No Room in the Inn

Posted: December 9, 2016 in The Birth of Jesus Christ
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When researching the accurate birthdate of Jesus Christ, one runs squarely into an ironic paradox. The notion that Jesus was born of December 25th has been commonly held for so long that is often assumed to be correct without question. And yet, even among those who are aware that Jesus was not born of December 25th the cultural overtones have been so prevalent that we tend to default to a December 25-based paradigm without realizing it. One of the most common ways this paradigm manifests itself is that we tend to assume that Christmas themed “resources” (I use this term loosely), such as Christmas carols and Christmas pageants are factually correct when they rarely are. 

The cattle are lowing

The poor Baby wakes

But little Lord Jesus

No crying He makes

[Away in a Manger—Author unknown.]

Away in a Manager is almost always the first Christmas carol taught to children. The first two verses were originally published without music in a periodical called The Myrtle, in May 1884, in Boston. The article credited authorship of the carol to the Reformer Martin Luther, but this was factually untrue—the author of the lyrics remains unknown. Additional lyrics were added over time, and over 40 different melodies accompany the lyrics.

Although artistic license is allowed, take note that no cattle, sheep or other animals are specifically mentioned in scripture. In addition, great controversy arose concerning the line “no crying he makes”—the heretical implication being that if Jesus did not cry, he was not fully human, and therefore the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation is false.

Additionally, most Christmas pageants prominently feature an “Innkeeper” as part of the production. Please read carefully.

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. [Luke 2:7 KJV]

Take note that although one usually plays a prominent role in most Christmas pageants, there is no innkeeper mentioned in scripture—only the English word inn (in the KJV). In addition, Luke doesn’t use the common word for a traveler’s inn (pandocheion; Strong’s #3829) that he uses other places. Instead, he uses a word that means guest room (kataluma; Strong’s #2646). It’s the same word that he used to describe the place where Jesus took the last supper. It’s ironic that the King James misses it in Luke 2:7, and then nails in Luke 22:11.

Strong’s #2646, kataluma; guest chamber.

And she brought forth her son—the first-born, and wrapped him up, and laid him down in the manger, because there was not for them a place in the guest-chamber. [Luke 2:7 YLT]

When Jesus was preparing for the last Passover, he instructed his disciples to find an appropriate guest chamber where they could have the meal. This was the kind of room a homeowner could loan or rent to family or friends. There is a certain intimacy connected to this type of guest chamber.

And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, where is the guest chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples? [Luke 22:11 KJV]

This (kataluma) is not the word that would be used to describe a traveler’s inn (hotel/motel), which would be pandocheion, Strong’s #3829—used in the story of the Good Samaritan.

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 (pandocheion, Strong’s #3829), and took care of him. [Luke 10:34 KJV]

Since Joseph and Mary were traveling to his/their ancestral home, it is likely they expected to stay with relatives. Lacking modern technology however, they could not phone ahead and let people know they were coming. If it was indeed during the high holy days plus the registration, it is quite easy to see how the “guest bedroom” was already taken.

The record of the Good Samaritan is particularly insightful, because in context, a Samaritan would have been unable to rent/borrow a guest chamber (kataluma), but could have rented a room at the local motel (pandocheion).

In addition, we are told that Jesus was laid in a manger—scripture never says he was “born in a stable” (barn, or cave). Joseph and Mary most likely anticipated being able to stay in their relative’s guest chamber, but it was already taken. Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus may have indeed slept in a stable (Jesus in the manger), but most likely he was born in the house of his relatives—just not in the guest chamber.

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