Examining Christmas Traditions #2: Wise Men at the manger?

There are traditions regarding the Christmas story within the faith. We have Christmas carols with lyrics that say that angels sing, we set up nativity scenes with Wise Men, we erect Christmas trees, and more.

Do these traditions have any bearing from scripture? If not should we care? If not, should we abandon them? Accept them? Are we disrespecting Christ by perpetuating them? Or not?

Friday I wrote about the hymns we sing at Christmas time where lyrics portray angels singing. I looked at whether scripture shows angels singing or not. Scripture shows angels saying, proclaiming, and shouting, but not singing. Today let's look at nativity scenes with Wise Men crowded around the babe in a manger. Is that scriptural?

Yes, and no.

Wise men did come from the east upon learning of the birth of the Messiah. They did not arrive at the night of his birth though. They arrived up to two years later. The verse says,

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, 2 saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." (Matthew 2:2).

The 'after this' is after His birth, where Matthew 1 ends. How do we know it wasn't the day after, and that it was up to two years after? Because of this-

After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:9).

The verse says where the child was, not 'where the baby was'. In the Greek the word used for child means,

("a little child in training") implies a younger child (perhaps seven years old or younger). Strong's.

The Magi went to Bethlehem and fell down and worshiped Jesus at his house. He was not in a barn, or stable, or any sort of animal enclosure, and He was not laying in a manger.

And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. (Matthew 2:11)

Herod died in 4BC so the men must have visited between the birth and up to when Jesus was around two years old. Later, Herod made a declaration to kill all the children under two years of age.

Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. (Matthew 2:16).

It is clear that in actual time, the Magi from the East did not arrive in time to worship Jesus in his birth location, which was temporary. So is it unscriptural to set up a nativity scene with the Wise Men? I don't believe so.

The Wise Men did in fact arrive to worship. It happened. It would be unscriptural for example, if a nativity scene had figures such as Moose or beavers, not indigenous to the location. Or if the scene had added figures such as Herod or Jezebel, who were evil and certainly not depicted anywhere in proximity (and of course Jezebel was long dead).

I believe that collapsing time is an acceptable literary license. The Apostles did so when they wrote inspired scripture. They said things like, 'Then Jesus went..." where the actual time might have been months later from the evetnt written of in the previous sentence. "Jesus was born, then the Wise Men came..."

What I like about the birth chronology is that everyone involved with it, from announcement to just before the Family had to flee to Egypt, is that everyone worshiped. Elizabeth and Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, Anna and Simeon, the angels, and the Wise Men. Worship is the proper response to meeting Jesus, both intellectually and emotionally. Our Savior is born, and hallelujah that He came into the world. Though not exactly perfectly historic, the crowd around the manger of animals, shepherds, parents, and wise men do depict an accurate response to the birth of the Savior. However, I understand if some people decide to remove or not install figures of the Wise Men in their nativity, or decline to have Wise Men circulating at a live nativity scene, due to historical inaccuracy.

Jesus lived the perfect life under God's standards for holiness that we could not. Enduring agonizing separation from His Holy Father, He cried out and absorbed all God's wrath for our sin.  Accused unjustly, He was nailed to the cross and executed, thus becoming the sacrificial lamb. Pleased with His Son, God resurrected Jesus on the third day and Jesus ascended into heaven. Now, His blood atones for our sin and forgiveness awaits those elected to ask for it. Praise God He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him! Mercy abounds.

Further Reading:

Answers In Genesis Three Wise Men?

Grace To You: 2 min sound podcast, Where Are the Wise Men?


  1. In the citation in Matthew 2:9 about the child, the Greek word is transliterted paidon. Thayer's Lexicon says of the word: "παιδίον, παιδίου, τό (diminutive of παῖς) (from Herodotus down), the Sept. for טַף, נַעַר, בֵּן, etc.; a young child, a little boy, a little girl; plural τά παιδία, infants; children; little ones. In singular: universally, of an infant just born, John 16:21; of a (male) child recently born, . . ."

    It is not possible from the use of the word Paidon in that context to say what age Jesus was. Notice the "universally of an infant just born." And, notice, "a young child." So we still can't pin it down.

    I think there is something telling though in the behavior of Herod and his court when the wise men, whom I believe were Magi. At the time the wise men arrived, Herod called his theological advisers together to inquire repeatedly (imperfect tense verb) where the Christ child would be born. The advisers said Bethlehem. Bethlehem is only about five miles south of Jerusalem. It is difficult for me to believe that, because Herod was such a paranoid personality, and in that paranoia he had a spy network, that he wouldn't have known exactly where the child was at that moment. Milton Jones note the grammar demonstrates and event told as if had already occurred.

    Because of his paranoia, I believe, Herod would have known if Jesus had been born even a couple or three or four days before. The gossip from Bethlehem would have come to the palace. I believe that it possible that the wise men arrived on the very night that the Lord was born.


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