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Luke gives the account of Jesus' birth and mentions that Mary wrapped Him in "swaddling cloths".

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:7 ESV

What is particular significant about this? Is there any historical material on whether this was a common practice for newborns or whether it was unique to this birth?

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Interesting to me is that the care implied by the wrapping seems to contrast with the laying in a manger, but this might just point out my cultural ignorance. –  Paul A. Clayton Dec 18 '12 at 21:29
    
@PaulA.Clayton: There probably wasn't a better place to put the baby Jesus. –  El'endia Starman Dec 18 '12 at 22:25
    
The traditional Spanish Bible actually uses a culturally familiar word here: it says that she put him in pañales (diapers). This seems to suggest that there wasn't anything particularly significant to it; she was treating him as an ordinary baby. –  Mason Wheeler Dec 19 '12 at 5:31
    
Common practice to be sure. Which is all the more reason to wonder why the author felt the need to include such a detail! –  svidgen Dec 20 '12 at 16:34
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6 Answers

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I don't want to plagiarize, but there is a very good Catholic article on this here.

In summary, the significance of swaddling clothes lies both in the fact that it is humble, common, ordinary, and also that it ties to Solomon - specifically the Wisdom of Solomon 7, 3-6.

7:3 And when I was born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, which is of like nature, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do. 7:4 I was nursed in swaddling clothes, and that with cares. 7:5 For there is no king that had any other beginning of birth. 7:6 For all men have one entrance into life, and the like going out.

Per the author of the article, this tie is a reinforcement of Christ's place in the Davidic line, and his rightful place as heir to the Throne of David.

This may or may not be agreed upon by all denominations, (The Wisdom of Solomon isn't in the Protestant Bible) or even all Catholics. The idea of it signifying humble beginnings for the King of Kings does seem to be more universal.

Another article at http://living4jesus.net/dynamic/in.swaddling.htm tells that swaddling cloth used in Scripture is not swaddling clothes that a normal infant would be buried in, but rather the strips of cloth used in burial rites.

Have you ever wondered about "swaddling clothes"?

Everyone knows that Jesus was born in a manger, and the 2nd chapter of the gospel of Luke says that he was wrapped in "swaddling clothes" and laid in a manger. In fact, even hospitals today use a cloth that they call a "swaddling" cloth. Unfortunately, it's a misnomer that will soon be over 2,000 years old, because "swaddling clothes" have nothing to do with a child being born!

In the Middle East, people traveling long distances were often met with many hardships and trials on their journeys. In the event of a death in travel, the body could not continue to be transported for many days. For that reason, travelers wrapped a thin, gauzelike cloth around their waist many times. If someone died on the journey, the others would use this cloth, referred to as "swaddling clothes" to wrap the corpse in before burying them.

When Jesus was born, there was no room in the Inn, and so Mary and Joseph used a nearby stable for Jesus' birth. With no other cloth to use, Jesus was wrapped in Joseph's "swaddling clothes" - the cloth normally reserved for a person's death.

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords came into this world in a lowly manger and was wrapped with burial clothes - in truth, He was born to die. To die for the sins of all mankind.

Clearly, there can be many deeper meanings read into the significance of Swaddling Clothes. Whether all are accurate, or simply a part of our tendency to romanticize and look for deeper meaning, I'm not sure, but I thought that each of these was worth sharing.

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Very nice, there are always deeper meanings! You hit the literal, anagogical, allegorical and moral senses. –  Peter Turner Dec 19 '12 at 3:45
    
I must contest such a theory. Look up the noun σπάργανον which is related to that very same verb in question, σπαργανόω. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Dec 19 '12 at 5:31
    
I don't know enough to argue. :-) That's why I included the last sentence. –  David Stratton Dec 19 '12 at 5:33
    
Our tendency to romanticize what we read may be linked to our tendency to romanticize what we write! In the case of scripture, I think it's especially warranted. The scripture writers tend not include any trivial details. –  svidgen Dec 20 '12 at 16:32
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That the baby Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes has two important connotations, and in order to understand all that goes into the meaning of that scripture, we need to start with the meaning of swaddling clothes.

according to Merriam Webster:

SWAD'DLE, v.t. 1. To swathe; to bind, as with a bandage; to bind tight with clothes; used generally of infants; as, to swaddle a child. SWAD'DLE, n. Clothes bound tight around the body.

SWATHE, v.t. To bind with a band, bandage or rollers; as, to swathe a child.

  1. To bind or wrap.

The words used in Luke 2:7 in the Greek is:

G4683 σπαργανόω sparganoo (spar-gan-oh'-o) v. 1. to swathe (an infant after the Oriental custom) [from sparganon (a strip] KJV: wrap in swaddling clothes

and:

G4616 σινδών sindon (sin-done') n. 1. byssos, i.e. bleached linen (the cloth or a garment of it) KJV: (fine) linen (cloth)

It was a custom of that generation in the Middle East to wrap a newborn in swaddling clothes to accomplish two things;

  1. to give the infant the feeling of still being in the womb where he was unable to move freely and flail his arms and legs.

