This has been a difficult question for me to formulate because there are so many tangential thoughts which led to it and stem from it. I have tried to weed out as many bunny trails as I could so, please forgive the somewhat scattered nature. Hopefully the surrounding information can help clarify the intent of the main question which I have emboldened.

Luke 2:4 gives what appears to be two reasons that Joseph went to Bethlehem (the city of David) with his family in response to the census decree of Caesar Augustus: One, that it was his Joseph's own city, and two, that Joseph was of the house and lineage of David:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. - Luke 2:1-5

My primary question is: What is the connection between Bethlehem being Joseph's "own city" and Joseph being "of the house and lineage of David"?

This question arises from a conversation with a friend as we wondered why Joseph and Mary were unable to find lodging in "his own city". Even if he had no home of his own would he not have had close relatives or friends who could have taken them in?

If Bethlehem was not his actual home or birthplace but was "his own city" only because he was in David's lineage then, why David's lineage? Matthew's gospel lists Joseph near the end of 28 generations. Why, for example, did Joseph not have to go to the city or area of Paddan Aram where Judah was born or the cities of any of the others listed in his genealogy, including even his own father Jacob/Heli?

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    "we wondered why Joseph and Mary were unable to find lodging". That is an assumption based on tradition. One should also wonder what kind of moronic husband would take his about-to-give-birth wife on a long trip without first arranging accommodation, especially at a time when everywhere was guaranteed to be busy. See my answer to greek - In Luke 2:7 is "kataluma" a "guestroom" in a house or at an "inn"?. Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 15:08
  • @RayButterworth Agreed. The word carries the meaning of "taking a load off" and could be (but doesn't have to be) inn, guestroom, etc. abarim-publications.com/DictionaryG/l/l-u-om.html. One cannot escape, though, that, whether Joseph had made advance plans to stay in such a "relaxery" or not, no room was found there and they had to find something else. Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 16:49

2 Answers 2


Your question brings up the conflict between the Biblical account, the customs in the Middle East, and the traditional Christmas story in Western Christianity. Kenneth E. Bailey addressed this question in the chapter, "The Story of Jesus’ Birth: Luke 2:1–20," in his book, Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. IVP Academic (2008).

THE TRADITIONAL EVENTS OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY are well-known to all Christians. The birth of Jesus includes three wise men bearing gifts, shepherds in the fields in mid-winter, a baby born in a stable and “no room in the inn.” These aspects of the account are firmly fixed in the popular mind. The question becomes: Is there a critical distinction to be made between the text and the traditional understanding of it? Have the centuries added meanings to our understanding of the text that are not there? -- Bailey, K. E., p. 25.

Joseph and Mary were royals in the line of David and also had relatives who lived in Bethlehem. They would easily find a place to stay with relatives. Mary was pregnant and would have been given special treatment. Only the very rich, such as the royal palace, would have stables separate from their house. They had stables for the animals on the downhill end of the house, and mangers against the wall in the living area next to the stable with windows where the animals could feed from the mangers, and hay could be added from the living area for the animals. [I guess people in the U.S.A would think of this like their garage.] The typical word for inn is not κατάλυμα (Luke 2:7), but πανδοχεῖον (Luke 10:34). The word κατάλυμα means guest room (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11). Thus, the guest room was full, so Mary and Joseph stayed in the family's living area. When Jesus was born, the manger in the family's living area was a natural place to hold a baby. Apparently, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus stayed in Bethlehem for some time (as long as two years; Matt. 2:16) before going to Egypt. This seems to indicate Joseph found work with relatives during that time. Even after returning from Egypt, apparently, they intended to go back to Bethlehem before returning to Galilee (Matt. 2:22).

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Dr. Bailey also went through the history of how the tradition Western Christian story came about.

Bethlehem: King David had ancestors in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:1,2,19,22; 2:4; 4:11; 1 Sam. 16:18; 17:12,15,58; 20:6).

