We three kings of orient are… Matthew 2‘s word Μάγος (Magi) has always proved difficult. From it comes our English word “magic” and it would be literally translated magician. Hence the trouble, so the early church quickly reinvented the Magi as Kings. Modern translations either make the Greek letters into English letters (“Magi”) or translate it wisemen.
Matthew must have felt this same tension when he retold this story. The Bible is inspired, but written in the human author’s own words. Each individual author’s style and learning comes out. So rather than Μάγος, Matthew could have titled them wisemen or leaders or… any other word would save translators a headache.
But Matthew knew the story needed this difficult word.
The Μάγος searched the stars for signs – revelations from nature. In some ways the title wisemen fits, they were part scientist. They tracked the stars through the sky and recognized the changes. Yet they were as much astrologers as astronomers. So the starry alignments took on significant meaning. And in this case something happened that they could not ignore.1 Through which they became the first Gentiles to know Jesus.
It is hard to understand how could someone could track stars, with a mix of astrology and astronomy, to find Jesus. It is like turning over a couple of tarot cards while adding e=mc2… yet there they were, worshipping the Savior. Though astronomy and astrology God showed the way. The nativity had space for Scientists and Magicians. For this truth, Matthew include Μάγος.
This begs another thought, Can God do this today? Of course – He is God!, but will the church allow it?
During my life there has been a battle raging between science and faith. I am not sure how it got started (or who started it), but it ruptured over evolution. To the point that growing up I learned you can not believe in God and evolution. Forced to choose I saw some reject science2, others reject God.
Can you imagine the Magi arriving and Joseph stopping them, “First you need to drop your belief in the stars!” That would be ridiculous. But if we know the first Christmas had space for Scientists and Magicians, why would we exclude them today?
How much better would it be for us to simply applaud anyone arriving at the manger. Whether they found their way through the scriptures. The splendor of photosynthesis. Or even a palm reading. No matter how they arrive… with joy we can introduce them to the Savior.
This Sunday we celebrate the lighting of the fourth candle of advent, Love. God’s love extends to Magicians and Scientists and Fundamentalists… and even us. Join us at 10:30, online or in person with masks.
1 — One possibility is a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn (yes, just like the one we can see this week!). Jupiter was associated with a world leader. Saturn associated with Palestine. One occurred in 7BC.
2 — The rejection of science continues far beyond evolution. So today many Christians gravitate toward those rejecting the science of coronavirus… for example, refusing to wear a mask. It all misses the point of the coming of Christ, which is sacrificial love for others!
3 thoughts on “Magicians in the Nativity”
I have read a theory that in addition to be astrologers, they were also Zoroastrian priests, searching for the emissary of Ahura Mazda, or the One God in their belief system. I always thought it was fascinating that even another faith foretold the coming of the Messiah
Hey Todd, lots of debate about the Magi. The word is pejorative anywhere else in the NT, which is why I highlighted here. As to Zoroastrian, that is possibility. The Magi, as a class, seemed to originate 5th Century BC as part of that faith. They were rooted in Persian empire (Babylon) and appear in Daniel as interpreters of dreams. But at this time the term seems to have expanded to include wide range of folks. Applied anyone adept in the secret lores. — This is from Raymond Brown’s Birth of the Messiah
As to Ahura Mazda — I know little of Zoroastrian belief. So your point is very interesting. I will look into…