Troublesome Topic: Why Are Some Details of the Story Left Out?

Luke 2:7


And she brought forth her son, the firstborn,

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and wrapped him in strips of cloth,

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and laid Him in a manger because there was room for them in the guest room.


And she gave birth to her son, the one with all the privileges and the most responsibility, and she wrapped him in long rags, and laid him in a feeding trough. She did this because there was no room for them in the guest room.

Every time the Bible gives us a piece of information it is because that information is important. Likewise, every time the Bible leaves out information, it does so on purpose. In the nativity narrative it behooves us to take note of both the things that are mentioned, and those that are not.

Notice that the narrative does not include any grandparents for the baby; only strangers came to admire the newborn child. In fact, the Gospels never mention any grandparents interacting with Jesus. This seems to bolster the idea that Mary and Joseph were rejected by both their families.

There are other things that are left out of the text. We are not told whether Mary rode on a donkey or in a cart; we are not told how long it took for them to get there; we are not told how long they were in Bethlehem before Jesus was born; we are not told if she had a midwife or not, we are not told if Jesus was born early or if the pregnancy went full term. None of these things are mentioned because they are not important, and they would not add anything of value to the story.

Therefore, when we are told that there was no room for them in the guest room, and that Jesus was laid in a manger, those things are mentioned for a purpose. They are important parts of the story.

It is from this collection of strange details mentioned in the text, and what we know about their culture, that we draw the conclusions we do about the birth of our Savior. Everything about this story points to a situation in which all the relatives, except Zachariah and Elizabeth, wanted nothing to do with what they thought of as a dishonest, undisciplined couple and their illegitimate child.


1: “the firstborn”

The author did not have to tell the reader that Jesus was her firstborn child; that is obvious from the fact that she was a virgin. However, it is mentioned to indicate he would have responsibilities and privileges that were not held by all sons. There were societal expectations that he would be a leader, at least in his own family, and possibly beyond that.

2: “strips of cloth”

We are familiar with the term “swaddling clothes,” but what does that mean? It means nothing more than strips of cloth that have been torn from old, unusable garments. It comes from a Greek word that means, among other things, “to tear.” They did not let anything go to waste, so they kept old clothes and reused them as rags in general or for more specific purposes. Mary was prepared; she brought with her what she would need to wrap the baby up after he was born. From what I see in the commentaries, wrapping a newborn baby in strips of cloth was the norm. However, even though it was normal, it had profound significance in the case of Jesus. The use of such strips of cloth was seldom mentioned precisely because it was common. The fact that it was mentioned here called attention to it in a way that tells us there are lessons to be learned from it. 1) The King of the Universe was “clothed” for a time in leftover garments that had been torn into rags. 2) The same type of rags, when they had served their usefulness as rags, were used for one last thing—what the Bible calls “menstrual rags,” fulfilling the role filled in our culture by tampons and feminine pads. 3) What did they do to prepare a dead body for burial? They wrapped it in strips of cloth. Therefore, the statement that he was wrapped in strips of cloth is yet another way the story highlights the realities that the coming of Jesus was characterized by humility, was surrounded by filth and nastiness, and had one purpose—He was born so He could die. Some of these things are characteristic of all human life, but we usually don’t say those things about God. These are additional ways that prove that God fully became human in every way except for one, He did not sin.