Odds are you have been influenced by Tradition

I have a Biblical question for you: 

True or False –  “When the three wise men from the east visited baby Jesus in the manger, they brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Is that a true or a false statement?

If your answer to this question was “true,” we have an issue.  If your answer to this question was “false,” we would need to understand what part of the question was it that you disagreed with.  We can break this true-or-false question down into five basic parts:

  1. The three wise men,
  2. From the east,
  3. Visited baby Jesus,
  4. Visited Him in a manger,
  5. Brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

This true-or-false question is less about the nativity story and more about whether or not you read the Bible closely and whether or not you have been influenced by tradition.  The nativity story is provided to us within just one chapter, Matthew 2, within just one of the four Gospels.  Nowhere within the account is a number placed upon the wise men, often referred to as the Magi.  The wise men and their accompanying entourage could have easily numbered in the hundreds as opposed to just three wise men, as tradition portrays.  In fact, Scripture tells us that King Herod and all of Jerusalem were quite troubled by the Magi’s visit:

When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

Mt 2:3

We have to ask ourselves, would three wise men have made the king and all the citizens of Jerusalem nervous?  The Magi are traditionally said to be three, because they were bearing the three gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh:

… and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

Mt 2:11b

Scripture does not number the wise men and their entourage, which was something akin to a military expedition.  The Magi would almost certainly have employed an armed security element for their personal physical protection and to secure both their traveling needs and the expensive gifts that they were traveling with on their 700-to-1,000-mile journey.  Understanding these facts influences two out of five of our original parts:

  1. The three wise men,     FALSE
  2. From the east,
  3. Visited baby Jesus,
  4. Visited Him in a manger,
  5. Brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.     TRUE

There were not three wise men, but they did bring three gifts identified within Scripture.  The Bible also tells us that the wise men did indeed come from the east:

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,

Mt 2:1

But where was it that the wise men visited Jesus at?  Christmas songs, movies, nativity scenes, and tradition tell us that the three wise men visited the newly born Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem.  We know from prophecy that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), but where precisely did the wise men and their entourage visit with Jesus?  Scripture does provide us an answer:

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: …

Mt 2:11a

The wise men did not come to a manger scene, as is so often depicted.  The wise men visited Jesus in a house and notice something else quite interesting stated to us within this verse – “they saw the young child” which is something that we are told multiple times within Matthew’s account:

And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.

Mt 2:8-9

It is a common misconception that the wise men visited Jesus at a stable, a manger, on the night of His birth. In actuality, the wise men came days, months, or possibly a year or more after His birth. That is why Matthew 2:11 states that the wise men visited and worshiped Jesus in a house, not at a manger.  Understanding these details within Scripture enables us to update our list:

  1. The three wise men,     FALSE
  2. From the east,     TRUE
  3. Visited baby Jesus,
  4. Visited Him in a manger,     FALSE
  5. Brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh,     TRUE

So just how old was Jesus when the wise men visited with Him and presented Him with gifts?  As we have seen, Scripture refers to Jesus as “the young child” within Matthew’s account and not as a baby.  Is there an additional clue that we can discover within Scripture while attempting to answer this question?  Indeed there is:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.

Mt 2:16

King Herod’s command to slay the children in Bethlehem came with a very telling stipulation.  Herod had calculated out the days, weeks, months that transpired between his meeting with the wise men and the date of his commandment.  He recognized that Jesus could have been as much as two years old by the time he figured out that the wise men were not coming back to visit with him, as he had requested.  This provides us an upper limit as to how old Jesus was when the Magi visited with him – no older than two years old.  Without the use of the word “baby” within Matthew’s account, with multiple statements of Jesus being “the young child,” and with Herod’s recognition of the upper-age limit for Jesus, that being two years old, it is completely reasonable for us to conclude that the representation of so many manger and nativity scenes during the Christmas season are incorrect.  This lack of precision with the text has a negative effect upon one’s theology. 

That rounds out our five parts to the original true-or-false question:

  1. The three wise men,     FALSE
  2. From the east,     TRUE
  3. Visited baby Jesus,     FALSE
  4. Visited Him in a manger,     FALSE
  5. Brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.     TRUE

So how did you do?  Were you a good Berean; you knew initially that this question was to be answered with “False,” and you knew precisely which parts were accurate and which parts made the overall statement untrue?  Or, have you discovered that tradition has influenced your understanding of what the Bible says and that you are in need of reading Scripture more carefully and to develop a more discerning mindset when it comes to what you hear within Christian circles? 

Tradition has had a tremendous influence upon Christendom.  That influence has not been for its betterment and our enemy is very pleased that that is the case.  The primary reason for all of the confusion that comes with tradition is a failure to obey God’s command for Bible study:

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

2 Tim 2:15

That ye may discern those things that differ one from another which are best, that ye may be pure, and without offence, until the day of Christ,

Philippians 1:10, Geneva

God has instructed you to study His word and He has told you exactly how to study it.  One observes that instruction by rightly dividing the word of truth.  That said, let’s next explore one of the top subject areas where tradition has had a negative effect upon the Church, the body of Christ.


ADDENDUM:  I decided to run a 24-hour survey on X (Twitter) with the original question within this post.  Though the number of respondents were few, the results were quite concerning…







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