Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Luke 2:7 translates "kataluma" as "inn". But in Luke 22:11 the same word is used for what seems to be a personal residence:

11 And ye shall say unto the goodman of the house, The Master saith unto thee, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples?

Mark 14:14 is similar.

I was reading some internet thing about this, and it basically said, the guest bedroom was full, so they were staying in the homeowner's main room. Most people had 1 or 2 room houses with an unattached guest quarters. People kept their animals inside (the main room), at least at night, hence the manger. So, they were with relatives who were actually being quite hospitable.

Which it paints a different picture than "the hotel was full so they slept in a cave (or barn)"

Also there was another word in use for "hotel". If I remember correctly it appears in the Good Samaritan story.

So in Luke 2:7, is it an inn or a house?

share|improve this question
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! That's a really interesting (and timely!) question. Out of curiosity, which translation did you use? Also do you happen to have a URL where you read about the "guest bedroom"? –  Jon Ericson Dec 9 '11 at 22:20
What exactly is the question being asked? –  Shredder Dec 10 '11 at 0:05
@Shredder: Not to put words in tladuke's mouth, but there's a subtle difference between believing that the Holy Family showed up at the inn and the ornery inn-keeper put a pregnant woman in the barn versus they showed up at a relative's house and were given a relatively private space on the ground floor. The question is which picture does Luke intend for us to have in mind. –  Jon Ericson Dec 12 '11 at 20:40

5 Answers 5

The NET Bible folks have some translation notes on this topic.

tn The Greek word κατάλυμα is flexible, and usage in the LXX and NT refers to a variety of places for lodging (see BDAG 521 s.v.). Most likely Joseph and Mary sought lodging in the public accommodations in the city of Bethlehem (see J. Nolland, Luke [WBC], 1:105), which would have been crude shelters for people and animals. However, it has been suggested by various scholars that Joseph and Mary were staying with relatives in Bethlehem (e.g., C. S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 194; B. Witherington, “Birth of Jesus,” DJG, 69-70); if that were so the term would refer to the guest room in the relatives’ house, which would have been filled beyond capacity with all the other relatives who had to journey to Bethlehem for the census.

sn There was no place for them in the inn. There is no drama in how this is told. There is no search for a variety of places to stay or a heartless innkeeper. (Such items are later, nonbiblical embellishments.) Bethlehem was not large and there was simply no other place to stay. The humble surroundings of the birth are ironic in view of the birth’s significance.

Then they also offer a Constable's Notes:

Normally mothers wrapped their newborn babies in wide strips of cloth to keep them warm (cf. Ezek. 16:4).[92] Traditionally Christians have believed that the manger or feeding trough in which Mary laid the baby Jesus was in a cave.[93] However most homes in Israel had two parts, one for the family and another for the household animals. It is possible that this was the location of the manger. An inn (Gr. katalyma) could have been a guest room in a house (cf. 22:11-12) or any place of lodging. This Greek word has a wider range of meanings than pandocheion, which refers specifically to an inn for travelers (cf. 10:34).

The innkeeper has become a villain figure in the Christmas story, but Luke did not present him as such. The writer’s contrast was between the royal birthplace that this Son of David deserved and the humble one He received. His exclusion from human society anticipated the rejection that He would continue to experience throughout His ministry.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to BH.SE! +1 for this answer that brings together important resources. If you wanted to edit it into a "knock-my-socks-off" answer, you could add a summary of those quotes telling us what you think the best answer might be. Thanks. –  Jon Ericson Dec 12 '11 at 20:34

As you show, the word translated in Luke 2:7 is translated differently in 22:11.

Commentaries I've looked at seem to acknowledge that the word has a very wide range in terms of just referring to any type of lodging even if it's not the normal word for "inn" (pandocheion,as you say Luke uses to describe an "inn" in the story of the Good Samaritan). It could be an "inn" or a "guest room". (e.g. see the Expositor's Bible Commentary, Leifeld)

It is worth pointing out that the "cave" and "barn/stable" ideas are not impossible, but not automatically likely given what I understand was the architecture of the time. The manger may be found, with the animals, in the lower rooms of the building.

