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The Birth of Christ FAQ - Based on Luke 2:1-7

By Dr. Richard P. Bucher

1. Luke 2:1 said that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that the entire world should be enrolled or taxed? Who was Caesar Augustus?
"Caesar Augustus" reigned as emperor of the Roman empire from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. (Or 727 A.U.C. to 767 A.U.C.), 41 years in all. The grandnephew of Julius Caesar (100- 44 B.C.), his real name was Gaius Octavius and he lived from 63 B.C. to 14 A.D. Because Julius Caesar had legally adopted Octavius as his son, Octavius took the name "Caesar" from Julius, which in later years became a name almost equivalent to "emperor." "Augustus" is a Latin term that means "worthy of reverence."

2. Did he tax the world or take a census?
The King James Version of the Bible says, "that all the world should be taxed." Most other translations say something like "that all the world should be registered" (NRS) or "that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world" (NIV). The Greek verb is apographo, that literally means to "enroll" or "register" as in an official listing of citizens.2 What was it then, a census or a taxing? Both: It would have been a census taken in part for the purpose of assessing taxes. But only in part. Augustus was very interested in the number of citizens in his empire; he was especially interested in whether that number was growing. This probably was the primary reason for the census.

3. Luke 2:4 tells us “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.” How far is it from Nazareth to Bethlehem?
It is 80 miles.

4. Luke 2:5 refers to Mary as being betrothed to Joseph. Were Mary & Joseph engaged or married when they arrived in Bethlehem?
Mary, as in Luke 1:27, is described as engaged to Joseph. The Greek word mnesteuo refers to the state of betrothal or engagement before marriage. It is well known that Jewish engagement was tantamount to marriage. To break off a Jewish engagement was viewed as divorce. The Greek word gameo is normally used for marriage. So the question is, had Joseph and Mary consummated their marriage before they arrived in Bethlehem so that they were now husband and wife? Matthew 1:24 seems to settle the issue since Matthew says that Joseph took Mary as his wife before Jesus was born.

5. Luke 2:6 tells that “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” Was Jesus born the first night they arrived in Bethlehem?
We often assume that Mary gave birth to Jesus the first night they arrived; but this is not necessarily so. All we know is "while they were there" Jesus was born. It could have been several days or even more. But such precise knowledge is not necessary for us to know. Matthew 2:11 tells us that by the time the magi arrived, they had moved into a house.

6. Luke 2:7 says, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (KJV). Was Mary’s labor and delivery normal or was it miraculous?
There is absolutely nothing in this text or any other text that speaks of Christ's birth that suggests that His birth was anything but normal. Mary would have gone into labor, would have encountered the pains of childbirth; Jesus would have born naturally as all children at this time. Any accounts that speak of Jesus passing miraculously through the walls of the uterus must be dismissed as pious superstition that detracts from the reality of our Lord's incarnation and human nature.

7. What are swaddling clothes?
The Greek word is espargonosen: she "swaddled" him, she wrapped him up in long strips of cloth, normal care for a newborn child. We put our newborns in diapers the ancients put them in swaddling cloths.

8. What is a manger?
If not for the one little word "manger" (Greek phatne) we would not know where in Bethlehem Jesus was born. The Greek word can mean either a "stall" where animals are kept or a "feeding trough" from which animals are fed. The word occurs four times in Luke 2:7,12,16; 13:15. In the last occurrence, it probably means "stall," since animals were not tied to feeding troughs (were they?). The fact that Luke says three times that Jesus was "laid in" doesn't necessarily help. The traditional picture of Jesus lying in a feeding trough in a stall of some kind is probably accurate for where else would a feeding trough be but in a stall? The manger could have been made out of stone or wood, we just don't know.

9. Where was the manger?
The opinion that says that the manger in which Jesus was born was located in a cave (rather than in a barn or in a room adjoining the inn) is an old one and it is supported by the geographical features of Bethlehem: to this day there are caves throughout the hills of Bethlehem.
In his Dialogue with Trypho, the church father Justin Martyr wrote about 150 A.D. "But when the child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed him in a manger." (78).

10. Why was the innkeeper so mean?
The Bible never mentions an innkeeper. All agree that Bethlehem would have been filled to overflowing because of all those coming "home" for the census. All small village like Bethlehem was simply not equipped to host this many out-of-towners coming at once. This, rather than some inhospitable innkeeper would have been the reason why there was no place for them in the inn. The "inn" (Greek kataluma) can mean either a "lodging place" or a "guest room/dining room" (Mk. 14:14). Pandacheion is another Greek word translated "inn" in Luke 10:34 in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

11. What kind of animals were in the stable?
The Bible never mentions animals. It is likely, however, that some would have been there.