Translating occasional words

Ron Rhoades rrhoades at
Sun Dec 27 00:06:17 EST 1998

Trevor Jenkins wrote:
>When I checked with my reference books I find that there are only 2 >occasions where the word MAGOS is used. The first being the adoration of >the Magi and the second being the opposition of Elymas Bar-Jesus (Acts >13). In Matthew it is translated into English as "wise men" (KJV, RSV) >or Magi (NIV) and in Acts as "sorcerer" (KJV, NIV) or "magician" (RSV). > 
> The selection of wise men by the KJV and RSV translators seems to me to be "politically correct" even before that became popular.
> In my evangelical fervour I'm tempted to posit the view that Matthew wanted sorcerer/magician here.


Very little here on grammar, but, sticking to the word used, the "magi"
were not held in honor by the writer of Matthew or the first century
Christians. Justin Martyr, Origen, and Tertullian, when reading Matthew
2:1, thought of magi as astrologers. The name Magi became current as a
generic term for astrologers in the East with all its negative

So the evidence is strong that the magi who visited the infant Jesus
were astrologers not "wise men" in a positive sense. Correctly, then,
many modern English translations read "astrologers" at Matthew 2:1.

"Off topic", IHO that the tradition of the star and magi being sent by
God was a later syncretism along with so much else associated with
"Christmas." Matthew shows that the "star" led them first to King Herod,
who then tried to have Jesus killed (Matthew 2:1, 2). As astrologers,
they were servants of false gods and were, wittingly or unwittingly, led
by what appeared to them as a moving "star," which no one else is
reported to have seen. The plot failed, however, due to God's

Since they were, in fact, violators of divine principle, it would seem
further unlikely that the Bible writer would view them as sent by God
(Isa.47:13, 14, Deut.18:10). (God used angels and not astrologers or a
star to directed worshipers of God to the infant.)

I would think it more likely that this "star" was sent by someone
seeking to destroy Jesus before he was able to fulfill his God-given
assignment. (Gen.3:15)

Ron Rhoades
Nevada City

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