Volume 48 | Number 6 | November–December 2020

Inglés Español

Christ’s Birth in an Outhouse of a Kataluma (2020 Reprint)

By Dr. H. T. Spence

Luke 2:7 states, “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Ancient tradition places the birthplace of our Lord in a cave, for caves were used as stables in most countries with rocky terrain. The Greek word for inn is kataluma, denoting the simplest of inns. It is similar to a Syrian khan—a refuge from thieves, a shelter from the heat and dust, a place where a man and his beasts may lodge, where a trader may sell his wares, and a pilgrim may slake his thirst. However, in such inns the visitor had to do everything for himself.

At the time of this momentous event, the census for the taxation, people had filled the little town of Bethlehem occupying even the most inexpensive of inns. Thus a cave, a stables, an outhouse where waste was disposed of became the divinely appointed place for the Christ Child to be born on earth.

The Holy Spirit led the physician Luke to use this word kataluma, a lowly place that aptly depicts the humble life and death of Christ. The Gospel is heavily freighted with the truth of this word. Why did God pick a kataluma-type birth for His Son? If one reads the Bible with a prayerful heart, he will see that God has been working in the kataluma fashion since the foundation of the world.

Kataluma Types in the Old Testament

In Genesis 3:15, God could have immediately destroyed the Devil after the fall of man. Instead, He chose the plain, ordinary seed of the woman, the weaker of the vessels, to take care of the sin problem as well as the Devil.

God could have supernaturally made a luxurious cruise liner to carry Noah, but He chose for Noah to build the ark with no fancy fringes on it. It certainly was a kataluma boat.

God could have created a place of giant redwoods or a place equivalent to Cyprus Gardens in Florida in order to call Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. Instead, God used a kataluma calling, a burning bush on the backside of the wilderness.

God could have chosen an animal with a higher intelligence like a monkey to speak to Balaam, the apostate prophet, when he was to curse Israel. Instead, He chose a kataluma animal, an ass.

God could have supernaturally made a machine gun ahead in history as David’s weapon to kill Goliath. Instead, God provided kataluma weapons, a slingshot and a smooth stone, to bring down the giant.

When Elijah announced a severe drought and famine, God could have used a variety of ways to provide for the prophet food and a hiding place from King Ahab. But God chose a kataluma-type stream of water for Elijah as well as unclean grocery boys, ravens, to feed the prophet.

God has used broken pitchers and trumpets to kill an army, and a muddy river to cure a leader from leprosy. Yes, God has used a multitude of things that men would view as nothing, but in His hand and plan they became the ideal means for the moment.

The Coming of Messiah

What about the Messiah? How would he come? Isaiah 53:1 declared, “Who hath believed our report and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground.” It seemed God bypassed the great palaces of the leaders in Rome and the luxurious homes of the rich. He bypassed it all and chose for His precious Son to be born in the stables of a kataluma. The Lord chose Mary, a young girl in her mid-teens, to be the mother of Christ rather than one of the more mature, seasoned women such as Elizabeth or Anna the prophetess. “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women” (Luke 1:28). “For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (1:48); “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree” (1:52).

According to Leviticus 12, the sacrifice of dedication for a child was to be a lamb; but if the family was too poor, two turtledoves or pigeons were acceptable. Mary and Joseph brought the latter (Luke 2:24), a kataluma sacrifice. Over his many years, the priest Simeon must have seen thousands of parents coming in with their babies and accompanied by a sacrificial lamb. But when Simeon saw this child, when he took him up in his arms, he declared, “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people” (2:30, 31). The Holy Spirit revealed to this priest, in spite of their kataluma sacrifice, that this child was the Messiah.

When Jesus grew up to manhood He still lived that kataluma life. “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).

When the hour came for His sacrificial death He had a kataluma death. The Jewish means of execution was stoning; the Roman way was beheading. Yet, Christ was given the barbarous death of crucifixion on a cross. Heaven was shut up to Him because He was made sin for us. Hell was shut up to Him as well as the earth. His friends forsook Him. The kataluma-type baby was born to die a kataluma-type death.

