Undergroundchurch Blog

Preparing the Church for the future

12 Days of Christmas Correction – Away in a Stall

Posted by undergroundchurch on December 4, 2009

A famous and often sung Christmas Carol is away in a Manger. The song goes something like this,

“Away in a Manger no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head, the stars in the sky looked down where he lay that the Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”

Again, this song uses a little poetic license with a few assumptions, but  hey, it’s Christmas!

The details in question are the manger and the crib. One detail in this song that is most likely accurate is that he was probably asleep on the hay. As I was doing some research on the details of the stable, I discovered an interesting fact about the manger.

The two words are used interchangeably when translated from the Greek or Hebrew word. The Hebrew word is abus, and the Greek word is phatne.

For example, Luke 13:15 uses the same word to refer to the stall. The Hebrew word can be used for bed, stall and feeding trough. When the angel comes to the shepherds in Luke 2:12, he tells them that they will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a phatne, or stall.

The Hebrew word when translated as “stall” talks holistically about the stall which includes the feeding trough, the stalls and the location. That concept is carried through to the Greek. In fact, in the King James the word translated “crib” in Job 39:9 is the same word as the word translated manger and stall. So technically speaking, he may have been away in a Manger but he did have a crib for a bed.

Think of it like this, if someone asks me where I sleep, I can say, “In my house.” That is not a very specific way of saying that I sleep in my bed, but the reality is that I sleep in my house. When the angel told the shepherds you will find him in a phatne, he was telling them to go to the stall or stable.

Most likely, if Jesus was just born, Mary probably would not put him in a feeding trough but would keep him very close to her in order to keep him as warm as possible. Being nighttime, she and Joseph could have both been laying down in the straw in the stall with the baby Jesus next to her. This would fit the description given by the angel to the shepherds and make the most sense.  It might not be the pretty nativity picture for your post card, but would be the responsible thing to do.

Yes, I know, it is a minor detail, but to think dogmatically that Jesus was in a feeding trough, probably is not a good idea.

Also, the stable was probably not made out of wood, since wood was an expensive commodity.  It was most likely a cave or a fenced in area with rock.  There are plenty of rocks and caves in and around Bethlehem.

Finally, the song mentions,”no crying he makes”. I don’t know about you, but every birth than ever heard about, there was screaming involved. There is nothing in the text to indicate Jesus did not cry. In fact, Jesus experienced everything that we experience including, messy diapers, potty training, learning how to walk (he even probably had some skinned knees in the process), and he even had to learn how to talk. Sure, he was probably the perfect child, but he still had to grow up just like everyone of us.

All this being said, Jesus was born in the humblest of circumstances. He was a king born in a stable, and destined for a criminal’s death. He illustrated to us in every way imaginable and what it is to be human and what it is to follow after God’s will.

Jesus entered this world perfect, and he left this world perfect. In doing so, we have the perfect Savior, and in him is a life everlasting.


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