Luke and the Wise Men
Every year before Christmas we see many displays of the birth of Jesus. The display normally consists of a baby in a manger with Joseph, Mary, some shepherds, and the Wise Men gathered around him. The birth of Jesus was an important event in history and it is appropriate that we should remember it but our traditional picture of how it happened is inaccurate. The Wise Men were not there. They were probably still in their home country and hadn’t even started their journey to Bethlehem.
Most of the elements in the traditional manger scene are taken from Luke’s gospel. He tells us why Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem in the first place and that they had to lay Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the inn. He describes the visit of the shepherds to see the baby. But he never speaks of the Wise Men here or anyplace else.
Matthew is the one who tells us about the visit of the Wise Men and he says that it took place after Jesus had already been born.
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.”
When they did find Jesus he wasn’t in a manger but was living in a house.
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.
Mary and Joseph had decided to live in Bethlehem rather than return to Nazareth. It is likely that two years had elapsed since Jesus was born and the Wise Men saw the star.
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.
Luke tells us more about the childhood of Jesus than any of the other gospel writers. He obviously did a lot of research to find out all of the things he did tell us so he must have known about the visit of the Wise Men. It seems like he should have included it even if it didn’t happen at the time Jesus was born. But if you consider the circumstances under which he wrote his gospel it is apparent that he had a good reason not to mention it.
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.
Luke and Acts are a single work divided into two parts; they are addressed to the same person and were written at about the same time. At the end of Acts Paul was in Rome awaiting trial.
He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
The fact that Acts ends this way without any resolution of the situation Paul was facing shows that this must be the time Luke wrote his books.
Any information Luke included in his book would be known to the judges who were to try Paul and could influence their judgment. If they knew that Jesus had been proclaimed the king of the Jews they might have responded the same way Herod did and considered him a threat. Herod held his office of king by the authority of the Roman Empire so any challenge to his rule was also a challenge to the Empire. This would mean that Paul’s proclamation of Jesus would have been seen as an act of rebellion and it is likely that he would have been found guilty and executed.
Luke omitted any mention of the Wise Men because of the effect it would have had on Paul’s trial.