Luke 2:7 reads: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
Modern English translations keep the word “inn” at the end of the word, apparently due to the fame of the KJV translation at this point. However, the word is not “inn” as in a public accommodation. As the article cited below from Biblical Archaeology makes plain, the idea that Mary and Joseph would desire a “private” place to have a baby may just be a western cultural prejudice.
Dr. William Varner (Professor The Masters College) posted on facebook:
“How Greek can mess up our Christmas plays.”
Where did Joseph and Mary stay in Bethlehem? Luke tells us that after the birth, Mary put the baby in a “manger,” or feeding trough, because there was “no room for them in the καταλυμα – kataluma” (Luke 2:7). While this term was translated as “inn” by the KJV, Luke elsewhere uses it to mean a “guest room” (Luke 22:11, the site of the Last Supper). When Luke does wants to speak about an “inn,” he uses the Greek word πανδοχειον – pandocheion (Luke 10:34, in the parable of the Good Samaritan).
Thus there was no mean innkeeper denying them access at the door of a non-existent inn. The passage doesn’t mention him anyway!
The comments helpfully posted links to two articles:
Bible Archaeology gives an extended examination of the text and explains how the baby was laid in a manger — a feeding trough — kept inside the house where the animals were kept at night (a very different world from most people today). The “inn” was the guest room, apparently already occupied by another guest:
The article provides a wealth of information, weighs through the evidence and ancient traditions, and interacts with the cultural understanding of middle eastern peasants and European professors. If you want to understand the matter fully, it is a good place to start:
The second link was to a review of Kenneth Bailey’s Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes:
Part 1 is “The Birth of Jesus”, and the first chapter incorporates material that had previously been accessible only in a journal article, expanding and supplementing it not only with additional text but also with more sketches of what typical rural homes in Palestine are like. Among scholars, Bailey’s argument about the cultural background of these stories, and in particular the likelihood that Jesus was born in a rural peasant home rather than an “inn”, has been found persuasive not only because of the points Bailey makes about the cultural setting (including the nature of hospitality and travel in this part of the world in the first century and even today, and the fact that feeding troughs (or mangers) were and are typically found in homes rather than separate barns or stables), but also because the term for a commercial “inn” is not found in the story. The presentation of the evidence and the likely meaning of the relevant details in Luke’s story are here made available to a wider audience. This material alone would be worth the price of the book.