  2. The infant was used to the warm temperature inside the womb and if it became cold it would not sleep and cry.

This was considered to be the transition from the womb to life;

This is eerily similar to what is said about Jesus Burial:

Luke 23;52 and 53

52 This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Yahushua.

53 And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.

G3608 ὀθόνιον othonion (oth-on'-ee-on) n. 1. a linen bandage KJV: linen clothes Root(s): G3607

G3607 ὀθόνη othone (oth-on'-ay) n. 1. a linen cloth KJV: sheet

This was considered to be the method of transition from life to death.

I am not sure that it was not planned that the man Jesus should enter and depart life in the same manner.

P.S. Even should you choose this answer, which doesn't seem likely, but just in case please do not award me the bounty, I have this thing about wanting to earn my own points.

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I have studied and questioned the meaning of the swaddling clothes and why the angel would use those words as well to the shepherds. I know no word is accidentally placed in the bible! Being of Jewish descent I found out years ago that the priest's clothing worn to minister before the Lord in the Holy Place, not Most Holy Place, were never tossed away but prepared as strips of cloth to wrap the Torah scrolls and used when a child was circumcised. When Jesus was brought to the Temple on the eighth day to be circumcised and Simeon took Him who was again going to be wrapped in swaddling clothes into his arms saying mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, He was the Torah the Word of God made flesh, incarnate. The Eighth Day is the Feast Day they celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai if I remember correctly. Been awhile since I taught on it.

What you have written about the shepherds and the meaning is amazing. God has so so many ways of pointing to the Messiah Yeshua throughout scripture, He does not want any to miss HIM, always saying 'Here He Is!'. One more shadow I can look to :) Thank you Lord when one just makes a turn to You the veil is removed!

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Wow! Very interesting! Do you have any sources for this that you could link to? –  Narnian Dec 26 '13 at 16:34
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I went to the library years ago and just read Jewish books and customs, not Christian books. And the Holy Spirit just showed me how He was everywhere. I'd start there. I think it was titled, Jewish customs and ceremonies. I would sit and write for hours copying down what I was reading. No Copy machines and way too much information. I should have ordered the book, but no Amazon either then, in the 80's. –  Patte Dec 26 '13 at 16:50
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This website http://www.arielministries.org/ariel/roar_main_december2012.html has some useful information where there is additional information about the swaddling of the sacrificial lambs.

I have always wondered about the significance of Jesus' having been swaddled and the reason that the Angels proclaiming his birth to the shepherds would have included the statement about swaddling cloths. I was sure that it must have a deeper meaning. As a mother of four, I have always wondered how Mary, who was apparently a wise woman, could have left her home for a long journey without bringing something to wrap her baby in since his delivery was very close. Mothers are known for nesting as soon as they feel the first kick, and I left my "hospital" bag with all the things I knew my newborns would need in the car for the last few weeks of my pregnancies, just in case.

The article I read from the above link tells us that the shepherds near Bethlehem were shepherd-priests, who were the ones who delivered, cared for and raised the lambs which were to be used sacrificially at the nearby Temple. These shepherds swaddled the Passover lambs right after birth as part of their ceremony to keep the animals from blemish. So, it stands to reason, that the Angel described Jesus' being swaddled to them so #1 they would know better where to find him( the birthing cave) and #2 they would know him as the Lamb who would be slain for redemption of their sins.

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Welcome to C.SE! When you get the chance, please check out our about and specifically How we are different than other sites. You may see I edited out the more chatty and less academic parts - but you did some good research here. Thanks, and welcome aboard! (P.S. I'm really, really glad to see more women participating here!) –  Affable Geek Nov 12 '13 at 16:36
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As we read the Nativity Story, (esp Luke 2: 7-20) Ponder the questions? Why did the angels go to the shepherds first? Why are swaddling clothes twice mentioned, "And this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger."

I gave a talk a week ago, on the shepherd seeking the lost sheep, when I found the special significance of this verse Christmas Eve, it brought a special testimony of His birth as the Saviour, The shepherds would take the firstborn of the flock for the sin sacrifice offering. To stop the newborn lamb from injuring itself so it would be without blemish they would wrap them in swaddling clothes and usually lay them in a manger until they were stronger and ready to go to the mother. Thus the sign of the firstborn son wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger was of special signifigance to the shepherds, who would share this incredible sign with others who could understand it! May He continue to have a significant place in everyone's heart especially on this day of celebration. Humbly, in His Eternal Love

Bob Lewis

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Neat. Can you add a reference? –  svidgen Dec 26 '12 at 2:31
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Thanks so much, Bob. I would be EXTREMELY interested in a reference to this. –  Narnian Dec 27 '12 at 13:44
    
This is difficult to believe, nice as it sounds. As far as I know, all mammal newborns instinctively go to their mothers for milk from the first day. So the swaddling cloths were on for only a few hours in this case? –  Steve May 31 '13 at 13:47
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It's just what people do with newborns: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swaddling

We found that wrapping our children with slightly stretchy fabric blankets when they were infants tended to comfort them and help them sleep better than when their limbs would flail about.

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Common practice in a lot of places. So, why include it in a narrative that is otherwise overloaded with symbolism? Why include a birth story at all? –  svidgen Dec 20 '12 at 16:23
    
Maybe just to show that he was a regular baby, or to reinforce the idea that he was of humble beginnings? Were royal babies wrapped differently? I don't know, but it seems to fit with the overall image of humility. –  kurosch Dec 20 '12 at 18:29
    
Certainly a possibility. See david's answer. –  svidgen Dec 20 '12 at 19:18
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