One of the most evocative images from any Christmas scene must be that of the Wise Men attending Jesus’ birth, and the star hovering over the stable where He was born. But so few people actually know what the Bible really says about this event, or what it actually means for us today.

The event is recorded in Matthew 2:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem.

When did the event take place?

The actual journey of these wise men could easily have taken a long time. It would appear from Matthew 2:7 that the star, which the wise men had seen, had appeared at the moment of Jesus’ birth. But the wise men had arrived after the birth. If they saw the star at the moment of Jesus’ birth, then it would have taken at least a few months for the wise men to arrive.

We will say something about Herod — who he was and what he was like — a little later. For now, we should note that he wanted to know the exact time the star had appeared, presumably so he could pinpoint the exact moment of this special child’s birth. He later proceeded to have all baby boys killed who were two years old and under (Matthew 2:16). This would indicate that Jesus had been born up to two years previously. So the wise men did not arrive at the same time as the shepherds, who arrived the same day as the birth (Luke 2:11). Indeed, Jesus’ family was no longer in a stable; they were living in a house at that time (Matthew 2:11).

Who were the Wise Men?

The Greek word for the wise men is μαγοι, (magi). It is from this word that we get our word magician. At that time, the boundary between those who attempted to perform occult experiments and those who performed legitimate science would have been blurred. For example, early chemists were alchemists, trying to change one substance into another (usually gold) by all sorts of methods, including incantations, but also including methods that we would recognize today as experimental chemistry. Similarly, these magicians could probably be referred to as scientists in a broader sort of way.

As they came from the East, they could have been associated with the magicians mentioned in Daniel. In Daniel 2, King Nebuchadnezzar is speaking to people who are referred to as magicians, astrologers and wise men. These could very well be the same group of people. There is some additional evidence for this below….

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