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There Was No Place In the Guest Chamber

Since I was a child, there is a consistent story line I typically hear at Christmas: Joseph went to Bethlehem, the city of David, because he was a descendant of David, to be registered in compliance with the census of Emperor Augustus, together with his pregnant wife Mary. The time came for the baby to be born, as they approached the city, so they hurriedly searched for a shelter. But the inn attendant refused to let them in because there was no vacancy, that is, there was no available room for them in the inn. This situation forced the couple to a nearby cave or stable where Mary gave birth to their child amidst the animals. The child was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger.

However, a closer look at the account will tell us that, it is not probably what happened. First, there was no panic involved. Luke said, “that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.” (Luke 2:6). He did not mention how long they stayed in the city but it was not an emergency situation.

A reconstructed house typical of a first-century dwellings, with an upper guest room and a courtyard stable room. (

Second, the “inn” (Luke 2:7: “…there was no room for them in the inn.”) is not a commercial hotel or motel. The word in Greek is kataluma (κατάλυμα) which means “guest chamber”, “spare or upper room” in a private house or in a village. Hence, Kataluma seems to be connected with the idea of hospitality in a private house rather than in a public inn. The expression “there was no room..” means “there was no place” available for them in the guest chamber or upper room.

It was common for first century homes to have a guest chamber (room) or upper room. And since there was a census going on, families returned to Bethlehem. As a consequence, guest rooms were already occupied.

It is safe to believe then that Joseph and Mary had at first expected reception in the upper room at the house of a friend and member of the house of David. However, they were disappointed and had to content themselves with the next best, the elevated platform alongside the interior of the stable, and on which those having the care of the animals generally slept. It being now the season when they were in the fields (Luke 2:8), the stable would be empty and clean.

There then the Lord Jesus was born and laid in the safest and most convenient place, the nearest empty manger alongside of this elevated platform.


MySword for Android. Riversoft Ministry, 2011-2019.

Olive Tree Bible Software, 1998-2020.

Vines, W.E. Vine’s Dictionary of Bible Words. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997.

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