What Do We Know about the Shepherds at Jesus’ Birth?

Many nativity scenes include the wise men alongside the shepherds, but their timing is different from one another. The shepherds were the first to be notified of Jesus’ birth and are an important part of the nativity story. 

Danielle Bernock
Shepherds and the angel

The New Testament begins with the four gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These four books tell us about the arrival of the Messiah who is Jesus the Christ. Of these four books, just one takes us through the scene of Jesus’ birth. 

Matthew gives us only Jesus’ genealogy, John tells us of Jesus’ deity (the Word became flesh), and Mark skips to Jesus as an adult. 

It is only in the book of Luke that we are ushered into the holy moments surrounding Jesus’ birth, and that includes the shepherds.

Interpreting the Story of Jesus’ Birth

There are nativity scenes, Christmas carols, and Christmas plays that interpret the story of Jesus’ birth for us. Sometimes, people use a thing called artistic license. 

Oftentimes, this can be helpful in enlarging our view. But other times it can distort the truth and, therefore, what we think we know. 

Many nativity scenes include the wise men alongside the shepherds, but their timing is different from one another. 

The shepherds were the first to be notified of Jesus’ birth and are an important part of the nativity story. 

Let’s look at the story as written in the Bible to see what we can know about the shepherds.

The Story of Jesus’ Birth

The story of Jesus’ birth is found in Luke 2:1-21.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

What We Know about the Shepherds

We don’t know who they were by name, nor how many there were. There are conflicting articles about their social status but it’s clear that God saw them as important. 

Here are a few facts we can know:

  • They were the first to be told; They were busy doing what they always do. 
  • They saw and heard the angel of the Lord; They were afraid at first.
  • They saw and heard the host of angels praising God.
  • They believed the angel of the Lord and went to see Jesus — with haste.
  • They were the first evangelists; They saw Jesus long before the wise men. He was less than a-week-old in the manger.

The shepherds are an important part of the nativity story and should not be forgotten.

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/rudall30

Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named PaynLove’s ManifestoBecause You Matter, and Compassion Was Born. A long time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/

Originally published November 10, 2020.