Merry Christmas: What did Luke in the Gospel Mean by “Inn”?

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope everyone has a great feast day! Due to the Holy Day, I figured many of us here at On the Pilgrim Road will be busy throughout the day. So I decided to post an excerpt from my book on the history of the Christmas feast titled: The Birth of God in Historical Context: An Examination of the Infancy Narrative of Jesus Christ.  Make sure to click the link if you’re interested in knowing more about the historiography on Christ’s Nativity:
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 An argument presented by Raymond E. Brown (Catholic theologian) against the Egyptian tax census documents being evidence for Joseph traveling to his family’s home in Bethlehem is that there “was no place for them in the inn”. One of the problems with Brown’s assessment is that it appears he uses only our English understanding of the term “inn” and doesn’t allow for the broad spectrum of the use of the word katalyma in Greek. Edward Sri of the Augustine Institute illuminates the use of this particular word in Greek: it can “refer to a guest room, a house, an inn or simply ‘a place to stay’. It is best to translate this word simply a ‘lodging’ to keep open the various possible settings in which Christ may have entered the world.”[1]

Of course, there could be several different possible explanations. One that he alludes to is the fact that even if Joseph owned property in Bethlehem, Joseph was still of the lower class in which all family and animals slept in one space. Furthermore, after child birth, a Jewish woman would have been considered “unclean” until she and the child were presented in the temple. Another is that Joseph and Mary could not stay with any particular family members.

In regards to Brown’s explanation that the Gospel writers told the narrative for theological reasons, being born in a manager or cave would denote the King of Israel being born of humble origins. The image that Luke presents to us at the Birth of Christ is one that foretells the reason for Christ coming into this world, “wrapped him in swaddling cloths”,[2]and, as Edward Sri reminds us in his book Birth of the Messiah, “laid in a tomb after being crucified on Calvary”.[3]

[1] Edward Sri, Dawn of the Messiah, 74.

[2] RSV Lk 2:7.

[3] Sri, 75.

Find yourself with some downtime today? Check out some of our other authors here at On the Pilgrim Road:

Melisssa: Unnecessary Pilgrimage and  Your Tongue Released

Douglas: The Role of Grace in Repentance 

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