Matthew 2:2

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The Magi before Herod in the Leiden St. Louis Psalter

Matthew 2:2 is the second verse of the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. The magi travelling from the east have arrived at the court of King Herod in Jerusalem and in this verse inform him of their purpose.


The original Koine Greek, according to Westcott and Hort, reads:

λεγοντες που εστιν ο τεχθεις βασιλευς των ιουδαιων ειδομεν γαρ
αυτου τον αστερα εν τη ανατολη και ηλθομεν προσκυνησαι αυτω

In the King James Version of the Bible the text reads:

Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we
have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

The World English Bible translates the passage as:

"Where is he who is born King of the Jews? For we saw his
star in the east, and have come to worship him."

For a collection of other versions see BibRef Matthew 2:2.

The theme of World Youth Day 2005, "We have come to worship Him", is derived from this verse in the bible.

The magi before Herod

Boring notes that where is the first word spoken aloud in the Gospel. Where will also be the first word spoken by Herod in Matthew 2:4. Throughout the early part of the gospel geography will be a central concern of Matthew, covered in far greater detail than in the other gospels. One theory is that Matthew is writing an apologetic for why the messiah comes from the small and unknown town in Nazareth in Gentile dominated Galilee.[1] This is the only time in the chapter that Magi speak. Davies and Allison believe their general silence throughout the narrative helps maintain the travellers aura of mystery.[2]

Albright and Mann mention but reject the theory that King of the Jews is an anachronism and at the time King of Israel or King of the Hebrews would have been a more likely title. They reject this theory saying that King Aristobulus used the title around 100 BC.[3] Nolland notes that this inaccuracy might be reflective of the foreign nature of the Magi, who do not know the specific terminology to be used. The title is reused by a less knowledgeable foreigner in Matthew 27:11.[4] The title is a direct challenge to Herod, who was renowned for his paranoia, as king of Judea. Herod as an Edomite would have been especially threatened by a Davidic heir.

The word worship, also often translated as "pay homage", proskunesai in the Greek, is a very popular one in Matthew. It can mean honouring either a king or a God, in this case which of the meanings is meant is not clear.[5]

Star of Bethlehem

The star referenced in this verse has come to be known as the Star of Bethlehem. Since at least Kepler there has been much work to try and link it to an astronomical event with the most common cited being a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 BC.[6] Since 1964 the astronomer Konradin Ferrari d'Occhieppo argued in several publications for this very seldom conjunction as having taken place in the year 7 BC. The phrase "seen his star in the east" is much disputed. Many scholars feel it should actually just read "seen his star rising". The Greek word in question is anatole, but its exact translation is unclear. It is likely a technical astrological term meaning rising. Its spelling is very close to the word for east, and this has become the standard translation. Fortna notes that it seems contradictory that a star rising to the east would then guide the magi westwards.[7] Boring suggests that the verse could be read as the magi seeing the star rising when they were in the east.[1]

John Chrysostom rejected the idea that the Star of Bethlehem was a normal star or similar heavenly body, because such a star could not have specified the exact cave and manger where Jesus was found, being too high in the sky to be that specific. Also, he notes that stars in the sky move from east to west, but that the magi would have traveled from north to south to arrive in Palestine from Persia. Instead, Chrysostom suggested that the Star was a more miraculous occurrence, comparable to the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt through the wilderness.[8]

At the time the notion of new stars as beacons of major events were common, being reported for such figures as Alexander the Great, Mithridates VI of Pontus, Abraham, and Augustus. Pliny even takes time to rebut a theory that every person has a star that rises when they are born and fades when they die, evidence that this was believed by some. According to Brown many at the time would have thought it unthinkable that a messiah would have been born without such stellar portents.[9]

The reference to the star makes it likely the magi were astrologers. Some Christians have had difficulty with this as elsewhere in the Bible astrology is condemned, a view shared by most Christian churches. France argues that the passage is not an endorsement of astrology but rather an illustration of how God takes care in "meeting individuals where they are".[10] Keener notes that astrology was ubiquitous in the Roman world of this period, and was also common among the Jews in Palestine.[11] Matthew goes in no detail about the astrological nature of the magi, and makes no judgments either for or against the practice. Nolland states "the interest is elsewhere" and the author of Matthew has no inclination to go into a detailed discussion of astrology.[4]


  1. ^ a b Boring, Eugene "Gospel of Matthew." The New Interpreter's Bible, volume 8 Abingdon, 1995 pg. 140.
  2. ^ Davies, W.D. and Dale C. Allison, Jr. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew. Edinburgh : T. & T. Clark, 1988-1997.
  3. ^ Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew." The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
  4. ^ a b Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: a commentary on the Greek text. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005 pg. 109.
  5. ^ Hill, David. The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981.
  6. ^ Zondervan NIV (New International Version) Study Bible, 2002, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA; footnote to Mt 2:2.
  7. ^ Fortna, Robert. The Gospel of Matthew - Scholars Bible Polebridge Press, 2005 pg. 36.
  8. ^ Chrysostom, John "Homilies on Matthew: Homily VI". c. 4th century.
  9. ^ Brown, Raymond E. The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in Matthew and Luke. London: G. Chapman, 1977.
  10. ^ France, R.T.. The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary. Leicester: Inter-Varsity, 1985.
  11. ^ Craig S. Keener. A commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1999. pg. 101.

Preceded by
Matthew 2:1
Gospel of Matthew
Chapter 2
Succeeded by
Matthew 2:3
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