When Did the Three Wise Men Visit Jesus?

Updated Dec 22, 2021
When Did the Three Wise Men Visit Jesus?

The order of events following Christ's birth to the time He went to reside at Nazareth is much disputed. The chief point of controversy is respecting the time of the visit of the Magi. If this can be determined, the other events may be easily arranged.

An early and current tradition placed the coming of the Magi on the 6th of January, or on the 13th day after His birth. In that case, supposing that the star announced His birth, and that they left soon after its appearing, they were only some ten days on their journey. This day was early celebrated as the feast of the Epiphany, or the manifestation of Christ, and originally had reference to the visit of the Magi and to His baptism; and later, to His first miracle. It is now observed both in the Greek and Roman Churches with reference to the two former events, of which the adoration of the Magi is made most prominent. This is also the case in the English and American Episcopal Churches. But the tradition did not command universal assent. Eusebius and Epiphanius, reasoning from Matthew 2:16, put the coming of the Magi two years after His birth. And others have thought the 6th of January selected for convenience, rather than as having any direct chronological connection with the event.

If we now ask the grounds upon which, aside from this tradition, the coming of the wise men is placed so soon after the birth, and before the presentation in the Temple, the more important are these: first, "now when Jesus was born" (Matthew 2:1), implies that the one event speedily followed the other. Second, directly after the presentation, Jesus went with His parents to Nazareth (Luke 2), and that therefore the presentation must have been preceded by their visit. Thirdly, at the coming of the Magi, Herod first heard of the birth of Jesus, but if the presentation at the Temple had previously taken place, he must have heard of it, as it had been made public by Anna (Luke 2:38).

But none of these reasons is decisive. There is nothing that proves that they came as soon as He was born, or that an interval of two months may not have elapsed. The opinion of many of the fathers that they found Him still in the manger, or stall, may be true if the manger was in a cave in the rear of the house. The statement of Luke, that "when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth," has often been interpreted as affirming that they went directly from the Temple to Nazareth without any return to Bethlehem. But this interpretation is arbitrary. It is apparent that Luke does not design to give a full history of Christ's infancy. He says nothing of the Magi, of the murder of the children, of the flight into Egypt. Whatever may have been the motive of this omission, which many critics ascribe to ignorance, nothing can be inferred from this concerning Luke's accuracy.

Adapted from The Life of Our Lord upon the Earth by Samuel James Andrews.

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