January 6 is Epiphany, traditionally marking the visit of the Wise Men on the 12th day after Christmas. Orthodox churches around the world still celebrate Christmas on January 6 or 7.

The Armenian Apostolic Church observes Christmas on January 6, while many Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate Christmas on January 7, the date on the Gregorian calendar which corresponds to 25 December on the Julian Calendar.

Christmas ornament depicting Mary & Joseph under the Star of Bethlehem worshiping the Son of God

Christmas ornament depicting Mary & Joseph under the Star of Bethlehem worshiping the Son of God

Below is Matthew 2, the true story of the Wise Men’s visit to Bethlehem.

Introduction

In previous blog posts, I began telling the story of my brain tumor and the depression which followed it. The second article in the series described my faith in God which sustained me through both trials.

Having recently started a word-by-word translation of Martin Luther’s Bible from German to English, I introduced the project and published Matthew Chapter 1 . Later I wrote commentary on it; my church background and theological training is in my USA Melting Pot bio.

The Wise Men Did Not Come to the Stable

People have a tendency to combine things for convenience. Although Christians celebrate the coming of the Wise Men at Christmas, the Magi came to a house at least a year later to worship a little boy, not the stable on Christmas Eve.

Martin Luther’s translation (below) of Matthew Chapter 2 from the original Greek makes this clear.

Messages in Dreams and Fulfilled Prophecies

This chapter has three messages in dreams with direct instructions from God and two fulfilled Old Testament prophecies.

After the Wise Men had their encounter with the tyrant king, they visited Bethlehem and were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod.

Joseph got specific instructions from the angel of the Lord in a dream to flee to Egypt, which he immediately obeyed. He did the same for the return to Israel after Herod’s death.

A Miraculous Star

The Babylonian astrologers/astronomers told of a star which had guided them to seek “the newborn King of the Jews.” This miraculous star has been the subject of much speculation.

Recently amateur astronomer Rick Larson used computer software to explain it as a natural phenomenon by the motions of the planets and stars around 3 B.C. for His conception, 2 B.C. for His birth, then reappearing through retrograde motion of Jupiter for the Magi’s trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. (He argues that a copying error by a monk means our calendar is off by 3 years.)

If this theory is true, it’s either a huge coincidence or God orchestrated the motions of planets to coincide with the birth of His Son.

Astronomer Hugh Ross, astrophysicist Jeff Zweerink, and philosopher/theologian Kenneth Samples were interviewed about this popular movie by Reasons to Believe. Ross says it may have been a more subtle sign for it not to have been mentioned in extra-biblical records. You can read the full interview here.

Or it could have been a direct supernatural miracle, no big deal for the Creator of the universe. Either way, the timing of the Incarnation went perfectly according to plans laid long before it happened – the Bible says before the foundation of the earth.

A Long, Expensive Journey

However it happened, the star prompted a long trip with expensive gifts by respected men and their entourage. It’s not known if there were three Magi, but since three gifts are mentioned that’s what people assume.

When the star reappeared, they “rejoiced greatly,” possibly because it validated that their trip had not been for nothing. When they saw the “little Child,” they did not just congratulate Mary and Joseph but bowed low and adored Him.”

Martin Luther’s translation of Matthew Chapter 2

Eventually I’ll write a commentary on this, but for now, here is my new translation of Matthew Chapter 2 from Martin Luther’s German:

The Gospel According to Matthew, Chapter 2

Wise men worship the King of kings; a tyrant king is foiled.

Word-by-word English translation from Martin Luther’s German, revised by the German Bible Society 1984

The Wise Men from the East

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea at the time of Herod the king, there came wise men [i] from the East to Jerusalem and said,

“Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We have seen his star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

When Herod the king heard this, he was terrified and with him all Jerusalem, and he asked all the high priests and scribes of the people to come together and investigated from them where the Messiah was to be born.

And they told him: “In Bethlehem in Judea, for so it stands written through the prophets (Micah 5:1):

“And you, Bethlehem in Jewish lands, are by no means the smallest among the towns of Judah, for from you will come the Sovereign, who shall pasture my people Israel.”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly to himself and ascertained exactly from them when the star had appeared and sent them to Bethlehem and said,

“Go there and search diligently for the little child, and if you find him, so tell me it again, so that I may also come and worship him.”

When now they had heard the king, they went there. And see, the star that they had seen in the East proceeded before them until it stood over the place where the little Child was.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced greatly and went into the house and found the little Child with Mary, His mother, and bowed low and adored Him and pulled out their treasures and gave Him gold, incense and myrrh.

And God commanded them in a dream not to return to Herod again, and they went on another way back to their country.

The Escape to Egypt

But when they had gone away, see, then the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and spoke:

“Get up, take the little Child and his mother with you and flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is planning to seek the little Child in order to murder Him.”

Then he got up and took the little Child and his mother with him by night and escaped to Egypt and stayed there until after the death of Herod, so that it would be fulfilled, what the Lord had said through the prophets, who then spoke (Hosea 11:1) “Out of Egypt I have called my Son.”

The Murder of the Little Children by Herod

When now Herod saw that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, he became very angry and sent out and commanded all children in Bethlehem be put to death, and in the whole region, who were two years old and under, according to the time he had spied out from the Magi.

Then was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, who then said (Jeremiah 31:15):

“In Ramah one heard a cry, much weeping and wailing; Rachel mourns over the loss of her children and will not let herself be comforted, for it was over with them.”

The Return from Egypt

But when Herod had died, see, then the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said:

“Get up, take the little Child and His mother with you and go to the land of Israel; they have died, who tried to take the life of the little Child.”

Then he got up and took the little Child and his mother with him and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was king in Judea instead of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there.

And in a dream he received orders from God and went into the Galilean region and came and lived in a town by the name of Nazareth, so that it would be fulfilled what was spoken through the Prophets:

“He shall be called a Nazarene.”

 

[i] Wise men – That so translated Greek word (magoi – our magician) indicates first the members of a Persian priestly caste that engage in astronomy and astrology, then general Babylonian and other star-gazing.