By Milburn Cockrell

    Very shortly the religious world will be twisting and turning Matthew's account of the visit of the Magi. To prevent our being confused by their misrepresentations, it behooves us to acquaint ourselves anew with the facts actually disclosed in the book of Matthew.

   When Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea, a star appeared to the wise men of the East, announcing Christ's birth (Matthew 2:2). The star did not lead them to Jerusalem. There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate that these men went immediately, or soon, to seek the holy infant Jesus.
     Most Christians believe that the visit of the wise men occurred the same day Christ was born, but this cannot be proven from the Scriptures. Luke tells us that after the birth and circumcision of the Holy Child, "When they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth" (Luke 2:39). From Matthew we see that immediately after the visit of the Magi, "when they had departed," Joseph was warned by an angel to take the child and his mother and flee into Egypt (Matthew 2:13). The wise men visited Christ at his home in Nazareth when he was about two years old. Matthew tells us: " Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men" (Matthew 2:16).
    Thus it seems the wise men had seen the star two years before they arrived in Jerusalem.
    All details in the Scriptures lend weight to this. The shepherds in Luke found the Saviour as "a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes" (Luke 2:12). The Magi worshipped him as a "young child with Mary his mother" (Matthew 2:11). The shepherds found him lying in a manger; the wise men found him in a house.
    Our King James Version is responsible for some of the present confusion in this connection. Matthew 2:1 reads: "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem." But this is not a correct translation of the Greek text. Other versions prove this. "And Jesus having been born in Bethlehem of Judea ... " (AMERICAN BIBLE UNION). "Now after the birth of Jesus ... " (Weymouth). "After the birth of Jesus ... " (TWENTIETH CENTURY).


   The Bible does not say that there were three wise men. We know from the Biblical record there were at least two, for Matthew says "wise men".There may have been three or a thousand. To assume there were three because of the threefold gift is entirely baseless. Doubtless there were more than three, or at least they were with an entourage of scores or hundreds, for it was unsafe for a small group to travel a long distance over desert wastes which were infested with bandits. The wealth of these men as indicated in their gifts to Christ suggest that they were able to hire a large caravan to travel with them for protection.
    Others have assumed they were kings from some Old Testament texts (Psalms 68:30, 32; 72:10; Isaiah 49:7, 5-3). The Scriptures do not say that they were kings in spite of what tradition may say. If the Old Testament texts aforementioned referred to the Magi, Matthew would have told us by quoting and so stating. His silence is proof these texts had no reference to the wise men from the East.


   The indefinite expression, "from the East," indicates that the writer knew only that they came from a country east of Palestine. But whether from Persia, Arabia or Mesopotamia is uncertain. The frankincense and myrrh were found chiefly in Arabia, if their gifts to Christ mean anything.


   Matthew tells us they were "wise men" and we can see from their knowledge of Christ's kinship that they were wise men indeed, yea, wiser than the priests and elders in Jerusalem who did not know that a king had been born. However "wise men" is from the original word "major" from which comes our word "magician." While magician now has a bad meaning to us today, it did not to Matthew when he wrote. Matthew meant by the word that they were philosophers, priests or astronomers. They were the learned class who cultivated astrology and kindred sciences.
    Of the Magi Dr. Schaff remarks: "The Saviour was not without a witness among the heathen. Wise men from the East - i.e., Persian Magi, of the Zend region in which the idea of a Zoziosh, or redeemer, was clearly known - guided miraculously by a star or meteor created for the purpose, came and sought out the Saviour to pay him homage" (SMITH BIBLE DICTIONARY Volume II, page 1349, Hackett's ed.)
     These Magi were held in high esteem by the Persian court. They were advisers to the kings and often followed the camps in wars to give counsel.


   The Magi arrived in Jerusalem inquiring, "Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worshiphim." Matthew 2:2)
    How did they know about the birth of Christ by the appearance of a star? Probably by the prophecy of Balaam which reads: "There shall come a Star out of Jacob and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17). Concerning Balaam's prophecy the Jewish rabbis wrote in their Talmud: "When the Messiah shall be revealed there shall rise up in the East a star flaming with six colors" (R. Frey, Messiah page 137). Even the Jews today believe a star will appear as a sign of the Messiah's advent.


   The Magi came to see the King of the Jews and to worship him. The people of the East never approached the presence of kings without presents in their hands. These men gave Christ gifts because he was the King of the Jews. They did not exchange or trade gifts among themselves. They gave Christ gifts. They did not do this on Christ's birthday as I have already shown. There is no suggestion here for the exchanging of gifts among one another at Christmas time.
    The gold which the wise men gave to Christ enabled his parents to make the flight to Egypt. Joseph and Mary were poor and probably without this gold they could not have gone to Egypt to escape from Herod.
(The Baptist Examiner - 12/22/1979)
Return To Pagan Days Page

Return To Elder Cockrell's Page

Return To Baptist Authors

Return To PBC Home Page

Return To PBC Home