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Errors-in the Nativity Story

We’re looking at common misconceptions found in nativity narratives and most nativity scenes.  Last week gave biblical answers for three Misconceptions About Mary and Joseph’s Journey to Bethlehem and their arrival in the city.  This week addresses three more misconceptions.  Although many nativity scenes, pageants and Christmas narratives portray things that are not biblically supported, we can still enjoy them.   But we should not let them form our theology.

Misconceptions about the Place of Jesus’ Birth 

Did the innkeeper send Mary and Joseph away because there was no room in the inn?

innkeeperSomeone turned them away, but not necessarily an innkeeper.  The Bible records “there was no room for them in the inn,”  but there is no mention of an innkeeper.  The presence of an “innkeeper” has been popularized by Christmas narratives, pageants and nativity scenes that portray Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and being turned away for lack of room.

Luke 2:7  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

 The idea of an innkeeper is based on the translation of the Greek word “Kataluma” to  the English word “inn.”  But that word can also mean something else. (For more information,  read Was Jesus born in a stable, a cave or a house?)

Was Jesus was born in a stable?    

Nativity-scene2There is no mention of the accommodations in which Jesus was born.  Christmas narratives, pageants and nativity scenes portray Jesus’ birth as having taken place in a stable because the Bible tells us that He was “laid in a manger.”  However, there are good reasons to believe that Jesus was not born in a stable, but in the lower level of a house.

Since Bethlehem was Joseph’s hometown, it is quite likely that he sought lodging at the house of a relative rather than seeking paid accommodations.  This is supported by the Greek word for inn, which is used in Luke 2:7.  Many homes of that time had two levels—an upper room for the family’s dwelling place and an area below for housing animals.  It is very likely Mary and Joseph found refuge among the animals in the lower level of such a house.

For more information about where Jesus might have been born, read Was Jesus born in a stable, a cave or a house?

Was Jesus laid in a wooden manger laden with straw?

baby-Jesus3Again, the Christmas narratives, pageants and nativity scenes have formed our thinking on this.  The Bible certainly does tell that Jesus was “laid in a manger” (Luke 2:7), but it might not have been the kind we see depicted in nativity scenes.

A manger was a feeding trough for animals and, during that time in Israel, many were made of stone.  Archeological digs in Megiddo have unearthed stone mangers that are believed to have been used to feed Solomon’s horses.  Whether the manger was stone or wood, we do not know.  However, it is likely that they laid straw upon the manger to cushion the baby Jesus (especially if it had been a stone manger).

The Beauty of Nativity Scenes

Now don’t hear me wrong and don’t put away your nativity scenes. 

Don’t skip the Christmas pageants and, please, don’t criticize the way they tell the Christmas story! 

The message of Jesus coming to earth, as an infant born of a virgin, is accurate…even if some of the other details are amiss.  The purpose of addressing these misconceptions is so we don’t base our theology on man’s narratives.  Instead, always be a Berean and check the Scriptures to determine what is true (Acts 17:11).

Enjoy the Christmas narratives, allow nativity scenes to inspire awe and wonder, but always hold closely to the truths revealed in the Bible. The Bible does not give all-inclusive information about Jesus’ birth, but the Bible does give fully-sufficient information to know that Jesus humbled Himself and came to earth to seek and save the lost.  He came to be Emmanuel—God with us.  Rejoice in the great sacrifice of God that brought salvation to mankind.


Lesson for This Week  

The first rejection of Jesus happened when He was still in Mary’s womb.  Mary was “great with Child,” when she and Joseph—and Jesus—were turned away “because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Whether it was a stable, a cave or the animals’ shelter of a house,  Jesus humbled Himself and came into our world under the lowliest of circumstances. Humble yourself and make room for Him in your heart.

1 Peter 5:5-6  …be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.

Seek His light and allow the Holy Spirit to work in and through you to shine the light of Jesus in a dark and troubled world that increasing has “no room” for Him.

John 1:1, 4-5  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness…

Prepare Your Heart and Make Room for Jesus


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