It’s Christmas time where the Christian world celebrates the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. We start to think of trees, lights, presents, nativities, and family time. I want to focus on the nativities. I love attending reenactments of that first Christmas. Many nativities use the language of Luke 2:1-17 and then jump to Matthew 2:2,9-12 (where the Wisemen are discussed).
During these reenactments the Christ child is placed in a manager full of hay in a stable. But why a stable? The verse that leads this this image is Luke 2:7.
“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped in him swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manager; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7 King James Version)
No where does this say anything about a stable. In Luke 2:7 “Inn” is translated from the Greek word kataluma. This Greek word is found three times in the New Testament: Luke 2:7, Luke 22:11, and Mark 14:14. Luke 2:7 is translated as “inn” but as “guestchamber” in the other two references (which is the location where Jesus and the Apostles held the Last Supper).
There is a popular Latter-day Saint Christmas song for kids called Picture a Christmas. The opening line is “picture a stable in Judea…” When you sing or hear that song the the image that immediately comes to mind is of a simple wooden structure with a roof and a wall or two, but otherwise open to the elements, detached and away from the rest of the town.
But is this what Jesus was born in?
First, let’s consider what an inn in the near east at the time of the birth of the savior was.
The traditional Christian view of a stable could be a caravanserai which is a roadside inn with a detached stable with stalls for their animals. This was, most likely what the author of the Gospel of Luke was referring to when he wrote about the inn the Good Samaritan took the injured man to in Luke 10:34. Yet the word that is translated here into English as “inn” is from the Greek word pandocheion, not kataluma.
Another common view is a guest room in the family home, a “guestchamber”, which would have a basement or lower level area for animals to be brought in at night. This, in my opinion, is more likely the “inn” that Mary and Joseph went to.
With Joseph being a descendant of King David, in David’s royal city of Bethlehem, it would be hard to imagine that Joseph would have no family relationship that he be able to visit or stay with during normal trips. However, with so many people coming to Bethlehem it is easier to imagine that all the guest rooms were full.
But for a near east family then, or even families in our modern western culture today, to turn away a pregnant family member who is about to give birth, is beyond belief.
The Joseph Smith Translation changes Luke 2:7. The 1978 LDS edition has a footnote to change it from “inn” to “inns” but the full Joseph Smith translation has a much larger change to the end this verse.
“… in a manager, because there was none to give room for them in the inns.” (Luke 2:7 Inspired Version / Joseph Smith Translation)
Using guestchambers or “guest rooms” in the JST could say “… in a manager, because there was none to give room for them in the guest rooms”.
I believe that rather than trying to find room in some inn ran by some unknown person, Mary and Joseph, arriving late due to slowness of traveling because of Mary’s pregnancy, found people already in the guest rooms full at their relatives houses. They weren’t turned away but rather the family decided that there wasn’t “room” for Mary to give birth in privacy, so they made room for the couple in the basement area among the animals to give them some measure of privacy as the Son of God was born, yet near family who wanted to nearby incase of trouble and to celebrate with the family on the arrival of the baby. His first bed, the simple manager, wasn’t a box full of hay, but rather a feeding trough, built into home of some extended family member, is where He laid down His head and slept that first Christmas night.
None of this matters very much but is interesting how interpretation of scripture because “fact” in the eyes of believers.
There is an interesting how there wasn’t room in the guestchamber for Jesus at His birth but there was room in the guestchamber for Jesus before His death. I am going to ponder that parallel for a while and perhaps write about it in the future.
The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints A Study Bible, Thomas A Wayment, BYU Religious Study Center, 2019.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version With the Apocrypha – An Ecumenical Study Bible, Michael D. Coogan, Editor, Oxford University Press, 2018.
The Complete WordStudy New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., Editor, AMG Press, 1991.
The Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version with Explantory Notes and Cross References, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1978.
The Testimony of Luke, S. Kent Brown, BYU Studies, 2015.
The Holy Scriptures Inspired Version, Joseph Smith Jr, Herald Publishing House, 1991.
Holman Study Bible NKJV Edition, Holman Bible Publishers, 1982.
Once more Jesus wasn’t born in a stable, Ian Paul, https://www.psephizo.com/biblical-studies/once-more-jesus-was-not-born-in-a-stable/. Accessed December 6, 2022.