The mission of the Messiah, 1:5-9:50

1. Prophecies concerning the coming messiah, 1:5-2:40

v] The vision glorious, 2:1-21

b) The vision of the shepherds


Having related the story of Jesus' birth, Luke now tells of the manifestation of divine glory to a group of poor and insignificant shepherds, who, having been told of the messiah's birth, rush off to Bethlehem to witness for themselves the wonder of God's promised intervention into human affairs.


The appearance of the angels herald the dawning of the messianic era; they testify that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah.


i] Context: See 1:5-25. The Vision of the shepherds is part of the fifth episode covering the dawn of the messianic age, 1:5-2:40. In this section of the gospel, The prophecies concerning the coming messiah, Luke gathers together a group of visions and prophesies about the coming messianic age.


ii] Structure: This narrative, The vision of the shepherds, presents as follows:

The angels announce Jesus' birth, v8-14:

Setting, v8-9;

The announcement, v10-12;

Praise on high, v13-14;

The shepherds confirm and announce the divine intrusion, v15-17;

Reaction to the news, v18-20:

The naming of Jesus, v21


iii] Interpretation:

The birth narrative virtually functions as a prologue to the angelic manifestation revealed to the shepherds. It is their vision and their response that Luke wants us to focus on. These shepherds are poor, even outcasts of Israel's religious system, and thus, we witness God bypassing the religious institutions of Israel and announcing to the lowly his promised intervention into human affairs. God's good news to humanity, proclaimed by the angel of the Lord (Gabriel ?) and the heavenly host, bypasses the glories of the temple and Rome, and is received by the lowly on a grassy hillside, cf. Towner. The message dominates Luke's account as "heaven responds with praise" proclaiming "the arrival of promised salvation", Bock. Luke also makes the point that this message concerning the messiah's coming is not just for the religious elite of Israel, rather it is good news for all people that "faithful multitude who from ancient times until that day longed for the messianic deliverance", Ellis. Finally, Luke would have us note the response of the shepherds. Having heard and seen, the shepherds return to their flock "glorifying and praising God." They set aside "fear" and respond in faith. So, Luke has set the stage for his gospel story and calls on us to hear and respond in similar manner.


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 2:8

The vision of the shepherds, v8-21: Drawing on the Magnificat, Luke describes the revelation of divine glory, not to the rich and powerful, nor the supposedly righteous, but to the poor and outcast.

i] The angels announce the birth of Jesus, v8-14. a) Setting, v8-9: For centuries, the people of Israel had waited patiently for God's salvation, they had waited for the day when God's messiah would save his people, save them from the powers of darkness, from powers both secular and spiritual. Now that day had dawned, but the news is not announced to the spiritual authorities of the day, but to a group of lowly shepherds. It is nighttime, and the shepherds are out in the fields. Faced with the angelic apparition they are filled with fear, but they are told not to fear for the news is good.

kai "and" - Luke introduces this scene with a coordinative conjunction rather than a transitional de which would serve to introduce an new episode.

poimeneV (hn enoV) "shepherds" - Not referring to owners of property, sheep-runs, etc., but nomadic herdsmen who were usually very poor and often prone to criminal behavior.

en th/ cwra/ th/ auth/ "in the fields nearby" - in the same district / country. Locative; "in the fields near Bethlehem", CEV.

argaulounteV (agraulew) "abiding in the field" - passing the night in the open (Zerwick). The participle here, as with "keeping", is adjectival, limiting "shepherds"; "shepherds who were living out in the open and keeping watch over their sheep at night."

fulakaV (h) acc. "[keeping] watch" - The participle "keeping" is nominative, while "watch" is accusative, here a cognate accusative, cf. Zerwick #62, ie. functioning as the direct object of a verb (here a participle) which expresses a similar verbal idea. Note the plural, possibly indicating that the were keeping watch in shifts, so Fitzmyer.

thV nuktoV (nux nuktoV) gen. "at night" - of night. A genitive of time, "time within which", or better adjectival, limiting the "keeping watch", ie. a nighttime keeping watch; "night watches", Fitzmyer. "Keeping watch over their flock during the night", Cassirer.


aggeloV "an angel" - a messenger. Possibly Gabriel.

kuriou (oV) gen. "of the Lord" - of Lord. The genitive is probably ablative, expressing source/origin; "an angel from the Lord."

epesth (efisthmi) aor. "appeared" - came upon, stood by, approached (suddenly and unexpectedly). So "appeared". The word is often used by Luke to refer to "angelic or supernatural appearances", Bock. What we have here is an angelic epiphany, a coming to a group of shepherds on earth.

autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - Dative of direct object.

doxa kuriou "the glory of the Lord" - Again the genitive "of the Lord" expresses source/origin. A descriptive for the divine presence.

perielamyen (perilampw) aor. "shone around [them]" - The presence of the divine glory shines around the shepherds, ie. the shekinah glory, evidencing the divine presence and once confined to the temple, radiates upon common shepherds out in a field.

fobon megan "[they were] terrified" - [they were afraid] a fear great. "Great" and "fear" are accusative, probably cognate accusative as above, object of the verb "afraid", so Marshall, = "they feared a fear" = they were filled with fear", best translated adverbially, "they were greatly afraid", TNT; "terrified", NRSV.


b) The announcement, v10-12: The angel, who is probably Gabriel, announces the epiphany of God's savior, the long awaited Davidic messiah, the Mighty One. The sign that Gabriel's words are true can be found in Bethlehem, for there the shepherds will find a newborn babe laying in an animal's feeding trough.

autoiV dat. pro. "[said] to them" - Dative of indirect object.

mh fobeisqe (fobew) pres. pas. imp. "do not be afraid" - The negation possibly prohibits an action in progress. This is a proper response for those confronted by the divine, but fear must move to faith, which in the case of the shepherds is what happens.

gar "-" - for. Expressing cause/reason, introducing a causal clause explaining why they have no need to be afraid, namely, "because ...."

idou (eidon) "-" - behold. As an emphatic interjection.

euaggelizomai pres. "I bring you good news" - I proclaim important news. It is only "good news" for those who believe. uJmin dat. pro. "-" - to you. Dative of indirect object.

caran megalhn "of great joy" - joy great. The shepherds do not need to fear because the Angels bring news of a joyful event. "What I have to proclaim to you is joyful news", Cassirer.

h{tiV (o{stiV) ind. fem. pro. "that" - whatever / such as. Obviously here taking the place of the simple feminine relative pronoun h{, ie. an example of the neglect of exclusive distinctions between pronouns; "This/which [ie. the joyful news] will be for all the people."

panti tw/ law/ "for all the people" - to all the people. Dative of interest, advantage, as NIV. "The joy it [the news] brings will be shared by all people", Cassirer. The "all" is obviously the "all" who are waiting for the coming of God's salvation, ie. seekers. Most likely Jewish seekers, rather than Jews and Gentiles as "the relationship of Jesus' coming for Gentiles is something that Luke presents later in his two volumes, especially in Acts", Bock.


The epiphany of God's promised saviour is announced.

oJti "-" - Introducing a dependent statement, direct speech, expressing the actual news conveyed by the angel, although possibly causal explaining why this is joyful news, as AV, "for unto you is born."

en polei Dauid "in the town of David" - in city of David. Locative. Identifying the event as a fulfilment of scripture.

swthr (hr hroV) "a savior" - The era of salvation has dawned in the birth of Jesus, an era in which God sets out to save humanity, which salvic activity is realized in Jesus. Serving as the first of three key Christological terms; "Jesus is Savior, Christ/Messiah and Lord."

uJmin pro. "to you" - Dative of interest, advantage.

cristoV kurioV "[he is] Christ the Lord" - [who is] Christ Lord. "Christ" is the nominative predicate of the verb to-be, while "the Lord", also nominative, stands in apposition to "Christ". As it stands, the text means that Jesus is both "Christ" and "Lord", but there is a variant cristoV kuriou "Christ of Lord" = "the Lord's Christ" = "the Lord's anointed". That Jesus is both the messiah and the Lord is regarded as the better reading by Metzger. If "Lord" is being applied to Jesus, in what sense is it being used? Luke does not explain, but "the term will clearly come to refer to the absolute sovereignty and divine relationship that Jesus possesses as the one who brings salvation", Bock. At least the term "underscores the exalted status Jesus has in God's purpose and within the community of God's people", Green.


