One argument I have heard is that the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke 2 is inaccurate. The charge is made because it seems unfathomable culturally that Joseph could have gone to his hometown and found no family who would accommodate he and his betrothed. Luke 2:7 says “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” The latter part of the verse is that to which the objector points, saying that surely one of Joseph’s family members would have provided a bed for them.
There are a few important points to be made here. First, the text actually provides for the possibility of Joseph’s family providing lodging. The Greek word translated “inn” in this verse can also be translated as “guest room” which implies that Joseph did seek lodging with family, but all of their guest rooms were full. This is reflected in the NIV translation, which states that “there was no guest room available to them.”
Second, while those who make this objection focus on the cultural significance of hospitality, they also ignore the cultural significance of adultery. That Mary was pregnant was a pretty big deal. She would have been seen as an adulterer–possibly with Joseph (though some anti-Christian literature from the second century suggested that Jesus was the illegitimate child of Mary and a Roman soldier named Panthera). The penalty for adultery was death by stoning. Joseph had stayed with Mary and protected her. It doesn’t seem unlikely that this could have incurred his family’s wrath to the point where they simply didn’t allow him to stay with them for the census. Treated like the family member no one talks about, everyone’s door was shut when Joseph came knocking with his pregnant bride-to-be.
It should be noted that this later theory is just that; a theory. The textual evidence could easily support my first point (that all the guest rooms were full). I think that my own theory is plausible. Either way, the objection fails.
This is part of a series I’ve entitled “Jesus: the Living God,” which explores Jesus from Biblical, theological, and apologetic levels. View other posts in the series here.
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