The song “We Three Kings of Orient Are” is a minor Christmas carol. Yet “We Three Kings” has flaws, even in the title: the Magi were not kings, and Matthew never says they were a trio. No one knows how many there were. Matthew simply tells us, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem” (Matt. 2:1). They brought three gifts but there were probably dozens of leaders, soldiers, and servants in an entourage that traveled up to a thousand miles over alien terrain. The group was large enough that the report of their arrival reached King Herod himself.

The Magi were wise men—not kings, but counselors to kings. As with any profession, there were good and bad Magi. In the Old Testament, Daniel and his friends were Magi: educated men, seeking the truth, trained to counsel and advise their king, much like the cabinet of a president or prime minister. Other Magi were charlatans or scoundrels (Acts 8:9–24). Our Magi seem to be learned, noble, and wealthy. — Daniel M. Doriani, Matthew & 2, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Philip Graham Ryken, and Daniel M. Doriani, vol. 1, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 27–28.


I have just completed a series of six Christmas Lessons. They are available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions, as well as part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription service. For a medium-sized church, lesson subscriptions are only $10 per teacher per year.