3 Misconceptions of the Christmas Story
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As we approach Christmas, we need to carefully look at what Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 says about the birth of Jesus. Christmas carols, church plays, Christmas movies, and children’s books often portray things that may or may not have been in the actual story.
Here are 3 misconceptions that tradition has told us that may not be true.
Misconception #1: Jesus was Born on December 25th.
The fact is, we do not really know what time of year Jesus was born.
Some have stated that Jesus must have been born in the springtime because shepherds were watching their flocks at night and this is when ewes bore their young. They argue shepherds would not have been in the fields at night in the cold winter month of December. However, the average December nighttime temperatures near Jerusalem are between 35-40 degrees. This wouldn’t have been unbearable.
In 200 AD, theologians concluded Jesus was born on May 20.
In 385 AD, Pope Julius I declared December 25th as the day for celebrating Christ’s birth. He apparently chose this date partly to challenge the pagan celebration of the Roman god Saturnalia, which was characterized by social disorder and immorality (The Case for Christmas).
The important thing to remember about Christmas is why Jesus came and what He did while He was here. It’s okay to celebrate on December 25th.
Misconception #2: There Was an Innkeeper & Jesus Was Born in a Barn.
We have no mention of an actual Innkeeper. We can assume he was there, but all the text says is “She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the Inn” (Luke 2:7).
We know Jesus was lying in a manger (Luke 2:7, 12, 16). The Greek word for manger (phatne) could mean crib, stall, or cattle trough. There are two speculations about where this manger was:
- A Cave – Ancient tradition claims that Jesus was born in a cave (which could have been used as a stable).
- The Home of Poor People – The Greek word for Inn (kataluma) could mean an eating room, dining room, or guest room. Luke gives the same word in Luke 22:11 to refer to a ‘guest room.’ In Luke 10:34 he uses a different word to describe an Inn (pandocheion) when referring to the Parable of the Good Samaritan. He also mentions an Innkeeper in this story (Luke 10:35). Since Luke was familiar with the proper term, why didn’t he use the same term in the birth story?
There was no room for them in the guest room. Many Jewish families traveled to Bethlehem to register for the census (Luke 2:1-4). They would have stayed with their relatives, but because of this large number of people, the house would have been crowded and the guest room was full. Joseph and Mary could have gone to the lower level of the house where the dining or living room was. Animals would be brought in at night to protect them from the cold and theft (see Judges 11). Mary then wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a feeding trough (see Article by Tim Chaffey "Born in a Barn (Stable)?").
Misconception #3: There Were 3 Kings.
The truth is, the word Magi or Wise Men (magos) does not mean king. Author Tim Chaffey says,
“Originally, the word often referred to a class of Persian wise men, and possibly priests, who were interpreters of special signs, particularly in astrology. Eventually, the word was used variously to refer to one who possessed supernatural knowledge and ability, a magician, or even a deceiver or seducer. There is little to no Biblical or historical basis for identifying them as kings ("We Three Kings: Clearing Up Misconceptions").”
The Bible also does not tell us how many wise men there were (Matthew 2:9-11). We know there were at least 2, and there may have been many more. The reason we say 3 are the 3 gifts mentioned.
There is also discussion that the Magi did not see Jesus on the night He was born (see Chaffey's article).
Why do I share this with you? It’s important for us to learn what the Bible says about the real story of Christmas. We can get caught up with tradition and fun stories that may not be true. It’s vital we teach our kids and other Christians the truth.
No matter what, though, don’t let these misconceptions take you away from the reason for this Christmas season: Jesus Christ. He came to offer everlasting life.
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