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Luke 2:1-7 ESV
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Are you ready for some of your most cherished Christmas traditions to be destroyed?
After Mary left Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home…
Mary would then have to travel to Joseph’s home town of Bethlehem for the census ordered by Caesar Augustus. Here, Joseph’s family would care for her in safety. It is normally reported that Jesus was born in a stable, usually of an inn, or in a cave that was used to house animals. This is based on Luke’s gospel (2:7) which records, ‘And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.’
However, the word ‘inn’ here is ‘kataluma‘, which occurs in three places in the New Testament. It means ‘guest chamber’. It is translated as such in two other places where it occurs, namely Mark 14:14; ‘The Teacher says, “Where is my guest room in which I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘, and Luke 22:11, ‘say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest room in which I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”‘ By contrast, the word for an inn used in the parable of the Good Samaritan is ‘pandocheion‘, which means a hostelry, as in ‘a house for the reception of strangers’.
Given that Joseph had family resident in Bethlehem, it is highly unlikely that he would have taken Mary to an inn to give birth. The fact that the Roman decree of census was in force meant that many others of Joseph’s immediate family would have been present at that time as well. Consequently, the ‘guest-chamber’ was full. However, most large family residences had an alternative place that offered warmth and the privacy required for a mother’s first labour and delivery. When built on slopes, the houses at that time had, excavated beneath the ground floor, a space where the family’s livestock was stabled. It combined ease of access with security for the animals, and the warmth created by the animals helped provide a kind of under-floor heating for the house itself. It was an obvious place for Mary to pass twelve hours or so that a first-time mother’s labour takes, without disturbing the whole household.
~Dr. A.T. Bradford, from The Jesus Discovery, chapter 4: “Mary and the Birth of Jesus”
That whole scene in Jesus of Nazareth, as well as countless church Christmas plays, in which Joseph and Mary knock on the door of an inn and are turned away? Mabye never happened.
The traditional site of Jesus’s birth–a cave supposedly used as a stable–is probably not the place He was born.
It’s also a pretty safe bet that it was not a “Silent Night.” Jesus probably kept Mary and Joseph up all night, just as any other baby might. It’s safe to say that many of our traditional ideas about the birth of Jesus and other passages in the Bible are not historically accurate.
We need to be diligent students of God’s word, so that our ideas and teaching about God will be correct. We must base our faith on what the Bible actually says, and not religious art and sentimental, popular songs. Sometimes (as in this case) it even requires knowledge of the original languages of the Scriptures–Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic–and not a dependence on our English translation alone.
Paul advised Timothy, a young pastor, Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16, ESV). He continued to encourage Timothy in a second letter to Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth… They are upsetting the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:15-18, ESV). Paul also admonished Timothy, I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:1-4, ESV).
Irreverant babble, ungodliness, swerved from the truth, upsetting the faith, itching ears, myths… Yep. Sounds like an accurate description of many “Christians” I’ve met, and churches I’ve attended. Not only pastors, but all Christians (since all the saints are supposed to be equipped for the work of the ministry–Ephesians 4:12) ought to take Paul’s advice to heart.
As Wuest translates 2 Timothy 4:2, make a public proclamation of the Word with such formality, gravity, and authority as must be heeded
. Hold yourself in readiness for this proclamation when opportunity presents itself and when it does not; reprove so as to bring forth conviction and confession of guilt
; rebuke sharply, severely, and with suggestion of impending penalty
. Pleadingly exhort, doing all this with the utmost self-restraint which does not hastily retaliate a wrong, and accompany this exhortation with the most painstaking instruction
It seems to me that certain people have crept in unnoticed, and have sanitized, pasteurized, and genetically modified the sacred Gospel message. They have turned the dangerous and radical message of Jesus into something safe and politically correct. They pick and choose the Scriptures they like, and ignore, or even deny, the rest of the Bible.
This is not to say that everyone who believes that Joseph were turned away at an inn is a heretic. The point of this post was to question some of our most closely held traditions, because it may not have happened the way our Christmas plays depict it. It was also to encourage all believers to be like the Bereans, and search the Scriptures to see whether a teaching is true or not. Many pastors and theologians preach the doctrines of men instead of the Word of God. They have turned the historical record of our Lord’s birth into something fit for a Disney fairy tale movie.
Church, we can no longer tolerate such false teaching if we mean to survive!