Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem – PART 2

bethlehem 2

LUKE 2:1-7

KJV Luke 2:4-5 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

BETHLEHEM IS IN ISRAEL ABOUT 6-7 MILES FROM JERUSALEM and about 90 miles from Nazareth. The text says they “went up” from Galilee where Nazareth is to Bethlehem because Bethlehem is of a higher elevation.

SCHOLARS TELL US THAT THE NAME OF BETHLEHEM IS UNCERTAIN. Not all would agree with me when I tell you what the name “Bethlehem” means. I believe not only is there ample evidence to suggest that what I am about to tell you is the correct view, but perhaps more importantly when all facts are considered, there is no solid, reliable evidence that this view is incorrect. I believe the name “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread.” Moreover, I believe that as the House of Bread, it has reference to Jesus being the Bread of Life…

KJV John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

KJV John 6:48 I am that bread of life.

THERE IS A PROBLEM IN V. 4. Luke’s focus in v. 4 is again the Davidic connection. There certainly was a direct connection between the royal line of King David and Jesus’ birth. But because of this there is a problem. Joseph’s Davidic ancestry is mentioned alongside Bethlehem, which is fine, but it is the designation of Bethlehem as “the city of David” that is the problem. In the O.T., which would be the only Scripture at the time of Jesus’ birth, the term “city of David” referred to Zion, which is another name for Jerusalem. Here is one example from Isaiah…

NAS Isaiah 22:9 And you saw that the breaches In the wall of the city of David were many;


NAS 2 Samuel 5:7 Nevertheless, David captured the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David.

AFTER WRESTLING WITH THIS PROBLEM THIS WEEK, MY OPINION IS that Luke is referring to Bethlehem as the city of David as it was prophesied in Micah as where the Messiah who would be in the royal line of David would be born.

ANOTHER ISSUE THAT IS RAISED IN SCHOLARLY CIRCLES IS THE QUESTION OF MARY’S PRESENCE. What is a pregnant woman doing traveling 90 miles, either riding on a donkey or walking or both? Some scholars have pointed out that her presence would not have been called for in a census, that the husband’s presence would have been sufficient. Although if you read v. 5 carefully it is possible that Mary also had to be registered and that her hometown was also Bethlehem. I love to study things like this. Over the years I have read a lot about these questions arising from Scripture and it is my humble and respectful opinion that there are always answers to them, answers that do not distort or diminish the biblical account. For example, the issue of Mary’s presence: As I mentioned before, few people are just willing to accept the Bible’s account. I mean, for me, the fact that the Bible says Mary was with Joseph is good enough. The reality that the Bible doesn’t specifically tell us why she was there should be sufficient: she was there. I think we should simply accept it and leave it there.

IT IS A FASCINATING THING ABOUT THIS KIND OF DISCUSSION THAT all of the alternatives to what the Bible says, alternatives I believe consciously or unconsciously undermine the inerrancy of Scripture, really have no factual basis. In other words, when someone disagrees with the Bible and offers an alternative suggestion, it is really speculation, educated speculation perhaps, but speculation nevertheless.

LET ME OFFER A LITTLE EDUCATED SPECULATION MYSELF. It is likely that Mary accompanied Joseph on the trip because she did not want to give birth in Joseph’s absence. It does seem most likely that a couple in the midst of such an important period early in their marriage would not desire to be separated.

BUT AGAIN, WHY NOT LET THE TEXT SAY WHAT IT SAYS? Joseph went up from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be register for purposes of taxation “with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

THE TEXT ALSO SAYS “HIS ESPOUSED WIFE.” Let’s look briefly at this detail. First, as background, listen to these beautiful words from Matthew 1…

KJV Matthew 1:24-25 Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.

“TOOK UNTO HIM HIS WIFE” DOES NOT MEAN THE MARRIAGE WAS SEXUALLY CONSUMATED AT THAT TIME. It means Joseph took Mary to his home. In spite of the unusual and in a sense humiliating circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph stood before the world as Mary’s husband. But the text in beautiful careful detail says that he “knew her not (a euphemism for sexual intercourse: cf. Gen 4:1, 17, 25; 38:26; Judges 11:39) till she had brought forth her firstborn son.” Until the marriage was consummated Mary was, of course, still a virgin and legally she was still engaged. “Betrothed,” “espoused” mean engaged, promised in marriage but not legally married. The Jewish idea of engagement was very binding, almost like marriage.

JUST A QUICK NOTE, BUT AN IMPORTANT CLARIFICATION: Luke confirms, as do the other gospel writers (e.g., Mark 3:31-35; 6:3; Matt 13:55-57; John 2:12; 7:5), that Mary had other children after she gave birth to Jesus. The Catholic churches claim that Mary was/is a perpetual virgin is absolutely without Scriptural support.

