three wise men


The Magi, or Wise Men, are mysterious characters in the Christmas Story. We don’t know exactly where they came from, although Babylonia is a strong character, and we don’t know exactly how many of them there were, or even when they turned up in Bethlehem.

I was preaching abut this last Sunday as recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.

As I read the passage in church, I was struck by the NLT rendering of v. 1:

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Over recent years, it has been common to point out that the Magi could have taken up to 2 years to come and worship Jesus. This is based on a number of factors, including the word for “child”, the fact that the family was now in a house, not a stable, and Herod’s order to kill babies under the age of 2 years. Herod was a ruthless character who was not afraid of killing potential rivals, so the age of the babies being killed would have been arbitrary.

But then the NLT says this happened “About that time” i.e. close to the time of Jesus’ birth. What’s happening here?

Short answer is it is a poor translation choice. Most of the English translations, as well as the original Greek text, do not use this. For example the NIV has “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem…”

No translation of Scripture is perfect. We are blessed to have such an abundance of translations in English, and they mostly do a good job of making the Bible accessible to people of all reading, education and cultural backgrounds. I love the NLT as an easy to understand translation, but they got this phrase wrong.

The lesson here is never build a doctrine on a single phrase, a single verse, a single translation.