No Room in the Guest Room

In a recent book, Journey to the Manger, the British New Testament scholar Paula Gooder claims that the word translated as “inn” in the traditional Christmas story really meant a guest room in someone’s house. “Inns” were only found out on the highways, where travelers needed to stop for the night.

So Luke seems to have envisioned Joseph and Mary being put up in a typical Bethlehem house–beneficiaries of the traditional hospitality for which the Middle East has been famous. There would have been no room on the upper level of the house where the family slept, so the visitors had to stay on the lower floor, which is also where the family’s domestic animals resided.

In fact, as Gooder points out, this revision of the story actually makes a better theological point than the familiar version. For Gooder, Jesus received the hospitality of strangers; and he received it not in an ancient version of a Holiday Inn but in someone’s own home, under the same roof of the local family’s house. All the more encouragement for us to offer hospitality to the stranger. —J. Douglas Ousley

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