The details of the life of Jesus Christ are fascinating to many Bible readers. Not only do they reveal more about him, but many people look to his way of life as a model for how to live today. Jesus’ orientation toward possessions is an important topic in the Gospels, but the descriptions aren’t always easy to understand. As a result, many people ask whether or not Jesus was homeless.
Jesus was homeless during his years of public ministry as an evangelist. Not having a home was part of the cost of his mission to seek and save the lost. The Bible doesn’t mention his residence before that season of his life, except to say that as a newborn there was no room for him in the inn.
What exactly did Jesus say about not having a house? What is unique about the word Jesus used for homeless? Does a person have to be homeless in order to follow Jesus? What do Gospel scholars believe about Jesus’ home or lack thereof? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Why Did Jesus Turn Water Into Wine? to learn more.
What did Jesus say about not having a house?
In one memorable teaching, Jesus reflected on the fact that animals had a place to call home in this world, but he didn’t. Jesus lacked permanent shelter, one of the basic necessities that all people require.
The context of the passage is about the cost of discipleship. In other words, following Jesus requires significant sacrifice, including abandoning the world’s value system regarding possessions. Sometimes people in the Bible, as well as some today, express a desire to follow Jesus without understanding the totality of the commitment.
Luke records an occasion when a man expressed a desire to follow Jesus. “As they were going along the road, someone said to him, I will follow you wherever you go” (Luke 9:57). In response, Jesus made a statement that would cause him to consider what it would mean for his life.
|ESV||And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.|
|KJV||“And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.”|
|NASB||And Jesus said to him, The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.|
|NIV||Jesus replied, Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.|
|NLT||But Jesus replied, Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.|
Are you willing to be homeless in order to follow Jesus? This is the essence of Jesus’ question to the man. Being a follower of Jesus today, may or may not involve forsaking homeownership. The “cost” could include more. It could include less. The point of Jesus’ statement is to encourage the man to count the cost because following Jesus requires nothing less.
“One should also count the cost of not following Jesus… If the option is unconditional surrender to Jesus or Satan, the former is the only one that will prove to be the wise choice.” – David Garland
Also see Was Jesus A Martyr? to learn more.
What word did Jesus use for homeless?
Jesus compared his lack of lodging to homeless birds. In Luke 9:58, the word translated “nests” combines the preposition κατα (kata) with the verb σκηνώσεις (skenoseis). The vast majority of the time noun form of the verb (skenow) refers to places people live, not animals. Jesus is highlighting the fact that birds have homes, but that he is homeless.
What does the Greek word for “nests” mean? The noun refers to a dwelling place for people. The noun occurs 20 times in the New Testament. The verb occurs fives times, including in Luke 9:58. The word (in various forms) occurs 420 times in the Greek Old Testament and mostly refers to places where people lived.
- Word meaning: to pitch one’s tent, encamp, dwell
- Greek word: κατασκηνόω
- Transliteration: kataskénoó
- Pronunciation: kat-as-kay-no’-o
- Usage: encamp, take up quarters, tabernacle, pitch a tent, dwell
Originally, the Greek word referred to military tents. In the New Testament, it can also refer to people’s homes. The word group is used literally like when Peter offered to build shelters for Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:33). It’s also used figuratively, like when John says that God took on the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and “dwelt” (ESV) or “made his home” (NLT) among people (John 1:14).
Also see Was Jesus a Demigod? to learn more.
Do Bible scholars teach that Jesus was homeless?
Many Bible scholars believe that Jesus was homeless during his years of public ministry. Though scholars debate all the nuances and implications of Luke 9:58, there is a general consensus that Jesus didn’t have a home. The three scholars below are examples of those who believe Jesus was homeless.
Example #1: Darrell Bock writes, “Jesus describes what disciples can expect when he is their example. His situation is worse than that of the beasts: foxes have holes and birds have places to stay, but the Son of Man has no home… Homelessness has been Jesus’ fate from his birth.” 
Example #2: I. Howard Marshall writes, “As the Son of Man [Jesus] experiences rejection and homelessness… κατασκηνώσις is ‘a place to live… a contrast is thus drawn between the homes enjoyed even by animals and the lack of home and rest for Jesus.” 
Example #3: Philip Graham Ryken writes, “From eternity past, [Jesus] had lived in palaces of light, basking in the incandescent glow of his mutual love with the Father and the Spirit. Then he came down to this dark world, where he had scarcely a place to lay his head.”
Ryken continues: “This was true in Bethlehem, where there was no room for him in the inn. It was true in Samaria, where people refused to put him up for the the night. And it was true in his earthly ministry, when he traveled as a homeless evangelist. even the animals have their homes, but Jesus had nowhere to live and nothing to call his own.” 
Also see 8 Ways To Be Christlike? to learn more.
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