Away with the Manger

Popular belief: Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Two common misconceptions are that Jesus

1. was born in a manger

2. was born in a barn because all the hotels were full

These details are interpreted from Luke 2:6-7.

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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. 

A quick examination of this passage of Scripture shows that Mary

1.gave birth to Jesus

2. wrapped Him in swaddling clothes

3. THEN placed Him in a manger (animal trough)

In other words, Jesus didn’t pop out of Mary and land in a dog bowl; Mary gave birth to Him and wrapped Him up and put Him in the only thing in the room that might work as a crib. Swaddling clothes were ” strips of cloth like bandages, wrapped around young infants to keep their limbs straight. A child so wrapped would be recognized as newly born.” (Marshall, NIGTC, p.106) The manger and swaddling clothes would become important when the shepherds went looking for Him with this description: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12) Jesus would certainly be the only baby to fit that description.

Now that we have established that Jesus was not born in a manger but placed in it after His birth, we can move on to the second misconception mentioned earlier. Unlike many adaptations of the Nativity Scene, Jesus was most likely not born in a barn “because there was no room in the inn.” The likely source of this misconception is from most of the Bible translations themselves. Almost every popular translation says there was “no room in the inn.” The problem is that there was no reason for a small town in an off the beaten path like Bethlehem to have an inn. Unless you knew someone there, you would not be visiting Bethlehem. And if you knew someone there, you wouldn’t need an inn; you would just stay with your friends or family at their place.

The problem for Mary and Joseph was that everyone in their family was coming to visit at the same time! This family reunion was required because of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1). Since they were probably among the last to arrive, they got stuck sleeping with the animals in the “guest room,” a better translation than “inn.” In “peasant homes in the ancient Near East family and animals slept in one enclosed space, with the animals located on a lower level. Mary and Joseph, then, would have been the guests of family or friends, but their home would have been so overcrowded that the baby was placed in a feeding trough.” (Green, NICNT, p.129)

What fascinates me is that Jesus might have been born in a cave! “Ancient tradition associates Jesus’ birth with a cave (Protevangelium of James 18; Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 78.4; Origen, Against Celsus 1.51). A basilica was erected over a cave site in Bethlehem in the time of Constantine (fourth century) at the site of the present Church of the Nativity.” (Bock, Luke, p. 208) Further archaeological evidence shows that “caves were sometimes used to provide accommodation for animals, and houses were built near them, so that they might be used for this purpose.” (Marshall, NIGTC, p. 107) Whether it was a cave or a stable or a garage or a tool shed, the point is that Jesus was not born in a palace as the King of Kings should be, but was born in the humblest of places with a makeshift crib fashioned from an animal trough. He truly came to live among us rather than coming as a prince and living in the lap of luxury, sheltered from difficulty and unable to relate with us in our temptations and struggles. As a result, He knows our weaknesses and intercedes for us continually. O Holy Night, my favorite Christmas song, expresses this wonderfully.

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Christmas is not about taking a little time out of your busy schedule to sit down in a church service once a year to consume a bite-sized portion of some factiods about Jesus. Christmas has the potential to move Jesus from the manger hidden away in some dark corner of our souls to the throne of our hearts so our whole lives are consumed with Him. May we enthrone Him in our hearts as He rightfully deserves and do away with the manger.

Other relevant posts:

There is no such thing as Santa (or the yearzero): The Truth About Jesus’ Birthday

Christmas Quiz

God With Us: The Real Meaning of Christmas

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