Concerning the Bible, the problem is not always just that men are ignorant, but that so much of what they “know” to be true is not actually anything taught by the Bible.
The story of the “three wise men,” is a case in point, and one often used to illustrate the point.
If you ask the average person to tell you about the wise men who visited Jesus as a child, they will tell you there were three of them, and that they showed up at the stable where the babe was lying in a manger, alongside the shepherds. They may also tell you that the wise men were led to the stable by a star.
Unfortunately, most of that is factually incorrect.
Firstly, the wise men never visited Jesus in the manger. Luke records the birth of Jesus, and the visit of the shepherds (Luke 2), but the wise men came some time after Jesus had been born, according to Matthew 2, and found him in a house in Bethlehem. (cf. Matthew 2:11). Moreover, Matthew does not tell us how many wise men there were, but their company (which likely would have included guards and servants) was of a sufficient size to trouble Jerusalem when they arrived asking questions. (Matthew 2:3) We also don’t know how old Jesus actually was, when they wise men came, but we do know that Herod, following their visit, killed male children two years and under, meaning Jesus was older than a newborn and younger than two when they came.
Moreover, and more to the point we want to make, the star was only one of two guides the wise men relied on in order to find the child Jesus.
As we follow Matthew’s text (Matthew 2:1-11) the wise men arrive first in Jerusalem, asking questions about a new-born King. They had seen a star and understood that it indicated the birth of special king, a “king of the Jews,” and one worthy of worship (cf. Matthew 2:2). We should note that they do not actually claim the star led them to Jerusalem. Rather, the star indicated a birth, and they thus traveled to Jerusalem. Jerusalem would have been a logical choice, for it was the ancient seat of King David, and was also the capital of Judea. One might well assume the heir of David to be born there.
In Jerusalem, however, those versed in the word of God knew that the child would have been born in Bethlehem, for so it had been prophesied (cf. Matthew 2:5-6; Micah 5:2). Thus, better informed, the wise men journeyed to Bethlehem, and along the way, the star manifested again, and in such a way as to indicate the proper house to them.
We don’t actually know what kind of star guided the wise men, and it certainly did not behave like a star such as we generally think of when the word is used. But as has been said, the star was only one of two guides the wise men followed. The other was the inspired word of God.
It is quite probable that the wise men had access to a prophecy that we do not, perhaps, some have speculated, a lost writing of the prophet Daniel, who had himself been counted as one of the Magi. A star alone tells a man nothing about events in the world. But if the wise men had been looking for a particular type of star to fulfill a prophecy about the divine king of the Jews, then their behavior makes good sense. This is admittedly a matter of some speculation.
What is not speculation is the prophecy of Micah, kept by the Jews as sacred Scripture. This prophecy was the guide responsible for leading the wise men from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. God pointedly told mankind where His Son would be born, and the Jews knew this prophecy and they shared it with the wise men. For their part, the wise men believed the word of God, and so headed out in the right direction.
God wanted men to find His Son, and so He gave them a written record to guide them. God still wants us to find Jesus today, and like the wise men of old, God has given us a written record to show us the way to His Son. You are not going to find salvation in any other (cf. Acts 4:12). But Jesus is the Son of God, and there is salvation in His name. We should each take a lesson from the wise men, and. When in doubt, turn to God’s word for guidance in finding the truth about the One who died for our sins.
If you would like to learn more of what the Scriptures teach us about the son of God, the church of Christ invites you to worship and study with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.