The 'Three' Wise Men

Question: How many wise men were there when they visited Jesus and how old was Jesus back then?

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.



 However, why not take a closer look at Matthew 2:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’” 
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” 
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. 
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 
So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 
So let us examine the passage from Matthew 2. Firstly, the Magi came from the east to Jerusalem. And the Scripture did not tell us how many were they. For all we know, there might be a hundred of them, though it is highly impossible since it will make a racket and Herod would have known where the Magi visited anyway. But the number was not stated. Nevertheless, was there any basis that there were three of them? Apparently, the only evidence that we have is always taken from the fact 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.

Secondly, how old was Jesus when He was visited by the three wise men? I will argue that it was definitely after the eighth day of birth. Otherwise, the records in the gospel would not tie in - as it was recorded that Jesus was brought 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. 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 He was paid the royal visit. Following this, we know that He was definitely two years and under, or at least a few months into His arrival.

But does it matter? Does it matter that we have misinterpreted these traditions in the light of what the Scriptural evidence has suggested or 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 there are certain things in the Bible that can be misinterpreted or 'reinterpreted' by people, 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 screwed-up sinful state so that we can establish the right relationship with God. In this case, the process was kickstarted with the arrival of baby Jesus on the face of this earth.

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