The Birth of Christ

I am really excited about this teaching, as I am presenting some new material. In Scripture, if any record has been masked or misunderstood by tradition, it seems to be the birth of Jesus Christ. It is amazing to me how many traditions mask the birth of Jesus Christ and what the Bible says about it. Meanwhile, God, through Scripture, has been trying to break through to us to teach us what really happened in the birth of Christ.

If you have been following Spirit & Truth for a while, you know that one of the slogans that we have been really harping on recently is that truth matters. Why does truth matter? It is because truth originated in God. Something is in the heart and soul of every person that lets us know that truth really matters. How do you feel when someone lies about you? How do you feel when someone believes something about you that just is not true? Does that not just bother you? It sure bothers me. I want people to know the truth about me. Now, when they know the truth about me, they may not agree with me. That is okay, so be it. At least I would like people to know the truth about me.

Is God so different? Is Jesus Christ so different? Are they content when people do not have a clue about them; particularly, when God has authored the truth about Himself in the Word, and all we have to do is read it, translate it properly, and understand it? I believe with every fiber in my being that truth matters. It matters to us when the books are opened at the Judgment. It matters to God and Jesus, and truth ought to matter to us because frankly, we want to be right, and we do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. I do not like it when people do not believe the truth about me, for it hurts my feelings. I think that you are probably in the same boat as I am. I want to be an honorable child of God. I want to read the Word of God and understand it.

I want to tell you that I have learned some things about the birth of Jesus Christ that have really helped me to understand it, and I hope that I can present them in a convincing way that is a blessing to you.

Let us talk about changing from tradition to truth. Almost everyone needs help when they change from tradition to truth. I certainly received help on this subject. I started on my way, if you will, by what you may call a custom’s book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Ken Bailey. Although I have also been aware that people are out there who have been teaching things that are very accurate about the birth of Jesus Christ. The truth of this subject is still buried by mistranslation and misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Let us first make sure that we are clear on the Orthodox picture. The traditional picture of the birth of Christ is this: Joseph and Mary leave Nazareth. They arrive at Bethlehem with some bad timing, if you will, on the very night that Mary is about to give birth. Frankly, the people of Bethlehem in the traditional story are presented as very cold hearted. No one opens his or her home to Joseph and Mary. No one lets them into their home, and the local inn or we would say hotel, had its no-vacancy sign outside. Mary then ends up finding shelter with her husband in a stable. Our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, was born in a stable, rejected by the people of Bethlehem and surrounded by animals with just Joseph and Mary all alone.

That is the traditional Christmas picture. Frankly, it is not a pretty picture. Thankfully, this is not a true picture. What we will see here is a different picture of the Christmas story that is presented in the Word of God.

How did the traditional picture develop? We do not really know all the pieces of the traditional picture; however, we do know that the modern Christian understanding of the birth of Christ comes, at least in a large part, from extra-biblical works and traditions that were imported into the Gospels rather than just from the Bible itself. In fact, much of the information that we have today came from the document that was widely circulated in the early centuries of the Christian era. This document is referred as The Proto-Evangellium of James. This is a document that was likely written in the Third Century A.D., and it is the first document in which scholars are aware that refers to Jesus being born close to Mary’s arrival in Bethlehem. Remember that the traditional picture is that Mary arrived in Bethlehem and gave birth that night. That is not what the Word of God says, and we will see that very clearly. Again, the Proto-Evangellium is the first document of which we are aware that presents the birth of Christ close to the arrival of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem; however, in the Proto-Evangellium, they do not quite reach Bethlehem. Mary gives birth in a cave outside Bethlehem.

I do not know what it is about people who would rather read about the Bible than to actually read the Bible itself. When we do read about the Bible then traditions and misinformation develop. I think about in our own time, when just a few years ago a book was written called The DaVinci Code. This book hit the New York Times best sellers list. This is tens of thousands of people reading this book. Did you see how thick this book was? This is not a little pamphlet. This book was a major work of which tens of thousands of people read. It was very intriguing. Jesus had a sexual relationship with Mary, and it showed a hidden line of decedents. People were actually reading this and considering it and possibly thinking about believing it. Seriously, I want to ask you this question: a book that large which takes the average person eight to ten hours to read, do you think that those same people had spent that much time reading the Bible in a year’s period of time? I would bet money that they did not. That really is a shame. You and I are children of the Living God. Our heavenly Father authored one book, just one book, and we should read it daily. We should pray over it. We should meditate over it and think about it. The propensity of people to read things other than the Bible and then come up with conclusions about the Bible is astounding. It happened in ancient times, and it still happens today. If someone is going to put the brakes on that, it is going to have to be you and me.

Now to Luke chapter two:

Luke 2:1 and 2
(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.)

