From Take Two Apologetics. It’s an interview with Krista Bontrager. I removed the links from the excerpt below, so you can click through to their site if you want the links.
Krista, many of us were taught that Jesus was born in a stable because “there was no room in the inn.” Was He born in a stable?
Probably not. Nowhere in the Bible does it state that Joseph went from home to home looking for a place to stay. That story stems from many translations’ use of the word “inn” in Luke 2:7. From that, we extrapolate a whole slew of events—the innkeeper, innkeeper’s wife, a No Vacancy sign flashing. The problem is that the word used in Luke 2 (kataluma) is not the word for inn—that’s a bad English translation. The word is better translated as “upper room” or “guest room.” In fact, the 2011 translation of NIV makes that correction. Luke 22:11 also uses kataluma to describe the guest room where the last supper took place. In contrast, pandocheion (correctly translated as “inn”) appears inthe parable of the Good Samaritan.
Where was Jesus born, then, if not in a stable?
It’s much more likely He was born in a home. Mary and Joseph were going to their ancestral home, which means they had extended family there. It’s almost inconceivable that their family would not have taken them in considering the cultural practices of that time.
So if Jesus was born in a home, why does the Bible say He was placed in a manger?
That’s an important detail because it tells us what part of the house they were in. In those days, homes had an upper level where the family would sleep and a lower level where animals were kept at night for the animals’ protection and to provide heat. It seems that Jesus was born in that lower level where the animals were kept. And he was placed in a manger (feed trough) because they make for a great little cradle. In fact it reminds me of the makeshift bed my husband and I once made for our daughter when we stayed overnight at a hotel.
What about some of the characters often suggested as being present at Christ’s birth?
The shepherds were present, but the three wise men were not. Matthew’s account apparently takes place during a different time frame than Luke’s. One clue is that the Greek word Matthew used to describe Jesus is a paidion, which can mean anything from an infant to a toddler. This range of definitions would be consistent with King Herod killing all the Jewish boys ages two and under (Matthew 2). This would mean that Jesus was probably two or younger when He was visited by the wise men.
Okay, so we’ve eliminated the stable and the wise men from the Nativity. What about the date? Was Jesus born on December 25?
Maybe. The standard story is that December 25 was adopted after Constantine’s conversion to Christianity because it was on a pagan holiday and the winter solstice. Christians then co-opted the holiday and Christianized it. What’s interesting is that the early church put almost no emphasis on celebrating the birth of Christ. They were much more concerned with the resurrection. It’s not until AD 200 where possible dates are mentioned for the celebrating of Christ’s birth. By about AD 300 there were two dates: December 25 (for the west) and January 6 (for the east). There does seem to be a tradition of December 25 long before Constantine’s conversion, so that’s why I say maybe. This article from the Biblical Archaeology Review gives a good summary of “How December 25 Became Christmas.”
I found this post over on Apologetics 315. Brian puts up a post with apologetics stories every Friday. There’s more in there – I am listening to the 5 part lecture series on church history right now. (It’s Calvinist, but polite)