“No room in the inn” and other Christmas myths

“No room in the inn” and other Christmas myths December 22, 2023

Nativity Scene with red background
Photo by author

Revisiting the narrative of the first Christmas

Myth #1: Was there actually no room in a “hotel” (inn)?

As Christmas is approaching, it’s a good a time to revisit the story of the first Christmas. Many of us grew up hearing the story of how Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary needed a place where the Baby Jesus could be delivered. The version of the story commonly told is that Joseph and Mary (who was about ready to deliver) arrive in Bethlehem and are unable to find a place to stay. An innkeeper offers them a stable, since all the rooms were taken. Mary delivers her baby there, laying him in a manger because there was no room in the “inn.”  While the actual biblical account does state that there was “no room in the inn,” scholars tell us that the word translated as “inn” actually means “guest room.” The idea of Joseph and Mary knocking on doors and being rushed to the stable when she was in active labor may make for good entertainment, but it is not an accurate depiction of what happened as recorded in the gospels.

The following account in the book of Luke tells a different story. There is no sense of urgency and even though the King James Version states that Mary was “great with child,” there is no indication that Mary was already in labor by the time they got to the “inn.”

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

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.

Luke 2:4-7 (KJV)

The New International Version, in what is probably a more accurate translation, states that “there was no guest room available” for Mary and Joseph.

 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Luke 2: 6-7 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Mary and Joseph were likely staying with extended family, who were unable to accommodate the delivery of a baby in the guest room. For more commentary on this topic, you can check out  this essay by Russell Moore on the Christianity Today website.


Myth #2: Were there really three wisemen?

We often hear about the three wisemen. The traditional Christmas carol “We three Kings of Orient are” implies that the wisemen were kings. The wisemen were known as Magi, but they were not kings. We also don’t know how many of them came to see the young Jesus. They did bring three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh – which may be the reason for the assumption that there were three of them.

But isn’t it possible that they could have given the gifts collectively? It would seem so. The truth is, we don’t know how many wisemen there were.


Myth #3: Where the wisemen actually at the manger scene?

Nativity scenes often depict three wisemen (along with shepherds) at the manger scene, implying that the wisemen arrived shortly after the birth of Jesus. They actually visited much later.

 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

King Herod, feeling threatened after hearing about the wisemen’s quest to find the newborn King, demanded that all male children under the age of two years be killed, suggesting that Jesus could have up been to two years old at the time.


When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

Matthew 2: 16 (NIV)


What other myths related to the Christmas story are you aware of?

Closing thoughts: There was no room in the “inn” ……… is there room in your church for a dark skinned Middle Eastern refugee who doesn’t speak English?


Merry Christmas!

Check out my Christmas album:

Peju Sings! The Little Drummer Boy and Other Christmas Favorites, now available for digital download on Apple Music, I tunes, Spotify and several sites!




About Olapeju Simoyan, MD, MPH
Dr. Olapeju Simoyan is a physician, board certified in family medicine and addiction medicine, with a special interest in the connections between faith and health. She strongly believes that faith and critical thinking are not mutually exclusive. As a female physician, Dr. Simoyan is also interested in women's issues and writes about religious abuse and trauma, with a focus on how misinterpretations of biblical texts have led to the perpetration of abuse within church settings. She has combined her writing and photography in several books, including Living Foolproof, a devotional based on reflections from the book of Proverbs. Her latest book, Transformation and Recovery - Lessons from the Butterfly, is a workbook suitable for people in recovery from addictions and other behavioral disorders. You can read more about the author here.

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