The Wartburg Project

January 3rd, 2016

14. Why do you use the terms “inn,” “manger” and “swaddling cloths” in Luke chapter 2? Aren’t these terms outdated?

In some cases, terms that are allegedly outdated are really not outdated. Sometimes this can be rather surprising. We have learned more about each of these terms since we started working on this translation.

Some people have claimed that “manger” is out-of-date and that “feeding trough” is contemporary. We were almost persuaded that this was true until we asked farmers. Farmers told us that they call them mangers. They were very clear about this. We asked more farmers. They agreed. We checked agriculture catalogs. All confirmed that this was true. So we are using the current term. It also happens to be the most familiar term for most Bible readers.

An additional benefit is that our translation of “manger” goes very well with traditional Christmas hymns. “Away In A Feeding Trough” would not be as familiar as “Away In A Manger,” would it?

The term “swaddling” is not outdated. Mothers and doctors still use the term. The Mayo Clinic website offers advice on swaddling a baby. See the link in the footnote here.[a] Swaddling is currently used in infant clothing. Just type in “swaddle” or “swaddling” at for evidence of this.

The term “inn” is certainly not outdated. We use the term all the time. It is possible that this term is so common today that it could give a false impression. We should not picture the “inn” of Bethlehem as a present-day motel with blinking lights and a “no vacancy” sign. Maybe we could think of it as something similar to a modern bed and breakfast.

Some Bible scholars question whether it was really an “inn” or just a “guest room.” The Greek term in Luke 2:7 (katalyma) is quite flexible, but most Bible translations still render it “inn” in Luke 2:7. This same term is correctly translated “guest room” in Luke 22:11.

But in the case of Luke 2:7, we wonder. If it really was the “guest room” at a relative’s house, would they have sent the mother to a stable to give birth?

In his Concordia Classic Commentary on Luke, William F. Arndt writes this about the Greek term katalyma:

Literally it means a stopping place where one “unhitches.” It quite naturally then took on the meaning of guest chamber. It could be used of inns and of rooms in private homes.[b]

Arndt also served as an editor of the Bauer lexicon. He opted for the translation “inn.”

There is some uncertainty as to the exact details of the circumstances of Christ’s birth. In this case, we saw no reason to change from the familiar traditional translation of “inn.”


[b] William F. Arndt, Luke (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), p. 76.