1. Prologue, 1:1-2:23

iii] Wise men worship the king


Magi from the East come to Jerusalem seeking the new-born king of the Jews. Herod intervenes, pointing them toward Bethlehem. Following the star to Bethlehem, the Magi give homage to Jesus, leaving quickly for home to foil Herod's murderous plans.


Matthew's record of the Magi's visit is shaped in such a way as to reflect the Moses story and so demonstrate how Jesus' birth fulfills scripture. The story reveals, in the coming of Eastern astrologers, the birth of a royal prince, the son of Abraham in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed, cf. Gen.12:3. In a preemptive move, the powers of darkness move against the child, but their plans, for the moment, come undone.


i] Context: See Matthew 1:1-17.


ii] Structure: This narrative, Wise men worship the king, presents in six scenes:

Magi seek the new king, v1-2;

Herod seeks advice on where the Messiah is to be born, v3-6;

Herod instructs the magi and seeks their cooperation, v7-8;

The magi follow the star, v9-10;

The magi worship the newborn kind, v11;

Warned in a dream, the magi flee, v12.


ii] Interpretation:

The coming of foreign astrologers is often interpreted as prefiguring the incoming of the Gentiles and thus the world-wide mission of the Christian church, but it is more likely that this incident, as noted above, simply hails the birth of a royal prince who will lead his people out of the bondage of their slavery to freedom in a new land.


Historical authenticity: We should note that there is a long history of rejecting the historicity of this story. Many scholars see it as a reworked Palestinian legend about Pharaoh's astrologers predicting the birth of Moses, but just because Matthew gives the story a theological edge doesn't mean that it is a fable. In fact, there is evidence of unusual cosmic activity at the time of Jesus' birth: the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn on three occasion in 7BC and the appearance of a comet in 12BC. The visit of the Magi is not necessarily related to Jesus' birth, but do Joseph and Mary stay long in Bethlehem?


iv] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 2:1

The worship of the Magi, v1-12; i] The Magi come seeking the "king of the Jews" in order to worship him, v1-2. There is debate over the date of Herod's death, but 4BC is favoured. So, Jesus is born some time before 4BC in Bethlehem, in Judea (rather than Bethlehem in Zebulun). Magi are referred to in Daniel,1:20, 2:2, 4:7, 5:7. The word loosely covers astrologers, magicians and interpreters of dreams. It is possible that they have journeyed from Babylon. In tradition they are named Melkon, Balthasar and Gasper. For Matthew, the importance of this story lies in its fulfillment of scripture - Messiah is "a star" that will "rise out of Israel", Num.23:7. Although the Old Testament denounces astrology, Matthew relates the story, emphasizing that the Magi come to "worship", ie. do obeisance, do homage. The "star" is possibly a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn in 7BC. People of the time saw significance in this planetary conjunction.

tou Ihsou gennhqentoV (gennaw) aor. pas. part. "After Jesus was born" - Jesus being born. Genitive absolute, usually forming a temporal clause, "when", RSV; "soon after", TEV; "not long after", Phillips.

thV IoudaiaV gen. "in Judea" - of Judea. The genitive is adjectival, partitive / wholative.

en + dat. "during [the time]" - in [days]. Temporal; "during the reign of king Herod."

Hrw/dou gen. "of [king] Herod" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive; "king Herod's reign."

magoi (oV) "Magi" - A word used of Persian "wise men" able to interpret dreams, read the stars, etc. "Astrologers", "Magicians", Moffatt.

apo gen. "from" - from, out of. Expressing origin / source.

anatolwn (h) "the east" - east. Babylon, Persia....


legonteV (legw) pres. part. "and asked" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "arrived / came", v1.

oJ tecqeiV (tiktw) aor. pas. part. "the one who has been born" - the one having been born. Participle as a substantive. The sense is of a child "recently born who will become king."

twn Ioudaiwn gen. "[king] of the Jews" - The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

gar "-" - for. Expressing cause / reason, introducing the reason for the wise men's question; "for", RSV.

