Rethinking the Nativity


What happens when tradition starts to slip into the way we interpret truth? Take a look at your nativity scene. If you have wise men, you will likely have three. This has just become the traditional, accepted number due to the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh that the magi brought to Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel, however, does not mention the number of wise men who visited the Christ child. If you take an informal poll, you will find that most people, due to tradition, assume that there were three. Does it make a difference if there were three or thirteen? Probably not, but perhaps our resistance to challenge ingrained thinking matters.

In the Nov.–Dec. issue of Bible Study Magazine, Gary A. Byers, archeologist of near eastern sites and contributing member of the Associates for Biblical Research, makes such a case for interpreting Christ’s very birth place. In an article entitled Away in a Manger, but Not in a Barn, Byers challenges our traditional preconceptions about inns, inn-keepers, and where exactly one would find a manger in the first century. It is very likely, according to Byers, that Jesus wasn’t born alone in a barn, but in the downstairs living quarters of a home where the animals would have been kept at night.

This is the kind of article that would provide great discussion in your Bible study, home group, or even around the dinner table. As Byers concludes in his article, “If this is an accurate reconstruction of the facts, we can say that the Christmas story is not about rejection and being alone. Rather, the focus appears to be just the opposite. It tells us that God the Father made sure His Son was born into this
world surrounded by family.”

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  1. What happens when tradition starts to slip into the way we interpret truth?..Probably not, but perhaps our resistance to challenge ingrained thinking matters.
    Yes it does matter. The fact that we don’t understand most of scripture in reference to historical events and that we don’t even realize that he was born at the time of the feast of Tabernacles- the reason that there was not any rooms available and the reason there were tabernacles or shelters available. It was symbolic of him camping out with us. Wow why can’t we understand that. Wait. I know it is because of traditions that are not based on scripture like christmas and easter.

  2. Thomas Fleming says:

    Another important implication of Jesus being born in the lower part of the house is that he would have been born in the place where the Passover lamb was kept.

  3. Mike Childs says:

    What happens when the new and novel interpretation get in the way of accurate interpretation? I find the evidence for the re-interpretation of the manger story to be weak and speculative.

  4. Hans Krause says:

    Byers’ interpretation makes perfect sense to those who have taken the trouble to get an accurate picture of life in the Jewish society of Jesus’ time.
    Joseph had his roots in Bethlehem and most certainly aimed at spending his time there with relatives, however far off in the family tree. Due to the circumstances he was not the only one knocking on their doors, and not even the first. Jewish hospitality however was unequalled, and one way or another a place would be prepared for the young couple. Since the top floor guest room was taken, the animal section in the back of the house on the ground floor was emptied and cleaned in order to make place for Joseph & Co.
    Barns and caves were not for townspeople’s animals but were used in the countryside. Bethlehem was an urban community.

  5. And the evidence to support the traditional view is strong and solid? I think not.