Did Three Wise Men Give Their Gifts on the First Christmas?

Biblical Authority Devotional: Christmas, Part 6

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Chuck McKnight, AiG–U.S., discusses the visit of the magi and the gifts they presented to the Lord.

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, 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 2:1–2, ESV)

Today’s big question: did three wise men give their gifts on the first Christmas?

Every year around Christmas, we are presented with multiple images, songs, and even movies that depict Christ’s nativity. More often than not, these traditional scenes include three wise men gathered around Jesus in the manger presenting Him with their gifts. Does this picture line up with what Scripture tells us?

The account of the magi is found in Matthew 2:1–12. As you read through the passage, note that no number is given. The idea that there were exactly three wise men is provided by tradition and was probably inferred from the three gifts that were offered. However, the Bible simply doesn’t specify how many wise men were there.

What about the timing of the visit? When the magi arrived at the house, Jesus is referred to as a “young Child” (Matthew 2:11). The Greek word is paidion, which differs from brephos, translated as “baby” when referring to Jesus in Luke 2:12 and 16. This signifies that Jesus was probably older than a newborn.

Also, we are told that Jesus was taken to Jerusalem after the time of Mary’s purification (Luke 2:22), which would have been at least 41 days after His birth (Leviticus 12:1–4). While there, they offered two turtledoves or pigeons (Luke 2:24), which was the sacrifice prescribed for those who could not afford a lamb (Leviticus 12:8). If this had taken place after receiving the expensive gifts, Joseph likely could have purchased a lamb.

So it seems that the wise men must have visited at some later date. This realization may be a bit unsettling to some. What reason do Christians then have to give each other gifts on Christmas if not in remembrance of the gifts given by the wise men? Ah, but the true reason for our gifts—indeed, the whole “reason for the season”—is to celebrate one single gift.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the greatest gift that has ever been given. The Father’s gift—His Son—to us is the reason we now celebrate Christmas. And it is only through this gift that we can now receive eternal life.

Today’s big idea: Jesus Christ is the true gift we should remember at Christmas.

What to pray: praise God for His mercy in sending us the gift of His Son.


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