Three Wise Men – was there really 3?
Since this is the Christmas season, let’s ask ourselves this: How many wise men were there when they visited Jesus and how old was Jesus back then? Was there three wise men?
Most illustrations we have from traditions show that there were three wise men who visited Jesus when He was just freshly out of the womb.
Taking a closer look at the Three Wise Men
So let us examine the passage from Matthew 2. Firstly, the Magi came from the east to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1). And the Scripture did not tell us how many were they. For all we know, there might be a hundred of them. But the number was not stated. Apparently, the only evidence is that there were three gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. Thus, it makes sense that there were only three wise men who brought the gifts. But the leap in logic is clear – it could have been four or five wise men carrying three gifts.
How old was Jesus when the “Three Wise Men” visited?
Secondly, how old was Jesus when the wise men came? I will argue that it was definitely after the eighth day of birth. Otherwise, the records in the gospel would not tie in – as the Bible recorded that Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple on the eighth day. But the most incriminating evidence that He was much older when visited was the fact that Herod decided to kill all the boys in Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi (Matthew 2:16).
And moreover, the wise men followed the star. If the star rose on the day that He arrives on this face of the earth, it would have taken them some time to travel from Persia to Jerusalem.
All in all, the evidence suggest a few things. On top of the list, we know that Jesus was probably not a ‘fresh baby’ when the wise men came. Following this, we know that He was definitely two years and under, or at least a few months into His arrival.
How does it matter?
But does it matter? Does it matter that we have read too much into the Scripture? In this case, the answer is no. While this may mean that preachers may have preached the wrong things on stage if they had interpreted this as a three wise men visiting baby Jesus thing, but we need to ask ourselves, what it does to Christology? I will say that it does nothing to discredit the doctrine that 1) Jesus arrives on earth as the God Incarnate on Christmas Day, 2) He lived a human life until He was water baptised and after that, He was crucified on the Cross and was resurrected three days later.
I am using this example to show that we may misinterpret certain things in the Bible that can be misinterpreted. But it does not take the core truth away from our belief. We need not be afraid if some traditions are being challenged.
Of course, this may have theological implications to how specifically we should live our Christian lives, yet it does not nullify the gospel of God – that is God sent His Son to save us from our sinful state so that we can establish the right relationship with God. In this case, God kickstarted the process with the arrival of baby Jesus on the face of this earth.
However, a word of caution is merited here. As I reflected on my conclusion above, I realised that we still need to be vigilant. Careless reading in this case is not crucial. But it may well build a habit that feeds into our bible reading of more important passages. Those, God forbids, may have more severe consequences.