The shepherds are given a sign that will confirm that the day of salvation has dawned in the coming of his messiah.

touto "this" - Nominative subject of an assumed verb to-be, "this will be ..." The "this" being the newborn baby to be found in a feeding trough.

to shmeion (on) "a sign" - the sign, distinguishing mark. Nominative predicate of the assumed verb to-be. Variant "a sign", but properly "this shall be the sign for you", ie. a sign which confirms the message of the angel that the era of salvation has dawned in the birth of the Davidic messiah. The sign is a new born babe lying in a manger (not a new babe wrapped up). The sign certainly fits the category of unusual as one would not expect to find God's messiah using a feeding trough as a cot.

uJmin dat. "to you" - Dative of interest, advantage, "for you".

esparganwmenon (sparganow) perf. pas. pat. "wrapped" - having been wrapped. This participle, as with "lying", is adjectival, attributive, limiting "baby". Culy suggests it stands as the complement in an object complement double accusative construction, although such a construction will most often use and infinitive; "you will find a baby (accusative object), wrapped (accusative object complement)". The wrapping of a newborn was a traditional act, repeated at the person's death.

fatnh/ (h) "a manger" - a feeding trough.


c) Praise on high, v13-14: Gabriel's news is so wonderful that the heaven's are rent asunder and the heavenly host bursts into praise. "Majesty in the heavens with God and peace upon earth with those on whom his favor rests." Of course, we do well to remember that God's favor rests on those who seek his favor. So, given the significance of the birth of God's messiah, the heaven's erupt with joy.

exaiqnhV adv. "suddenly" - immediately. Temporal adverb expressing a moment in time. The word is often used of a theophany, or divine manifestation, and so is not so much "suddenly" as "unexpectedly", Bock. In fact, we are best to view this event as a theophany, a manifestation of divine glory in which God's new initiative is praised by the heavenly host, so Nolland, unlike the appearing of the angel which is properly an epiphany, so Marshall.

stratiaV (a) gen. "[a great] company" - [a multitude] of army, host. The genitive is adjectival, partitive; "a multitude forming [a particular] part of", Plummer. Taken as partitive, the sense is that all the heavenly host, of which this group was but a small part, were praising God. The company functions as "God's royal entourage", Green.

ouraniou gen. adj. "of the heavenly host" - heavenly. The genitive is possibly ablative, expressing source/origin; "a multitude forming part of an army from heaven."

sun + dat. "with [the angel]" - Expressing association.

ainountwn (ainew) pres. part. "praising [God]" - praising. This participle, as with "saying", is adjectival, attributive, limiting the "great company", "who were praising God and saying." Both participles are plural, although modifying "heavenly host" singular (collective). This is an ad sensum construction, see BDF#134.1b.


The hymn of the heavenly host adopts poetic parallelism, although this is somewhat disturbed if the variant nominative eudokia is read, ie. the sentence then takes three lines:

Glory to God on high;

And on the earth peace,

Good will among men!, Torrey.

The genitive is usually preferred. It should also be noted that there is no verb, which means we must assume the mood. A doxology is usually in the form of a statement addressed to God, so indicative, but a wish could also be intended, ie. optative. See TH. A statement seems best, introduced by "There is ...", Jeremias, which is then followed by the parallel statements:

majesty in the heavens with God [and]

peace upon earth with the favored.

doxa (a) "glory" - Here of an affirmation of divine majesty, so Marshall ("the visible majesty of God which is based ultimately on the graciousness of his character"), but "praise" is possible, so Bock.

qew/ "to God" - Dative of interest, advantage.

en + dat. "in [the highest]" - in, on. Here expressing space/sphere, locative. The link is unclear; is it en God", denoting that the dwelling place of God is in heaven, "glory/majesty in/on/with God who lives in the highest", or is it en "highest", denoting where the divine majesty is found, ie. "glory/majesty in the highest with God"? Using the parallelism of the doxology it would be "glory/majesty en the highest (ie. in heaven)", aligning with "peace epi earth (ie. upon earth)".

epi + gen. "on [earth]" - upon, on, in. Here spacial.

eirhnh (h) "peace" - wellbeing. "The full some of the blessings associated with the coming of the messiah", Marshall; "The harmonious relationship that can exist between God and humans", Bock. "Peace" as of the Biblical shalom, cf. Nolland.

en + dat. "to [men]" - The second use of this preposition is dubious, not being found in some texts, but is usually read. The dative sense of association is surely intended, "with / among". The dative phrase "men of favor" is probably technical and implies the action of an agent, namely God; "those upon whom God's will/favor rests", Marshall, cf. Fitzmyer, Bock. Note how this is brought out in the NIV by the addition of "on whom his [favor] rests." So, divine peace rests "with men of [his] favor" = the elect.

eudokiaV (a) "on whom his favor rests" - of design, desire / satisfaction, contentment / goodwill, approval, favor. Divine favor is best. Peace is for the favored ones, a statement which serves to remind us that "for all the people", v10, is not a universal statement of God's favor. God's favor rests with the elect, and the elect are the humble, those who are aware of their brokenness and loss before God and so seek his mercy. Jesus comes to call sinners to repentance, not the righteous.


