Lie — Jesus was born in a cave or stable

The Story

Mary was about to give birth when she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem. Because the hotel was full, they had the baby in a nearby stable (a cave carved into a cliff face).

Some shepherds came to visit, followed by three wise men who brought birthday/Christmas presents.

The family stayed in the cave stable for a few days, somehow avoiding the wrath of the stable's owner while keeping the horses from accidentally eating the baby. After a few days there, they returned to Nazareth.

Historical Facts

No accommodation

Joseph would have to have been a completely irresponsible idiot to take an expectant woman to Bethlehem without first having arranged accommodation. Bethlehem is only five or six miles south of central Jerusalem. Any sensible husband would have left her somewhere safe, travelled to Bethlehem, booked a room, and returned for her in the afternoon.

But Bethlehem itself was a very small town and close enough to the big city that it's very unlikely it could have supported its own inn. Anyone passing through the town from Jerusalem would be just beginning their journey so wouldn't need to stop there, and anyone passing in the other direction would be close enough to Jerusalem that they'd most likely push on for another hour.

It's almost certain that Joseph had already arranged for accommodations, likely with relatives that he knew would put them up.

Even if all that weren't true, there is still no way they would have ended up in a cave. In that part of the world, even today, hospitality to strangers is a way of life. Consigning to a cave a woman about to deliver a baby would have disgraced the whole town.

But Mary and Joseph weren't just strangers. They were each direct descendants of King David, the most important person to have originated in Bethlehem. Anyone in the town would have been honoured to have the couple stay with them.

And even if that weren't true, surely one of the shepherds would have seen the disgraceful behaviour of his fellow citizens and taken them back to his own house.

And even if that weren't true, if the magi arrived shortly after the birth (as traditionally depicted in nativity scenes), certainly the gold and valuable spices they gave would have easily purchased accommodation for the rest of the family's stay in Bethlehem. But that wouldn't have been necessary either. Matthew 2:11 explicitly refers to a house, not a cave or stable: And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child ....

The whole concept of their being abandoned like that requires so many unbelievable situations and social relationships that it is ridiculous.


A typical house in Bethlehem would have been a rectangular one-storey building with part of it sectioned off for storage or to use as a guestroom. The main room would have a raised section at the back, where the family would eat and sleep, and a lower section at the front.

Storage room / Guest room Day: work area Night: animals Day: eating Night: sleeping Water Manger
Typical House Layout

This lower section would be used as a place for indoor work during the day, while at night it would be covered with straw and used to shelter the domestic animals to keep them safe from predators, and to help provide warmth to the building. (Much farther north, snow igloos are designed in a similar way, with sled dogs on the lower level providing heat.) Stone troughs providing water and hay for the animals at night would be built into one wall.

The Bible

Consider what the Bible actually says about this event, not what we think it says. The King James translation says that there was no room for them in the inn. Note that it says in not at as one would normally say. This seems awkward if not actually wrong.

In the KJV, Luke uses the word inn in two places, once here and once in the story of the Good Samaritan. But in these two instances, the original Greek words are different: the Samaritan's inn being pandocheion (πανδοχεῖον), and Joseph's being katalyma (κατάλυμα). The latter word is also used by Mark (14:14), and again by Luke (22:11), and in both cases it is translated as guestchamber. It makes no sense that in Luke 2:7 it would be translated as inn.

Some modern translations, such as NIV now do translate it as guest room. If we use consistent translation, Luke 2:7 reads as ... and laid him in a manger; because there was not enough room for them in the guestchamber. Not only does this read like more correct English, it totally eliminates any reason for even suspecting they were in a stable or cave.

A woman giving birth needs more room than what would normally be available in a storeroom/guestroom. The animals were moved elsewhere and the main room of the house was given to them. Since they lacked baby furniture, the stone feeding trough, cleaned and lined with straw, provided a convenient, comfortable, and safe crib.

The birth wasn't an emergency; they could have been in Bethlehem for several days or weeks before the event: while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. Similarly, it would be reasonable to think that perhaps rather than returning to Nazareth and then making another trip to Jerusalem, they remained in Bethlehem for six weeks (Luke 2:22): And when the days of her purification ... were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.

Joseph and Mary stayed in the house of a friend or relative as they had planned from the beginning. Any consideration of the above mentioned strange behaviours becomes moot. With a correct and consistent translation of that one word, suddenly everything makes sense.


But why would the translators have made such a blatant mistake?

Even as early as the second century, people were already confusing the births of Mithras and Jesus. For instance, Justin Martyr (now a Roman Catholic saint) wrote: Joseph, because he could find no place in the town where to lodge, went into a certain cave near the town. And while they were there, Mary brought forth Christ ... . ... adding that the priests of the mysteries of Mithra are, because of these words, instigated by the devil to say that in a place which they call a cave their proselytes are initiated by Mithra himself...

At the time that the Roman version of Christianity was being created by Constantine and others, many people belonged to the Mithraic cult, which believed that their god, Mithras, had been born in a cave. It was almost trivial for the Roman Church to convert these people by allowing them to consider Jesus to be just another name for Mithras, and by incorporating their myths into Roman Christianity.

By the time the Bible was translated into English, well over a thousand years later, the translators were very familiar with this story, and it was much easier for them to mistranslate that one single word than to change their beliefs.