How many people did the shepherds tell about the angelic appearance?

God sends an angel to speak to the shepherds:

They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (NLT)

This story is extraordinary. What makes this story extraordinary were not just the magnificent appearance of the angel and the hosts of heaven singing the “Gloria.” It was that they believed the angel’s story and told it to other people. They could not hide it to themselves. After the angel had left them, they quickly move to look for look for Jesus in a manger. After finding him, they revealed to others what the angel had told them.

Here’s what we do not know exactly. Should we assume that with evangelistic zeal, they went on to tell everyone words from the angel? Or, were the people they told only Mary and Joseph or can we assume that they told more people? It depends on the translation.

Various translations assume that the shepherds told everyone, including the TNIV, NLT, and Message. These translations suggest an evangelical zeal of telling everyone.

But the GNT suggest that they only told Mary and Joseph, which does not indicate an evangelistic outlook.

The NRSV and ESV do not say how many people they told. So which is it?

When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (TNIV)

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. (NLT)

Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed. Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. (Message)

When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. (GNT)

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (NRSV)

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (ESV)

5 thoughts on “How many people did the shepherds tell about the angelic appearance?

  1. Hi, when something happens in my home that I feel I need to share, I tell everyone [all]. That is, everyone I happen to see in the week or two after the event. Then it seems that that group of ‘all’ tells their circle of ‘all’ , some of whom I do not even know. And so, the word-or story-gets spread over the neighborhood.
    Next year, when that special day rolls around, my group of all may remember and discuss that passed event; we may even publish it in the news.
    Always there are a few who keep the news, or story, to themselves and just rehearse it in their own mind or heart.
    I do not think the shepherds where a different breed of human; I think they told all they met, especially friends, family and those strangers who may have heard in a round about way and then asked for details or truth of certain points. They may even have been overheard discussing it among themselves causing nearby hearers to question them. Humans are humans in any century.


  2. Peter, you make a very good point. I wasn’t even aware of the Textus Receptus’ diagnorizo. You may be right about the versions intending to translate the textual variant. But if they did so, then why not translate more of the textual variants? I still tend to wonder if these translations have an evangelistic-theological bias? Not that I have anything against evangelism. I’d love for “all who heard it” imply that the shepherds went all over telling everybody the good news. But three people and three hundred people is a big difference.


  3. Gary, as an evangelical, I’d like to interpret that they told everyone. Unless they had short-term memory, like me, they would have forgotten everything. I’m amazed how these stories were passed on by word-of-mouth and finally written down. Some scholars say Luke was written far later than 30 years, like closer to 64-70 CE. I hope they got everything written down all correct.


  4. The Greek verb here, gnorizo, simply means “they made known”, without specifying who came to know. There is actually a well attested textual variant diagnorizo which might imply making the news generally known; this is in the Textus Receptus and so might explain KJV “they made known abroad” and NKJV “they made widely known”. Perhaps some of the versions you quote in fact intended to translate this textual variant, against their normal policy of translating the critical text.

    Verse 18 refers to “all who heard it”, in fact contrasting these “all” with Mary. In English I understand “all” as implying a minimum of three people. I don’t know if that rule is quite applicable in Koine Greek, but if it is, that suggests the shepherds told at least three people other than Mary, and most probably quite a lot of people. But I don’t think we can really be sure, especially if we rely on the critical text.


  5. How many people? Probably everyone they met that night, and quite a few the next couple days, but then life seemed to return to normal.

    I’d be more curious to know how many people remembered that night 30 years later, when Jesus began his ministry.


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