Some people believe that the three wise men from the east have met up the newborn Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea. However, does this account match what the Bible actually says? Surely the messiah was born there, in the days of Herod the king, since this is what the prophet wrote (Mic 5:2). But what do we really know about the visit of the wise men? In order to fully understand the story, it’s necessary to read the Gospels with attention.
According to the Gospels, Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Matthew writes that Herod inquired of the priests and the scribes where the Christ was to be born. Then he sent the wise men to Bethlehem. They departed; but the star, which they had seen in the east for the first time, came again and stood over where the young child was (Matt 2:9). So, Matthew does not say that they met up the baby in Bethlehem. In other words, the wise men followed the star, not Herod’s instructions. On the other hand, according to Luke, Joseph went into Judea, to the city of David, or Bethlehem, to be registered with Mary, who was with a child. The baby was born there in the manger (Lk 2:16). Luke explains that the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus had commanded a census, and all the world should be registered. Joseph was of the house and lineage of David.
In reality, the holy authors portray two visits that took place in two different times and places. First, Luke (2:16) writes that the shepherds found Mary and Joseph with the baby lying in the manger. Second, Matthew (2:11) writes that, when the wise men had come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother. Note that in Bethlehem there was no room for Joseph and Mary in the inn. They had a house only in their town, Nazareth in Galilee.
Now, let’s summarize the events. Pay attention to the words in bold. The quotations are from the New King James Version of the Bible.
1. Matthew’s narrative: The wise men got into the house. Then, they saw the young child with Mary.
2. Luke’s narrative: The shepherds found Mary and Joseph with the baby, lying in the manger.
It is important to read these verses in the original Greek. The New Testament Greek uses two words for child. For a newborn, the word used is “bréfos”, while for a young child, the word is “paidós” (Nestle-Aland). In Latin the Vulgate also makes the same distinction when it uses the words “infante” and “puer”, respectively.
After forty days from his birth, Jesus and his mother were purified. Following the Law of Moses, Jesus was presented in the Temple. Then, the family left Jerusalem and returned with the baby to their home at Nazareth. As the Gospel writer Luke says, it was only after the visit of the three wise men that the parents with the young child had left to Egypt. Could the family escape to Egypt before the ceremony in Jerusalem? No.
Then, an attentive reading reveals the three wise men from the east have never been in Bethlehem of Judea. They followed the star and found the young child in his house in Nazareth. These wise men, or kings, represent the kings of all nations that would fell down and worship King Jesus.