The only clue I've read way from the ESV Study Bible on the verse which says cryptically:

The inn, with the definite article (“the”), indicates that this was a specific, publicly known lodging place for individual travelers and caravans.

Which, if true, speaks against the "guest room" of relatives.

share|improve this answer
For more about the architectural side of the question, see this answer about "pillared houses". –  Jon Ericson Dec 12 '11 at 20:25

If Joseph was from Bethlehem, he would have had relatives there. Why would he go to an inn? It would have been an insult to his relatives who, even if their houses were full, would have found space for relative Joseph, and relative-in-law and pregnant Mary. What would an inn be doing in a little town of Bethlehem, when bigger capital city Jerusalem was nearby? Who would stop at an inn in Bethlehem?

I believe that there was no inn in Bethlehem, and no mean heartless Bethlehem. Kind relatives welcomed them into their very heart, their upper room, their katalouma. The "upper room" version jives better with Jesus having the last supper in the "upper room", and the praying of the disciples, with Mary, in the "upper room" when the holy spirit came upon them at Pentecost.

share|improve this answer
To us the handful of miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is trivial. When the transport choices are foot and animal, it's a lot longer time. But more importantly, can you support your version from the text? Luke specifically says there was no room for them in the katalouma so they laid him in a manger/stall? –  Frank Luke Jun 27 '13 at 3:00

Kenneth Bailey ("Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes") makes a compelling case for "kataluma" being the guest room (or upper room) in a typical two room peasant house. As with many cultures the animals were brought into the family room with the people overnight - hence the manger, or mangers (different sizes for different animals). Bailey (who has lived and breathed Middle Eastern Cultures) also makes a big deal of the importance of Family ties and hospitality in these settings - making the "No room at the Inn" clearly a northern European mis-interpretation of the story. His Christmas Play "Open Hearts in Bethlehem" puts these concepts into a clever dramatic context - worth a read.

share|improve this answer
Thank you for the answer. I'd really like to see more reliance on that was actually said in the book. E.g. which facts did you find persuasive and why? –  swasheck Nov 13 '13 at 17:30

I just returned from a trip to the Holy Land. Our Christian Jewish native Bethlehemian-guide believes that yes, it was Joseph's extended family's home, crowded with relatives who had returned to Bethlehem to pay their taxes. The lower floor (a cave, and probably the older and original part of the home) was used like our garages: storage, workspace, and to pen the animals. The upper floor was added when possible, and was sleeping and living space. Mary and Joseph would have been given the quite serviceable lower floor out of respect of her need for privacy.

Very interesting: He said that Jewish babies at this time were NOT wrapped in swaddling "clothes." They were dressed in miniature period clothing. Luke 2:7 says "cloths", not "clothes." I've misquoted and mis-taught this for my whole adult life.

Olive oil was pressed, grain was crushed, fabric was woven: daytime work was down in this cooler cave area. What was also made and stored in the lower-floor working area was swaddling cloth, which had 2 purposes.

  1. When a perfect lamb was chosen for sacrifice, it was carefully cleaned, and then it's feet were 'swaddled' together with these specially prepared clean strips of cloth, so that the lamb would remain clean, and it's feet would never touch the ground again. It would be respectfully carried by the head of the family to the synagogue for sacrifice, it's feet bound against any possible of injury to this perfect sacrifice.

  2. The 2nd purpose of swaddling cloth was the wrapping of a body in preparation for burial. In the Jewish culture at that time, burial was within the day (or next day?) Thus, it was necessary that each family have ample stores of clean swaddling cloth prepared and stored for these two purposes.

It's easy to assume that perhaps Mary arrived unprepared for a new baby, and found this clean cloth and used it to wrap her newborn child. And what prophecy! According to the gospels he was to become a perfect sacrifice, and to be wrapped in fresh linens at His death, but leave them neatly folded at His resurrection!

share|improve this answer
Have you perhaps left out a critical 'not' in the second paragraph or scrambled the spelling of 'cloth' and 'clothes'? Something doesn't quite add up here. –  Caleb Dec 9 '13 at 10:55
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! We're a little different from other sites. Do you have any verifiable sources for your claims about the swaddling cloths being used for sacrificial lambs? This is in intriguing answer. –  maj nem ɪz dæn Dec 11 '13 at 1:31

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.