I believe the Bible is the inspired, inerrant word of God. I have some problems though. Oh, not the text itself. Rather with the way some parts get interpreted. I’m somewhat of a stickler for careful interpretation. It is, after all, God’s word.
There are passages that, for various reasons, can be interpreted in different ways. I’m okay with that. But my problem is when accounts are intentionally changed to suit someone’s personal agenda. For example, one of the passages that is often changed in the popular telling is the Christmas story. I suspect that was done to make it more politically acceptable. Here are a few points in the customary telling that differ or are omitted or differ from the Biblical account —
- Only Mary and Joseph were told of the origin of Mary’s pregnancy. As far as we know, no one else in Nazareth knew. So an unmarried, pregnant woman may have had more serious issues to deal with than is commonly told.
- Mary might not have been as young as commonly portrayed. As soon as she knew she was pregnant (which may have taken a month or two) she went to visit Elizabeth. That was probably a 130 mile walk through some rough country — not something a very young girl would likely have done on her own. Such an undertaking was, however, something an older girl (perhaps 18 or 19) might do if sufficiently motivated.
- There were no animals mentioned other than the shepherd’s flocks in either Matthew’s or Luke’s account. Mary probably didn’t ride a donkey to Bethlehem. It’s more likely that she and Joseph walked the 120 miles.
- There may not have been an inn in Bethlehem. The Greek word used in Luke’s account that is usually interpreted as ‘inn’ may be better interpreted as “guest room”. Bethlehem may have been too small to have supported an actual ‘inn’. However, some homes likely had guest rooms some of which may have been available to travelers.
- There is no mention of a stable in any of the Biblical accounts. The only thing in the account that even suggests a stable was the presence of a manger. We know that some homes had an inside area for livestock. Hence a manger may have been available and not necessarily any animals.
- Mary may not have delivered immediately on arrival in Bethlehem. Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. At that point, she may have been four or five months into her pregnancy. It would have been noticeable at that point that she was with child She and Joseph apparently left for Bethlehem right after her return to Nazareth. Consequently, the two could have actually lived in Bethlehem for as long as five months before she had her baby.
- There were no wise men at the birth. Herod’s decree to kill all baby boys less than two years old in the Bethlehem area suggests that Jesus may have been a toddler by the time the wise men got to Bethlehem. We don’t know how many wise men there were, but they most likely traveled with an entourage so there could have been dozens of people in that troupe. I’m sure their arrival was quite an event in the little town of Bethlehem.
With these points in mind, Jesus’ birth can be told in a very different, very human light. For example the account could have been something like this:
Mary and Joseph would have known it would be tough to explain Mary’s pregnancy to a strict Jewish community. So Mary at first went to stay with Elizabeth, but perhaps came to realize that staying there was not a solution and returned to Nazareth. The decree to register for the census may have been in effect for some time and Mary and Joseph may have simply taken advantage of it right away to avoid staying in Nazareth with close family and too many questions.
Both Mary and Joseph were descendants of David and they may have had distant relatives in Bethlehem – the place where they must go to register. Walking was the most common mode of travel in that day so they probably walked the 120 miles to Bethlehem. At some point Joseph, apparently without ceremony, took Mary as his wife. (A simple declaration would do it). The couple found lodging in Bethlehem (possibly in the guest room of a home of someone like a third or forth cousin) and after a time, the baby was born. Perhaps they could not afford a cradle or maybe there simply wasn’t one available, but, never mind, there was a convenient manger they could use in the interim.
In my mind, the account told that way is more satisfying than the popular story because it tells me that Jesus birth was not only a human birth, but the conditions surrounding His birth were ordinary and human as well. Which makes Him even more like you and me.
What do you think? Oh, and Merry Christmas!
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