You can read about Caesar Augustus in any encyclopedia. He was the first Caesar or Augustus of Rome. He was the first single ruler who ruled the empire of Rome. Rome had been a Republic, and with Caesar Augustus it became an empire. He reigned from 31 B.C. to 14 A.D. At some point, he had issued a decree that the whole world, his world, should be registered for a taxation. Remember, this is before the time of faxes, emails, telephones, telegraphs; so he is going to have to send out messengers to do this. It is not like a decree would say that everyone must show up and register on December first. No, they just were not that accurate. He would make a decree, and it would take months to go out over the Roman Empire. He would say within the next year or within the next so many months, or this or that, go get yourself registered. That is exactly what happened:

Luke 2:3
And everyone went to his own town to register.

When did everyone go? They went over a period of time: years or months.

Luke 2:4
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea…

Why does the Bible say that he went up from Nazareth to Judea when Joseph went south? If you get out your Bible Atlas and look at where Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth are located, you will see that Nazareth is way up north, about a three day journey from Jerusalem if you walk it. About six to seven miles south of Jerusalem is Bethlehem. Biblically, when you went to Jerusalem, you were heading upwards, as Jerusalem is in the Mountains. This is very natural and customary writing that Joseph went upwards:

Luke 2:4
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David…

This is very important to pay attention that Scripture says, “the town of David.” Again, when you and I as Christians are reading Scripture over and over and over, patterns will develop. We will see things that we would not see if we only read this one time. Only in Luke chapter 2 is Bethlehem called the town of David in the New Testament. This is astounding. Why would that be? We will answer that question as we understand how Joseph and Mary would have been accepted into a private home.

Luke 2:4 and 5
(4) 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.
(5) He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.

This is a verse that we need to understand, and we need to understand it in terms of our modern culture because we can find many modern versions of the Bible where it says,

Luke 2:5
He went there to register with Mary, who was engaged to him and was expecting a child.

In our modern understanding, what do we think? We think, “Oh my goodness, this couple is engaged here, and she is already pregnant, and they are running around together.” However, we know that she was pregnant by God. But the point is that we are thinking that they were not even married yet, and they are taking off here from their families and going south to Jerusalem. What we need to understand is that times will occur when customs of a culture change so dramatically that it makes translating what is in the Scripture very difficult.

Let’s look at Matthew 1:24. This is in Nazareth before they left for Bethlehem:

Matthew 1:24 and 25
(24) When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
(25) But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son…

This is the situation. In the biblical world, when you were betrothed it was legal. Some kind of ceremony would have occurred when Joseph took Mary home as his wife to legitimize them. In Matthew it says that he did not have sexual intercourse with her until after she gave birth to a son. This is how we know that Jesus was born of Mary, and it was a virgin birth.

Now back to the Gospel of Luke. If you say in Luke that Joseph was married to Mary, then everyone in the culture is going to assume that they had sex because that is how the marriage is consummated. What we have to do in Luke is to do the same thing that it did in Matthew. In Matthew, it said that they were married, but they did not have sex. It made it very clear. Now, we have to present that truth in Luke. How do we present the truth that they are together, but they have not had sex yet? The way that they present that is to say that he went there to register with Mary. The text would be better translated to say, “He went there to register with Mary who had been betrothed to him.” Everyone in the culture would have understood, “Oh, they are married.” They had been through the betrothal; it would take a divorce to separate them at this point. The reason that it would say betrothed rather than married is because it is Luke’s way of letting you know that the union had not been consummated by sexual intercourse because it was going to be a virgin birth.

Luke 2:6 and 7
(6) While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
(7) and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

These two verses are horribly mistranslated and misunderstood. First, let’s look at verse seven:

Luke 2:7
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

These are swaddling cloths. If you know about the culture, then what the young couple would do with the baby if they wanted their baby to be dedicated to God is that they would wrap it in cloths, called swaddling cloths, and they would then dedicate that child to God.

It is unfortunate that the NIV does not use the word swaddling cloths here. Again, it would not be in the text; it would simply be in the cultural understanding. By the way, a version has come out recently called the ESV, English Standard Version, which is a little more literal than the NIV. If the loose nature of the NIV has driven you a little crazy, along with the King James between the archaic English and some of the textural problems, and you are looking for a better and more literal version, I have been reading the ESV and like it. It is not perfect, but then no version is. However, it is a very good version. In the ESV, Ezekiel 16:4 says, talking about a new born child, “on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to clean you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.” The ESV says, “swaddling cloths.” This was a custom to dedicate the child to God.

