Stable? Cave? House?
It’s amazing how much “information” can be added to a couple of Bible verses. Luke 2:6-7 for instance. You’ve heard these verses and read them scores of times, and you’re about to read them again:
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Let’s look at the word “inn” for a moment.
The underlying Greek word for “inn” is “kataluma.” This word kataluma is only used one other time in the Bible, and that is in Luke 22:11 where it is translated “guest chamber” or “guest room.” You ask me why the King James translators chose to translate the word as “inn” here in Luke 2 and “guest chamber” in Luke 22? I have no idea.
In Luke 22 Jesus is getting ready to celebrate the feast of the passover with His disciples. Peter and John are given the task of preparing the feast. “And they said unto Him, Where wilt though that we prepare? And He said unto them, Behold, when ye are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in. And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, where is the kataluma (guest chamber) where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? And he shall show you a large upper room furnished: there make ready” (Luke 22:9-12).
So the kataluma that Jesus ate the passover in was a large guest room in a private house. Could it be possible that the kataluma in Luke chapter 2 was also a large guest room in a private house? Certainly there is no mention of an innkeeper and no mention of a stable.
The kataluma may not have been an “inn” at all, in the sense of paid public lodging. The house could simply have been the ancestral home of Joseph. Typical homes in those days had living quarters on the second floor (hence “upper room” in Luke 22) and in the ground floor were often tools, agricultural produce, and even animals. Food may have been prepared and even eaten in these ground floor rooms. In those days animals were oftentimes brought into one of the ground floor rooms, as they still are in primitive societies today. By being inside, the animals were protected from the elements and theft. In addition, their presence provided body heat for cool nights, access to milk for the daily meal and dung as a critical fuel source. Excavations in Israel have uncovered numerous installations within domestic structures which probably represent ancient mangers. Some are carved, but most are stone built.
Another point: if Luke had wanted to tell us that the “inn” that Joseph and Mary couldn’t find room in was a paid establishment (a motel of sorts), he had a perfectly good Greek word at his disposal for doing so. He could have used the word “pandocheion.” In fact Luke DOES use this word in chapter 10:34 in the story of the Good Samaritan. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to a pandocheion (inn), and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come, I will repay thee.”
But if this was the ancestral home of Joseph, and the people living there were his family members, why was a pregnant young woman and her husband made to stay on the ground floor and not brought up to the guest room on the second floor? One possibility is that they were late arrivals and that older members of the clan were already installed in the second floor accommodations. Another possibility is that Mary and Joseph were being shunned because she was carrying an illegitimate child. We know that having marital relations outside wedlock was a disgrace in that society, so much so that Joseph was ready to divorce Mary. So it may be that the disgraced couple were not allowed to join other members of the family in the upper living quarters.
Something to think about! (Hope I didn’t spoil your Christmas!)