What were the names of the three wise men?

Question
We are doing a manger scene this year. At the birth of Christ, what were the names of the three wise men that came to him?
Answer
My answer will disappoint many because most of the manger scenes used at Christmas time are incorrect. The wise men, or magi, were not present at Christ's birth. In Luke 2:1-7 Jesus was born in a manger, but in Matthew 2:11 the wise men visited Jesus at a house or oikian (in Greek). This was approximately two years after Jesus was born. How do we know this? By the time the wise men came, Jesus was a young child (paidion, Matt. 2:11), and no longer a baby (brephos, Luke 2:12). In addition, Herod's decree to murder all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under informs us of this approximate two-year interval (Matt. 2:16-18).

As for the names of the visiting wise men, the Bible doesn't tell us, nor does it give their number. In Matthew 2:1, 7, and 16, the author uses the plural in Greek (magoi, magous, magon respectively) and in 2:5, 7-13 the Greek indicates "they" and "them" which likewise reveal that there were more than one magi. But, again, no exact number is given. Because three gifts were presented to Christ (Matt. 2:11), some infer that there must have been three magi. However, two, ten, or even twenty magi could have presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

But don't fret over this. Make Christmas an educational time. Create or change the usual nativity scene. Have one manger scene with baby Jesus and shepherds along with a separate house scene with an older Jesus and numerous wise men – perhaps ten or so. This will prompt questions and give you an opportunity to share the gospel of Christ.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).