Now if we understand that, let us look back at verse six:

Luke 2:5 and 6
(5) He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
(6) While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,

This was not the night of Christ’s birth. We should have known that; but unfortunately, the NIV does not do the best job in translating it. It simply says:

Luke 2:6
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,

The KJV, ESV, and NAS are much better, so I will read the KJV:

Luke 2:6 (KJV)
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

This is something that we should have seen awhile ago because in the Greek, when the word “days” is plural in the context like this, it refers to a period of more than one day. You cannot find a single instance of the word “days” in the plural in the New Testament in this type of context where it is applying to just one day. If we were talking about one day, it would say the word “day” or the word “hours,” not the word “days.” New Testament Scholars know this; for example, R.C. H. Linskey, to whom I refer a lot, writes about the day Jesus was born, “this was not the day of Joseph and Mary’s arrival.” The scholars and the commentaries are aware that Joseph and Mary did not arrive in Bethlehem on the day of Jesus’ birth. This is an interesting point because if the scholars are aware of it, then how come it does not make an impact on Christianity? My experience is that scholarship hardly ever changes tradition, especially the Christmas tradition which is so deeply imbedded. Think of all the paintings, songs, teachings, and even little manger scenes. Even though scholars know that Joseph and Mary did not arrive on the night of Jesus’ birth, it is not going to change tradition.

We know that Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem a number of days before Mary gave birth. How many days? Do you want to say three, five, a week, or two weeks? It could have been two weeks, absolutely. We are not really sure, but it was “days” before it happened. Now let us approach the statement again. A young pregnant woman arrives in town a number of days before she gives birth and they cannot find adequate housing. This is just not what happened. Let us take Zechariah and Elizabeth. Remember, Mary had gone to Elizabeth’s house when Mary was pregnant. Well, Elizabeth lives in the hill country of Judea. Where is Bethlehem? Bethlehem is in the hill country of Judea. Frankly, if Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem several days or a week or two weeks before Mary gave birth, and they could not find housing in Bethlehem then they would just go over to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house. Zechariah and Elizabeth would have warmly welcomed them.

It is time that you and I get the true story of Christmas. It is much more Christmassy than the traditional one. The true Christmas shows love, giving, and self-sacrifice, and it shows people not selfishly closing their door to a woman in need.

If we are going to get the facts straight, then two things are necessary for us to understand. First, we have to properly translate the Greek text. It is just like we saw with the word “days.” We cannot just say, “The time came.” We have to translate the word “day” to “days” so that you and I as readers can see what God is saying. We have got to translate the record properly. The second thing to understand is that we have to understand the customs of the day: how were things normally done?

Why do we need to understand the customs of the day? We need to understand them because, in the writing of a document, if something is really well understood and absolutely normal in a culture, it is not written about in the document. You and I know this instinctively. We may not know it cognitively, but we do know it instinctively. For example, let us say that you pick up the morning paper, and it says that the police were chasing a robber and he drove down the road for five miles before the police got him. You would say, “Okay, I got that.” Now, you would be surprised if it read, “A robber was being chased by the police, and the robber drove down the road five miles before they got him, and he drove in a car which is a mobility device made of glass and rubber and plastic that is driven by a gasoline engine and powered on the inside by these pedals, one which stops the car and one which …” The explanation continues, and you say, “Why was all that said about the car?” You see, you cognitively understand what it means when it says, “The robber drove for five miles before he was caught.” You understand what was being driven. You understand what a road is. You understand what a car is. You do not need anyone explaining to you that a car is a mobility device with a windshield and pedals. Why? In our culture today, it is absolutely normal and understandable without having to explain it.

By the way, I should say that this drives historians crazy. One of the reasons that we know as little as we do know about daily life and one of the reasons that it requires extensive work in archeology and anthropology to recreate first century life, for example in the Roman Empire or the Tuscan empire or the Greek world or the Biblical world, is because when they wrote during their times, they did not write about the normal everyday things of life. It then takes good research to discover those things. In other words, what I am saying is that if something was standard operating procedure, then it would not be written and explained in detail in the Bible. We have to learn it and import it from our knowledge of customs into our understanding of the Bible story. I hope that this makes sense to you.

What we will see then as we examine the biblical record from both the Greek text and the culture is that as Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem a number of days before she gave birth, and she was taken into the home of someone who lived there. It was likely a relative who was also of the family of David who loved them and cared for them and in whose home Mary gave birth.

We heard that no room was available for them at “the inn.” We will see that that phrase has been both mistranslated and misunderstood, and misinterpreted. How do we know that they would have been taken into a private home?

The first reason that they had good housing is that they would have gone to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s house. They were not going to stay around on the streets—they needed shelter.

A second reason that they had good housing is that Joseph was returning to his town of origin. Historical memories are long in the Middle East, and family support is very strong. It is like being in a gang: once in a gang, always in a gang. When you are in a family, that family supports you. Historical memories are huge in the East. For example, in Philippians 3:5, Paul is writing that he is a Benjamite. Benjamin lived more than 1500 years before that time. Now, who was your ancestor 1500 years ago? I bet you do not know. When you read the Bible, you get this feeling that the people’s heritage and from where they came stuck with them. Uriah is called Uriah the Hittite even though he is in David’s army. Judas Iscariot—Judas in the Hebrew, Iscariot, the man from Carioth. Ruth, even though she moves to Israel and marries into the family of Boaz, she is called Ruth the Moabite five times in the book of Ruth.

