The story of the Wise Men, also known as the Magi or the Three Kings, visiting the baby Jesus in Bethlehem is a central element of the Christian nativity story. This event has been depicted in countless Christmas nativity scenes, plays, and songs, but one question often arises: How old was Jesus when the Wise Men came to see him? To answer this question, we must delve into the biblical accounts, historical context, and various interpretations surrounding the birth of Jesus.
The Biblical Account
The primary source for the story of the Wise Men’s visit to Jesus can be found in the Gospel of Matthew, specifically in Matthew 2:1-12. Here’s a brief summary of this account:
- The Wise Men Arrive: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem.”
- Inquiry in Jerusalem: The Wise Men inquired about the “one who has been born king of the Jews” and informed King Herod of their intention to worship the child.
- The Star: The Wise Men followed a star that led them to Bethlehem.
- Finding Jesus: The star “came and stood over where the child was,” and the Wise Men entered the house and saw the young child with Mary, his mother.
- Gifts: The Wise Men presented gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the child.
- A Warning: Being warned in a dream, the Wise Men did not return to Herod but departed to their own country by another way.
Analyzing the Age of Jesus
The Gospel of Matthew does not explicitly state the age of Jesus when the Wise Men arrived. It simply mentions that they came “after Jesus was born.” To estimate Jesus’ age, we need to consider some historical and cultural context:
- Bethlehem’s Census: The Gospel of Luke records that Jesus was born in Bethlehem due to a census issued by Caesar Augustus. This census likely took place around 6-4 BCE. If Jesus was indeed born during this time, he would have been an infant when the Wise Men visited.
- Time Required for the Wise Men’s Journey: Determining the exact duration of the Wise Men’s journey is challenging. Some scholars suggest it could have taken several months to over a year, depending on their starting point, which might have been in the East, possibly Persia. This could mean that Jesus was around one year old or slightly older when they arrived.
- King Herod’s Reaction: King Herod’s reaction to the Wise Men’s report was to order the massacre of all male children in Bethlehem under the age of two. This suggests that Jesus was less than two years old, but the exact timeframe remains uncertain.
Read some of our other featured Biblical articles here as well:
- How Old Was Melchizedek When He Died? Exploring the Untold Story
- How Old Was Moses When He Died? A Tale of Faith and Imperfection
Historical and Theological Interpretations
The age of Jesus during the Wise Men’s visit has sparked numerous interpretations and theological discussions over the centuries. Some believe that Jesus was a very young infant, while others propose that he could have been up to two years old or even older.
- Infant Jesus: Many nativity scenes depict Jesus as a newborn baby when the Wise Men arrived, which is a common interpretation among Christians.
- Toddler Jesus: Some scholars argue that Jesus may have been closer to two years old since Herod ordered the killing of children up to the age of two.
- Symbolic Significance: In theological terms, the arrival of the Wise Men is seen as a symbol of Jesus’ universal significance, as they came from the East, possibly representing the Gentile world. The age of Jesus might be of less importance than the message of salvation for all people.
There is still a lot of disagreement about how old Jesus was when the Wise Men came to visit. The Bible describes the Wise Men’s visit, but not Jesus’ age. Theologians, historians, and artists have interpreted the story differently, resulting in different nativity scenes and traditions.