Swaddling clothes in the Bible are likely the most famous clothes in existence. Most Christians, as children, learn about Jesus being born and wrapped in swaddling clothes. This is the nativity scene that so many of us have seen during Christmas.
But what are swaddling clothes in the Bible and what do they represent? I’ll answer that question below.
The Biblical scene for “swaddling clothes” is most famous for the birth of Christ.
Imagine yourself there, as a shepherd.
You are caring for sheep on a hillside far, far away near Bethlehem. Trying to sleep by a fire on the hard ground.
Listening for wild animals that might harm the flock. Suddenly the sky lights up and you are overwhelmed with the sound of angels singing and celebrating something but what?
Of course, we know that this was the heavenly chorus of angels sent to announce the birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. But if you were just a poor shepherd trying to do your job in the dark and got the surprise of your life, it would be surprising.
So they were told where to go and what to look for. Swaddling clothes was one of the signs.
Where In The Bible Do We Find The Term “Swaddling Clothes”?
Although it’s very rare to hear the term swaddling clothes in present day-to-day life, the term is well documented in the Bible.
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There are four verses in the Bible that mention swaddling clothes.
Luke 2:7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn.
Luke 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Ezekiel 16:4 the Lord speaks to Israel about the abandoned and desperate condition in which He had found his people, saying “And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee, thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all.”
Job 38:9 Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth it went out from the womb; when I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band?
We can see from these two verses that God understands that swaddling means to hold tight, to cover and to protect. These are both Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) references. The Lord is speaking through Ezekial in the first and God is challenging Job in the second.
These were the only two references I could find outside of the New Testament.
Luke refers to the swaddling clothes twice (also ready my article on cheesy Christian pick-up lines).
What Are Swaddling Clothes
I have to admit to a gross misunderstanding about swaddling clothes that goes back to my childhood. When swaddling was described to me as a child it was always in the context of poverty and of having to be born in a barn.
It just seemed a natural assumption that all you’d have in a barn are rags. The thought that Mary knew she was having a baby and probably planning for the trip didn’t occur to me at all (learn why God’s timing is always perfect).
Since she was and she did, it makes sense now that swaddling clothes are just types of clothes with a specific purpose, probably small blankets. So I’m sure that Mary took care to have plenty of whatever she needed to wrap Jesus in.
The only real surprise for them was that they couldn’t find a regular place to stay. So even if they’d found a hotel for the night, baby Jesus would still be in swaddling clothes.
So swaddling clothes are made to wrap a baby in. They protect, secure, and warm a newborn who has just left the comfort of the womb. When Mary wraps him in swaddling clothes and lays him in a manger she is being a loving mother.
Were Swaddling Clothes Actually Burial Cloth
After much study, I found that most scholars agree that burial clothes are not the same as swaddling. The Bible is full of miraculous events and frequently links are found that tie people and events together.
Often this involves cryptic language or references and there have been those who likened swaddling clothes to burial clothes. This would signify the Savior starting out wearing much the same as when he died (read my article about funny Bible verses).
However most scholars recognize this is not true. The Greek word for swaddling clothes is a root of sparganoo. And apparently this word is not used in the New Testament for burial cloths. As a result, the idea of foreshadowing between Jesus’ birth and death doesn’t work here.
On the other hand, Rabbi Jason Sobel believes that the shepherds who saw the angel chorus may have been Levitical shepherds who raised sheep for sacrifice.
As such they would take great care of the lambs, going so far as to swaddle them so that there was no blemish on them. They had to be perfect in order to be sacrificed.
It all took place in Bethlehem, the city of bread, because Jesus is the Bread of Life. This is his 2 minute explanation.
When the Levitical shepherds saw the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger just like the lambs they prepare for sacrifice, how could they not get the message?
What Clothes or Fabric Would Be The Equivalent Today
Although I’m not sure when the recent trend to swaddling occurred, it has become popular with the experts. I think part of it has to do with SIDS and the effort to reduce infant deaths from suffocating.
If a baby is swaddled it is easier to place him on his back and it keeps him in place. In the 60s and 70s we were still placing babies face down with their heads to the side.
Swaddling prevents a baby from thrashing about and is intended to provide a secure feeling. As a new mother I was given large squares of flannel which were to be used for wrapping my babies like little packages.
But I wasn’t told I was swaddling them. Just making them warm and convenient to carry around.
Now so many moms are swaddling their babies that small blankets are marketed for the specific purpose. They have velcro and instructions with exactly how to wrap your baby.
The favorite ones seem to be made from a double gauze that doesn’t get too hot and allows for circulation.
I’m glad to know that Jesus wasn’t wrapped in rags because his parents forgot to pack correctly. They may have been poor, but they were able to wrap Jesus in appropriate cloth.
Such a relief. It is good to know that the Savior of the world came into it where he did with loving parents who knew how to take care of him. It was Bethlehem just as prophesied and the city where the Levitical shepherds were doing their jobs for the temple preparing the sacrificial lambs.
So swaddling is an important part of baby care and swaddling clothes are simply blankets or wraps to keep the baby snug and secure.
The angel chorus felt it was important enough to bring it to the attention of the shepherds. Since angels probably don’t say anything by accident, it’s become a key phrase written to be remembered for all time by Luke.