Once Joseph and Mary arrived and told people that they were from Bethlehem, many homes would be open to them. Like I said, it is likely that Joseph and Mary already knew relatives in Bethlehem, just like Mary already knew Elizabeth who lived in the local vicinity. Another reason; not just one but both Joseph and Mary were royals. They were both from the royal line of David. Again, David is so famous in Bethlehem that it is called the town of David right here in Luke chapter two. Now being from that famous family in the East would have meant most homes would have been open to them just for that fact alone.

For a family to be able to host a couple, both of whom were direct descendants of David in the town of David, would have been an honor and a privilege, and the homes of Bethlehem would have been open to them.

The third reason that they had good housing is that in every single culture that I have ever studied in anthropology or sociology, women about to give birth are given special help. The village of Bethlehem would have been absolutely no different. Look about Christmas time at your house. Maybe you have relatives that are in from all over, and your house is just packed. Every bedroom is full, and a young couple turns up on your doorstep, and she is very pregnant and about to give birth. Are you telling me that you would turn her away? Would you really look at her and say, “Well gosh, my house is really full. It is Christmas time, and we are really busy, so can you please go somewhere else?” Not on your life. You would not turn a couple away that was in need. I do not care if your house was crammed, and the people of Bethlehem are absolutely no different.

The fourth reason and crowning proof that Joseph and Mary had found good housing is the shepherds. Remember, the shepherds were in their fields at night. They knew nothing about the birth of the Messiah, and all of a sudden the shekinah (glory of God) shown around about them. The angel army appeared on the hillside, and the angel shows up and says, “Born to you here this night in the town of David is your Savior who is Christ the Lord.” Of course the shepherds—you would be in the same boat as I would—they are so fired up that they go charging into Bethlehem. Now what if they did find their Messiah, their Savior, in humble circumstances alone in a stable and rejected by the people of Bethlehem? This is their Savior. The angel had just told them this. Are they really just going to say, “Oh well, nice to see you,” and then leave and spread the word? No, they are not. You would not do that, and I would not do it. They would look at this area and say, “This is outrageous! This is an embarrassment to the entire region. You are coming home with us right now!” They would have scooped up Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus and taken them home to take care of them. You would have done the same thing. Think of it, if an angel shows up to you and says, “Jesus Christ is spending the night in your town,” you would say, “Wow, this is great!” You then go look around for him thinking that he is going to be in some posh hotel or in some nice family home; however, you find him down a couple blocks away sleeping in some bombed out station wagon with just a little covering over him. Are you just going to say, “Jesus, it is nice to meet you,” shake his hand and go back to doing what you are doing? No, you would say, “what are you doing in this station wagon? Come on now, come home with me.” The shepherds would have done exactly the same thing. The reason that the shepherds did not take Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus from where they were into better housing is because they were being given good care where they were.

It is important that you and I properly understand the birth record of Christ. The night that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem was not the night that she gave birth. A local hotel also did not reject them with a no-vacancy sign turned on. No, they were taken into the private home of a caring family who let them stay with them. Frankly, this type of giving and joy does demonstrate the true meaning of Christmas. It is the kind of thing that I think about when I think of Christmas—people opening their homes and their hearts to those in need.

When we properly translate and correctly understand what happened when Jesus was born; it should read like this:

Luke 2:7
…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and placed him in a manger because no space was there for them in the guest room.

The NIV reads as such:

Luke 2:7
…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

This mistranslation continues to support the misunderstanding of the birth of Christ. The two words that we need to understand is the Greek word topos {top’-os}, which most versions translate as room, and the Greek word kataluma {kat-al’-oo-mah}, which most versions translate as inn.

Luke 2:7
…because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Greek word topos occurs more than 90 times in the New Testament. It is a very common word. By the way, if you read topo-maps, it is some of the basis of topography meaning “space;” it does not refer to a room, like we think of a hotel room. Topos does not refer to a room, a bedroom, or a hotel room. It simply refers to a place or a space in a given area or a proper area for something. It is not that no hotel room was available. It was that no space was available for them. Let us look at a couple of usages of the word topos:

Matthew 12:43
“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places [topos] seeking rest and does not find it.

Luke 4:17
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

Romans 12:19
Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath…

That is the word topos. In other words, make sure that a place is there in your heart for God’s wrath to work rather than for you to avenge yourself.

Ephesians 4:27 (KJV)
Neither give place to the devil.

Ephesians 4:27
and do not give the devil a foothold.