autou ton astera "his star" - The genitive "his" is possessive. The wise men saw "the astrological sign of the coming king." Davies and Allison suggest that there was a widespread view at the time that a mighty ruler would come out of Judea and that the wise men had recognized a highly significant astrological phenomenon indicating the coming of this king.

en th/ anatolh/ "in the east" - at its rising, in the east. The preposition en is local. The TEV tries to cover all bases with "when it came up in the east", but the phrase is probably not saying in what part of the sky the astrological sign can be found, but rather that the wise men saw it at its rising in the sky, "we saw his star when it rose", Moffatt.

proskunhsai (proskunew) inf. "to worship" - fall down before, do obeisance. The infinitive is probably verbal, conveying purpose, "in order to worship"; "we have come with a single purpose in mind, namely, to worship him." The sense of the word is "adoration" when accusative and "prostrate before" when dative, and must not be confused with other Greek words that mean "perform a service for", eg. latreuw, "I serve", a word often incorrectly translated as "worship".

autw/ "him" - to him. Dative of direct object after "worship", in Koine Gk only.


ii] Herod is disturbed by the visit of the Magi and seeks advice, v3-6. In Herod's final years he was quite paranoid and ordered the death of numerous officials, including family members, so the visit of the Magi not only disturbs Herod, but also the populous, who are rightly worried about how he might respond. His initial response it to consult the priestly hierarchy, along with experts on the Old Testament, for the birthplace of the Messiah and is told "Bethlehem in Judea." In v6, Matthew loosely follows the Masoretic text of Micah 5:2 with some words from 2 Samuel 5:2.

akousaV (akouw) part. "when [King Herod] heard this" - having heard. Most translations assume that the participle here is adverbial, forming a temporal clause with the supplied object, "this", "these things." Yet, also possibly forming a consecutive clause expressing result; "the news of this troubled King Herod and all of Jerusalem as well", Moffatt.

etaracqh (tarassw) aor. "he was disturbed" - was troubled. "Alarmed", Barclay.

meta + gen. "[all Jerusalem] with [him]" - Expressing association. Why would "all Jerusalem" be alarmed along with Herod? Jerusalem is alarmed when Jesus enters Jerusalem, 21:10, and so this is probably noting a negative reaction from the residents of the city, the unbelieving crowd, but particularly the religious authorities - a sign of things to come.


sunagagwn (sunagw) aor. part. "when he had called together" - having assembled. The participle again may form a temporal clause, "when/after ...", but attendant circumstance seems best, "assembling", "he called together", TEV, "he summoned", Phillips.

pantaV adj. "all" - Herod is thorough in his investigation.

grammateiV (euV ewV) "[the people's chief priests and] teachers of the law" - the scribes. The scribes are not part of the ruling elite. As lay ministers they are therefore tou laou, "of the people", an adjectival genitive, partitive / wholative, although possibly applying to the "chief priests" as well, as NIV.

epunqaneto (punqanomai) imperf. "he asked" - he inquired. The imperfect tense here carries either an inceptive sense, ie. "he began to inquire", or is tentative, so Turner, "he tentatively inquired."

pou adv. "where" - This interrogative adverb serves to introduce an indirect question.

gennatai (gennaw) pres. pas. "was to be born" - is being born. The present tense is used to express the tense of the original question, ie. "where is the Christ being born / to be born?"


en + dat. "in [Bethlehem]" - Local.

thV IoudaiaV (a) gen. "in Judea" - of Judea. The genitive is adjectival, partitive.

autw/ dat. pro. "[they replied]" - [they said] to him. Dative of indirect object.

gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; "for thus it is written", Moffatt.

dia + gen. "-" - [it has been written] through, by means of [the prophet]. Instrumental. The clause properly expresses the sense that the prophets are the instrument of God's revelation.


su Bhqleem "you, Bethlehem" - "God said, 'you people of Bethlehem.'"

gh (h) "land" - Often meaning "earth", but here obviously "territory".

