίδημος; J. A. Selbie, articles ‘Foreigner,’ ‘Ger,’ and ‘Strange, Stranger’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) .

James Donald.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Stranger, Alien, Foreigner'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​s/stranger-alien-foreigner.html. 1906-1918.
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