That is the word topos. In other words, do not give the Devil any room in your life. It is not talking about a hotel room. It is talking about a space. Do not give the Devil any space in your life.

No space (or room) was there for Joseph and Mary. It was too full. What was too full? Not the inn but the kataluma. In the Gospel record, it is a lodging place or a guest room. It is not a commercial lodge or inn or a hotel room.

This verse says that no space was available for Joseph or Mary in the guest room. Why? No space in the guest room was available because it was already full. Bowers Greek English Lexicon notes this: If Luke 2:7 had meant to say inn in the sense of a hotel, a better Greek word can be found elsewhere in Luke. The normal Greek word for inn or hotel is pandocheion {pan-dokk-i’-on}:

Luke 10:34
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 (pandocheion) and took care of him.

This word pandocheion refers to a public house for the reception of strangers. The Greeks were not the only ones who used it; it was a lone word for inn or commercial lodging place in Hebrew, Aramaic, Armenian, Coptic, Turkish. I have learned this from some of the customs books that I have read. Luke uses the word pandocheion in the parable of the Good Samaritan:

Luke 10:33 and 34
(33) But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
(34) 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.

This reference was a public inn. This was a hotel, and it is the Greek word pandocheion. What does that tell us? It tells us that when Luke wants to use the word inn in the sense of hotel, he uses the word pandocheion. We also know from Luke that when he wants to talk about a guestroom, he uses the word for guestroom, which is kataluma. For example, do you remember about the Last Supper?

Luke 22:11
and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room [kataluma], where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’

We learn again when Luke wants to talk about a guestroom he uses the word kataluma. When he wants to talk about a hotel, he uses the word for hotel, which is pandocheion.

Look at Luke 19:7. When the noun, kataluma/guestroom is used as a verb, it becomes to be a guest—to be a guest not in a hotel but in a home. Luke 19 is the record of Zacchaeus the tax collector who was hated by society and rejected by society, but he wanted to see Jesus:

Luke 19:3-6
(3) He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.
(4) So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
(5) When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
(6) So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

How did he welcome him gladly? He did this by bringing him into his home. He did not welcome him gladly in the street; he welcomed him gladly/joyfully into his home:

Luke 19:7
And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.

“Gone to be a guest” is one word in the Greek. It is the verb of kataluma, which is kataluo {kat-al-oo’-o}. The point that I am making here is that if we go back to Luke chapter two, it is not that a hotel room was not available in the local hotel; but rather, no space was available in the guestroom.

By the way, I do not know if you have heard of Young’s Literal Translation of the Bible. You are probably familiar with Young’s Concordance. Well, the same man, Robert Young, produced a literal translation of the Bible. His translation of Luke 2:7 is this: “Joseph and Mary did not have a place in the guest-chamber.” Amen!

This is where our knowledge of customs has to come into play. If we know something about Middle Eastern houses, we would know that many of them have guestrooms. We know the same thing about American houses. Many houses here have guestrooms. My wife and I have a house, and we are privileged to own a house that is large enough that we have rooms for guests. I have stayed with many people who have taken very good care of me in various guestrooms. In this case, when Joseph and Mary came to Bethlehem—this is one of the reasons that I believe that they were housed in the home of relatives that they knew—the guestroom was full, but the people of the family so loved Joseph and Mary and so wanted to take care of Joseph and Mary that they let them stay in the family living quarters as if they were a blood-part of the family.

The Bible does not tell us why the guestroom was full. We are not really sure why. If the Bible does not say why, then the best that we can do is guess. First, if Jesus was born when we at Spirit & Truth Fellowship think he was, which was the first day of Tishrei, it is possible that Jerusalem and the surrounding region were already experiencing a large influx of people for the season of the year. Remember that month of Tishrei had the largest number of sacred days and sacred feasts. They had the Feast of Trumpets on Tishrei one, which is when we believe that Jesus was born for various reasons that we do not have time to expound upon here. They had the Day of Atonement, which was of course a huge day on the Jewish calendar. They had the Feast of Tabernacles, which was an eight-day feast. Tishrei 15-22 was the feast of Tabernacles. Anyone who was traveling a long distance to Jerusalem, was not going to be there for a one day feast and just turn around and go home—remember some of these people would come from a long way away; some may have traveled for weeks and maybe a few for months. They were going to be there for a while. It was common for people that traveled to stay for the entire festive season. Is that why the guest room was full? Possibly that was why; we do not know. We do know that Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem in association with Caesar’s taxes. Did other people do that and combine the taxation idea with the festive season? Again, this was possible, but we do not know.

Some things have to be known about ordinary houses and ordinary life in first century Palestine in order for us to understand the birth of Christ. First of all, it was very common to have a one-room house. Scripture does not tell us that it was a one-room house, so maybe it was a two-room house or maybe what you would call an enlarged one-room house but with a larger one room. We are not really sure, but one-room houses or houses of that nature that would have one room that was larger or maybe just partitioned off a little bit would be incredibly common.