ii] Luke now describes the faith-response of the shepherds, v15-17. The shepherds, on hearing the news, rush off to Bethlehem, confirm the sign, and tell all those in the stable, in fact probably everyone who would listen to them, what they had just seen and heard.

kai egeneto (ginomai) aor. "-" - and it came. "And it came to pass", AV.

wJV + ind. "when [the angels departed]" - Introducing a temporal clause, as NIV.

ap (apo) + gen. "[had left them]" - [departed] from [them]. Expressing separation.

elaloun (lalew) imperf. "[the shepherds] said" - were saying. The imperfect used to express the action of speech, ie. repeated words, but possibly inceptive, "they began to speak", Nolland.

dielqwmen (diercomai) aor. subj. "let's go [to Bethlehem]" - let us go. Hortatory subjunctive.

dh "-" - now, therefore. Here probably expressing urgency; "Come, let us go straight to Bethlehem", REB.

e{wV "to" - as far as, up to. Locative.

to hJrhma (a atoV) "[and see this] thing" - word, thing. Best understood as a stated happening, "event", Marshall. The shepherds have been told of "this stated happening" and want to go and see it for themselves.

to gegonoV (ginomai) perf. part. "that has happened" - having become, come about. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "thing"; "this stated happening which has become". The perfect tense serves to indicate that the action of "the thing = the stated happening", is complete, it has become, but its consequence remains. "We must go over to Bethlehem and see what has happened", Barclay.

o} "which [the Lord]" - Here introducing a relative clause further limiting "the thing = the stated happening", ie. the thing being referred to is that which the Lord (via the angel) told the shepherds about.

uJmin dat. pro. "[has told] us [about]" - [made known] to us. Dative of interest, advantage.


kai "so" - and [they came, went]. Coordinative; "and they came", AV.

speusanteV (speudw) aor. part. "hurried" - having made haste. The participle is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of the action "came / went".

aneuran (aneuriskw) aor. "found" - discovered. The aorist indicating that what the shepherds sought is found.

te .... kai ..... kai "[Mary] and [Joseph], and [the baby]" - The connectives most probably imply the translation offered by the NIV, given that "when te is followed by more than one kai usually te and the first kai connect concepts which are more closely related to each other than to what follows", TH. Yet, it is possible to translate the clause as if all three were lying in a "manger", manger then being understood as a "bed of hay", CEV, rather than an animal's "feeding trough", Junkins.

keimenon (keimai) pres. part. "who was lying" - lying. The participle is probably adjectival, attributive, limiting "baby", although possibly best treated as an object complement; "found .... the baby lying in a manger", AV.

to brefoV .... th/ fatnh/ "the baby ..... the manger" - The presence of the articles indicates that the shepherd's found "the thing" as stated by the angel, ie. the prophecy was confirmed.


idonteV (eidon) aor. part. "when they had seen [him]" - having seen. The participle is adverbial, temporal, as NIV. The "him" is added, so possibly "them", or even "it" = "the thing", that which was stated by the angel. "It", RSV, although the NRSV dodges with "this".

egnwrisan (gnwrizw) aor. "they spread the word" - they made known. Luke employs the usual sequence of events: see/hear = amazed/fear = faith = proclaim. "They told everyone", Barclay. Yet, it must also be considered that the indirect object of the making known (unstated) is just Mary and Joseph (and others present in the stable, if any); "they made known to the others what had been told them", Cassirer.

peri "concerning" - about, concerning. Reference; "with reference to / about the word."

tou rJhmatoV (a atoV) "what" - word, thing, word. "The stated happening.", this "matter", Creed.

tou lalhqentoV aor. pas. part. "had been told [them]" - having been made known [to them]. The participle is adjectival, limiting "what / thing / word", which "thing" concerned the child (a different word for "child" is used from that used in 2:12, 16, but this is not significant).


iii] Luke describes two responses to the shepherds account; most are "amazed" (see below), but Mary treasures and ponders their words, v18-20. The response of most people who hear the news is amazement, a response that is well short of faith, but Mary takes it in and considers it carefully. As for the shepherds, they return to their flocks and do so praising God. They have certainly moved beyond fear and amazement to faith. "The shepherds return without depreciation of enthusiasm, and add their praises to those of the angels", Danker.

oiJ akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "[all] who hear it" - [all] the ones having heard. The participle functions as a substantive; "all those who heard." The object "it" is supplied, but it may be "them", ie. the shepherds. The "all" refers to those told of "this thing" by the shepherds and as noted above, this may just be all those present in the stable.

