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No Starry-Eyed Wise Men in China

December 18th 2015 No comments yet  

shinySo while we’re on the topic of Magi, because Magi come up all the time, we have a bit of a Christmas navigation problem to solve.

It’s a small problem. But, odds are you will celebrate about 70 Christmases in your life, so getting the bugs worked out of your grasp of the story isn’t a bad investment.

The problem centers on that famous Christmas star—the one that led those observant pagan astrologers to Jesus in Bethlehem.

Sidebar: Don’t miss the sad irony that, while the Jews had access to prophetic Scriptures that actually told them the location of the Messiah’s birth (see Micah 5:2), it was a group of witchcraft-practicing Gentiles who found the baby first. Now that is food for thought.

Anyway, the star. Never mind what it was or how it looked. The most important thing is what it did—pinpoint where Jesus and His family stayed. Frequently, you hear holiday carols or sermons or greeting cards describe this star as being located in the eastern sky. Like, The First Noel:

For all to see there was a star

Shining in the east beyond them far.

But think about it. If the Wise Men started out their journey to Bethlehem from the east while following a star they saw in the eastern sky, they would have ended up in China. And that would have been extremely awkward. Allow me to illustrate with a handy, historically accurate diagram above.

The confusion comes from when the Magi are telling Herod about how they ended up on his doorstep in Jerusalem. The Magi explain, “We have seen his star in the east and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

At first look, it seems like “in the east” refers to the star. But as we’ve already seen, the star appearing in the eastern sky is a navigation fail. So, “in the east” must actually modify the subject of the sentence—the “we.” As in, “We, in the east, have seen his star.”

Because I know you want to see more grammar in action, I have included some handy diagrams.

grammar 1

grammar 2

Bottom line, when you’re reading your Bible, it’s a “bright” idea to slow down and notice the details. Just ask the wise men. However many of them there were.

Written by Owen Wildman


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