Tuesday, January 06, 2004


January 6th. Kings Day. Historically in the Western Church, since around A.D. 300, January 6th has been celebrated as the date of the visit of the Magi. An earlier post outlines how one scholar feels the early Church came up with this date. A study at The Biblical Studies Foundation provides some basis for the following. Even though it’s always depicted as such, the Magi’s visit was not done to the manger where Jesus was placed. Why do we see it that way? Maybe it’s because we’re lazy or maybe it’s just because no one really cares to get it right. In all likelihood, Jesus was anywhere from a few months to about 18 months old when the wise men left their gifts. This is surmised due to several reasons: Note that the text indicates the passage of time after Jesus’ birth, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, in the time of King Herod, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem” – Matthew 2:1 (NET) (emphasis added); note, also, the apparent passage of time since the beginning of the magi’s journey, “…wise men from the East came to Jerusalem saying, “Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”… Then Herod privately summoned the wise men and determined from them when the star had appeared.” – Matthew 2:1-7 (NET); note that the text describes the Magi’s visit was to a house, and not a stable; finally, note the age of the children that were slaughtered by Herod in his attempt to do away with the future king. Another interesting tidbit is that there is no mention of three wise men… only that there were wise men. So much for the song, We Three Kings. What about the Star that guided the wise men? Hugh Ross at Reasons to Believe wrote a short piece titled, The Christmas Star, analyzing the possibilities of what the star could have been, as well as giving his take on the visit of the magi. First, although translated as astrologer, the derivative of the term magi means oriental scientist or wise man. The same Babylonian word would have been used to describe Daniel and his friends as wise men in the king’s court. The Magi who visited Jesus may have come from the same legacy as Daniel. It is interesting to note that Matthew says very little about these Gentile wise men and the Divine guidance that led them to worship the Messiah. The Star, based solely on the Greek, could have been anything from a meteor, to a comet, to a planet, to a star. Most astronomers think it was either a conjunction of planets, a comet, or a supernova. The problem with this interpretation comes when one attempts to compare this account with those of other civilizations. There is no mention of an astronomical event, of that magnitude, during the time that Christ would have been born. Keep in mind that ancient civilizations were much more aware of the heavens than we typically are. Any event in the night sky sufficient to cause wise men to travel to a far away land would certainly have been mentioned by neighboring groups. But we see no mention of such an event. A rare recurring nova may have occurred, thereby allowing the star to brighten and dim, as the text seems to indicate. ““For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”… After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star they shouted joyfully.” – Matthew 2:2, 9 (NET) Such an event could be sufficiently rare enough to garner the attention of the magi, while also being sufficiently unspectacular enough to not be recorded in other civilization’s records. This option, though, is by no means conclusive, and there are staff members within Dr. Ross’ organization who disagree with it. Compounding the mystery is the manner in which the star seemed to guide the wise men. “After listening to the king they left, and once again the star they saw when it rose led them until it stopped above the place where the child was.” – Matthew 2:9 (NET) Normal astronomical events do not move in such a manner as to guide someone to a specific geographical location. The text, though, seems to indicate that the event of the star was designed to coincide with timing rather than location, for the kings asked of Herod, ““Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”” – Matthew 2:2 (NET) It was up to Herod’s wise men to specify the location of Messiah’s birth to the Magi. Therefore, another conclusion regarding the star is that the event was not strictly physical in nature, but was evidence of God’s supernatural authority. Some feel that the account of the star is evidence of God’s Shekinah glory. Others disagree on the grounds that the Greek text used for the word star does not support that interpretation. What of the gifts brought to King Jesus? Some have mentioned that the gold, frankincense, and myrrh are symbolic, in a specific sense, for Jesus the Messiah: Gold – a gift for a King; frankincense – a gift used in worship; and myrrh – a gift used for embalming (foreshadowing His future death). Others have said that the timing of the gifts, immediately prior to the flight to Egypt, indicates their specific purpose to fund that journey. Finally, it is also interesting that there is only one account of the Magi’s visit recorded in the Gospels. So although we’ve gained knowledge on the event, we’re still left with many unanswered questions… who were the Magi exactly?, where did they come from?, what prophecies did they read that guided their journey?, what was the star that guided them?, when did the event occur?, why is it not mentioned in the other Gospels? One question we do have the answer to, though, is: Who was the King they came to worship?

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