Away In A Manger But NOT In A Barn -- By: Gary A. Byers

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 29:1 (Winter 2016)
Article: Away In A Manger But NOT In A Barn
Author: Gary A. Byers

Away In A Manger But NOT In A Barn

Gary A. Byers

This silhouette represents a pretty standard Nativity scene. At the center is a stable with baby Jesus lying in a manger flanked by Mary and Joseph. To the left are two shepherds with their animals and to the right are three wise men (or the traditional three kings) led to the event by the star seen above the stable. We’re only missing the angels who announced to the shepherds and the innkeeper who made the stable available!

The Nativity Scene

Most of us know how a Nativity scene should look and the story behind it. The night Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem she was ready to give birth. Joseph took her to the village inn, but the innkeeper said, “The inn is full and we have no room, but I have a stable you can use.” Before it’s over, we have Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus in a stable surrounded by assorted barnyard animals, shepherds and wise men. A familiar scene and refrain, we’ve grown comfortable with the story and its message. Yet, this writer proposes that an honest look at the biblical text and archaeological evidence calls for a slight adjustment to our understanding.

The story of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is found in Luke 2:1–7 (NIV 1984 edition):

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 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.

Even a cursory reading of the text indicates there’s no mention of a barn or quote from the innkeeper. In fact, there’s no innkeeper, at all! And by the end of this article, I hope you’ll also understand there wasn’t actually an “inn,” or hotel, either!

O Little Town Of Bethlehem

Luke (2:3) tells us Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Five miles south of Jerusalem’s walled city, and east of the Jerusalem-Hebron central mountain road, sat Bethlehem. Located at the eastern end of a ridge, this birthplace of King David remained a small town in Judah (see You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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