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The Three Wise Men

By Richard Gunther


   Every Christmas we see the same old scene – the three camels with the three well-dressed men riding them, coming over the sand-dunes, with the star close by, and in the distance is Bethlehem, where the “three wise men”, sometimes depicted as kings, will dismount and enter a little stable. There they are pictured, offering expensive gifts to a new-born baby. A rather mature Mary looks on – is she in her 20’s or 30’s? – and Joseph leans on his staff, while the star hovers in the window behind him.


   Well that’s how the Bible tells it, right? 


   The truth is often quite different to both tradition and what the churches say. The Bible is possibly the most misread and twisted books in the world, so the “Christmas Story’ may be very different to the usually accepted version which appears every December.


   First of all, the Bible nowhere says that the “wise men” came in a group of three. Just because three gifts were offered, does not mean that three men offered them. We may base something on inference, but if we are allowed to infer things, we may also infer that many other things happened, and in the end we will have more conjectures than fact.


   I have come across many such conjectures. One was the theory that Jesus was a short man, simply because Zacchaeus had to climb a tree to see him. Another was the face of Judas –  often depicted as dark and scowling, despite the total lack of description in the Bible. Another is the hooked, supposedly ‘Jewish’ nose on the face of Jesus  - for which there is absolutely no warrant. Pontius Pilate is often pictured as fat. Noah’s Ark, riding on the waves, is pictured as clean, despite the fact that the Bible says it was covered in black pitch. Baby Moses is sometimes shown as floating merrily down the Nile, despite the fact that the little ark, also covered in pitch, was hidden in the rushes. One could go on.


   The Bible describes the “wise men” as “magi”. Young’s Analytical Concordance says “Magician, a Persian astronomer or priest” Mat.2:1,7,16. The Greek word is ‘magoi’


   Where did the magi go to worship Jesus?


   The Bible says that Jesus was presented in the Temple 41 days after his birth (Lev.12:3,4) and then taken home, that is to Nazareth, because the Bible says his parents returned to Nazareth (Luke 2:39) – “And when they had performed all things according to the Law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth”.


   It is usually assumed that the magi arrived before Jesus was taken home, but there are certain clues which totally contradict this.


Here is the most likely sequence, with some comments to follow:


The magi see a significant star

About the time the star is seen, Jesus is born in Bethlehem

The magi prepare for their journey towards Jerusalem

Angels announce the birth of Jesus to some shepherds

Soon after Jesus is born the shepherds arrive

8 days after his birth Jesus is circumcised

41 days after his birth Jesus is presented in the Temple

Jesus is then taken home to Nazareth

Two years later the magi arrive

They go to Jerusalem, the most likely place

Herod meets them and bids them find the child

The ‘star’ reappears and guides the magi north to Nazareth

The magi present their gifts and, warned by God, depart home another way

God also warns Jesus’ parents to go to Egypt until further notice (Mat.2:12,13)

Herod determines the age of the child

The slaughter of the babies in Bethlehem takes place (Est. 22 odd killed)

Herod dies

God tells Joseph and Mary to return home (Mat.2:20)

At age 12 he instructs the teachers of the Law in the Temple

Jesus grows up in Nazareth


(Note: Mat chapter 2 comes between Luke 2:39 and 40)


   Mat.2:16. When Herod tried to kill the Messiah, he estimated the age of the Messiah’s age to be about 2 years old, which shows that the brutal act of destroying the male children in Bethlehem was accomplished about 2 years after Jesus was born. It was quite possible for Herod to be this accurate, if he used the figures given to us in Daniel chapter 9. Working from the going forth of the decree to the beginning of the “70th week”, would enable any Bible scholar to pinpoint the time of Jesus’ birth accurately – even to the very day of his birth.


   Mat.2:7 says that Herod “enquired diligently”. This word occurs only in verse 6, 7 and in Acts 18:25, where it means “accurately:” or “exactly”. Herod obtained exact knowledge. He also enquired of “the scribes of the people”, which means the Sopherim, which denotes the learned men. These were men learned in the Scriptures, and elders of the Sanhedrin. This also shows that intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures without love for them is futility itself. Herod’s scribes, despite all their knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, had no real desire to know the Governor (Is.9:6), Redeemer, and Saviour, but the magi, who probably longed for the coming of the Messiah, travelled for years across the world to find him, and fall at his feet to offer worship.


   ‘Bible Manners and Customs’, article 630 says “The Magi were men of learning, devoting special attention to astronomy and the natural sciences . . . the Magians were a priestly class (caste) and the office is supposed to have been hereditary. They uttered prophecies, explained omens, interpreted dreams . . . in Persia they became a powerful body under the guide of Zoroaster . . . they combined the pursuit of science with soothsaying and divination. There is no Scriptural proof that there were three wise men, or that they were Gentiles, or that the “east” is meant as a definite location”.


