Matthew 2:1

1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,

Matthew 2:1 Meaning and Commentary

Matthew 2:1

Now when Jesus was born
Several things are here related respecting the birth of Christ, as the place where he was born,

in Bethlehem of Judea;
so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in the tribe of Zabulon, ( Joshua 19:15 ) . Here Christ was to be born according to a prophecy hereafter mentioned, and accordingly the Jews expected he would be born here, ( Matthew 2:4-6 ) ( John 7:41 John 7:42 ) and so Jesus was born here, ( 2:4-7 ) and this the Jews themselves acknowledge;

``Such a year, says a noted F12 chronologer of theirs, Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem Juda, which is a "parsa" and a half, i.e. six miles, from Jerusalem.''

Benjamin F13 Tudelensis says it is two parsas, i.e. eight miles, from it; and according to Justin Martyr F14 it was thirty five furlongs distant from it. Yea even they own this, that Jesus was born there, in that vile and blasphemous book F15 of theirs, written on purpose to defame him; nay, even the ancient Jews have owned that the Messiah is already born, and that he was born at Bethlehem; as appears from their Talmud F16, where we meet with such a passage.

``It happened to a certain Jew, that as he was ploughing, one of his oxen bellowed; a certain Arabian passed by and heard it, who said, O Jew, Jew, loose thy oxen, and loose thy ploughshare, for lo, the house of the sanctuary is destroyed: it bellowed a second time; he said unto him, O Jew, Jew, bind thy oxen, and bind thy ploughshare, for lo (axyvm aklm dyly) "the king Messiah is born". He said to him, what is his name? Menachem (the comforter); he asked again, what is his father's name? Hezekiah; once more he says, from whence is he? He replies (hdwhy Mxltyb aklm tryb Nm) "from the palace of the king of Bethlehem Judah"; he went and sold his oxen and his ploughshares, and became a seller of swaddling clothes for infants; and he went from city to city till he came to that city, (Bethlehem,) and all the women bought of him, but the mother of Menachem bought nothing.''

Afterwards they tell you, he was snatched away by winds and tempests. This story is told in much the same manner in another F17 of their writings. Bethlehem signifies "the house of bread", and in it was born, as an ancient writer F18 observes, the bread which comes down from heaven: and it may also signify "the house of flesh", and to it the allusion may be in ( 1 Timothy 3:16 ) "God manifest in the flesh". The time of Christ's birth is here expressed,

in the days of Herod the king.
This was Herod the great, the first of that name: the Jewish chronologer F19 gives an account of him in the following manner.

``Herod the first, called Herod the Ascalonite, was the son of Antipater, a friend of king Hyrcanus and his deputy; him the senate of Rome made king in the room of Hyrcanus his master. This Herod whilst he was a servant of king Hyrcanus (so in the F20 Talmud Herod is said to be (anwmvx tybd adbe) a servant of the family of the Asmonaeans) king Hyrcanus saved from death, to which he was sentenced by the sanhedrim of Shammai; that they might not slay him for the murder of one Hezekiah, as is related by Josephus, l. 6. c. 44. and Herod took to him for wife Miriam, the daughter of Alexander the son of Aristobulus, who was the daughter's daughter of king Hyrcanus.''

This writer tacitly owns afterwards F21 that Jesus was born in the days of this king; for he says, that in the days of Hillell and Shammai (who lived in those times) there was one of their disciples, who was called R. Joshua ben Perachiah, and he was, adds he, (yruwnh) (wbr) "the master of the Nazarene", or of Jesus of Nazareth. Herod reigned, as this same author observes, thirty seven years; and according to Dr. Lightfoot's calculation, Christ was born in the thirty fifth year of his reign, and in the thirty first of Augustus Caesar, and in the year of the world three thousand nine hundred and twenty eight, and the month Tisri, which answers to part of our September, about the feast of tabernacles; which indeed was typical of Christ's incarnation, and then it may reasonably be thought that "the word was made flesh", and (eskhnwsen) "tabernacled among us", ( John 1:14 ) . Another circumstance relating to the birth of Christ is, that

when Jesus was born--behold, there came wise men from the East to
these wise men in the Greek text are called (magoi) , "Magi", a word which is always used in a bad sense in the sacred writings; hence they are thought by some to be magicians, sorcerers, wizards, such as Simon Magus, ( Acts 8:9 ) and Elymas, ( Acts 13:8 ) and so the Jewish writers F23 interpret the word (vwgm) a wizard, an enchanter, a blasphemer of God, and one that entices others to idolatry; and in the Hebrew Gospel of Munster these men are called (Mypvkm) "wizards". Some have thought this to be their national name. Epiphanius F24 supposes that these men were of the posterity of Abraham by Keturah, who inhabited a country in some part of Arabia, called Magodia: but could this be thought to be the name of their country, one might rather be induced to suppose that they were of the (magoi) , "Magi", a nation of the Medes mentioned by Herodotus F25; since both the name and country better agree with these persons; but the word seems to be rather a name of character and office, and to design the wise men, and priests of the Persians. An Eastern F26 writer says the word is of Persic original, and is compounded of two words, "Mije Gush", which signifies "a man with short ears"; for such was the first founder of the sect, and from whom they were so called. But in the Arabic Persic Nomenclator F1 it is rendered "a worshipper of fire", and such the Persian priests were; and to this agrees what Apuleius F2 says, that "Magus", in the Persian language, is the same as "priest" with us: and Xenophon F3 says, that the Magi were first appointed by Cyrus, to sing hymns to the gods, as soon as it was day, and to sacrifice to them. The account given of them by Porphyry F4 is, that

