So here’s something to discuss amongst yourselves after you rip open all those gifts and the eggnog is gone.
The Rev. Ian Paul, a British theologian, says that Jesus wasn’t born in a stable but in a family home surrounded by loving relatives and, well, possibly an animal or two.
Paul, an honorary assistant professor at the University of Nottingham, believes that Greek versions of the Old Testament were mistranslated to mean that the birth took place in a barn or stable around farm animals.
So much for all those living nativity scenes with the manager and sheep, huh?
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Paul’s blog posting – “Jesus Really Wasn’t Born in a Stable” – has been widely reported by British media in recent days.
He actually posted the entry last Christmas but felt compelled to repeat it “because I have been struck again how often the message of Christmas is summed up as ‘Jesus was born in a stable,’ both within and beyond the church,” he writes.
The way he interprets the Bible story, Mary and Joseph would have been taken in by Joseph’s distant relatives in Bethlehem.
He references the Greek word, “kataluma,” which he says does not mean “inn” – as in no room at the inn – but means “private room” or “lodging.”
“What does it mean for the kataluma to have ‘no space,’” he writes. “It means that many, like Joseph and Mary, have traveled to Bethlehem, and the family guest room is already full, probably with other relatives who arrived earlier.
“So Joseph and Mary must stay with the family itself, in the main room of the house, and there Mary gives birth.”
But what about the manger? There likely was one, he writes.
“The most natural place to lay the baby is in the straw-filled depressions at the lower end of the house where the animals are fed,” he says.
He doesn’t intend to be contrary, but wants to get people to think about the birth of Jesus in a new way.
“The idea that they were in a stable, away from others, alone and outcast, is grammatically and culturally implausible. In fact, it is hard to be alone at all in such contexts,” he writes.
“In the Christmas story, Jesus is not sad and lonely, some distance away in the stable, needing our sympathy.
“He is in the midst of the family, and all the visiting relations, right in the thick of it and demanding our attention. This should fundamentally change our approach to enacting and preaching on the nativity.”
His postscript: “I would love to hear from anyone who has had the courage to re-write the children’s Christmas story to fit with this reading — and managed to pull it off without getting lynched!”