Matthew 2:1, The Three Wise Men

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.

//Quick, now. How many wise men (magi) were there?

If you said three, you’re probably right.

Yes, I know, the Bible doesn’t say. How often have we all heard (usually in a smug tone) that the Christmas stories have it all wrong, and nobody knows how many wise men there really were?

It may be that the idea of three wise men derives from the three gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Or another reason may be seen in the stars: Many traditions have called the three stars of Orion’s belt the “kings” or “magi.” They form a direct line to Sirius and appear to follow him straight to the birthplace of the sun. Try to find them early on Christmas morning—they’ll be the brightest stars you see. (I’ve never sat out on Christmas morning looking for the magi in the sky, so don’t take my word for this; I’m merely passing on a controversial explanation.) But there’s a far more logical reason to imagine there were exactly three wise men.

For whatever reason, the story of Jesus closely mimics a number of Old Testament themes, and Matthew especially loves to relate these themes. Jesus’ birth is no exception to the rule. The Christ child is born miraculously of a virgin; Isaac, considered a typology of Christ in the Old Testament (he is offered as a sacrifice by his father, just like Jesus) is likewise born miraculously, this time to a postmenopausal woman. So, let’s go back to the story of Abraham and Sarah, parents of Isaac. What do we find?

Three wise men! Three mysterious strangers led by God to Abraham and Sarah, foretelling Isaac’s miraculous birth.


  1. Good point !
    Hadn’t noted that before :-)
    to respond the opening of penultimate paragraph…” for whatever reason…”
    Maybe the reason is that Matthew, writing with a Jewish readership in mind, is trying to show, with reference to the OT scriptures that Jesus is the messiah?

  2. Thanks for commenting, Lionheart! Yeah, I wimp out on occasion with phrases lie “for whatever reason …”

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