Tuesday, 29 December 2009
Matthew chapter 2 is the only chapter that mentions the wise men visiting Jesus. I think there are more legends about this chapter, with ideas going back and forth about how old Jesus was, and where they visited him, that I thought we ought to look at the chapter, rip it open and see what falls out. As always, unless otherwise noted, all scripture references will be from the English Standard Version, courtesy of BibleGateway.
Matthew 2:1,2: "Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.'"
So, when did all this happen? "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem" So far, that is the only indicator of time that we have. So far, all we know is that Jesus is at least one minute old.
Matthew 2:7-11: "Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, 'Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.' After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh."
The verses before this, verses 3-6, don't really relate to our investigation, as they consist of Herod trying to track down where the King of the Jews was supposed to be born.
But verse 11 is one of the verses that people use to say that this meeting took place awhile after the birth of Jesus, because the Child is at a house, as opposed to the common understanding that the birth took place in a stable. When I was a student at a Bible College, I had a professor who has been to Israel several times. He has studied the culture and the history of Israel. He told us that it was not uncommon, for the "stable" to be under the house, with an entryway going up into the living quarters of the house. So it is possible that Jesus and Mary had simply moved into the house. Everyone was in town for the census (see Luke 2). If it has been a week or so after the census, the town may be slightly less full, and so, there may be room for them now.
The next thing, that most people mention in verse 11 is that the word used to refer to Jesus is "child" and not "babe" or "baby" If you go back to the Greek, the word for child, is used for "infants" "child" or "older children" It is the same word here, as later when Jesus picks up a little child and sets the child among the group and tells his followers to have the faith of a child. So basically, Jesus at this point, is anywhere between the ages of 0-12 before his Bar Mitzvah at 13. The word child, does not give us an indication of age. I am the child of my parents, and a new born baby is the child of his or her parents, so child here in the Greek is a range of ages just like it means for us in English.
One thing I do want to point out is in the birth account of Luke 2:4, Joseph takes Mary up from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census, which means Joseph at least was living in Nazareth before they went to Bethlehem. Why are Jesus and Mary still there in Bethlehem if it has been awhile after his birth? Joseph and Mary went to register for the census and stayed 2 years? I doubt it. It is more likely, that it is a short time after the birth of Jesus, then it is to assume they had a kid and stayed two years.
Matthew 2:16 states, "Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men."
Now Herod, finding out that the wise men have not returned, is rather upset. He, among other things, is afraid for his job, his source of income, and possibly his head. He is going to play it safe, and orders the execution for all children 2 years and under. Some people say that this proves that the visit of the wise men was 2 years after the birth of Jesus.
There are issues with this assumption:
1. We do not know if God prearranged the star ahead of time so they could travel from the East and arrive around the birth of Jesus.
2. Herod is afraid; he isn't going to take any chances in the baby making it out alive. So, he is going to add in travel time from Jerusalem to Bethlehem- any time it took for the wise men to come from wherever they came from to Jerusalem. So he plays it safe and executes anyone that fits within the age range.
We also have issues with ages when it comes from people from the Middle East. My parents have managed apartment complexes in L.A. and grew up with a few Jewish friends. There are two methods of accounting that the Jews they know used, depending on how long those Jews lived in America: inclusive and exclusive counting. Allow me to explain.
Say you have a child that is born on January 5th 3 A.D. On January 5th 4 A.D, how old is the child? We would say the child is 1 year old, right? Not true with that culture. They would say the child is 2, because he is starting his second year of life. They do not have an age of 0. So basically, the child is born at age 1.
So when the Bible says that Herod killed all children 2 years of age and under, which method of age counting is being used here? Which method did the wise men use when they told Herod how long ago they saw the star? Did Herod know which method they were using? If Herod understood or assumed that there might be the slightest point of confusion as to the timeline, he, in his fear, is going to hedge his bets and kill them all.
In Matthew 2:19, Joseph is told by an Angel that it is safe to return from Egypt, so Joseph returns to Nazareth with Mary and his mother.
Our journey is now almost complete. It has been a confusing trip and I am not sure that we have learned much, but I am not quite done. There are certain things that have to be done in Jewish law and tradition that may shed some light on how old Jesus is during this event. A male child must be circumcised upon his 8th day of life. Also, the child must be redeemed on his 31st day of life. These are rules set forth by God.
If Jesus was going to redeem us from our sin, He must follow the law. God is not going to allow a situation where Joseph cannot follow the law concerning Jesus. That is why I maintain that the wise men visited Jesus after his parents redeemed him at the temple in Luke 2:22-24. This is what I believe happened.
Joseph and Mary go up to Bethlehem for the census, Jesus is born and the shepherds visit. Day one.
Day eight, Jesus is circumcised at the temple
Day 31, Jesus is redeemed at the temple and Simeon and Anna bless on prophesy regarding the Child (Luke 2:25-35)
Some time shortly after this, the wise men visit, requiring the family to flee to Egypt.
Does this make sense? How old do you think Jesus was at the visit of the wise men? What is your reasoning for it?