Do the Wise Men Belong in a Nativity Scene?

wisemen

Question: Do the Wise Men Belong in a Nativity Scene?

My pastor says that it is “inappropriate” for the Wise Men to be included in our living nativity scene. That really bothers me, as we have always included them even when we had Christmas plays at church. Even the nativity scene which I put on a table in the living room of my house has the wise men as a part of the set which I purchased. Is my pastor wrong or am I missing something?

Answer:

I am now 60 years old, and I have almost always seen the Wise Men included in living nativity scenes, children’s plays, church pageants, and living room manger sets. A manger scene doesn’t seem “complete” without the Wise Men.

Scripturally, however, your pastor is correct. Let’s look at the story of the visit of the Wise Men recorded in Matthew 2. (By the way, this is the only passage of Scripture that mentions the Wise Men.) There are several indications in this passage that there is a time lapse between the birth of the Jesus and the visit of the Wise Men.

Verses 8, 9, and 11 offer the first clue. Notice in all three verses the word “child” is used rather than the word “baby” as found in Luke 2:16—the visit of the shepherds. The Greek word for “child” is “paidion” meaning “infant or young child,” while the word “baby” is “brephos” which can be translated “baby or infant.”

  • Matthew 2: 8—”Go and make careful search for the child….”
  • Matthew 2:9—”And having heard the king, they went their way: and, lo, the star, which they had seen in the east, went before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was….”
  • Matthew 2:11—“And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother….”
  • Luke 2:16—”And they [the shepherds] came in haste and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.”

You might ask at this point, there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between these two passages—a baby or a child?

Let’s take into consideration one other piece of evidence found in Matthew 2. As you recall from the story, the Wise Men did not return to Jerusalem to report their findings to Herod. In verse 12 we read: “And having been warned by God in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their own country by another way.”

Herod was not a happy camper! Verse 16—”Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he became very enraged, and sent and slew all of the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its environs, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the magi.”

Here is the possible time lapse: Herod had all of the boys, two and under, killed. It is very possible that Jesus was almost two years old by the time the Wise Men (or magi) came bearing gifts.

The second clue is found in the place of the Wise Men’s visit. You remember that Jesus was born in a manger—Luke 2:7. By the time the Wise Men visit the Christ Child, the young family is living (or staying) in a house. Matthew 2: 11—”And they came into the house and saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshiped Him….”

According to Scripture, this young family left the manger area and was staying in a house before their flight to Egypt. These clues are most helpful in our understanding of why your pastor is correct in his interpretation of Scripture. My feeling, however, is that the Wise Men will continue to be included in living nativity scenes and pageants. This will not cause Christ’s return to be any slower or quicker!

Thanks for a very good question.

Go Deeper

3 Comments

  1. Virginia Flesher on December 22, 2015 at 12:27 pm

    Speaking of the wise men’s visit to the manger or to a house, you state “According to Scripture, this young family left the manger area and was staying in a house before their flight to Egypt.”

    There is a great deal that happened between the time Jesus was born in a manger, and the time the wise men found him in a house. After the required 40 days from his birth, Mary went to the temple at Jerusalem for her purification, and Jesus was presented to the Lord, where both Simeon and Anna acknowledged Jesus as the Lord the world had been waiting for. Then, Joseph took his family to live at Nazareth, their home. What took them back to Bethlehem at some point is anybody’s guess. Joseph may have had to go where there was work, even if it was temporary. At any rate, the wise men knew not to report back to Herod about the child’s whereabouts and after they left, Joseph was warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt, which he did right away.

  2. Dale Briggs on December 10, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    First of all, saying that the magi didn’t get to Bethlehem until up to 2 years after the birth indicates that God didn’t know far enough ahead of time to put the star up for them to follow. God could easily have put the star up in time for them to get to Bethlehem near the birth time. Yes, they went “into the house”. My question is would Mary and Joseph have stayed in Bethlehem as strangers instead of going back to be with relatives i.e. Elizabeth and Zach? Why stay in a strange place for 2 years with no family? That’s not the way their culture worked. Yes, it’s very possible that they decided to stay because of the ignomy of Mary’s pregnancy, and yes, God may not have put the star up until the birth, but it’s just as possible that God put the star up in time for the magi to get there to see the baby/child before Joseph decided what to do with their life after the birth. It’s just as possible that they arrived soon after the birth as it is they arrived when Jesus was 2. No one knows for sure, nor will we until we reach heaven. In the meantime making a big deal out of it is definitely not constructive towards love and unity in the body. The argument is nuts!

    • Wes Johnson on December 24, 2017 at 7:14 am

      Dale, Don’t sacrifice the accuracy of the scripture for the sake of “love and unity”. You cannot argue with the Greek difference in child and baby. God wanted the Magi later in the life of our Lord. Accept God’s will and don’t be bound by men’s traditions.

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