The Message of the Messiah

In reading the four Gospel writers and even the letters of the Apostles, it is evident that Christ’s message was no different.

In the Book of John, when Christ started out in His ministry, the people were lauding, “My, He has gracious words.” But by John 6, when Christ stated, “I am the Bread of Life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst,” the same ones were then murmuring against Him, including many of His followers. “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, this is an hard saying: who can hear it?” (John 6:60).

Christ did not come preaching the gospel according to Dale Carnegie on “How to win friends and influence people.” But He came preaching repentance, being born again, the call to sin no more!

To the world, Christ is a kataluma Saviour and His message is of the same view. He is as the Tabernacle of the Old Testament: from within the Tabernacle one could look up at its covering and see goat’s hair and ram’s skins dyed red; however, from without one only saw lowly badger skins. To the world this is what Christ and His message are. “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18). The prophet Isaiah declared,

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isa. 53:2, 3).

The contemporary church today is trying to change our Lord, make Him a superstar, a hippy, a revolutionist, or a leader against the establishment. He is viewed as a modern ecumenicist, enjoying the contemporary sounds of rock music integrated with the spiritual vocabulary. He is found in contemporary artwork on shirts, pants, posters, etc. He is drawn into contemporary slogans such as “Me and Jesus have got a good thing going,” “Get high on Jesus,” and “Honk if you know Jesus.” However, His kataluma message is “Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17, 18). The contemporary church talks much about love and peace, but the kataluma Saviour stated, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace on earth: but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” (Matt. 10:34–36).

The Christ of the modern day church is “one of the boys” and has been set forth to make the world feel at home without any conviction or need of repentance. There is no stigma or persecution identified with the contemporary Christianity of our times. In constrast, the kataluma Saviour declares,

The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household (Matt. 10:24, 25).

Christ made it clear in John 17:14, “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Our Lord also boldly declared, “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:38). The Charismatics with their emphasis upon prosperity and divine health have made Christ’s kingdom an earthly kingdom of this world. Christ made it clear even to Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36); He even declared to his disciples in Acts 1:6–8 that He had not come the first time to restore the kingdom to Israel.

The Scriptures make it clear that we must accept the Christ of Scriptures, the despised and rejected One, the One Who will be hated by this world. And if the Church is worldly, then the Church will hate Him too. We are not called upon to change the message of the Bible or the truth of the Saviour presented therein. We must accept Him the way He is presented or reject Him fully. There is no middle ground.

From the Kataluma to the Pandocheion

For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

In Luke 10:30–37 Christ gave the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, who “fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” This is a type of our own life. This world has tried to destroy us, stripping us of any character, wounding our conscience and our living, and leaving us for dead. It is amazing how the religious movements have tried to help the natural man failures but totally ignored the spiritual needs of the people. Priests and Levites are passing wounded lives each day but are never able to give them what they need.

Jesus Christ is to be viewed as this good Samaritan, the half-breed, one who is hated by the Jews; it is He that came by us one day. Thank God, He came by “where he [the man] was, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him.” Our beloved, despised, rejected Saviour did not only have compassion on him, but He also “went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast.” It is through His great merits at Calvary that He is able to come to us; He is able to bind up all the wounds from our life of sin, pouring in the oil of the Holy Spirit and wine of sanctification to bring about a full restoration of life unto Him. Oh, how the providences of God have been supporting and transporting us along.

Finally, He took us to the “inn,” a pandocheion, a palatial hotel, certainly the opposite of the kataluma. Because of His poverty for us, we will be the spiritually rich ones when His redemption is fully wrought in us.

It is our prayer that during this Christmas season God will richly bless your life and family. Let us ever be conscious of the fact that He was born to die for our sins. He was born in the outhouse stables of a Kataluma in order to take us to the palatial Pandocheion. It truly must be said, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Ps. 103:10).