Was Jesus born in his extended family's manger?

Question
The Greek word kataluma can be interpreted as a reception room in a private house. So, Jesus could have been born in his extended family's home, right?
Answer
Yes, the Greek term kataluma can mean guest house or inn. It can also refer to a private residence or even a dining room (i.e. Mark 14:14). The key for interpretation, however, is context. One of my professors used to teach that there are three rules for interpretation: context, context, and context.

When we review the context of Luke 2:7 what does it reveal to us? First, Luke 2:1 and 3 tell us that there was going to be a census, and therefore towns would have been more crowded than usual. Second, Luke 2:4 informs us that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, a small town of just a few hundred people at that time. Third, the phrase in Greek is "to kataluma" meaning "the inn" and therefore not one of many inns. Small towns wouldn't normally have the need of many inns. Also, this Greek word "to" (meaning "the") makes it highly unlikely that this was a guest house of their extended family.

So, Luke was referring to the inn in the small, very crowded town of Bethlehem. Stables were parts of inns in those days, and the manger was a feeding trough that was often built into the floor of a stable. Jesus' manger may have even been located in a cave stable under the main part of the inn.

The understanding that Jesus was born in a manger is the correct understanding of the text, and it remains doubtful that it was the extended family's manger.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).