Communication In The Lukan Birth Narrative (Luke 2:1–20) -- By: David Seal

Journal: Southeastern Theological Review
Volume: STR 10:1 (Spring 2019)
Article: Communication In The Lukan Birth Narrative (Luke 2:1–20)
Author: David Seal


Communication In The Lukan Birth Narrative (Luke 2:1–20)

David Seal

Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI

The Gospel of Luke was written in an oral culture and it documents events that transpired in the same first-century Mediterranean world. This is apparent in chapter 2 where there are references to various means of information being transmitted that were typical of an oral society. First, the chapter opens by recounting a decree issued by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1–3). Second, the declaration by an angel that a Savior has been born (2:11) was also proclaimed to the shepherds by word of mouth. Third, the victory acclamation recited by the divine army (2:13–14) mimics acclamations vocalized by the Roman army. Finally, the narration by the shepherds of their experience visiting the Christ child and of the angel’s message was conveyed to others by word of mouth (2:17–18). This essay will explore each of these modes of communication and discuss their implications for understanding the birth narrative.

Key Words: birth narrative, communication, Luke 2, media, oral cultures

Most public communication in the first-century Mediterranean world was oral. This would have included speeches (in the assembly, in the council, and in the law courts), public announcements, imperial edicts, lectures, invitations to banquets, acclamations, gossip, slander, oaths, hymns, curses, prayers, confessions, and advertisements in the market, just to mention a few.1 The Gospel of Luke was written in an oral culture and it documents events that transpired in the same first-century Mediterranean world. This is apparent for example in chapter 2 where there are implied and direct references to various means of information transmission that were typical of an oral society. First, the chapter opens by recounting a decree or edict (Latin edictum, pl. edicta; Greek δόγμα) issued by Caesar Augustus that “all the world should be registered” (2:1).2 It is likely that the edict was promulgated to the provinces of the empire through the voice of a herald or town crier (Latin praeco; praecones, pl.;

Greek κῆρυξ). Second, the declara...

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