Let us look at the Sermon on the Mount. By the way, I will show you how common this is about one-room houses.

Matthew 5:13-15
(13) “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.”
(14) You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
(15) Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

Now wait a minute. If I told you that I turned on my living room light, and it gave light to everyone in the house, I would hope that you would look at me cross-eyed and say, “Huh, what kind of house do you have?” It would not light the bathroom. It would not light the closets or the hallway or any of the other rooms. What do you mean that you turn on the living room light and it lights everyone in the house? We ask this because our American houses, for the most part, have multiple rooms, but the common house in Palestine would have been a one or perhaps a two bedroom house. When Christ is talking in the Sermon on the Mount and he says, “Look, you stick a light in the middle of the room; it lights up for everyone.” Everyone says, “Yep that is exactly how it works.” You see that is just part of the custom.

Well then, what is the guestroom? It was also very common for people in the Middle East to have a guest room that would be separate from the house. You see, our guest room is a bedroom down a hallway. Remember—and this is kind of an interesting archeological and anthropological thing, if you have studied these things—but the hallway was not invented until the Middle Ages. Go back and look at home designs before the Middle Ages, and what you would have would be a room that has a door to another room and another door to another room and another door to another room. This idea of having a hallway and rooms off the hallway so that people’s privacy could be preserved did not occur until the Middle Ages. Before the Middle Ages it was just one room with all other rooms coming off that one room.

Let us look at the guestroom and how it was designed during the time of Joseph and Mary. If your house today is a one or two bedroom, the guestroom would have been built by adding on three walls with a roof and an exterior door. It would be an exterior door so that people would not walk through the main room, which was the family room, to get to the guestroom, so the guest room was accessed completely separately from the main room and house. This was not one-hundred percent the way that all guest rooms were during this time, but typically it was more like a fancy lean-to off the side of the house. Housing strangers and taking care of guests was a huge part of life throughout the Middle East. Even poor people would have had guest rooms. Why? The guest room did not need to be furnished or have a bathroom or shower. Today, in our culture, when we want to have a guestroom, we want it to have a bed and chair and desk and little dresser and lamp. They did not have all of that stuff back in Palestine. Remember, people did not sleep on beds. They just had bedrolls. If you had a one room house with a family, they would roll up their bed rolls during the day and put them off to the side, and at night, when the family was ready to go to bed, they pulled them out and layed them on the floor to sleep. The guestroom also did not have a bathroom as well as the house did not have one. The bathroom in Palestine was outside. The guestroom was just usually a dirt floor, four walls, and a roof over the top with a door to give people privacy.

Now back to Luke 2:7, the family’s guestroom was full so they were not allowed in the guest room:

Luke 2:7
…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn/guestroom.

Another thing that we have to know about biblical life is that when you had first century houses like this in first century Palestine, the average person was not wealthy. He would have maybe one or two animals. He might have a donkey or a cow that he was planning to use for meat or milk. He might have had a couple of milk goats or a couple sheep, certainly not a lot of animals. But the animals were very valuable. They were not just left tied up outside at night. If you live in a rough neighborhood, do you leave your car out on the street or do you put it in the garage at night? If you leave your car on the street, you are not taking the best care that you can. It is only when you lock it up that you are taking the best care of it that you can. Their animals were very valuable, like our cars. Their animals were brought into the home at night to keep them from being stolen or from being harmed. An example of this would be the pacts of dogs or other animals that would roam at night and harm them. Obviously if it was a family of shepherds and they had a whole flock of sheep, you would not bring the flock into your home at night. Then the family member has to do what the shepherds were doing. They would have to be out with the flock to protect it. It is important for you and I to know that the average home that had a cow or a donkey or a couple sheep or a milk goat would bring that animal in to their home at night for protection. The animals also added heat to the house, which was also especially helpful in the winter. Now how do you keep the animals calm in your house at night? Well, you have a manger in your home. The manger is where they would throw feed. If you have ever been to a horse barn with the grain buckets right in the stall, you would see that it is the same concept. The animals sit and munch and are able to stay very calm. It is important to understand that the manger in the biblical world was inside the house.

This is completely different to us in our Western society. We read in our Western society about Jesus being laid in a manger, and we think, “He is out in a stable.” This thinking is because in our world the manger is in the stable, but they did not even have stables in Palestine. The mangers were in the house. It is important for us to know this when reading Luke. If you were a first century person, then reading verse seven of Luke would be this:

Luke 2:7
…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes…

The first century person thinks at this point, “Yes, these are godly people. They dedicate their child to God.”

Luke 2:7
…and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the guestroom.

