by Tad Lindley
Warning: Do not read this article unless you have someone nearby who can give you immediate emotional support. This may be worse than the terrible sense of deception you experienced when you first learned that there was no Santa Claus. I offer this article with great hesitation. My fear is that YKHC’s mental health workers will be inundated with calls from people of all ages struggling to overcome their feelings of having been cheated for so many years. If you are easily upset, I urge you not to read any further.
The song that wasn’t true
In 1857 John H. Hopkins wrote his famous song, We Three Kings. Apparently he referred to folk tales rather than scripture. The story upon which his song is based is traced back to Armenia in the 600’s. Unfortunately, many Protestant churches have embraced the catchy song and as a result Reverend Hopkins song has entrenched this myth into American minds. Today most people if confronted with the scriptural account would be inclined to think that Matthew had made several mistakes. Here is where Hopkins went wrong:
There weren’t three
The scripture is silent on the number of men that came. Here is all the scripture says about their identity: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem. (Matthew 2:1) The number of three is based on the fact that the men that came bearing three gifts. Early folk lore accounts number the men at anywhere from two to twelve. It is possible that there were three, but we must be careful not to preach or teach this as anything more than the opinion of people who wrote 600 years after the fact.
They weren’t kings
This falsehood is easy to debunk. The Bible says, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem (Matthew 2:1). The words “wise men” or “magi” come from the Greek word magos. Magos means magician, sorcerer, or wise man.
They weren’t from the Orient
Although the men were from the East, and the Orient is east from Jerusalem, these is no indication in scripture that they came from that far. Magi were priests of the ancient Zoroastrian religion. This religion had its center in Persia. This is all pretty heavy information, but it gets even worse.
They never saw Jesus in the manger.
I had to duck when I wrote that. Some readers might be getting high blood pressure right about now and saying, “What do you mean they never saw Jesus in the manger? My Christmas nativity set has three kings right alongside of the shepherds and the cattle and the sheep.” Others, “Brother Tad, you’ve really gone off the deep end now. I’ve seen the church Christmas pageant for 45 years and every year the three wise men show up right there the night Jesus was born. I’ve seen it with my own eyes!” Still others are thinking, “Brother Lindley, you need to get on Youtube and watch the Charlie Brown Christmas, or else I’ll quit reading your column!”
Let’s see what the Bible says about the three unknown number of kings Zoroastrian priests from the Orient Persia. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother and fell down and worshipped him…(Matthew 2:11). When the wise men got to Bethlehem, the family was no longer in the stable, but they were in a house. No shepherds, no animals. Furthermore, the Bible describes Jesus at this point as a young child. A clue to his age is given in verse 16 (the star had first appeared two years earlier). After the wise men depart back to the East, Herod has every male child in Bethlehem that is two years and younger killed. So Jesus was no longer a newborn in a stable, but infant or toddler, possibly as old as two by the time the magi came to visit him.
Now that the hoax is exposed, what should we do?
I am advising all Delta Discovery readers to handle this situation as follows: 1. Read the Bible account in Matthew 2:1-16 and make sure that what I have written is correct, 2. In the event that your church actually has this song in its song books, and the song leader didn’t have time to read Matthew 2:1-16, I am urging our readers when it gets to the first verse where the words are, “We three kings of orient are,” to loudly sing instead, “We unknown number of Zoroastrian priests from the land of Persia are, bearing gifts we traverse afar”. I know it will take some fine tuning to make the words fit, so spend a few hours in front of the mirror when nobody else is in the house belting it out, 3. When all else fails, keep studying your Bible to show yourself approved, God’s word will guide us to His perfect light.
You’re in charge of the Church Christmas play, now what?
If your church celebrates Catholic Christmas (as opposed to Orthodox Christmas in January), and you are involved in a play that has the wise men showing up the very night of Jesus birth, what should you do? You can do one of three things. Option 1. Leave it alone, and let the people believe that the traditions of human storytelling are the Word of God. This is a dangerous thing to do as in essence you will be teaching a lie. Option 2. Rewrite the play to make it Biblically accurate. This means studying the Bible. It means that the night of the birth you will show the shepherds in the field, but the wise men will still be in Persia observing an unusual star in the sky and planning and undertaking the journey to Israel where they first go to King Herod in Jerusalem. It means having to make a second stage scene with Mary in a house and Jesus a two year old (Joseph apparently wasn’t home the day they came, read your Bible and see for yourself). It means having the wise men show up at that house bringing their gifts. Option 3. Retire the three kings of Orient’s costumes and take them out of the play all together, after all, they weren’t three, they weren’t kings, and they weren’t there. Then you will have a Christmas play that is based on fact rather than fiction.
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.