WISE MEN FROM
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 DID THEY
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"
Thus it seems the wise men had seen the star two years before they arrived
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).
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HOW MANY WISE MEN?
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.
WHERE WERE THEY
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.
WHO WERE THEY?
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.
WHAT BROUGHT THEM?
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."
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.
WHY DID THEY COME?
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)
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