: preg_replace(): The /e modifier is deprecated, use preg_replace_callback instead in /var/www/webadmin/data/www/wernerbiblecommentary.org/includes/common.inc on line 1734.
Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20) | Werner Bible Commentary

Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem (Luke 2:1-20)

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2007-05-21 12:18.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

While Quirinius governed Syria, Caesar Augustus (who ruled from 27 BCE to 14 CE) ordered a census, which required Joseph (as a descendant in the royal line of David) and Mary to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, David’s city. In Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus, swaddled him, and placed him in a feeding trough for animals. (Luke 2:1-7)

At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were still living out in the field at night, watching over their flocks. That night, an angel appeared to them and divine “glory” or brilliant light shone around them. Great fear then gripped the shepherds. After reassuring them with the words, “fear not,” the angel continued, “I am announcing to you glad tidings of great joy that will be for all the people, for today was born a savior, who is Christ the Lord, in David’s city. And this [is] the sign for you: You will find a swaddled infant lying in a manger.” Suddenly, a multitude of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory in the heights to God and upon earth peace among men of good will.” (The expression “men of good will” designates persons toward whom God’s good will or favor is directed.) Whereas the angels were moved to express joyous praise respecting God’s arrangement for salvation through his Son, many humans have not responded with joy and gratitude even though they, and not the angels, are the intended beneficiaries. (Luke 2:8-13)

After the angels left, departing into heaven, the shepherds hurried to Bethlehem. There they saw Mary, Joseph, and the infant lying in a manger. The shepherds related what had been revealed to them about the child. (Luke 2:15-17) Upon returning to their flocks, they glorified and praised God for all they had been told and had been privileged to see. (Luke 2:20)

“All who heard” the words of the shepherds were filled with wonderment. In Mary’s case, the words made a deep and lasting impression. She treasured them, and they were expressions on which she pondered in her “heart” or in her inmost self. (Luke 2:18, 19) The reference to “all who heard” would not be limited to Joseph and Mary and likely is to be understood as meaning all with whom the shepherds, on other occasions, shared what they had seen and heard.


Based on the biblical account, the census was taken while Herod the Great reigned. Existing historical references to Quirinius from the final part of Herod the Great’s reign, however, do not provide the specifics needed for establishing in what capacity Quirinius may have governed Syria before Jesus’ birth.

The Greek word in Luke 2:7 is katályma, which often has been translated “inn.” In the parable about the compassionate Samaritan, where the reference definitely is to an inn, the Greek term is pandocheíon. (Luke 10:34) The term katályma, in other contexts, designates a “guest room” (Mark 14:14; Luke 22:11) and basically denotes a “lodging place.” Therefore, Joseph and Mary may actually have been accommodated in a very modest home where the guest room was already occupied. In such a humble home, animals would have been kept in the courtyard, with a manger being a hollow place in a stone platform above the courtyard. On the platform itself, people could be accommodated.

According to ancient tradition dating back to the second century, Jesus was born in a cave. Justin Martyr, in his Dialogue with Trypho (78), wrote that when Joseph could not find lodging in Bethlehem “he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village.” No reliable evidence exists for confirming this frequently repeated tradition.

Bethlehem is situated about 2,500 feet above sea level. During the rainy season in winter, low temperatures at night may sometimes drop to the freezing point. Wintertime, therefore, would not fit the circumstance of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. If Daniel 9:27 is correctly understood to foretell Christ’ death in the middle of a seven-year week (although there is no general agreement about the application of the Daniel passage), this would mean that his ministry lasted three and a half years. Since Jesus died in the spring, this would place his birth in the fall.

See http://bibleplaces.com/bethlehem.htm for pictures of and comments about Bethlehem.