Three Myths About the Magi in Matthew 2

Myths abound about the men who visited Jesus with gifts. Foremost are these:

First, “The men were kings.” Matthew calls them magoi (Matt 2:1), not kings. They went in search for the king of the Jews (2:2a), and they had a conversation with king Herod (2:7-8), but they themselves were not kings. The idea that they were kings arose from the influence of Psalm 72:10-12. The wise men were actually more like astrologers. 

Second, “There were three wise men.” Their actual number is unclear in Matthew 2. Tradition says there were three, but that implication is drawn from the number of the gifts (see Matt 2:11). The implication seems logical: if everyone who came brought a gift, then the three gifts means there were three magi. However, “three” wise men remains speculation. Haven’t you ever brought a gift somewhere that was both from you and someone else? There may have been more than three magi visiting Jesus.

Third, “The wise men visited the newborn Jesus.” Not exactly. Despite what traditional nativity scenes portray, the text indicates that the magi did not arrive right after Jesus’ birth. In traditional nativity scenes, we see the manger surrounded by Mary and Joseph, shepherds, wise men, and probably some animals. But as much as 1-2 years has passed since Jesus’ birth, as suggested by the wise men’s response to Herod about when the star appeared (cf. 2:16). Jesus was probably 1-2 years old when the magi arrived. 

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2 thoughts on “Three Myths About the Magi in Matthew 2

  1. Pingback: Were the Magi’s Three Gifts Symbolic? | Soli Deo Gloria

  2. Pingback: Were the Magi’s Three Gifts Symbolic? | Kosmosdale Baptist Church

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