No Room at the Inn?

We’ve all heard the Christmas story from Luke 2 many times, and we’ll hear it again this Christmas. And you’ll probably hear that “there was no room in the inn.” But was it an inn (that is, a public place of accommodations) where Joseph and Mary found no room?

The NLT (2nd ed.) renders this familiar phrase, “because there was no lodging available for them.” In a similar vein, the TNIV reads, “because there was no guest room available for them.” Why have these modern translations moved away from the traditional term “inn”?

I’ll let Prof. Allison A. Trites explain:

“The accommodation facilities of little Bethlehem were stretched to the limit by the demands imposed by the Roman census (2:1-5). Traditionally, the story has told us ‘there was no room in the inn‘ (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB). However, there is anther possibility, for the rare word used here (kataluma [TG2646, ZG2906]) might not mean an ‘inn’ but rather a ‘guest room’ in a house, as in 22:11 (and Mark 14:14), where it is used to describe the room where the Last Supper was held. It is thus possible that the room had been planned for Joseph and Mary but was occupied by others by the time they showed up.” (Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, Luke [Tyndale House Publishers, 2006], 53)

One more comment regarding the Greek terminology: The more typical Greek word for an “inn” is pandocheion, the term used in the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:34). The fact that Luke did not use pandocheion to describe the situation in Bethlehem convinced the NLT translators to switch from “no room for them in the village inn” (1st ed.) to “no lodging available for them” (2nd ed.).

Either way, the application in our lives is just as real: May there be room for the Christ child in our hearts as we celebrate his birth. Merry Christmas!

Mark D. Taylor

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