Q. 1. I was reading in a book that the biblical verse "There was no room in the inn," found in Luke 2:7, is not an accurate reflection of what actually happened regarding the birth of Jesus. Do you know anything about this matter?
A. 1. According to the Greek text, the word kataluma was translated to mean inn. In reality, the word kataluma actually means a "guest room," not an inn.
The word kataluma is the same word that Jesus used in Luke 22:11 when he said to His disciples, "Then you shall say to the master of the house, 'The Teacher says to you, "where is the guest room [Kataluma] where I may eat the Passover with My disciples?"'".
The Greek word for an "inn" is pandokheion. This word is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. [Lk. 10:34] That is where Jesus made reference to the injured man who was taken to an inn. "He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him."
Having explained this, the Holy Family was not turned away from the inn but rather from the guest room. The next question is, "What is a guest room?"
Based on archaeological findings and written records of the day, the houses in Judea usually had a guest room next to the family common room or upstairs on the second floor. On the lower floor, near the door, there was an area, often with a dirt floor, where the family animals were kept at night. This served two purposes. First of all, it protected the animals from being stolen or killed by wild animals. Secondly, the body heat of the animals helped to warm up the home on cool nights. Because animals were kept in the lower area by the door, there you found a manger for food and/or water. The manger, elevated above the ground, was hollowed in solid stone.
Why did the houses of those days have a guest room? The Jewish Law demanded that hospitality be given to visitors. Such a practice finds its origin in Deuteronomy 10:19 where God said, "And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt." And again in Leviticus 19:33 where it states, "When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him." And that hospitality towards strangers has not changed to this day.
Because of the Roman census that was taking place, there was a large number of people travelling. Consequently, all the guest rooms in Bethlehem were occupied throughout the town. This is common sense.
Keeping in mind that Bethlehem was Joseph's ancestral home, most likely he had relatives living in the town. Surely, someone would have invited the Holy Family into their home, especially when we consider the fact that Joseph was a descendant of King David. Forget the guest room! Come into our home! That is how it had to happen.
When the time had come for Jesus to be born, the Holy Family had already been in Jerusalem for a few days. Pay close attention to the following biblical passage:
"(This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born..." [Luke 2:2-6]
I repeat those word, "While they were there." It does not say that they had just arrived. It does not say that they were travelling on the road. It says while they were there. Joseph and Mary were already staying in Bethlehem. They already had a place to stay in a home, as previously mentioned.
When the time came for the Virgin Mary to give birth, it was not appropriate for her to do so in the guest room that was occupied by others. Nor was it appropriate to do so in the home which was one open room. If it was during the day, the animal shelter was available as a private area. If it was at night, the animals could have been moved out. All we know is that the child Jesus was laid in a manger, most likely on a straw bed.
It should be noted that the inn in those days was not like a modern day hotel. It was one large room. In view of the type of people who travelled, it would never have been appropriate for the Holy Family to seek such a place during their stay in Bethlehem while they had family in that town.
As I have shown above, Jesus was not born in a stable as we have been led to believe regarding the nativity scene. In our search for the truth, we have to set aside the Western way of thinking, that farm animals cannot possibly dwell in a house. In those days, that is the way that it was.
Accordingly, we have no reason to doubt that the birth of Jesus was similar to the birth of all the Jewish children of those days, in a natural setting of any village boy. Jesus was born among His people, in an environment of helping hands from relatives.
You may ask, "Where does it say in the Holy Bible that there were other people present at the birth of Jesus?" Such is found in the following passage, "And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds." [Luke. 2:18] When the shepherds told everyone that the angels had told them, they wondered. "Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart." [Luke 2:19]
The above passage specifically makes a reference to how Mary reacted. It then refers to "all," this meaning more people than just Joseph. Others were present. It had to consist at a minimum of the family that owned the house and those who were in the guest room.