“Now the birth of Christ was on this wise…” (Matt 1:18)
The traditional Christmas story concerning the birth of Jesus Christ goes something like this: It’s a cold winter night on December 25, a very pregnant young woman and her gentleman companion are turned away from an Inn. So Jesus born in a stable, then 3 wise men came...
The Christmas story most people are familiar with is not a pretty one. It paints a cold and selfish picture of the people of Bethlehem. Most people of every age and culture go out of their way to help pregnant women in need. Did the people of Bethlehem turn away this young woman about to give birth?
Is that really the picture of the birth of Jesus Christ that the bible is telling us or is it a long standing tradition that has gone unchecked and accepted as truth? Today we are going to be examining scripture and going deeper into what the bible says, and doesn’t say on how it really went down according to scripture.
We are going to learn some Greek words and examine the culture of the time during which Joseph and Mary lived to gain a wider understanding of the parts that are unwritten but equally important.
Joseph and Mary's Arrival in Bethlehem
1) In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.
2) (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)
3) And everyone went to his own town to register.
4) “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6) And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7) And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Was the Inn Keeper really
so cruel as to turn away
pregnant woman in need?
How sad. A pregnant couple turned away to have their baby in a strange town fending for themselves somewhere out in the cold harsh streets.
How is it that they could not find adequate lodging in Joseph’s home town? If for some reason Bethlehem was so totally filled with guests and visitors that all the inns were full... did he have no friends or relatives who would open their home to them?
What about their cousins Zechariah and Elizabeth? They lived only a short distance away, in the hill country of Judah (Luke 1:39). Certainly Joseph and Mary could have gone to them or found something, anything better than a stable full of livestock.
It doesn’t make sense, right? Here’s why:
First, In verse 3 is says that Joseph was returning “to his own town”. Historical memories are long in the Middle East, and family support is very strong. Given the long family memories in Hebrew culture, once Joseph told people that both he and Mary were descendants of families from Bethlehem, and of the house of David, many homes would be open to them.
In fact, it is likely that Joseph and Mary already knew of relatives in Bethlehem and may well have gone to those homes first to find lodging before going to pay for a room at the local inns. As we see the true story of Christ’s birth develop, that seems like a very strong possibility.
Second, just like it is today in America, in Hebrew culture it was common for women about to give birth to be given special help, and the village of Bethlehem would be no different. In that culture, just like ours and many others all over the world through out time, a young pregnant woman would never have been turned away in her hour of need.
Getting the Story Straight: Maybe there is an error
in our understanding of the scripture?
We know that scripture interprets itself in one or more of the following 5 ways:
- In the verse
- In the context
- Where it was used before
- In the figures of speech, manners and customs of the culture
- and finally, In the accurate translation
Let’s take a closer look at this particular verse in Luke 2:7 -
There are two Greek words we must understand to properly interpret this verse. They are “topos”, which most versions of the bible translate as “room,” and “kataluma”, which most versions translate as “inn.”
Luke 2:7 "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room [topos] for them in the inn [kataluma]." (KJV)
The phrase “no room for them in the inn” is a mistranslation that continues to support the misunderstanding about the birth of Christ.
The word topos occurs more than ninety times in the New Testament. It does not refer to “a room,” like we think of a hotel room, or a bedroom, but simply to a place, or a space in a given area. The text is not saying there was no “room” for Joseph and Mary as in the sense of a hotel room, but rather that there was no “space” for them.
Space where? Not in the “inn,” but in the kataluma. What is a kataluma? In the Gospel record it is a “lodging place” or “guest room,” in someone’s personal home; not a commercial lodge, inn or motel that you pay for. There was no space for Joseph and Mary in the guest room because it was already full.
Greek word for Inn is “Pandocheion”
The normal Greek word for “inn” is pandocheion (pan-dokk-i'-on), and it refers to a public house for the reception of strangers (we would say hotel or motel). Where is “pandocheion” used before? Luke uses the word pandocheion in the parable of the Good Samaritan when the Samaritan took the man who was mugged to a public inn. Luke 10:34 “And went to [him], and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn [pan-dokk-i'-on], and took care of him.”
In contrast to the public inn (pandocheion), both Mark 14:14 and Luke 22:11 use the word kataluma referring to a “guest room” in someone’s house. When finding a place to eat the Last Supper with his disciples, Jesus tells them to say to the owner of the house, “…The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guest chamber [kataluma], where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples?”. So in both Mark and Luke, the kataluma is a guest room in a private home, not a public inn or hotel.
The gospel of Luke also uses the verb form of kataluma, which is kataluo, “to find rest or lodging.” When Zacchaeus the tax collector brings Jesus home for a meal, the Bible says that Jesus goes “to be the guest” [kataluo] at Zacchaeus’ house (Luke 19:7). So Luke uses both the noun kataluma and the verb kataluo to refer to a room in someone’s home.
The fact that pandocheion is a better word for “inn” than kataluma, along with the fact that Luke used pandocheion for an “inn” and kataluma for a guest room, is very solid evidence that Luke is telling us the family who took in Joseph and Mary had “no space” in their “guest room.” The Bible verses we covered should not be translated to say there was no room for them in the inn, but rather there was “no space for them in the guest room.” Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible translates Luke 2:7 as follows: “…there was not for them a place in the guest-chamber.”
The Birth of Baby Jesus Christ -
What Really Happened?
It is important that we properly understand the record of the birth of Christ. The night that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem they were not rejected by a local motel that had its “No Vacancy” sign turned on.
Instead, they were taken into the private home of a caring family, most likely friends or relatives, who let them stay in the family living quarters because they already had other guests filling their guest room. Nobody was turned away. This type of giving and joy of service was customary in their culture at that time; especially for a young pregnant girl in need.
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About the Author, Pastor Daniel Sweet:
Daniel Sweet is the President and founder of God's Word First Christian Ministry. He is an ordained minister, biblical scholar, teacher of the holy spirit and an expert author on the subject of Leadership. He and his wife, Debbra Sweet have overseen the growth and development of multiple in home fellowships and have been instrumental in helping many people come to the knowledge and truth of God’s Word.