eqaumasan (qaumazw) aor. "were amazed" - wondered. A proper initial response to the gospel, but a response which must move on to faith if divine grace is sought.

peri + gen. "at" - about, concerning. Reference; "amazed about ..."

twn lalhqentwn (lalew) "what [the shepherds] said" - the things having been said. The participle functions as a substantive.

uJpo "-" - by [the shepherds]. Expressing agency.

proV autouV "to them" - Indirect object.


de "but" - but, and. Here probably adversative in that the others who heard were amazed, but Mary seeks to "understand and interpret" the events correctly, Bovon.

sunethrei (sunthrew) imperf. "treasured up [all these things]" - was preserving, keeping carefully [all these things]. The imperfect is durative, expressing the idea that Mary continually kept in her mind the prophetic word conveyed to her by the shepherds. "She kept all these things to herself, keeping them deep within herself", Peterson.

sumballousa (sunballw) pres. part. "and pondered" - pondering, considering, reflecting upon [in the heart of her]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "treasured up". Possibly "interpreted", TH; "and mused upon it", Moffatt.

ta pJhmata tauta "them" - these things, words. The initial panta, "all these things / all", serves as the object of sunethrei, "treasured", while ta pJhmata tauta, "them / these things" probably serves as the object of sumballousa, "pondered". "Mary treasured all this in her memory, and wondered in her mind what it all meant", Barclay.

en + dat. "in [her heart]" - in [heart of her]. Expressing space/sphere.


kai "and" - Linking the sequence of events, here that the shepherds, having witnessed the fulfilment of the sign, return to their flocks.

doxazonteV (doxazw) pres. part. "glorifying [and praising God]" - This, and the following participle, is adverbial, modal, expressing the manner of their returning. Of giving due honor, "acknowledging the glory of God", Zerwick.

epi + dat. "for [all the things]" - Here expressing cause, denoting the ground of a reaction; "because of ...."

oi|V dat. pro. "that [they had heard and seen]" - which. The dative case of the relative pronoun is the product of an attraction to its antecedent pasin, "all [things]".

elalhqh (lalew) aor. pas. "they had been told" - was spoken [to them]. The aorist has to be translated as a pluperfect since the action proceeds "had heard and seen", both of which are also aorist. Of course, in Gk. tense is more concerned with aspect than time.

kaqwV "[which were] just as [they had been told]" - as, like, just as [was spoken to them]. Introducing a comparative clause.


iv] At this point Luke notes the naming of Jesus, a name nominated by the angel. Commentators divide on whether this verse concludes the section v8-20, or introduces the next section. It seems best to see it as transitional, so Bock.

o{te "when" - Introducing a temporal clause, although it is a rather awkward one. The lit. sense is "when eplhsqhsan fulfilled / completed [the] eight days tou peritemein to circumcise him." The only problem being that hJmerai "days" has no article, so "eight days" rather than "the eight days", although oktw, "eight", may take the place of the article (contra Plummer). Note the parallel in v6 where the article aiJ is present. We are best to go with "after eight days had elapsed", Marshall. "When the eight days which must precede circumcision had elapsed, he was named Jesus", Barclay.

tou peritemein (peritemnw) gen. aor. inf. "to circumcise [him]" - The genitive articular infinitive here is usually regarded as forming an independent consecutive clause, although this construction usually forms a purpose clause, "in order to circumcise", cf. BDF.200.2 (a hypothetical result and purpose are virtually indistinguishable). Culy opts for an epexegetical clause clarifying hJmerai "days"; "the eight days for (requisite before) his circumcision", Zerwick.

kai "-" - and. Here used to introduce the main clause when the sentence has commenced with a subordinate clause, so, "He was named Jesus after the eight days were completed in order (that were necessary) for him to be circumcised." cf. Zerwick #318.

IhsouV "[he was named] Jesus" - [he was called the name of him] Jesus. Complement of the nominative predicate "the name."

to klhqen (kalew) aor. pas. part. "the name [the angel] had given [him]" - the calling [by the angel]. The participle is adjectival limiting the name "Jesus", "which was so designated by the angel before he was conceived in the womb", Wuest.

uJpo "-" - [the name called] by [the angel]. Expressing agency.

pro tou sullhmfqhnai (sullambanw) aor. pas. inf. "before [he] had been conceived" - before to be conceived [he in the womb]. This preposition with the genitive articular infinitive is used to form a temporal clause, antecedent time, "before"; "before his mother had conceived him", Barclay.

en + dat. "-" - in [the womb]. Expressing space/sphere.


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