The media is giving its usual Christmas Eve attention to Bethlehem today. The New Testament teaches that Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king (Matthew 2:1). The month, day, and year of the birth of Jesus is not stated in the New Testament. We do have some historical information that helps with the date, but not precise information is available (Luke 2).
Do we know the place of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem? About A.D. 160 Justin Martyr said, “when the child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village” (Dialogue With Trypho, 78). Near the middle of the third century Origen said that the cave where Jesus was born was being shown and that even the enemies of the faith were talking of it. Jerome was a resident of Bethlehem from A.D. 386 until his death in A.D. 420. He tells how the birthplace of Jesus, the place of the crucifixion and the tomb where Jesus had lain were defiled from the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine. The Church of the Nativity now stands at this spot. Of this location, Dalman says:
No one could discern in this former rocky chamber the place of the Nativity. The altar at the east end was perhaps not erected originally to designate the exact spot, although the background of the grotto would make it probable. Here also is the only remarkable feature in it, namely a small adjoining room which contains in the right wall a low niche resembling a manger (Sacred Sites and Ways, 38).
Typical of so many, this site has enjoyed its share of fanciful speculations. Tradition locates the spot where the adoration of the Magi took place and a projection in the background is taken to be the table at which the Virgin ate with the Magi. Like so much speculation, these overlook the fact that the gospel account represents the Magi as arriving at some time after the birth of Jesus and that they found the child with Mary in a “house.” The Wise Men may have had a fast means of transportation, but one should not forget that they traveled by plain, not plane; they came not from the east side of town, but from the East.
This photo shows the exterior of the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Church of the Nativity has a long history. It is now a Greek Orthodox church. Underneath the altar is the Grotto of the Nativity where it is said that Jesus was born. Maybe, maybe not. A silver star was set in the marble pavement in 1717. The Latin inscription, “HIC DE VIRGINE MARIA JESUS CHRISTUS NATUS EST.” The translation: “Here Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary.”
Among the confusion of the date of the birth of Jesus, and the lack of New Testament authority for a church celebration on a certain day, let us not forget that the eternal Word became flesh, and dwelt among men in order to bring salvation to those who obey Him through his death upon the cross (John 1:1, 14; Luke 19:10).
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” – Hebrews 5:8-9, ESV