In most Nativity stories/plays there are two evil characters that are almost placed side by side. There is, of course, King Herod, the [so-called] Great, who when he heard about the prophecy of the newborn King has every male child 2 and under slaughtered in Bethlehem (about 20 or so children by some estimates). And then there is the “innkeeper”. Who is portrayed in nearly the same evil light. He thoughtlessly doesn’t even bother trying to find room in his hotel for a pregnant lady and shoves the Mother of God, her husband, and the Babe-to-be off in a crummy barn.
The problem is, this story is only partially Biblical.
In reality, Scripture does not actually speak of an “inn” nor an “innkeeper”. The whole imaginary tale of the innkeeper is based on a poor translation that we have received in the King Jame Version.
Luke 2:7 reads in the KJV, “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.” Where I take issue is the translation of the word kataluma, as “inn”. It literally means “upper room”. That has a familiar ring to it, right? It should: “and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’” (Luke 22:11). A kataluma, is simply a spare room. I have one in my house.
Now imagine that a census were to require your family to return to it’s city of origin. We aren’t talking simply immediate family here, but extended… really extended: 3rd, 4th, and 5th cousins flocking to the home of their forefathers. This was the case for Joseph and Mary. Most likely Joseph arrived at his cousin’s house, which was likely packed with travelers staying a spare room. One does not need to have an M.D. to know that a crowded room full of travelers (who were likely sick from their travels), is not the place to be having a child. It is my firm opinion that the master of the house was actually giving Mary and Joseph the best place he had: the stable (which likely was below the living quarters) where Mary could give birth in some relative privacy away from the sniffles and coughs.
So let’s hear it for Joseph’s cousin, uncle… whatever the relationship was… the master of the house who gave the best of what he had, still nothing special, but certainly is hardly the villain he has been made out to be over the years.