The wise men are commonly thought of as three men, each bearing a gift for the baby Jesus. When in fact the scriptures don't indicate exactly how many wise men there were, only what gifts they brought. There could have be four, five, or more wise men that each brought either gold, frankincense, or myrrh. Or, there may have only been two wise men, and both of them could have given the Christ child three gifts.

"¶And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh." (Matt 2:11)

Is there any indication that there were more or less than exactly three wise men? Or has it always just been assumed that the fact they brought three gifts indicates there were three men? If so, when did this association begin?

  • 2
    It may be better to make the main question be for the origin of the tradition there were three. – curiousdannii Dec 16 '14 at 2:22

The Biblical account does not specify the number of Magi. However tradition has set their number - three according to Western traditions, and twelve according to Eastern. The Western tradition is presumably derived from the number of gifts. The first record of names is in a 8th Century account of the story, so the number is established then or before. Context indicates the names may have been taken from an earlier account.

For more information see Encyclopedia Britannica.

| improve this answer | |

To my understanding of Scripture, it is fairly safe to assume there were at least three, since there are three differing gifts named, but as you said the Bible does not tell us exactly how many there were. Even the belief that there were three cannot be accurately determined since one of them may have brought more than one gift, or even all three.

As a matter of fact the word used in Matthew is:

μάγος magos

which can be either singular or plural depending on how it is used.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.