Many might be surprised by the notion that Jesus was born in a cave, but essentially that is the claim being made by the Church of the Nativity, located in Bethlehem, that is built over the site of where it believes Mary gave birth to Jesus.
The Lord’s actual birthplace was in a cave located below the church’s main altar, that can be accessed by two staircases on either side.
In fact, the grotto where it claims Jesus was born is part of a larger network of caves that can be accessed from neighbouring buildings, but is now blocked by gates.
But not everyone agrees that Christ was born in a cave.
One common argument against it, is that Luke, who provided the most extensive narrative of the events surrounding Christ’s birth (Luke 2:1-21), does not mention a cave.
Why didn’t he do this?
It’s argued that Luke would have mentioned the cave if it was unusual.
What was unusual to Luke, is that because there was no room in the inn, Joseph and Mary were forced to take shelter in the barn where Christ was born and laid in a manger or the barn’s feeding stall.
But as for housing animals in caves, that was a common practice in Palestine.
Josephus reports that caves were found throughout Palestine and were regularly used as barns, homes, granaries and even Inns, as one cave mentioned in Judges 20:47 was so large it could hold 600 men.
Since Jesus’ grotto was part of a larger network of caves, maybe this was even the location of the Inn as well.
The argument favouring the cave as Christ’s birthplace is based on history, and goes back hundreds of years, to the second century.
Christian apologist, Justin the Martyr, who died in 165 AD, mentioned that there was a cave outside of Bethlehem believed to be the site of Christ’s birth.
Origen (185 – 254 AD), an ancient Christian theologian based in Alexandria, wrote that this Bethlehem cave was the site of Jesus birth and described it in his book Contra Selsum:
In Bethlehem the cave is pointed out where He was born, and the manger in the cave where He was wrapped in swaddling clothes. And the rumor is in those places, and among foreigners of the Faith, that indeed Jesus was born in this cave who is worshiped and reverenced by the Christians.
Both of these historians would have based this claim on even older oral traditions.
Their statements also reveal that ancient Christians did not consider it unusual for Christ to born in a cave.
There is even evidence that the first century Roman emperor Hadrian (117 to 138 AD) was aware of this site, as Jerome, a Christian historian and theologian from the fourth century, writes that Hadrian ordered the destruction of the town of Bethlehem and then built a pagan temple and grove of trees over the cave, that Christians were already starting to visit in the first century.
But all this temple did was preserve the site.
It wasn’t until 326 AD that a church was built over the cave on the order of Rome’s first Christian emperor Constantine I, probably at the request of his mother.
Now it’s true, the Church of Nativity has gone the extra step and used a silver star to mark the exact location where Christ was born. That may be a bit far-fetched, because the star was only added in 1717.
But I think there is a good case to be made that this is the actual location of Christ’s birth.
READ: Is This the Exact Place Where Jesus Was Born? The Fascinating, Nearly 2,000-Year-Old History Behind Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity AND Bethlehem AND The Church of the Nativity: Do We Really Know Where Christ Was Born?
A 360-degree video of Jesus’ birthplace
The video below provides a 360 degree view of Jesus’ birthplace. At any point, you can use your mouse to scroll around the site.