Bible Book List
Encyclopedia of The Bible – Stranger

STRANGER (גֵּר, H1731, KJV stranger; RSV sojourner; זָר, H2424, alien, foreigner; נָכְרִי, H5799, foreigner, non-Israelite; תּﯴשָׁב, H9369, sojourner, ἀλλογενής, G254, belonging to another race; ἀλλότριος, G259, belonging to another; ξένος, G3828, stranger, resident alien; παρεπιδεμός, stranger, sojourner; πάροικος, G4230, sojourner, temporary resident). The above Heb. and Gr. words are often tr. without any distinctions such as derive from etymological significance. Recent Eng. trs. are superior to the KJV in providing more exact meanings.

1. The OT. The words most often found in the OT are גֵּר, H1731, and נָכְרִי, H5799.

a. Ger. This term referred to a person who lived in a country or town of which he was not a full native citizen. It is used particularly of free aliens living more or less permanently among the Israelites. The word was, however, also used of Israelites—for example, the patriarchs in Pal. and the Israelites in Egypt (Gen 15:13; Exod 22:21; 23:9; Lev 19:34; Deut 10:19; 18:6; etc.).

There were strangers among the Israelites from the first. A “mixed multitude” went up from Egypt with Israel; after the conquest, Israelites and Caananites dwelt side by side. The latter were never exterminated. The historical books frequently make mention of resident aliens, e.g., Uriah the Hittite. There were many strangers (aliens) in Pal. in the days of Solomon (2 Chron 2:17).

Although the גֵּרִ֥ים in Pal. did not enjoy all the religious and civil rights of the Israelites, they were not abused and were expected to be treated hospitably. Moses said that God loved the gerim, providing them both food and raiment (Deut 10:18). It was the duty of Israelites to defend, help, and even love the stranger, for they too at one time were strangers in Egypt (Deut 10:18; 14:29; 24:14, 19). The ger was protected against injustice and violence (Exod 21:20; 23:9), and he was given his rights (Deut 24:14). He was classed with the widow and the orphan as needing special consideration (Deut 10:18; 14:29). Marriage of Israelites with gerim was forbidden by the law of Moses (Gen 34:14; Deut 7:1ff.).

Gerim were expected to keep the Sabbath (Exod 20:10; 23:12), to observe the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29), to use no leaven during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exod 12:19), and they could keep the Passover if circumcised (Exod 12:48; Num 9:14). Sacrifices could be offered by them (Lev 17:8; Num 15:14, 26, 29; 35:15).

A free Israelite who became a slave of a ger could be redeemed by a relative at any time on payment of a fair price (Lev 25:47ff.). Gerim who became slaves were not released during the year of Jubilee, as Israelites were (Lev 25:46).

After the Babylonian captivity, many of the gerim became proselytes to Judaism, and their identity was absorbed in the Jewish nation.

b. Nokri. The gerim were non-Israelites who made their home in Israel; the נָכְרִ֖ים came into temporary contact with Israel as travelers or as traders. In the matter of rights and privileges in Pal., their position was no different from that of the gerim. A temporary resident would naturally not have the same interest, at least normally, in the religion of the land. They were treated hospitably, but they were expected, while in the land, to conform to Jewish laws about sabbath keeping. They could not eat of the Passover unless they were circumcised (Exod 12:43) or eat of a holy thing (Lev 22:10). Israelites could lend money to them for interest (Deut 23:20). Israelites were forbidden to buy for sacrifice, defective animals purchased from a foreigner (Lev 22:25).

2. The NT. The word “stranger” is sometimes used in the literal sense of a person not known or familiar, as when Jesus said, “A stranger they will not follow” (John 10:5), and “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matt 25:35). Sometimes where the KJV uses “strangers,” the RSV uses other expressions: “others” (Matt 17:25; Acts 7:6), “foreign” (Acts 17:18; Heb 11:9), “foreigners” (Acts 17:21), “exile” (7:29; 1 Pet 1:1), “visitors” (Acts 2:10; Luke 24:18), “alien” (1 Pet 2:11), “sojourner” (Eph 2:19). In Ephesians 2:12, Paul said that Gentiles were “strangers to the covenants of promise,” the word “strangers” (Gr. xenoi) is used in the OT sense of resident aliens, or foreigners, who were excluded from the covenants God made with Israel.

Bibliography M. Guttman, “The Term ‘Foreigner’ Historically Considered,” Hebrew Union College Annual, III (1926), 1-20; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 74-76.