Most Christmas nativity scenes and plays include three wise men visiting Jesus. Is this accurate? How many wise men visited Jesus?
The biblical account of the wise men (also called “magi”) is found in Matthew 2. Verse 1 only notes wise “men” came from the east to Jerusalem. No number is mentioned, though there was clearly more than one wise man.
In Matthew 2:11, the wise men find Jesus: “Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” Because there were three gifts, many have assumed there were three wise men.
However, this is not specifically noted. There could have been only two wise men, three men, or even a large caravan of men and their servants. A larger group is more likely, since their arrival in Jerusalem caused a disturbance among King Herod and those in the city (Matthew 2:3).
Another detail includes the fact that the wise men were likely able to fit into the house where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph stayed (Matthew 2:11). This probably indicates the wise men included a group of no more than a few men rather than a large group too numerous to fit into a home.
Later church tradition even associates names with three wise men, including Gaspar (or Caspar), Mechior, and Balthasar (sometimes Balthazar). The accuracy of these names is unknown.
Though uncertain, these magi most likely traveled from somewhere in ancient Babylon (now Iran) where these men would have been familiar with the Jewish exiles who had previously lived in the area and their prophecies of a coming Messiah (chosen one).
Though not Jewish, these wise men understood Jewish prophecies and responded to the revelation they understood from the Lord. God spoke to these men through natural revelation (the star) and the dreams God gave them to rescue them from Herod.
Of greatest importance, God’s work in their lives led them to the true Messiah, Jesus Christ. These men were willing to make great commitments to travel the many miles necessary to find Him. They also gave generous gifts and risked their lives to disobey Herod and return by “another route” (Matthew 2:11).
These men represent many values still important today. They sought God diligently, committed their way to the Lord, and gave generously to honor Him. As many have said, wise men continue to seek Him today.
Dillon Burroughs serves as senior writer at The John Ankerberg Show and has written nearly 40 books on issues of faith and culture. He is also an associate editor for The Apologetics Bible for Students and has contributed to many works on apologetics and Christian worldview. Dillon is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and holds a PhD in Leadership from Piedmont International University. He lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with his wife, Deborah, and their three children.
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