Christmas words -- Three Wise Men

Posted by ESC on December 03, 2001

We were discussing this at work -- what were the names of the three wise men who came to see Baby Jesus.

What were the names of the three wise men?
It would appear that one can call the wise men who visited Jesus by any name one would wish, but the tradition has it they were named Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.

Here is the Bible Commentary article on the wise men: Wise men, Gr. magoi, which designated men of the various educated classes. Our word "magicians" comes from this root. But these "wise men" were not magicians in the modern sense of sleight-of-hand performers. They were of noble birth, educated, wealthy, and influential. They were the philosophers, the counselors of the realm, learned in all the wisdom of the ancient East. The "wise men" who came seeking the Christ-child were not idolaters; they were upright men of integrity (Desire of Ages, pages 59,61).
They studied the Hebrew Scriptures and there found a clearer transcript of truth. In particular, the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament claimed their attention, and among these they found the words of Balaam: "There shall come a Star out of Jacob," (Numbers 24:17). They probably also knew and understood the time prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 9:25,26), and came to the conclusion that the Messiah's coming was near. (See Desire of Ages, pages 61 & 62.)

On the night of Christ's birth, a mysterious light appeared in the sky which became a luminous star that persisted in the western heavens (see Desire of Ages, page 60). Impressed with its import, the wise men turned once more to the sacred scrolls. As they sought to understand the meaning of the sacred writings, they were instructed in dreams to go in search of the Messiah. Like Abraham, they knew not at first where they were to go, but followed as the guiding star led them on their way.

The tradition that there were but three wise men arose from the fact that there were three gifts (Matthew 2:11), but is without support in Scripture. An interesting, but worthless, legend gives their names as Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior. The unfounded idea that they were kings was deduced from Isaiah 60:3 (cf. Revelation 21:24).

Nichol, Francis D., The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, (Washington, D.C., Review and Herald Publishing Association), 1978.


Claim: The Bible says that exactly three wise men travelled from afar on camels to visit the infant Jesus as he lay in the manger.

Status: False.

Origins: As Santa Claus and his reindeer are to the secular celebration of Christmas, so the three wise men and the creche are to the religious celebration. Even most of the non-religious (or non-Christian) among us recognize the symbolism of the nativity scene: it depicts the biblical account of three wise men from the east who rode atop camels and followed a star to Bethlehem, bearing gifts for the newborn Christ child who lay in a manger.

The truth is, the Bible contains virtually none of these details. They have all been added over the years from sources outside the Bible.

Matthew 2:1 tells us:
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem . . .

That's it. Matthew doesn't say how many wise men came from the east, doesn't mention their names, and doesn't provide any details about how they made their journey.

It has generally been assumed that the wise men (or magi) were three in number because Matthew 2:11 makes mention of three gifts: " . . . they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh." The number of wise men is not specified in the Bible, however, and some Eastern religions have claimed up to twelve of them made the journey to Bethlehem. The names of the wis