The gifts have been open and the guests have gone home. As the Christmas season winds down and Jesus’ birth is still at the forefront of our minds, let us use this time to look at some of the myths and questions surrounding His first coming. Just like with every other aspect of our faith, it is important that we get the story right, not just at Christmas, but throughout the year whenever the opportunity arises.
We Three Kings?
Many myths have developed concerning the wise men, or Magi, that visited Mary, Joseph and Jesus and then fled, refusing to go back to Herod with their location. Some of these are:
- There were 3 men.
- They were kings.
- They visited the newborn Jesus in the stable.
- Their names were Bithisarea, Melichior, and Gathaspa.
None of these things are true and can make Christianity seem more like a myth than factual history. This is quite a shame, since the real history of the Magi is much more interesting than any of the made up stories.
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, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. (Matthew 2:1-3, NKJV)
Although the gospels record very little in terms of who the Magi were or how many came to visit the Messiah, we can look to history as well as the book of Daniel for more details. The Greek word for “wise men” was magoi, which is transliterated as Magi. The Magi were a Median priesthood, not kings, whose specialty was dream interpretation. They are the very group that Nebuchadnezzar II summoned to interpret his dream in Daniel 2. Under both Nebuchadnezzar and subsequent Persian rule, Daniel was entrusted as “Chief of the Magi.” The most likely scenario is that Daniel imparted Messianic prophecies to the Magi under his charge, which were passed down for generations until the appearing of the star after the birth of the Messiah. The assumption that there were only three Magi is based on nothing more than the number of gifts that were given. Since the Bible does not say, there could have been anywhere from 2 up to a significant number and there is no record of their names. Chuck Missler had this to say in his article, “Who Were The Magi?”
In Jerusalem, the sudden appearance of the Magi, probably traveling in force with every imaginable oriental pomp and accompanied by adequate cavalry escort to insure their safe penetration of Roman territory, certainly alarmed Herod and the populace of Jerusalem. Their request of Herod regarding the one “who has been born King of the Jews” was a calculated insult to him, a non-Jew who had contrived and bribed his way into that office.
When one considers the practices of the ancient world, along with the fact that the coming of the Magi troubled all of Jerusalem, Missler’s description could be closer to the truth than some of the traditional tales.
Finally, we can say with near certainty that the Magi did not visit the family in the stable as most Nativity scenes depict, but rather some time later in a house, as mentioned in Matthew 2:11. For more information and a possible timeline of the Christmas story, including the timing of the visit of the Magi, I recommend an excellent article written by Bodie Hodge and Tim Chaffey and published by Answers in Genesis, entitled, “Christmas Timeline of the Biblical Account.”
The church fathers first proclaimed December 25th to be the birthday of Jesus in AD 440,. The date was chosen because of it’s proximity to Saturnalia (a Roman festival in honor of Saturn) and other pagan holidays. After Constantine’s Edict of Toleration legalized Christianity in the Roman Empire, the church began to replace beloved pagan festivals with Christian holidays. Since the people were used to celebrating at this time, it seemed to make sense to give them a new holiday honoring Jesus instead of the false gods. There is no basis in history or the Bible for the birth of Jesus occurring on December 25th. Many scholars believe the birth of Jesus actually occurred… (Keep reading!)