  There is also no proof that the Magi were kings, or that they rode on camels. There is no proof that the “star” went before them all the way from the east – despite the presumptions of a certain popular Christmas carol, and the many Christmas cards which depict a star guiding three royal personages. All we really know from the Bible is that the magi “saw the star” in the east. It seems more likely that, having seen the “star” in a certain constellation, they would have interpreted this as meaning that a king had been born. The most likely place to find that king was Jerusalem, especially if these magi had read a certain scripture – Num.24:17. Herod also was clued up on this “star” because he asked “what time the star appeared” and based his calculations on it.


   After the magi arrived in Jerusalem and explained to Herod why they had come, they departed, and “the star went before them”, this time guiding them away from Jerusalem, all the way north through the 60 miles of Palestine, until it “stood over” the place where Jesus was. Now no star can stand over a building and mark it out from all others – in fact it is impossible to say over which city or even country a star stands over, because of the vast distance between Earth and heaven. However, if the “star” was a miracle, or perhaps the ‘shekinah’ glory of God – perhaps the same as the pillar of fire which led Israel through the wilderness, then there is no problem.


   Daniel-Rops, in “Jesus in His Time”, page 107 says “The Magi were originally the priests of the Mazdean religion, which was practised by the Medes and Persians. According to Herodotus they formed a rigid caste, almost a distinct tribe, and were reputed to lead ascetic lives tending the Sacred Fires in the High Places, studying astrology, and diving dreams. They were certainly powerful; one of them attempted to seize the imperial power in Persia, while Cambyses was at war in Egypt, stating that he was Smerdis, the dead brother of the emperor come back to life. But there is nothing to indicate that the Magi enjoyed any particular power under the Parthian dominion at about the time of the birth of Christ. In Jesus’ time there were many Oriental sages, astrologers and soothsayers, many sincere, many not – it is clear that the Magi of Mat.2:1 were the most reputable of their kind.”


   The Bible predictions which the Magi may have used to help them locate the Messiah were many. It is surprising just how many allusions to Jesus which we can find, in the Old Testament. However, it is probably the benefit of hindsight which makes these references seem so clear to us today. At the time it was probably a very difficult task – obviously the chief priests and scribes, who knew the Old Testament so well were unable to see the Messiah in the Scriptures.


   Balaam predicted a STAR to come out of Jacob – Num. 24:17

   Micah predicted the Messiah’s birth town – Mic. 5:2

   The prophets spoke of the Messiahs’ home town – Mat.2:23

   Isaiah predicted the Messiah’s general area of work – Is. 9:1,2

   Malachi predicted which nation the Messiah would come for – Mal.3:1

   Malachi predicted the building the Messiah would enter – Mal. 4:5,6

   Daniel predicted the time of the Messiah’s arrival – Daniel 9:25 on

   Daniel predicted the six things which the Messiah would accomplish – Dan. 9:24 on

   And so on.




   It is possible that the Magi were descendants of some of the wise men in Solomon’s family. This is just a conjecture, but it is possible that the wisdom which Solomon shared was collated and passed on through the family (though not included in the Holy Bible because of certain inherent errors). It also seems unlikely that pagan astrologers (as opposed to astronomers) should travel for years to greet a Jewish king. These priests of Satan were spiritists and corrupt – why should they even want to worship the Lord’s anointed Son? They came all the way to Jerusalem to honour “the king of the Jews” (or king of the Jehudim) (Mat.2:2. They came to worship one whose birth was marked by the appearance of a “star” – hardly what we might expect from pagans.


The arrival of the Magi at the place where Jesus was.

   When the Magi arrived they did not find a “baby”, but a “paidon” which, in Greek means “a little, or young child”. By using this word, God shows us that Jesus was about 2 years old when the Magi arrived at Nazareth.


   The matter is, of course, entirely in each person’s lap, so to speak, as to what they want to believe, but it is clear that the Bible does not give any warrant for many of the traditions and fanciful ideas which circulate every Christmas. Just once, I sometimes think, it would be nice if the Church kept Christmas exactly as the Bible describes it – stark and dull though this might be, compared to the glitz and glitter of the usual Western celebration. Of all people on Earth surely it is the Church which ought to get it right, but it never does. Year after year the Church introduces the worldly and pagan elements into the story, and each new generation is raised on the traditions of the one before. Apparently there will be three kings riding camels to Bethlehem for as long as this present Age lasts.

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