According to Luke, Mary lays her newborn child in a manger (2:7). While nativity scenes tend to represent this manger as a pristine, straw-filled crib, a manger was actually a feeding trough for animals like donkeys and oxen—a less-than-pristine place, indeed. Luke highlights the manger not only to underscore Jesus’ humble beginnings, but also to foreshadow the Last Supper, when the Messiah would perform a symbolic act in offering his own body as food for those who follow him. The manger serves as a prophetic object that presents Yeshua to the world and points to his salvific death for the salvation of that world.

Just after Jesus is born, Mary “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger (φάτνη; phátne)” (2:7). When the angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds, God’s messenger says to them, ‘For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger (φάτνη; phátne)’” (2:12). In response to the angel, the shepherds declare, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (φάτνη; phátne)” (2:15-16). Thus, Jesus’ manger plays a major role in Luke’s birth narrative: it is the first earthly location that Jesus encounters after leaving his mother’s embrace and it serves as a “sign” (σημεῖον; semeion) from God that the shepherds use to identify their Messiah.

Later in the Gospel, Jesus’ reference to a manger reveals its function as an animal feeding trough. Yeshua asks the head of a synagogue, “Does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger (φάτνη; phátne) and lead it away to water it?” (Lk 13:15). That Jesus is laid in this kind of a food receptacle at his birth is fitting, since he is born in Bethlehem (בית לחם; Beit Lechem) which, in Hebrew, means “House of Bread/Food.” Yet, the function of the manger also anticipates Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “He took bread (ἄρτος; artos), and when he had given thanks, be broke it gave it to [the disciples], saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you” (Lk 22:19). The infant Jesus lays in a feeding trough, and this imagery comes full circle when he offers food that represents his own body. In this way, Luke bookends the Gospel with allusions to Jesus as “food” that symbolizes the good tidings of salvation for all who partake in him.

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Mentioning that the manger was a trough for feeding animals presents a different perspective to me( Jesus the Bread of Life ) since being born in a stable and laid in a manger represents to me Jesus God-man becoming human and humbling Himself to counter the sin of pride.

  2. When Jesus said “I am the Bread of Life” he spoke truly. The Eucharist is not just the representation of his Body, It is Jesus himself who gives to man the privilege to partake of him. That is why some of those who followed Jesus left. They could not accept.

  3. May I give you another consideration for the manger? Around Bethlehem were birthing caves for the sheep, containing a manger to feed the ewe and cloths to wipe down the lamb. A name for Jesus is the Lamb of GOD (John 1:29; 1 Pet.1:19) What better place to be born.

  4. A question that needs to be asked is why they needed an inn? The townspeople were all relatives and a young pregnant girl would have been taken into a home for the birth. Even before He was born, Jesus was rejected by His own people.

    • Kevin, the Greek term translated as “inn” (κατάλυμα; kataluma) does not mean a “hotel room.” Rather, it refers to a guest room or general living/dining space in a home. When the Gospel states that “there was no room for them in the inn,” it means that there wasn’t enough room for them to labor and give birth to a child in the home itself, so they needed to go out to a stable. More, according to the Gospels and Acts, thousands of Jews accepted Jesus, so it is imprecise to say that Jesus was rejected by his own people. See the following IBC article: https://weekly.israelbiblecenter.com/jews-reject-jesus-2/

  5. I can see the connection too, thanks. From the beggining, the fall of man was on eating forbiden ‘food’ and so our salvation is on accepting Jesus WORDS as food for our souls.

  6. The manger is a trough that was used to sacrifice the most unblemished lambs. The shepherds would wrap the lambs in swaddling to protect them until such time of sacrifice. When the angel told the shepherds about the new born king they also knew his destiny..

  7. I emphasis this all the time that people need to really dig deep into scripture. People to often just read it out of some perceived duty to God but the fact is that it should not be a duty but a yearning to draw closer to Him. And what better way to draw closer to Him than to understand the depth and richness in which it is written. It is not by happenstance that it is written this way. When you understand these passages from a Jewish perspective from that time period the fullness of the Gospel comes out and presence itself in all of it’s glory for us all to see. All throughout scripture we see this from Genesis to Revelation.

  8. Good darash, and while I wouldn’t want to detract from the message, I would offer a better perspective. First off, this presupposes the myth of Yeshua’s birth in a stable is true. He was more likely born in a sukkah. Jews did not typically stay at inns of the time, as they were places of drunkenness and debauchery. They stayed at the local synagogue. However this would have been full at Sukkot in Jerusalem. So they built sukkot against the side of the synagogues to accommodate Jewish travelers. Immanuel, God with us came to tabernacle with us for a while in a sukkah on the feast of Sukkot; entirely appropriate. So what about this “manger?” Well the translation is better stated (even by Strong’s) as a food crib. People of the time used stone food cribs, sort of like early Coleman coolers. That is more likely what Yeshua was laid in. He, the Word, was food for humans, not livestock. “Food crib” can also mean for livestock, I just do not believe it so in this case.

  9. Thanks, Dr. This means that from the moment of His birth, God’s message is very clear” This is the Bread of Life”. Unless you eat His body and drink His blood, you cannot have eternal life. He’s The Living Bread kept in place of feeding in the City of Bread.

  10. No doubt, the festivals were the course of the day. On the metaphysical side, ingesting the LORDS being into our own being is done spiritually as would bread, or wine, be ingested into our being physically and become one with us. Leviticus, no transubstantiation happening, see also Jhn 14:26.
    J.

  11. Dr.Nicholas,
    We appreciate your service with IBC. Help me understand these three men whom the angel of the lord entrusted with Great good tidings about Messiah’s birth.Were they magicians or they God fearing?

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