Was Jesus Homeless and Poor?
by Daniel Black
I

n the beautiful song “Tell Me the Story of Jesus,” written by Fanny J. Crosby, at the end of the second stanza Jesus is described as being “homeless, rejected and poor.”

Without question, Jesus was rejected by the Jewish religious establishment, and He was crucified because He was rejected by them (Isa. 53:3; Mark 8:31). But is it true that Jesus had no home and lived in poverty?

Was Jesus Homeless?

The prevalent belief that Jesus was homeless seems to be based on two statements, both found in the Gospel by Luke (2:7; 9:58). First, it is said when Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, shortly before Jesus was born, “there was no room for them in the inn” (2:7). Therefore, when Jesus was born, He was laid in a manger, suggesting to many He was born in a stable. But does this mean the Savior’s family was homeless?

The word inn is found only two times in the New Testament. The first instance is in the story of Jesus’ birth, and the second is in the story about the Good Samaritan who brought a wounded man to an inn (Luke 10:34). The two words translated as inn are different words in the Greek text. The inn at Bethlehem was a kataluma, the guest room in a private home. The inn to where the Good Samaritan brought the wounded man was a pandokeion, a public place of lodging for travelers.

Surely, Luke chose these two different words with purpose, as a careful historian. Mary and Joseph were not turned away from a public place of lodging in Bethlehem. Unlike the portrayal in a traditional pageant, there was no cruel innkeeper who turned away the pregnant mother of Jesus.

Both Joseph and Mary were descendants of the royal family of Israel. Doubtlessly, when they arrived in Bethlehem, they sought lodging with relatives. Because the guest room was already taken, they most likely found lodging in the home’s quarters for the household animals. In Bethlehem, houses were built into the mouths of limestone caves, with the caves serving as shelters for household animals at night and in bad weather.

Months later, when the wise men came to worship Jesus, they found Him living with Mary and Joseph in a house (Matt. 2:11).

What Is the Meaning of Luke 9:58?

The other scripture cited for Jesus’ homelessness is something He said: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58 NKJV). Jesus’ statement was made to a man who volunteered to follow Him (v. 57) in hopes of escaping from responsibility. Unlike foxes and birds that withdraw to their dens and nests for rest, Jesus said there was no place for Him to rest from His responsibilities. Jesus was on His last journey to Jerusalem to be crucified (v. 51), and He and His disciples had just been refused hospitality by a Samaritan village (vv. 52-53). If this would-be disciple wanted to escape responsibility, Jesus wanted him to know, he would not find that following Him.

Did Jesus Have No Home?

Certainly, Joseph and Mary had a home in Nazareth where Jesus lived with them. Then, after Jesus began His public ministry, the Gospels tell He took up residence (katokasen) in Capernaum (Matt. 4:13), which became the headquarters for His ministry until He made that last trip to Jerusalem to be crucified. This residence of Jesus at Capernaum is referred to simply as “the house” (Matt. 9:28; 13:1, 36; Mark 2:1; 7:17; 9:28, 33; 10:10). If I say to you, “I am going to the house,” you know I mean the house I live in—my residence.

There is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus was ever homeless. The issue here is not about whether or not Jesus owned a house. For 19 years, my family and I lived in church-furnished parsonages. We did not own a house, but we were not homeless.

The day after His baptism by John, Jesus is depicted as dwelling (abiding, staying) somewhere in the vicinity, and two of John’s disciples stayed with Him there part of the day (John 1:38-39). In His travels, Jesus and His disciples found lodging in the large home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus at Bethany, near Jerusalem; and it is apparent from reading the Gospels that many people offered Jesus the hospitality of their homes. Some Bible scholars believe Jesus lived in “the house” at Capernaum with Simon Peter and his family (Matt. 8:14-15; 17:24-27).

There is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus was ever homeless.
Did Jesus Live in Poverty?

Jesus was a rabbi, and as such, He was required to know an occupation and to earn His living by it. Jesus was a carpenter (Matt. 13:55; Mark 6:3). According to a tradition from the early church, Jesus’ specialty was making farm implements, which may account for His many references to farming activities.

The Gospels reveal Jesus was blessed with wealthy benefactors who lived in large houses, and He and the Twelve had money, enough that they had a treasurer, Judas, who stole from them (John 12:4-6). When Jesus fed the 5,000, He and His disciples had 200-days’ wages in their treasury (6:5-7), but this was not enough to buy food for so many. Jesus and the Twelve were not poor; they gave routinely from their treasury to the poor (13:29).

The common belief that Jesus was poor seems to be based mainly on Paul’s statement that Jesus “became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9 NKJV). I know of no reputable Bible scholar who would say Jesus became poor so we could become materially or financially rich. Paul’s meaning is obvious: Jesus became poor so we can become spiritually rich by our trust in Him.

Jesus became poor in that He voluntarily gave up the glory He had with His Father before the world was (John 17:5), to become a man and a servant, and to submit to death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-8). This was Jesus’ poverty, and this was an infinitely greater sacrifice than not having money.

It is also said Joseph and Mary were poor, because when they came to the Temple for her purification, and to pay the redemption for Jesus as a firstborn son, they offered for the sacrifice two birds instead of a year-old lamb (Luke 2:24). As to why Joseph and Mary offered birds instead of a lamb as a sacrifice, keep in mind that Joseph had to pay five days’ wages to the priest to redeem Jesus (Lev. 27:6).

As a carpenter, Joseph could earn a good living. However, because he was away from his employment in Nazareth, he may not have had enough money to pay the redemption and buy a lamb. Also, it is possible that, at the time, a year-old lamb was not available for sale in the Temple courtyard, but doves and pigeons were.

Jesus Was Neither Rich Nor Poor

Based on the Gospels, it is safe to say Jesus was neither rich nor poor. According to His own words, He was not occupied with accumulating earthly riches and material possessions (Matt. 6:19-21). But neither did He go lacking for the material necessities of life (vv. 31-33).

The idea that Jesus lived in material poverty was encouraged by misinformed (and often illiterate) ascetics and monastics in fourth-century Christianity who believed poverty was a virtue—and the idea has persisted. In fact, the Bible does not teach either poverty or riches is a virtue. The Biblical ideal is expressed in the prayer of Agur: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain” (Prov. 30:8-9).

Jesus did not have to be a sinner to love sinners, befriend them, and be their Savior. Jesus did not have to be blind, lame, maimed, mute, deaf, leprous, or demon-possessed to have compassion for those who were, and heal them. Jesus did not have to be homeless or poor to love and care for the homeless and poor.

Jesus Christ is God. He has boundless love, compassion, mercy, and grace for all people.

Daniel L. Black, Th.D., is editor of adult Sunday school curriculum for Pathway Press. Send comments to evangel@pathwaypress.org.