Every year during Christmas, we are reminded of the three wise men – not more, not less – who went to visit Christ when He was born through hymns, paintings, and decorations. We usually see them surrounding the manger where Jesus is, each with a gift. However, many have wondered whether the wise men were indeed three in number since the Bible hasn’t recorded that. With the contradiction between the Scriptures and the depictions we are used to, it’s only natural to wonder, “How many wise men came to visit Jesus?”
The number of wise men who came to visit Jesus when he was born is specified neither in the Bible nor in any writings. Scholars have agreed that the great misconception that the wise men who visited Jesus were three is deep-rooted in the number of gifts they brought. Thanks to repetition and consistency over the years in Christmas stories and hymns, this misconception has been made to seem like a fact.
What does the New Testament say about the Wise Men? What gifts did the Wise Men bring Jesus? What was the significance of the gifts the Wise Men brought to Jesus? Are there other theories of the Wise Men that are not recorded in the Bible? Where else in the Bible are the Wise Men mentioned? To learn the answers to these queries, read on.
What does the New Testament say about the Wise Men?
The Wise Men are introduced in the New Testament as some of the first visitors to see Jesus after His birth bearing expensive gifts. Other Bible translations call them “Magi,” which means “magicians.” They first visited Herod to ask about the whereabouts of Christ, and Herod, not knowing where Jesus was, requested them to inform him once they found out. The Wise Men were then led to Jesus by a star, described as the “Star of Bethlehem,” After their visit, they learned about Herod’s intention of killing Jesus through dreams and never went back to tell him that they had found the Messiah. Instead, they left town via a different route.
Matthew 2:1-12. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem 2 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.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 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. 5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written: 6 “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. 8 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.” 9 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. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 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 gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.”
Note that nowhere in these verses the Bible mentions that the Wise Men were three and neither does it mention that Jesus was in a manger when they visited, as we see in Christmas paintings and movies.
What gifts did the Wise Men bring Jesus?
The Wise Men brought Jesus Gold, Myrrh, and Frankincense as gifts. Matthew 2:11, “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.”
Many Christian evangelists and scholars believe these treasures weren’t the only things the Wise Men offered Jesus. Scholars imply that the Wise Men also offered Christ the gift of talent by keenly observing and following the star. Also, by traveling great distances to see and worship Him, they offered the gift of time, and by worshipping and recognizing His Lordship, they offered Christ the gift of testimony.
Fun Fact: Financial analysts today have tried to estimate the worth of the treasures the Wise Men gifted Jesus, and most of them have made a rough guess of about 120 million US dollars based on the treasure market value today.
What was the significance of the gifts the Wise Men brought to Jesus?
The gifts given to Jesus weren’t just a show of wealth. They had a deeper meaning.
The gold symbolized the kingship of Christ. Being one of the rarest and most precious metals in its purest form, gold was used to honor kings and recognize their power. Gold symbolized that Jesus was a King, which was further proved throughout Jesus’ life. Matthew 27:11, “ Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.”John 12:12-13, “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!”
Frankincense showed that Christ was the High Priest of God, pointing to His fate as a Priest who will administer and serve the people of God. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Myrrh symbolized that Christ was a Prophet. Matthew 13:57 suggests this saying, “And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country and his own house.”
The Scriptures also suggest that myrrh foreshadowed Christ’s death in John 19:39, “And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred-pound weight.”
Are there other theories about the Wise Men that are not recorded in the Bible?
Historians, Christian scholars, and theologians have several other theories about the Wise Men that aren’t recorded in the Bible. The first theory is the names of these Wise Men. Some historians and Christian scholars have suggested that these men were; Gaspar (or Caspar), the one with frankincense, from Sheba, Melchior from Arabia, the one with gold, and Balthazar from Egypt, the one with myrrh.
Some historians believe that the Wise Men came from the East, most likely Persia, modern-day Iran, and traveled about 800 to 900 miles to get to Christ. Many Christian scholars speculate that these Wise Men were of noble birth, educated, influential, and wealthy; no wonder many believe they were kings.
Lastly, although not stated in the Bible, theologians speculate that the Wise Men visited Christ when He was between 1 and 2 years and not immediately after His birth, as the majority of us assume.
Where else in the Bible are the Wise Men mentioned?
The Wise Men, also known as magicians, were commonly mentioned during Daniel’s time, with the notable mentions being in Daniel 1:20, “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” Daniel 5:15, “The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it.” Many Old Testament scholars suggest that the Wise Men mentioned during Daniel’s time are the ancestors of the Wise Men that went to see Jesus. The Magi that visited Jesus are mentioned once, in Matthew chapter 2, and not anywhere else in the Scriptures.
As a devout Christian, I have always been passionate about the Christian faith. This inspired me to pursue a degree in Religious studies and a Masters in Theology in college. I have also been privileged to teach 4 Christian courses in a college and university. Since I am dedicated to spreading the word of God, I am actively involved in the Church. Additionally, I share his word online and cover diverse topics on the Christian faith through my platform. You can read more about me on the about us page.