Hospitable to the Hostile – Jesus Harbored in Derrida?

I hope to come back and comment on this. My morning read had me mashing some things up.

Demonstrating his own openness to continual revision, Derrida coined a new sign – hospitality – by synthesizing the words “hospitality” and “hostility.” Noting that both come from the same root word, the French hote – which can mean host, guest or stranger – he suggests that authentic hospitality necessitates hostility toward the person or idea one welcomes. Otherwise, acts of hosting are nothing more than exchanges of entertainment among friends. (Changing Signs of Truth, Downing, Kindle, loc 1843)


Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, “When you host a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. (Luke 14:12-13, CEB)



All the tax collectors and sinners were gathering around Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and legal experts were grumbling, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2, CEB)

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About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.

9 comments on “Hospitable to the Hostile – Jesus Harbored in Derrida?

  1. Dale Pugh says:

    I assume this is Jaques Derrida. He may be a philosophical rock star, but he needs some help with etymology. Hospitality comes from the Latin “hospes”–“host, guest, stranger.” Hostility comes from the Latin “hostis”–“enemy.” Two different words. They aren’t even related in French.

    1. Hello Dale,

      I quote Crystal Downing who mediates Derrida on the subject. I am no etymologist so I did what I knew to do while I await word from someone more versed in French than am I.

      According to this site – http://ewonago.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/etymology-of-hospital-host-hostel-hotel-hospice-hostile-hostage/ – it appears there is warrant for the connection as the root derives from Greek. If the site noted is to be trusted. Which, I have no way of knowing.

      But, I will query Downing and others and report back.

      1. Dale Pugh says:

        Hi Todd–I’m only a bit of a “word hobbyist”, so I claim no absolute authority at all. I would think common usage as well as roots would guide the discussion, and I do understand Derrida’s point. I’m just not sure that such close relations exist, based on a little research.
        Anytime I see someone claim that such-and-such a word means this or has this or that connection, I get a little wary. Word connections can be tenuous and downright wrong in making fixed distinctions and correlations.
        It reminds me of the Greek father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who makes all kinds of statements based on “the Greek word for……”

        1. Dale,

          If I may snag a reference you make to briefly note Downing’s project. “I would think common usage . . ..” This is precisely at the heart of Downing’s appropriation of this Derridian reference. If, say in our culture, there is a need to (re)sign truth in order to heighten the Good News of Jesus, hospitality may be one of those words that needs an infusion, a new sign. So, the title of the section containing his reference is titled, From Hospitality to Hostipitality.

          Surely there is a play on words at work here and if in French, since he himself was French, the illustration of hote in common usage for him provided a means to, so it seemed to me, to challenge common practices of hospitality. I simply found this reference and Jesus quite arresting.

          I emailed Downing. I hope she may comment here or reply.

          I am grateful for your interaction and thoroughly understand the suspicion you duly note. I like your reference to My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I am inclined here to think of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.

          1. Dale Pugh says:

            LOL! “I do not think that this word means what you think it means,” or something to that effect. Yes. Good point. And I was hesitant to correct Derrida, noting his French connection, but even in English we hear or read such statements and a little research shows that a connection is made where none may technically exist.
            I await the result of your inquiry and will stand informed on the basis of someone more expert than I.

  2. Crystal L. Downing says:

    Since a posting from my book started this thread, let me add a comment. First, this conversation is a delightful demonstration of deconstruction, illustrating the point of my chapter on Derrida: language is slippery, cautioning us from absolutizing our signs. As I wrote the book, I checked Derrida’s etymology against Eric Partridge’s Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, which states the following: ‘hostis, a stranger, hence a guest, but hence also an enemy, this last sense predominating in L from c30 BC . . . The R[oot] common to both hospes and hostis is hos-, prob with basic sense either “shelter, refuge” or “food.”‘ But I am not absolutizing Partridge; etymology is an imprecise science, containing much speculation, explaining why other sources might construct word histories differently. This reinforces the point of my book (Changing Signs of Truth): though Truth does not change, not of us has unmediated access to the Truth. What we have are signs of the truth, which, as this discussion shows, can be unreliable. Hence Christians need to be more self-conscious about the signs they use, assessing whether they transmit the aroma of Christ to those who are perishing, or instead create a stink. –Crystal Downing

    1. Crystal,
      Thank you for weighing in. Dale raised an important question as to the nuance between meaning and usage. I think that is an important place to pick up your book.

      Many of us pastors fall prey to the way a word becomes used, sometimes missing how it was used. To your point, we then absolutize our preferred meaning and preach away. Language, and usage, seems a bit more dynamic than that. Your Introduction to Semiotics is an even more accessible read than, say, Chandler’s, Semiotics: The Basics.

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment.

      1. Dale Pugh says:

        My thanks to Crystal and to you Todd for taking the time to deal with this. I appreciate Crystal’s clarification and humility in this approach. As a pastor, I recognize the power of words. When one stands to teach one must be ever aware of the usage and meaning of words. For instance, at our church we once had a visiting speaker (not invited by me) who stated from the pulpit that one of his children “is a real turd sometimes.” To him such a statement was harmless. Not so to many in the audience.
        I believe the same is true when one states that there is a correlation between words because of common roots. We hear this kind of thing all the time in Christian circles and the Greek or Hebrew meanings of words. I simply believe that care must be taken that we not make so much of the language that we miss the point of a text, idea, or principle.
        Thanks again.

        1. Dale,
          I am thinking the guest needed a new sign for one of his children. His preferred sign, to use Crystal’s closing comment, stinketh.

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