Were The Wise Men Present On The Night Of Christ's Birth

One of the most known aspects of the common “Christmas story” is the visit by the Wise men or as they are also known “Three Kings” on the night of Christ’s birth, however did this really happen.

The first thing most think is Yes, the bible says so. We are reminded of this through movies, Christmas cards and all sorts of Christmas paraphernalia and merchandising, but were they really there on the night Jesus was born.

In the early Church, the story was told a little different. The common belief was sometime after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary had settled in Bethlehem with the young child Jesus in their own home. During this period, three wise men arrived at their house with gifts for the child and to pay Him homage.

Then after the wise men had left, Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt immediately as Christ’s life was threatened. Joseph did as he was instructed and left that very night with Jesus, His mother Mary, and Salome, Mary’s midwife.

The story of Christ’s birth is relayed through the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and when we compare the two versions we see who is correct. What is of note is that the wise men are not mentioned in Luke’s version, which is the only one to give specific details of the birth itself and Matthew’s begins some time after Jesus was born, not at the time. This is evidenced by the following verses,

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, 2Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2

Notice verse 1 says “Now when Jesus was born…” and verse 2 says “Where is He that is born…” and “for we have seen…”, all indicating that Jesus had already been born.

If we now move to Luke’s gospel, we can read of the actual birth and if there is any mention of the wise men being present.

In the Gospel according to Luke Chapter 2 verses 1 to 5 we read of how Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem to be taxed and it was in this city Mary gave birth.

“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:1-5

In verses 8 to 14 we read of how an angel of god announced to shepherds that were keeping watch over their flocks of the birth of the promised Messiah. Upon hearing this, they decided to go to Bethlehem to witness what they had been told.

“And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” Luke 2:15-16

We then know that the shepherds traveled “abroad” testifying of what they had heard and seen,

“And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” Luke 2:17-18

While the shepherds traveled, Mary kept these things quiet and when the shepherds returned they were still praising God for what they had seen and heard.

“But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” Luke 2:19-20

We also know that during this time that the shepherds were traveling when Jesus was eight days old He was taken to Jerusalem to be circumcised and given the name of “Jesus”.

“And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;” Luke 2:21-22

This is also confirmed when we consider that the time of Mary’s purification after giving birth to a male child was 7 days thus she was considered unclean for this period and could not enter the temple that the child could be circumcised.

“Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a woman have conceived seed, and born a man child: then she shall be unclean seven days; according to the days of the separation for her infirmity shall she be unclean. 3And in the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” Leviticus 12:2-3

If we now return to the Gospel of Matthew, we read in chapter 2, verses 3-10 of how Herod the king asked of the priests and scribes where the Christ would be born and also enquired of the wise men when they had seen the star that had told them of Chris’s birth and lead them there. When they had left Herod, the wise men again saw the star, which they followed to where the child Jesus was.

As we read on, we now read of how the wise men went into the “house” and saw the “young child” where they worshipped Jesus and presented Him with gifts,

“And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” Matthew 2:11

However, according to Luke, when Jesus was born, He was placed in a "manger" because there was no room in the Inn.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

After they had left, the wise men were told in a dream not to return to Herod so they returned to their own country, then Joseph was visited by an angel in a dream who told him to take his family to Egypt because Herod sought to kill Jesus.

“And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.” Matthew 2:13

It then states in verse 14 that “when he arose”, indicating that when Joseph awoke from his sleep, evidenced by the fact he saw the angel in a “dream”, they left on their journey to Egypt,

“When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.” Matthew 2:14-15

The final verse I would like to draw attention to is Matthew 2:16 where we read that Herod ordered the deaths of all the male children up to the age of two years, based on the time he had ascertained from the wise men,

“Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.” Matthew 2:16

If we now consider the facts according to the scriptures, we have a number of factors that prove the wise men were not present on the night Jesus was born.

In Luke’s account of Christ’s birth, no mention is made of the wise men being present, only the shepherds.

When Jesus was born, he was placed in a “manger” because Joseph and Mary could not find accommodation, yet when the wise men came, they went to a “house” to see Him.

The wise men had seen the star in their country to the east (most probably Media) from which they could not have traveled to Bethlehem in one night.

The references to the visit from the wise men refer to them seeing a “young child”, not a newborn infant.

After the wise men had left, Joseph arose from his sleep and left for Egypt. Yet the shepherds had time to travel “abroad” and return before Joseph took his family to Egypt.

Jesus was taken to Jerusalem eight days after He was born to be circumcised, so this had to have occurred before the angel told Joseph to take the Holy family to Egypt, indicating at least eight days had passed before the wise men had come.

Herod ordered the deaths of the children under two according to when the wise men said the star appeared, had it been that night, the order would have been only newborns.

So who is correct, the early Church version or the common modern day version?

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