The first century person thinks at this point, “Wow, what a loving family. They did not have any room in their guestroom, and rather than turning Joseph and Mary away and saying that they needed some place else to stay, they took them into their home! They took them into their living and bedroom and where they could have a whole house. Baby Jesus was put into the manger that was right in their house!”

Now that is a great Christmas story! This is the kind of person that I want to be for people. I want to open my home and my heart to people, not just when it is convenient, but when it is not convenient. What a great story about the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, that even when it was not convenient, these people are so willing to extend themselves and take care of him and his mother and father and love them and bring them into their family and their life. I love this, and it is fabulous to me.

Again, in understanding Eastern hospitality, we need to understand that it would never ever happen for Joseph and Mary to get displaced. Eastern hospitality is so very strong. No family who already had guests that were already taking the guestroom would ever displace those that were there. They would never say someone nobler has come or someone more in need has come; that would never happen. The family itself would sleep on the street long before they would kick their guests out of their guestroom.

You can see a surprising treatment of guests in the book of Genesis and the book of Judges where the guests were treated with royalty and never kicked out of the guestroom, which we do not have time to go into right now.

Now let us talk about birthing. We need to know that Mary and Joseph would not have been alone when Jesus was born. Remember, Mary and Joseph had been brought into this family home, and Jesus was born. It is a normal birth in a village. How would that have worked? Well, the women of the household along with the women of the family staying in the guestroom, most likely the village mid-wife, and perhaps maybe the wise and experienced women from the neighborhood would have all gathered around Mary. Remember, this is the first century Palestine.

You may say to me, “John, it does not say anything in the text about the other women and the mid-wife.” No, it does not, and you are right. Why? It does not say anything for the same reason as I said earlier about the car driving down the road. It is understood that we understand the customs of our day. Reading the birth in the Bible, no details are given because it is a normal birth. Let us check out the birth of Sarah. Remember, this is Isaac the promised seed. Sarah is 90 years old, surely we would have details about this birth; no we do not. What do we have?

Genesis 21:2
Sarah became pregnant and bore a son…

This is Isaac, the promised one. Sarah is 90 years old, and all it says, “she became pregnant and bore a son…” Nothing is said about the details. Nothing is said about a mid-wife being there or others being there.

Okay, now what about Jacob’s first son, Rueben. He was supposedly going to be head of the tribes of Israel, which of course came to Judah.

Genesis 29:32
Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son…

No details were given here either. Okay, what about Samson. He was a big name in the Old Testament.

Judges 13:24
The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson.

No details were given here either. How about Zeccharia and Elizabeth? Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist. She was also old and considered cursed. Should not there be any details about this?

Luke 1:57
When it was time for Elizabeth to have her baby, she gave birth to a son.

No details were given here either. Why? No details were given because everyone knows about birthing. You do not need to say “and the village mid-wife” or “a bunch of women were there to help her.”

I will tell you what if Mary had given birth alone in that house all by herself with Joseph, with no women to help or if her birth happened in some way other than the way that Abraham’s wife’s birth or Zechariah and Elizabeth’s birth happened, then that would have been something about which to write. You would then have read in the Bible, “This was a really remarkable birth because no one was there to help.” Nothing was written about that because it was completely standard.

Sure, what do we know about when Jesus was born? He was born late in the evening after sunset or at night. How do we know that? We know this because the shepherds were in the fields at night and the angel appeared to them.

Luke 2:8-11
(8) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
(9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
(10) But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
(11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

Well, this day started at sunset, as every Jewish day does. If the angels are announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds and it is nighttime, and they say that the Christ was born this day, then Jesus was born after sunset.

How did this all happen? Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, and they find shelter in the home of a wonderful family who take them right into their family room. They make them part of the family because their guestroom is full. Mary then starts to go into labor, and the women of the house and maybe the women of the town and possibly the mid-wife help her. The men would go outside while this happened. This is absolutely the way things would have happened.

In 2008, I had my first grandchild. Our Carly gave birth to a wonderful baby boy, and I will assure you that we men were ushered out of the location. We very patiently and understandably and happily waited in the waiting room while the women helped with the birth. That is the way things worked.

This father and his sons would have left their own home so that Mary could have birth in the way that would be normal and understandable. This is such great giving and love on Christmas. What would the men have been doing? Well, this was Joseph’s first son. They did not pass out cigars like we do, but they did celebrate. Typically the men would wait outside. Musical instruments would have been ready. A campfire would have been going. They may be ready to slaughter an animal. When the child was born, the women inside would call out to the men. If the child born was a daughter, then the celebration did not occur—this was of their culture. They would have packed the instruments up and sent the musicians home. The father and others would have accepted the daughter after it was settled in bed. The baby daughter would have been brought into family life with a little less celebration; however, this was a first-born son. If the women yell out that the first-born was a son, oh my goodness, the party is on. The musicians start beating their drums and the music begins and they build up the campfire and kill an animal. The celebration begins and continues well into the night. That is simply the way it was done in that culture.

