Who are the Magi?

Magi Definition and Basic Information

The magi were a group of astronomers/astrologers (back then the lines between the two were blurred) who followed a star that appeared over the manger where Jesus was born. The word "magi" is based on the Greek word meaning "magician," and the magi likely would have been Persian royal astrologers. Their "job" would have been to use the stars to predict the future. This explains why the magi would have noticed the unusual astronomical change at the birth of Jesus and followed it to worship Him.

candle lightSometimes the magi are called "the three wise men" or "three kings." Their reputation for wisdom is understandable, but the "kings" label likely comes from their association with Persian royalty, or their visit to King Herod asking about the newborn Jesus. The Bible doesn't specifically mention any connection to being royalty.

The number of magi is debated because the Bible doesn't say the number. It only mentions three gifts brought by at least two magi (the term is plural). In the Catholic Church, this led to the tradition of having three magi (named by tradition as Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar). The Eastern Church sometimes speaks of twelve magi.

Although the magi are often celebrated at Christmas, this tradition is misleading. First, the magi didn't arrive directly following the birth of Jesus, but likely more than a year later, since the journey would have been long and the Bible describes the magi as visiting a house (rather than the stable where Jesus was born). Second, the Church celebrates the visit of the magi as a part of Epiphany, not Christmas (although Epiphany does fall within the Christmas season).

Last updated 04-26-2016