CONSIDER THE SCENE OF JESUS’ BIRTH….Joseph and Mary were poor people, peasants, uneducated, of no account. “Seen through everyday logic, Joseph and Mary were insignificant nobodies from a nothing town going to give birth in an even less significant town. As such they capsulize the mystery of grace. God did not choose to be born as a man to the proud and powerful but to the poor and powerless. Joseph and Mary appeared to be helpless pawns in the movements of secular history, but every move was under the providential hand of Almighty God” (R. Kent Hughes). What a comfort to us; what a lesson for us. The riches and power games of the world do not interest God. It is not pride and human ability that impresses God; it is humility and reliance upon Him that gains His favor.


KJV Luke 2:6-7 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.

“WRAPPED IN SWADDLING CLOTHES”…. The modern translations, possibly more accurately, read simply “cloths,” but because of the context “swaddling” is fine, especially when it is understood that the word is used here in Luke in the context of the Jesus’ birth and no where else in the N.T. “The strips of cloth (traditionally, “swaddling cloths”) were strips of linen that would be wrapped around the arms and legs of an infant to keep the limbs protected” (Wallace, NET Bible notes). Other sources say the purpose of the strips of cloth were also to help the infant’s bones to grow straight.

“AND LAID HIM IN A MANGER”… The Greek word φατνη (fate-nay) is used only four times, all by Luke in his gospel. The Greek word means most probably a feeding trough for animals. When Merry and I were in Israel we saw in the ruins of Megiddo a well-preserved φατνη (fate-nay) that is remarkably of the size and shape that would perfectly accommodate an infant.

“BECAUSE THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR THEM IN THE INN.” The Greek word καταλυμα (ka-ta-lu-ma) is term that may be translated a number of ways. It may refer to a number of lodging places. Here is one Greek scholar’s take on the word in connection with this passage: “Most likely Joseph and Mary sought lodging in the public accommodations in the city of Bethlehem, which would have been crude shelters for people and animals. However, it has been suggested by various scholars that Joseph and Mary were staying with relatives in Bethlehem; if that were so, the term would refer to the guest room in the relatives’ house, which would have been filled beyond capacity with all the other relatives who had to journey to Bethlehem for the census.” – ”Wallace, notes from NET Bible

ANOTHER SCHOLAR POSITS THIS OPINION: “A lodging place or inn. The word καταλυμα (ka-ta-lu-ma) means literally to unloose. It was so-called because of the ancient travelers who on arrival loosened their own belts or girdles, sandals, and the saddles or harnesses of their animals. In the ancient Greek writings, the place of entertainment is called katáluma. Guests were highly regarded in biblical times (Judges 19:9, 15). Katáluma was also a guest chamber (Mark 14:14; Luke 2:7; 22:11), a dining room where the guests removed their sandals before they sat down to eat. In the East it is called khan or caravanserai” – Zodhiates, Wordstudy Dictionary, E-Sword electronic program

YET ANOTHER TAKE IS THAT THE WORD REFERS TO A CAVE. Some scholars believe that the Greek word refers to some kind of area formed by nature and not constructed by human hands. When Joseph found no room to lodge in Bethlehem, he may well have lodged in a certain cave used by shepherds near the village.

WE JUST DON’T KNOW FOR CERTAIN. Jesus’ birth could have been in a stable, an outdoor guestroom which would probably have been little more than a crude shelter, or a cave. We cannot say which with certainty. In any event, it was a squalid place to have a baby, probably a cold and damp place filled with the stench of animals and their manure. The wretched birthplace was, I believe, a metaphor for sin and a sin-cursed world. Our sin is a stench to God.

FLAT OUT, THE TRADITIONAL STORY OF THE INNKEEPER IS SIMPLY NOT SCRIPTURAL. “There is no drama in how this is told. There is no search for a variety of places to stay or a heartless innkeeper. Such items are later, nonbiblical embellishments. Bethlehem was not large and there was simply no other place to stay. The humble surroundings of the birth are ironic in view of the birth’s significance” (Wallace, NET Bible notes)…

IN THE IRONIC, EXQUISITELY SIMPLE, UNADORNED STYLE OF THE BIBLE – one source said “with haunting simplicity – Luke tells us that Jesus was born.” The most amazing event in the history of the word – the Incarnation should, I believe, be seen as the other side of the coin that is Jesus’ earthly ministry – told in just 24 words in the Greek!


KJV Luke 2:6-7 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.


KJV Matthew 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.ָ

BLESS HIS HOLY NAME! Blessed be He. בָּרוּךְ אתָּה יהוה([Hebrew] Baruch atah Adonai): blessed be You, Lord! Oh! How wonderful He is! “O come, let us adore Him”…

“Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible say, Mary’s Boy Child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas Day. Hark now hear the angels sing, a new King born today, And man will live forever more because of Christmas day. Trumpets sound and angels sing, listen what they say, Man will live forever more because of Christmas day”…

“THE BIRTH OF JESUS IN BETHLEHEM”… exquisite, wonderful, beautiful, lovely, superb, incomparable, astounding, amazing, overwhelming, awe-inspiring, stunning, irresistible, precious – “O come, let us adore Him!”

– Professor Thomas A. Rohm