Question; did Jesus' lowly birth occur in a stable, as we have assumed, or was it in a house, as Matthew's Gospel seems to imply? Matthew, Mark & Luke are called 'The Synoptic Gospels' , but some of the details of Jesus' birth can be a bit confusing when read in context. Mark, for instance, says nothing of His nativity & Matthew has more to say about the circumstances surrounding the event than about the Event itself. Luke gives us the clearest picture of where this blessed event took place. Luke, however, doesn't even mention the wise men ( three kings? ) from the East, while Matthew seems to recount their adventures in some detail, placing them at a house in Bethlehem when they presented their gifts. Fairly commonly, it has been thought, because of Herod's killing spree & the specific ages he targeted ( Matthew 2:16 ), that Jesus would have been, or could have been, around two years old at this time. Trying to mesh the two Gospels at this juncture, again, proves somewhat confusing, though; according to Matthew, Jesus' parents are forced, along with their newborn baby ( ? ) to flee to Egypt, after the wise men visit Him in Bethlehem, while Luke totally ignores this seemingly important event & moves Jesus, with His mother & father, back to Nazareth, assumably before He reaches the age of 1. Confused yet?
One thing that's pretty plain is that Jesus was placed in a manger after He was born! He wasn't 'born in a manger', per se, because that would just be, well......uncomfortable ( poor Mary! ) & probably not very feasible. The Greek, according to Thayers, translates very well here, plainly rendering 'phatnē' as 'manger'. The reason Luke gives for Jesus being born in such lowly conditions is that there was 'no room for them in the inn', although Matthew doesn't seem to be concerned with this important fact! The fact, though it is understandable & seemingly happenstance, that there was no room found for them at an inn in a Jewish city should give us pause. Why would Luke take such pains to record this seemingly minor detail when no one else corroborates it? Then again, why does Matthew record the visit of the wise men, whereas Luke doesn't see fit to mention it? Both details are of significance, are they not?
The story I've heard is doubtless the one you may have heard, that Matthew's & Luke's accounts differ, particularly on this point, because Matthew was concerned more with the kingly nature of Jesus' nativity, while Luke was more concerned with showing His humanity. This does make some sense, although, as we saw, it can be a bit confusing when trying to nail it down, chronologically speaking. That Jesus was born is of utmost importance! Both Matthew & Luke record the involvement of the Holy Spirit in this blessed event & both seem to uphold what we call 'the Virgin Birth' ( Isaiah 7:14 ). Matthew makes us aware in at least two different places that Mary & Joseph were not, ummm.......active as husband & wife till after Jesus was born ( wow; flashback to the Garden narrative-Genesis 2:5 ), while Luke has Mary acknowledging to the heavenly messenger that she does not 'know a man'. ( it's useful here to understand the idiomatic meaning of 'know' )
Plainly speaking, then, we can naturally ( safely ) assume that Joseph & Mary did not engage in sexual relations, according to Scripture, until after the birth of Jesus. Other tales may enter the picture here, like the writings of Josephus, but solely from Scripture, it is plain that Mary was a virgin when she & her husband married. The importance of the Virgin Birth is that though this Event, the 'virgin of Israel' ( Jeremiah 18:13, 31:4 ) was redeemed. It was not, as some have postulated, that Jesus' blood might be sinless, or some other ridiculous assertion!
'Why a manger, cousin?' Well, a manger was a trough of sorts, for feeding, you guessed it, animals! One doesn't necessarily have to believe in a covenant creation in the first part of Genesis to understand that animals in Scripture were often representative of human beings outside the 'land' of Israel, outside the Covenant, Scripturally speaking. Peter's vision, recorded in Acts 10, makes this clear. The fact that Jesus, as a newborn baby, the very Son of God, was placed in a trough ( crib ) where animals were accustomed to feeding, is significant of the Gentiles feeding upon the Word of God. Luke alone records the 'manger' ( I surmise ), because, as a Gentile, he understood that Jesus would be King, not of the Jews alone, but also of the Gentiles!
'Was Jesus born in a house or a shed? I was recently asked this question & while I naturally assumed for years, like most everyone else, that He was born in a stable, or shed of some sort, because they laid Him in a manger afterwards, we tend to forget the historical & cultural context of the Event. I know enough of that culture to know that a manger, along with animals, in the house, would not be a strange notion. We envision, especially in our day & age, as well as our Western culture, that this manger was most likely in a rough-hewn cave, built at least partially into the rocks, or possibly one of the three-side structures we are familiar with, but is this really important? Does it really make a difference if Matthew's version doesn't quite jive with Luke's, if Jesus was born in a house or a stable, if the wise men visited Him in Bethlehem or Nazareth, when He was 2, or when He was born? The important Message here is that He WAS born; that He spread the Gospel beyond the borders of national Israel & that He lives in us, as the Fulfillment of that Gospel!
Charles Haddon Shank