9. There Wasn’t An Inn
We’ve all heard the story about there being “no room at the inn.” Indeed, this is what our English Bibles say. But in the original Greek (the language in which the New Testament was written), the word kataluma, translated as “inn,” doesn’t necessarily mean a motel. It’s only used a few times in the Bible, and elsewhere, it means “upper room” or “guest room.” The famous Last Supper took place in a kataluma. In fact, there’s a different Greek word for “inn” that does mean a motel or paid lodging, but it isn’t used, though the same gospel writer uses it in the story of the Good Samaritan a few chapters later.
First-century homes often had a main room on the ground floor, where the family lived, and an “upper room” or “guest room,” where people who needed lodging could stay. It was a great shame in the Middle East to refuse hospitality to someone in need. There is a good chance that if there was no room in the “guest room,” it’s because it was already occupied.
This changes the whole story we’ve come to celebrate. Rather than arriving in Bethlehem only to find the local motel with no vacancy, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and sought lodging at a family member’s house. This would be a natural thing to do in Middle Eastern culture. Because people were returning to their ancestral homes for the census, other family members had already arrived and were occupying the guest room.
So where did Mary and Joseph stay?