FAQ: Were the Magi Pagan Astrologers (Matthew 2:1-12)?

The New Testament Greek leaves the original Chaldean word, Magi, untranslated. As it appears occasionally in the Scriptures, this word seems to have been a well-known term in the Middle East during biblical history. It can refer to righteous, God-fearing wise men, teachers, priests, physicians, prophets, and interpreters of dreams, as well as to unrighteous false prophets, astrologers, augerers, soothsayers, and sorcerers. All of the latter are frequently condemned by God in His Word.

Most Bible versions render the word Magi as the English term “wise men.” A few retain “Magi,” “Magians,” or “Mages.” One translated it as “scholars.” Only a few versions, like J.B. Phillip's The New Testament in Modern English, use the word “astrologers,” a rendering that is obviously incorrect and illogical when one studies this Matthew 2 episode in conjunction with other scriptures. (The Phillips version, a paraphrase that was originally designed for a church youth group, is known to be technically inaccurate in various areas due to the translator's preference for modern vernacular English.) The Williams translation translates Magi as “stargazers.” God, of course, has nothing against star-gazing of the astronomical variety, though He does have much to say against astrology (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:2-5; Isaiah 47:13-14; Daniel 1:20; 2:2, 10, 27; 4:7; 5:7, 11, 15; etc.).

The wise men who visited Jesus were not just aimlessly following a moving star. They knew in advance whose star it was, who they were going to visit, and that the purpose of their visit was to worship Him:

"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." . . . And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:2, 11)

It is highly unlikely that heathen, idolatrous astrologers would go to the great effort to travel hundreds of miles to give honor to the son of a Deity whom they did not worship. With this evidence, we can be quite certain that these magi were not pagan astrologers. Because of the Diaspora of the Hebrews in preceding centuries, it seems more likely that these men were descendants of Israelites or Jews exiled from the land of Israel, sent to recognize the birth of a scion of the line of David.

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