Iouda "of Judea" - The genitive is adjectival, relational.

oudamwV adv. "by no means" - certainly not.

elacisth (oV, mikroV) adj. "least" - Superlative of "small/little".

toiV hJgemosin (wn onoV) "the rulers" - the rulers, governors, chiefs. Least among the "leading cities" of Judea, or least among the "leaders/rulers" of Judea.

gar "for" - Expressing cause/reason; "because."

ek + gen. "out of [you]" - from. Expressing source / origin.

hJgemosin (hJgeomai) pres. part. "a ruler" - ruling, leading. The participle functions as a substantive, as NIV. "From you there shall emerge the leader who will be the shepherd of my people Israel", Barclay.

o{stiV rel. pro. "who" - the one who. Referring to the antecedent "a ruler."


iii] Herod tries to coopt the magi, v7-8. The Magi obviously came to Jerusalem on the assumption that the new Hebrew king would be born there, but Herod is able to tell them where they must go. Obviously Herod wants to know when the star appeared so he can calculate the child's age and efficiently eliminate any possible contender for his throne. As for the Magi, Herod is able to present himself as a devotee of the newly born king, but of course, he never expected God to intervene.

tote "then" - Temporal, used to refer to time past, or time future, but here "to introduce that which follows in time", BAGD.

kalesaV (kalew) aor. part. "called" - having called. Attendant circumstance participle identifying action accompanying the main verb "ascertained", "called ..... and found out ....." "Summoned", NJB.

touV magouV "the Magi" - The anaphoric use of the article, ie. where the article is backward-looking, in this case, looking back to the reference of the Magi in v1 where there is no article. The anaphoric article carries the sense "this/that", so here, "these visitors from the East."

laqra/ adv. "secretly" - "Privately"; "in private", NEB.

hkribwsen (akribow) aor. "found out" - inquired diligently. "Ascertained", NEB. Here of diligent inquiry, producing the sense conveyed by the TEV "found out from them the exact time the star appeared."

par (para) + gen. "from [them]" - Here spacial, source, as NIV.

tou fainomenou (fainw) gen. pres. part. "[the star] had appeared" - of the appearing [of star]. The participle functions as a substantive. The genitive "of star" is usually classified as subjective, as NIV, but possibly just possessive, "the star's appearing", which genitival phrase functions adjectivally limiting the noun "time", "the time since the star's appearing", Wuest. "Herod ..... carefully questioned them about the date when the star had appeared", Barclay.


poreuqenteV (poreuomai) aor. part. "go" - going, journeying, proceeding. Attendant circumstance participle expressing an action accompanying the imperatival verb "search", therefore translated as the imperative "go"; "go and search."

akribwV adv. "[make a] careful [search]" - [inquire] carefully, diligently, accurately. "Search for this little child with utmost care", Phillips.

peri + gen. "for [the child]" - concerning [the child]. Reference; "concerning / about / with reference to." "Make careful enquiries about the child", Cassirer.

epan + subj. "as soon as" - whenever. Indefinite temporal construction referring to the future.

moi dat. pro. "[report] to me" - [tell, report, announce] to me. Dative of indirect object.

oJpwV + subj. "so that" - that [...... may worship]. Introducing a purpose clause. "So that / in order that I may worship him also."

elqwn (ercomai) aor. part. "[I too] may go" - [I also] coming. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "worship" and therefore translated in the subjective mood along with "worship", "may go and [may] worship him." "So that I may go myself and pay him homage", NEB.

autw/ dat. pro. "him" - Dative of direct object after the verb "worship".


iv] The Magi complete their journey to Bethlehem, v9-10. As the Magi headed toward Bethlehem the star appears overhead, confirming their journey's end.

oiJ "they" - The article here is used as a demonstrative pronoun.

akousanteV (akouw) aor. part. "after [they] had heard" - having heard, listened. The participle is adverbial, temporal; "when they had heard the king", NRSV.

tou BasilewV (euV ewV) "the king" - of the king. Genitive of direct object after the verb akouw, of persons, lit. "hearing of/from the king." "The wise men listened to the king and ...", Phillips.

en th/ anatolh/ "in the east" - See above.

