Wise Men or Sorcerers?
The word for ‘wise men’ in the Greek is magian, [#3097]. It is translated ‘wise men’ in the KJV, RSV, and NKJV. In the NIV it is translated magi and in the Amplified it is translated ‘astrologers.’
This same Greek word is also found in Acts 8:9 and 13:6, speaking of sorcerers. We know that sorcery was strongly condemned by the Old Testament law, and was dealt with accordingly by Peter, Paul and Barnabas. Yet, do we have ‘sorcerers’ witnessing to Jesus and being led of God in Matthew 2? I think not!
Astronomers or Astrologers?
This confusion in translating the words here reflect the common error of equating ‘astrology’ with ‘astronomy.’ ‘Astronomy’ is the science of studying the patterns and movements of the heavenly bodies for the purpose of time-telling and for global positioning, whereas ‘astrology’ is the practice of witchcraft and sorcery, often using what they call the ‘zodiac’ to make predictions and false prophecies. They are as different as daylight and darkness.
When God created the sun, moon and stars He said:
“Genesis 1:14-18 KJV – 14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: [he made] the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, 18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that [it was] good.”
We can note that Herod “gathered all the chief priests and scribes together” to find out where the Christ should be born. From this we know that this knowledge was expected of them. Throughout the Old Testament, the priests and scribes were learned in time-telling for the purpose of keeping the Sabbaths, feasts, and holy days. This required a precise understanding and knowledge of the movements of the heavenly bodies; they were scientists, astronomers, not astrologers. This same knowledge of the time-telling heavens was also the means for global positioning in navigating the deserts and oceans.
Was Babylon ‘The East’?
So we see that these “wise men” from “the East” also were trained in this same priestly knowledge and knew the Biblical prophecies of the time of the arrival of the Christ Child. How did they know these things?
It seems clear that they were from the Jewish colony in Babylon. After the Babylonian captivity, a remnant of the Jews returned to rebuild Jerusalem and occupy the land until Christ should come. This remnant may have been only ten percent, and the ninety percent stayed in Babylon, among which, some were priests and scribes, often called “sages” or “wise men” by the Pharisees. These would have also been familiar with the Jewish Scriptures of the Old Testament and their prophesy of the coming of the Christ Child.
Babylon was “the East” in relation to Judea. It was approximately 500 miles east of Jerusalem. So the “wise men from the east” could well refer to those who came from Babylon. They were not astrologers, practicing some kind of occult sorcery, but rather were students of the Scriptures, worshipers of God, and astronomers, knowing how to read the time-telling and global positioning heavens. So they recognized from the stars that the Christ had come, and were able to navigate the desert by following that star. And they were able to evade Herod by hearing and obeying the directions of God.