Popular Misconceptions about the Birth of Jesus

At the perfect time in history, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be born of a virgin to save us from our sins (Gal. 4:4). But not everything we say about this crucial moment in history is true. Here are six such fast facts (or “un-facts”) about the birth of Christ.

Did Mary ride a donkey?

Maybe, but maybe not. Nowhere does the Bible say she rode a donkey. It only says she traveled with Joseph (Luke 2:4-5). While she may had rode a donkey, she may also have ridden another animal (like a camel), ridden in a cart or walked by foot. We simply do not know.

Was Jesus turned away by an innkeeper and was Jesus born in a barn or cave?

The answer to both of these questions is probably no. The Bible never mentions an innkeeper. Neither does it mention a cave or a stable. So what does it mention?

Scripture tells us in Luke 2:4-7 that Mary laid the newborn Jesus in a manger, which was a feeding trough for animals. What can we learn from this? First, when the Bible says “there was no room for them in the inn,” the word inn means “guest room” or “upper room.” It is the same word for “guest room” in Luke 22:11. There is another word that describes an inn (Luke 10:34), but Luke does not use it for when Jesus was born.

Additionally, when Mary and Joseph arrived to pay taxes, they would have lodged with close relatives in Bethlehem. This was the ordinary thing to do. The normal place to house family guests would be the upper room of the house, or the second floor. But in this case it seems that a large number of relatives were present there. As a result, Mary moved downstairs to the main floor to give birth.

Why was a manger on the main floor of the house? It was normal for people to bring in some of their animals at night, to protect them from cold temperatures and theft. They would feed in a manger and sleep in the house, while the residents slept upstairs. So Mary went downstairs to give birth to Jesus and laid him in the manger.

Did the angels sing?

We sing “hark the herald angels sing” and “the first noel the angels did sing.” But is this true? Did the angels really sing? Luke 2:13 says that angels appeared to shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth, and they were “praising God.” In Luke 2:20, we learn that the shepherds returned from seeing Jesus and were also “praising God.”

Praising God in Scripture occurs in many forms, like speaking, proclaiming, shouting and singing. So in what way did the angels praise God? Luke 2:13 says that they praised God by “saying.” This means that they were speaking or talking. To be sure, this does not mean they were definitely not singing. But it does mean that there is a strong possibility they simply spoke, announced or shouted words of praise to God. Did the angels sing? Maybe, but maybe not.

Was there snow on the ground?

One carol says that when Jesus was born, “snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.” Another states affirmatively that “the snow lay on the ground.” But here’s the problem. The Bible never says this.

Were there really three wise men?

We say that there were three wise men, but we don’t actually know how many there were. In fact, there were probably much more than three, forming a large entourage. So why do we say three? Because Matthew tells us about three gifts they offered to Jesus (Matt. 2:11) – gold, frankincense and myrrh. But these are the three kinds of gifts they gave to Jesus, not the number. They gave Christ gold, frankincense and myrrh, in unknown quantities. And this does not mean there were only three wise men.

Did the wise men visit Christ when he was born?

We somehow imagine that the magi appeared at the house where Jesus was born, when he was laying in the manger. But they didn’t arrive until sometime after Christ’s presentation in the Temple at Jerusalem (Luke 2:22-39). Furthermore, the wise men and Herod both described Jesus a “child,” not a “baby” (Matt. 2:8-9). In fact, their calculations led them to believe that he could have been two years old (Matt. 2:16). (Learn more about the maggi here.)

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