Quick Hit: Wise Men and Biblical Ignorance

All right kids, it’s Bible trivia time!!!!!

Today’s question:  The three wise men were present with Mary and Joseph and all the shepherds at the manger on Christmas Day.  True or false?

Okay, time’s up.  The correct answer:  False.

Let’s go to Matthew 2:1.

AFTER Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem… [emphasis mine]

There it is, people.  Right there in black and white.  After Jesus was born, the wise men came.  No wise men at the manger at Christmas; they weren’t there yet.

Now, I totally understand if you got this one wrong.  Every creche set on the face of the earth has the three wise men right there along with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus and the shepherds and the angels and everyone else (unless you have a discount version which contains only Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus).  Every Christmas pageant you’ve ever seen had the three wise men right there with Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and angels and all the rest of the Christmas Day milieu.  Many preachers, Sunday school teachers, and other well-intentioned Christians have no doubt passed this information along as well.  And many of us have simply accepted that that is how it was at Christmas.

And then you open the Bible and actually see it there for yourself in black and white:  “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea…”  No wise men at Christmas.  Everything you thought you knew about the Christmas story is wrong.

Unfortunately, this shows that biblical ignorance is pervasive in our culture–both inside and outside the church.  We see it in the media when the talking heads on Newsweek and CNN go on and on about gay marriage and the Bible (“Look at David and all his wives…It’s in the Bible, surely it can’t be wrong…”).  Listen to them and you will find that they are completely ignorant of the proper way to handle the Bible.  I’m sure that many of them had college English classes in which they learned that in order to properly understand a work of literature you can’t just look at it in terms of how we would understand it here in present-day America, you have to understand it in terms of the literary form and structure in which it was written, the culture in which it was written, and what was going on in the author(s)’ lives when it was written.  And yet they fail to allow this standard, or anything resembling it, to inform their reading and understanding of the Bible.

And on the other side, you have preachers and teachers in the church, some well-intentioned, others less so, who show the exact same level of ignorance in the proper handling of the Bible.  They refuse to allow their understanding of the text to be informed by the literary form or the culture in which it was written, or anything else outside the worldview of present-day America.  How else do you get people saying that the Bible supports name-it claim-it faith or total abstinence from alcohol or the culture war agenda–or that the Bible says the three wise men were at the manger when Christ was born?

Well at any rate, today is Epiphany (actually Epiphany will be yesterday by the time this appears on the blog).  Today is the day we celebrate the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem.  So for those of you who have creche sets with the three wise men, today is the day that you can put them out.

Wise men still seek Him, as the saying goes.  And part of wisdom is not being ignorant of what the Bible really says about things such as alcohol, the culture war, or whether the three wise men were really present at Christmas.