prohgen (proagw) imperf. "went ahead [of them]" - went before, lead ahead. The sense is that the cosmic sign somehow leads the wise men to Bethlehem; it points the way, guides them.

eJwV "until" - Often with a subjunctive, but here a participle, referring to future time in relation to the verb "went before". The sign of the rising in the east led them "until".

elqwn (ercomai) aor. part. "-" - having come. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "it stood"; "until it came and stopped where the little child was", Barclay.

estaqh (iJsthmi) aor. pas. "it stopped [over]" - it stood [over, above]. "It stopped", "came to rest over", RSV, is a slight assumption. The language reflects the symbolism of the pillar of cloud and fire that guided the Israelites through the wilderness to the promised land, so Phillips is closer to the mark with his "it shone immediately above the place where the little child lay." Of course, even this literal description may not explain the phenomenon. Whatever happened, the wise men read the sign and understood that Bethlehem was the site of the king's birth.

epanw + gen. "over" - over, above. "Coming to a standstill just over the place", Cassirer.


idonteV (oJraw) aor. part. "when they saw" - seeing, caught sight of. A temporal adverbial participle is the choice of the majority of translators, but a complementary use is possible, "the sight of the star filled them with incredible joy", Phillips; or even slightly causal, "because", "they were thrilled and excited to see the star", CEV.


v] The magi worship the king, v11. The Magi track down the family, now living in a home, and "worship him" (They see both Jesus and Mary, but worship Jesus alone). Following Eastern custom, they give gifts to Jesus, in much they same way as gifts would be given to an important dignitary. Opening their treasure boxes, they give gold, frankincense (mixed gums used for incense), and myrrh (a spice for embalming). The ancients suggested these represented royalty, divinity, and sacrifice, but there is no evidence the Magi intend this understanding. Three gifts don't necessarily mean three visitors (always a good trivia question!).

elqonteV (ercomai) aor. part. "on coming [to the house]" - having come [into the house]. The participle is adverbial, temporal; "and when they came into the house."

pesonteV (piptw) aor. part. "they bowed down" - falling down. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the main verb "worship"; "they knelt down and worshiped him", CEV.

autw/ dat. pro. "[worshiped] him" - [did obeisance] to him. Dative of direct object after the verb "worshiped".

anoixanteV (anoigw) aor. part. "then they opened" - having opened. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "they offered"; "they unlocked their treasures and offered him gifts", Barclay. Possibly temporal, as NIV, AV, NRSV, ...

touV qhsaurouV (oV) "treasures" - The reference is probably to the container in which the gifts are stowed and kept safe, therefore "treasure box", "money bag"....

autw/ dat. pro. "[presented] him" - [they brought, offered] to him. Dative of indirect object.

dwra (on) "with gifts" - Alluding to Ps.72:10-11, of the nations doing obeisance to the king of Israel / nations, and of the gifts proper, "gold" and "frankincense", within an eschatological context, Isa.60:1-6. "The newborn king is king of all the world, and the appropriate homage shall be paid to him by all the nations", Nolland.


vi] The magi flee, v12. God intervenes and warns the Magi to head home without returning to Jerusalem.

crhmatisqenteV (crhmatizomai) aor. pas. part. "having been warned" - Best translated as an adverbial participle of cause, "because", giving the reason why they went home by another route, "since they were warned", Phillips. Note how Phillips uses the active voice rather than the passive, since the focus in on the wise men not the agent of the warning, presumably angels. Although the verb refers to the business of intercourse it takes here the particular meaning of "impart a divine revelation."

kat (kata) + acc. "in [a dream]" - according to [a dream]. Probably here with a temporal sense, "during a dream", or possibly even manner / means, "by a dream"; "having received warning in the course of a dream", Cassirer.

mh anakamyai (anakamptw) inf. "not to go back to" - not to return. The infinitive is used here to form a dependent statement, indirect discourse, expressing what they were warned in the dream, namely that they not return to Herod.

autwn gen. pro. "their [country]" - [the country] of them. The genitive is adjectival, possessive.

di (dia) + gen. "by [another route]" - through [another way]. Here spacial, "through".


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