Why I Don’t Think Jesus Was Born in a Stable (and Why It Matters)

“While kataluma (which is most often translated as “inn”) can be used to refer to a hotel-type lodging, it can also just refer to the upper room of a house….And when the baby came, he was laid in a manger on the main level of the home, since there was no more space for anyone to lay down in the upper room” - C.Leaders


If this piece is any indication, there’s no more evidence for the “born in a house, with family, free of controversy” theory than there is for the “born in a stable ostracized by family” theory. In fact, on the whole, the shunned-by-family theory has more evidence, since taking the kataluma as “upper room” doesn’t inherently conflict with it.

The view I lean toward is that there was indeed no “inn” in the sequence of events, but that the family, aware of Mary’s pregnancy before her marriage to Joseph, treated them badly rather than pushing some others out of the space to make room for Mary. After all, how many of the family were having babies that night? What you’d normally do if you’re the host, is tell some Aunts and Uncles that they’re out of the kataluma for the night since a family member is about to deliver a baby.

The stable inferrence comes mostly from the reference to a manger.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

If there’s a manger there, it’s a barn, even if it happens to be right below the living quarters.

I think a big part of the debate here stems from our picture of what a farm looks like—house with a barn out back about a quarter mile from the nearest other home on a quarter section—instead of what agriculture looks like in places where raiders and foreign armies cross with alarming regularity. In the latter case, you tend to take man and beast behind town or city walls to protect them, and thus the barn is often in the same building as the home. To draw a picture, here’s an areal view of the town of Langerringen, Bavaria, and notice that even 75 years after the end of WWII, nobody’s living in the countryside.

In ancient Israel, I’m guessing that even the Pax Romana didn’t persuade people to change how they lived. So arguing too much about the distinction between a barn and a home would have most likely gotten puzzled looks from people back then.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

He would often say “Lee, go where scripture goes, but stop where scripture stops.”

The fact that a manger is a significant part of the narrative indicates some sort of stable was involved. We don’t need to surmise, and then make applications on those surmisals, any further than that.