On Christmas Eve in 1818, a small-town Austrian congregation heard the hymn “Silent Night” for the first time.

Since then, the song has been translated into at least 142 languages. It’s one of the world’s best-loved Christmas carols.

But was it really a silent night? Let’s see how the lyrics line up with the story of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s Gospel.

Silent Night lyrics: are they biblical?

Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace

I think we can all agree that the night Christ was born was indeed holy. In fact, one of my favorite Christmas carols is all about how holy it was.

But silent and calm? I don’t think so. The Gospel of Luke says that there was no room in the inn, and so Mary laid the baby Jesus in a manger. A night in a small, overcrowded town with a newborn baby doesn’t sound silent or calm at all.

Yes, Mary was the mother of Jesus, and she was indeed a virgin (Lk 1:27).

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior is born.
Christ, the Savior is born.

The shepherds were “terribly frightened” by the heavenly host—and for good reason. This was no choir of angelic singers. The word for “host” in Luke 2:13 means “army.” Those angels were soldiers, but they arrived with a message of “peace on earth.”

When the first angel appeared to the shepherds, the “glory of the Lord” did shine all around them.

“Hallelujah” or “Alleluia” mean “praise the Lord.” The angels did praise Him (Lk 2:13), but we don’t know if they actually sang this.

In fact, we don’t know that the angels sang at all. Luke tells us what they said, but we can’t be sure that there was music involved.

Wait—frightened shepherds, bright lights, and speeches from a heavenly army? On a calm, silent night?

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

This verse hits on a few ways the Bible refers to Jesus, so I’ll just list them out:

  • Jesus is the Son of God (Lk 1:35; Jn 20:31).
  • Jesus is the Light (Jn 1:6).
  • Jesus represents God’s love (Jn 3:16), and by His sacrifice we know what love is (1 Jn 3:16).

The Bible doesn’t mention literal radiant beams coming from Jesus’ face until His transfiguration (Mt 17:2).

Redeeming grace certainly came through Jesus’ earthly ministry. Peter tell us that we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ (1 Pe 1:18–19).

Conclusion: who named this song?

A baby. A crowded small town. Travelers. An angel. Lots of angels. There’s no way this was a silent night.

The song certainly takes a few creative liberties, but there’s nothing counterbiblical here. I just really wonder how Joseph Mohr came to highlight silence as a characteristic of that very holy night.

See some other Christmas hymns analyzed