By the way, so much for the song “Silent Night, Holy Night,” it was not. It was a normal birth in Palestine. A child has been born. It is not a silent night. All those women are around Mary. The men are outside talking, and the campfire is going with Mary birthing inside. When those men hear about a first-born son, it definitely is not a silent night, not with all the drums and musical instruments playing in celebration. The men would be outside, and the women would be inside helping Mary get cleaned and allowing Mary to nurse her son and have that bonding time. We are not sure how long it would be before the men would come inside the house. Remember, in the biblical culture, the privacy of the woman was very closely guarded and protected. Today, in our culture, women walk around us wearing basically nothing. In the biblical culture, women were covered and very modest and privacy was closely guarded. The men would not have been allowed back inside the home until Mary was well cleaned and the baby had been given care. This also tells us about the timing of the shepherds. Mary had not barely just given birth and then the angels show up and tell the shepherds, who then came running to Bethlehem and were allowed into the house to see Mary in an immodest state. It would never have happened like that. By the time that the angel announced to the shepherds the birth and they came running into town, which was pretty easy to find the first born child in that they would just follow the sound of the drumming, piping, camp-fire, etc. Remember, the shepherds received different news. They did not come in for the party. By the time the shepherds arrived it says in Luke 2:8:

Luke 2:16
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.

By the time the shepherds arrived, it had been long enough after the birth of the Messiah that Mary was cleaned and Joseph was in the house with her and Jesus had been wrapped in swaddling cloths and in the manger to rest.

This is something else that I need to discuss. I already mentioned that the manger was in the house. As the birth of Christ drew near, they knew that they would need a place for the baby so that the baby would be protected. Jesus was not placed in the manger because he was so poverty stricken, and it was a stable, and they had nothing else for him. No, the manger was already in the house. It would have been taken and cleaned out and had new straw put in it. It would have been the perfect place to protect our Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. It is little; it has got walls of wood. The house is busy and crowded. It is a regular Eastern family with a mom and dad and a bunch of kids, and now they have extra people living in their house. They want Jesus to be protected and blessed, so they clean the family manger. You put fresh straw in it, and take our Savior and wrap him in blankets after he has been dedicated and blessed. He is warm and safe and with the family in this manger. Again, this is an act of giving.

Remember, anyone reading this in the ancient Near East would say, “Wow, look at that.”

Sometime before Mary gave birth, Joseph took his pregnant wife and moved to Bethlehem where they were allowed into the home of a wonderful, loving couple and became part of that home. The people of that home were loving and kind, and already had their guestroom full. They allowed Mary and Joseph to come stay right in the family living quarters. It says:

Luke 2:6
While they were there, the time came [days were fulfilled] for the baby to be born,

If she should go into labor, the men would graciously leave the home. The village mid-wife would come if one were there. Other women of the household would surround Mary, and she would give birth in normal circumstances. The men would be outside waiting to hear from the women inside about the birth of the child. Someone would call out that a boy has been born. The drums would start to beat, and the celebration would start, and the piping would start, and the campfire would be built-up, and an animal would be killed for the feast. The woman inside would take care of Mary and love and support her. She would nurse that little baby and hold it and care for it. She would then wrap it up in swaddling cloths. The husband would then come inside the house, and they would dedicate it to God. At some point, the shepherds would show-up, and they would say, “Wait a minute, guys. This is not just the first-born son. We have seen the angel. He has come and talked to us. We have seen the army. We have seen the shekinah glory surrounding us. This is the Messiah of God.” They would go around and tell everyone in the region, but as they looked at the birth situation, they would realize that Mary and Joseph had been taken into the home of a loving couple. They would not have had to say, “We need to take you home with us to get you into better circumstances.” No, the circumstances were fine. It does not tell us how long the celebration occurred. Did they party all night long? Did they knock it off at four and go home and get a couple hours sleep? We do not know. It was a normal birth in Palestine.

That is how our Savior came into this world. If we are going to learn from this story, I think that we should see the service and the love and the joy and the giving of family that took this young couple in need and brought them into their home and took care of them through the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let me say that if the Savior is going to be born into the hearts of the unsaved around you and me, it is going to be because we show this same love, that we extend ourselves to people, that we love people, that we are kind to people, that we have joy in our hearts, and that we show forth this great love that draws people. This then gives people a chance to accept Christ as Lord. Christ then is born in a new way. He is born in the heart of a wonderful human here on this earth.

May God bless you as you consider the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ!

2 comments

  1. This is such a wonderful true story of Jesus Christ’s birth that I would like to post every Christmas season. I have posted on Facebook.

    Love all of you guys work so tirelessly to post all the articles!

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