The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” ... Samuel did what the LORD commanded and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling and said, “Do you come peaceably?” (1 Sam. 16:1,4, ESV)

  • Yes. Thank you. Does this mean that Bethlehem was crowded because everyone in David's line had to go there? Why was David the cut off as far as record keeping was concerned? Were there no records available which linked people in David's line to a city that predated David? Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 23:39
  • All we can say is it was crowed enough that all the guest rooms of relatives where Joseph and Mary would stay were full. I would suspect the only people expected to stay in the stables if it were cold, otherwise outside, would be the older single boys, those who traditionally would be the shepherds. I added at the end of the answer reference to King David's ancestry in Bethlehem.
    – Perry Webb
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 1:02
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    The ideas of all the guest rooms' being full, and their having to sleep in a stable is far more tradition than scriptural. The town was likely too small to have its own inn. Had κατάλυμα been translated correctly as "guest room", then "there was no room for them in the inn (notice "in", not "at") could be considered as there was not enough room in the guest room [to accommodate the birthing process]'. So the birth took place in the living room where there were, as you noted, mangers for the animals that stayed indoors at night. Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 15:00

The same question should be asked in a different way:

  • Why did not Joseph return to Hebron?
  • Why did not Joseph return to Ur of the Chaldees from whence Abraham came?
  • Why did not Joseph return to Jerusalem which was known as the "City of David"?

Why Bethlehem??

There is a simple explanation for all this which is integral to the story. Note especially, what the angel said to Mary before Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:32, 33 –

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever. His kingdom will never end!”

The NT makes quite a feature of Jesus fulfilling the Davidic covenant of being the promised king of Israel ie, the Kingdom of Heaven, or, Kingdom of God, Luke 1:33, John 1:49, Acts 13:23, Rev 11:15. Compare Jer 33:14-17, Eze 37:22. Thus, Jesus inherits the Davidic Covenant. He is also the “Son of David” (Matt 1:1-16) and “Son of God” as predicted in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam 7); and His kingdom will never be defeated and is eternal, Luke 1:33, Heb 1:8, Rev 11:15, compare Ps 61:7, Isa 9:7, Ps 146:10.

The OT promises about this all surrounded the town of Bethlehem:

  • It was the ancestral home and center of the tribe of Judah as shown by the story of Ruth.
  • The OT prophecies about the origin of Messiah center on Bethlehem as per Micah 5:2:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come forth for Me One to be ruler over Israel—One whose origins are of old, from the days of eternity.

  • Bethlehem was the place of the family tombs of David and Jesse, 2 Sam 2:32
  • David's father, Jesse came from Bethlehem, 1 Sam 16:4, 17:15
  • David held his home-town of Bethlehem in great affection as shown by the incident in 1 Chron 11:17 and 2 Sam 23:15.

Thus, while David conquered Jerusalem and made it his center of government, he is most strongly associated with Bethlehem, his hometown and birth-place.

And that is the point - the King of Israel was born in Bethlehem and since Jesus inherited the title of "King of Israel" (as documented above) Messiah had to come from Bethlehem. This was even acknowledged by the antagonistic Jewish scholars and leaders in the time of Herod (Matt 2:4-6):

And when he had assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of My people Israel.’

Why no room?

All that the record states in that there was no room at the local "inn" or "guest room", or, "lodging place" (Luke 2:6), see BDAG. Joseph's father Heli had probably died by this point and very few (if any) of his immediate family still lived in Bethlehem. Joseph had much earlier moved to the construction town of Nazareth (probably building Caesarea and other things) where there was plenty of work for trades people like Joseph.

The same was likely true of many others whose ancestral home was Bethlehem and this sleepy little country town was overwhelmed by returning people as the record suggests. That is, all the family guest rooms had been exhausted.

  • This is a good answer and it links everything theologically and prophetically but I would expect all of that to be fulfilled while still meeting all of the small details. Would the Roman census likely recognize Bethlehem as Joseph's city by way of Jewish prophesy? Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 22:54
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    @MikeBorden - the Romans were very practical overlords. They used local records to impose Roman values. As such, I expect that the temple records showing where each family came from and how they were related might have been pressed into service - Joseph was a descendant of David from the town of Bethlehem as the records would easily show (and as recorded in Matt 1 and Luke 3). So they complied with the census edict.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 23:00
  • So, did the temple records stop at David? Did the Babylonian captivity perhaps eradicate some of the records which may have tied Joseph to a different city predating David? Were all of the records present and they all pointed to Bethlehem? Why would Rome perceive an older connection to a different city but choose Bethlehem anyway just to match Jewish prophesy? Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 23:36
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    The temple records went back to the Exodus - 480 years before the temple. Joseph was of the line and family of David and was (presumably) born in Bethlehem and so that is where he went to be registered.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 8:36
  • So the best we can do is assume that Joseph was born in Bethlehem? That's fine. +1 Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 16:54

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