Was there no room in the inn? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
There are a number of plays and such we’ve seen that have the idea that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem and were forced to go to a stable because there was no room in the inn. The problem is that this story is likely wrong.
Mary and Joseph were both descended from David and because of that, they would be in a position of high honor. Because of this, there would be no desire to turn them down. Also, in that society, there would have been several relatives of Mary and Joseph living in the area. Today, we have to make arrangements for people to come by. In those days, that was not necessary. Hospitality was greatly important and you were expected to make room for guests.
Still, the census was going on and so there would have been cramped conditions in a small town like Bethlehem. Wouldn’t that mean Jesus’s parents went to the inn?
If Jesus’s parents had been turned away, it would have brought shame to the household. In order to avoid this, they will put them up. Yet does not the text say there was no room in the inn? No. It says there was no room in the Katalyma. What is that? It is the word that is used for the guest room. It is used in the book of Luke to describe the guest room where Jesus and his disciples were to celebrate the Passover.
Luke had a word for inn. He used it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. That’s pandocheion. Had Luke wanted to refer to an inn here, that would have been the word to use. Now to be fair, Katalyma can refer to an inn, but it doesn’t the other two times it’s used in the NT and it doesn’t when one of those times is in Luke. Keep in mind this does not mean that the Bible is in error. It means that the story we’ve heard has not been read right.
So where did the parents of Jesus stay? The idea was that there was not a guest room for Mary and Joseph, so they would have stayed in a manger room where there would be animals. Animals in the house? Yes. Animals would stay in the house as most people would not build a separate barn. There would be a guest room where the animals would have found shelter and it is in one of these that Jesus would have been born?
Something else along these lines, Matthew leaves out a lot of time. It is quite likely that some time had passed when the magi came to visit Jesus. Why would Joseph stay so long? He was a carpenter and in that time, you would leave your home for awhile and when you traveled and did work, you would do work in several areas before you packed up and the people would support you. Joseph had the chance to make a lot of income here while visiting his city.
Jesus was born in lowly circumstances, but let’s be as accurate as we can with the story. For an excellent look at this, I recommend Ken Bailey’s book “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.”