``among the Persians they that were wise concerning God, and worshipped him, were called (magoi) , "Magi", for so "Magus" signifies in their country dialect; and so august and venerable were this sort of men accounted with the Persians, that Darius, the son of Hystaspis, ordered this, among other things, to be inscribed on his monument, that he was the master of the Magi.''

From whence we may learn in some measure who these men were, and why the word is by our translators rendered "wise men"; since the Magi, as Cicero F5 says, were reckoned a sort of wise men, and doctors among the Persians: who further observes, that no man could be a king of the Persians before he understood the discipline and knowledge of the Magi: and the wisdom of the Persian Magi, as Aelianus F6 writes, among other things, lay in foretelling things to come. These came

from the east,
not from Chaldea, as some have thought, led hereunto by the multitude of astrologers, magicians, and soothsayers, which were among that people; see ( Daniel 2:2 Daniel 2:10 Daniel 2:27 ) ( 4:7 ) for Chaldea was not east, but north of Judea, as appears from ( Jeremiah 1:14 Jeremiah 1:15 ) ( 4:6 ) ( Jeremiah 6:22 ) ( 10:22 ) ( 25:9 ) . Others have thought they came from Arabia, and particularly Sheba, induced hereunto by ( Psalms 72:10 Psalms 72:15 ) . But though some part of Arabia lay east, yet Sheba was south of the land of Israel, as is evident from the queen of that place being called the "queen of the south", ( Matthew 12:42 ) . The more generally received opinion seems to be most right, that they came from Persia, which as it lies east of Judea, so was famous for this sort of men, and besides the name, as has been seen, is of Persic original. The place whither they came was Jerusalem, the "metropolis" of Judea, where they might suppose the king of the Jews was born, or where, at least, they might persuade themselves they should hear of him; since here Herod the king lived, to whom it seems they applied themselves in the first place. The time of their coming was, "when Jesus was born"; not as soon as he was born, or on the "thirteenth" day after his birth, the sixth of January, as it stands in our Calendar; or within the forty days before Mary's Purification; since this space of time does not seem to be sufficient for so long a journey, and which must require a considerable preparation for it; nor is it probable if they came so soon as this, that after such a stir at Jerusalem, after Herod's diligent search and inquiry concerning this matter, and his wrath and anger at being disappointed and deluded by the wise men, that Joseph and Mary should so soon bring the child into the temple, where, it was declared to be the Messiah by Simeon and Anna. Besides, immediately after the departure of the wise men, Joseph with his wife and child were ordered into Egypt, which could not be done before Mary's Purification. But rather this their coming was near upon two years after the birth of Christ; since it is afterwards observed, that "Herod sent and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men", ( Matthew 2:16 ) . This was the opinion of Epiphanius F7 formerly, and is embraced by Dr. Lightfoot F8, to whom I refer the reader for further proof of this matter.


F12 R. David Ganz. Zemach David, pars 2. fol. 14. 2.
F13 Itinerarium, p. 48.
F14 Apolog. 2. p. 75.
F15 Toldos, p. 7.
F16 Hieros. Beracot. fol. 5. 1.
F17 Echa Rabbati, fol. 50. 1.
F18 Hieron. Epitaph. Paulae. fol. 59. E. Tom. 1.
F19 R. David Ganz. Zemach David, pars 1. fol. 24. 1.
F20 T. Bab. Bava Bathra, fol. 3. 2. Juchasin. fol. 17. 1. & 18. 1. & Seder Olam Zuta, p. 111.
F21 Ib. col. 2.
F23 T. Bab. Sabbat. fol. 75. 1. Gloss. in ib. & Sota, fol. 22. 1. & Sanhedrim, fol. 39. 1.
F24 Contr. Haeres. l. 3. Haeres. 30.
F25 Clio sive l. 1. c. 101.
F26 Alfiranzabadius in Pocock. Specim. Hist. Arab. p. 146.
F1 In Ibid.
F2 Apolog. p. 204.
F3 Cyropaedia, l. 8. sect. 6.
F4 De Abstinentia, l. 4. sect. 16.
F5 De Divinatione, l. i.
F6 Hist. Var. l. 2. c. 17.
F7 Contr. Haeres. l. 1. Haeres. 30. and l. 2. Haeres. 51.
F8 Harmony, Vol. I. p. 205, 432

Matthew 2:1 In-Context

1 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2 asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."
3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;
4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

Footnotes 1

  • [a]. Or [astrologers]; Gk [magi]
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.