Wise Men at the Manger

Liberty Letter
Wise Men at the Manger
Loran Livingston
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Liberty Advocate




Wise Men at the Manger: Truth or Myth?

Karen Pansler Lam, J.D.

Some Christians allege the Wise Men did not visit Baby Jesus in a manger or stable, but in a house. They base this on Matthew 2:11...

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.


And they claim He was about two years old when the Wise Men visited Him based on Matthew 2:16...

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth,
and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem,
and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under,
according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

Others say the Wise Men visited Jesus while a baby in a manger in a stable.

Were the Wise Men at the manger?


Stable Portion of the House

In 1914, John D. Whiting wrote in
the National Geographic article, “Village Life in the Holy Land”...

Many have pictured in their minds Mary and Joseph, after arriving at the “inn” in Bethlehem and finding no room, being forced to turn into some barn built of timber, with lofty roof, hay mows, wooden mangers, and stalls for cattle and sheep. Such a stable has been the subject of many medieval and modern artists, but it does not really present a really true picture. Let us consider the old-style village home that is the most common around Jerusalem and Bethlehem, for that will give us a better idea of what happened on that first Christmas day.




Entering the door, we find that about two-thirds of the space is devoted to a raised masonry platform, some 8 to 10 feet above the ground and supported by low-domed arches. This raised space called el mastaby, is the part occupied by the family, while the lower part is used for the cattle and flocks.


Below the mastaby, or raised platform, just described are arches so low that a man can scarcely walk erect, are the winter quarters of the goats and sheep. To shut the flocks in, these arched entrances are obstructed with bundles of brush used for firewood in the winter. The rest of the floor space, which is open to the ceiling, is devoted to the few work cattle and perhaps a donkey or camel. Around the walls are primitive mangers for the cattle, built of rough slabs of stone placed up on edge and plastered with mortar.


Often the owner makes a small raised place on which he sleeps at night to enable him to better watch over the newly born lambs, lest in the crowded quarters some get crushed or trodden down by the older ones. Here he often sleeps by preference on a cold night, for he says the breath of the animals keeps him warm.




To know the heart of the land, to have learned the hospitality of its people, which is always offered, no matter how primitive or simple, makes it easy to picture Mary and Joseph returning from the inn, already filled with guests, and turning aside into a home such as we have described, the regular dwelling portion of which may have been none too large for the family which occupied it. It may have been crowded with other guests, but they find a welcome and a resting-place for the babe in a manger.


Such a use of the rowyeh, or stable portion of the house, by human beings is not the exception, but an every-day occurrence. You can occasionally find men working their primitive looms there or the mother preparing the food or doing her little sewing near the door, where there is more light on a dark winter’s day.


We have all perhaps noticed that in the two Gospel narratives where the birth of Jesus is dwelt upon* neither of them mentions a stable, a barn, or anything equivalent, while Matthew, speaking of the wise men says: “And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with his mother Mary.”


*Matt. 2:1-12; Luke 2:1-20

According to Whiting, Jesus could have been born in the downstairs stable portion of a house. There the Wise Men would have found Baby Jesus in a stone manger.




Was Jesus born in the stable of the inn?


Stable of the Inn


Matthew 2:11 uses the word house. We think of a house as a building built for human habitation, especially for a family or small group. But a house can mean an inn, shelter, lodging place, dwelling or sleeping place, guest chamber and so forth. Travelers excluded from the house - another name for inn - because there was no room, would share with their animals the stable of the inn. So, the stall or manger where Christ was born was a feeding place, usually connected with an inn.


Luke 2:7 tells us...

And she brought forth her firstborn son,
and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a manger;
because there was no room for them in the inn.


Notice, Luke does not say because there was no room in the inn, they went to a private house.

Jesus was born in the stable of the inn.


And nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Wise Men visited Jesus many months or two years after His birth. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph stayed forty days after Jesus’ birth, then went to Jerusalem.


And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished,
they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

And when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord,
they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth.
Luke 2:22, 39


James Ussher’s Annals of the World, originally published in Latin in 1650, is an unparalleled academic chronology of both sacred and secular history. Ussher's highly regarded historical timeline has been the foundation of many translations of the Bible and was included in the margins of many King James Bibles throughout the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Here is his timeline of Jesus’ birth and early life...


The Seventh Age of the World


4000a AM, 4709 JP, 5 BC

6057. Jesus Christ and Son of God, in the fulness of time was born of the most blessed virgin Mary, at Bethlehem. {Mt 1:25 2:1,5 Ga 4:4} Mary wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room in the inn. {Lu 2:7}


6058. The birth of our saviour was revealed by an angel of the Lord to shepherds who kept their flock by night in the neighbouring fields. They heard the word of a multitude of the heavenly host who prayed for glory to God, peace to the earth and good will to men. The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. They told everyone what they had heard concerning the child and they returned praising and glorifying God. {Lu 2:8-20}


6059. The child was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth and his name was called Jesus as foretold by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. {Lu 2:21 }


4000b AM, 4710 JP, 4 BC

6060. The wise men from the east were guided by a star and came to Herod at Jerusalem. They were told that the birth place of Christ was in Bethlehem of Judea. They went there and entering into the house which was showed to them by the star that stood over it. They found the little child with Mary, his mother. They fell down and worshipped him and gave their treasures to him, gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were warned by God in a dream that they should not return to Herod and so they departed into their own country by another way. {Mt 2:1-12}


6061. On the fortieth day after her delivery, Mary went to Jerusalem to the temple to present him to the Lord according to the law of the firstborn and also to offer for herself a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. (She could not afford to offer a lamb.) This was according to the Levitical law. {Lu 2:22-24,27 Le 12:2-4,6,8}


6062. When his parents brought the child Jesus into the temple to perform the requirements of the law, Simeon came into the temple to whom it was revealed by God that he should not die until he had seen the anointed of the Lord. He took Jesus in his arms and praised the Lord and spoke prophesies about Christ and his mother. At the same time, Anna, a prophetess the daughter of Phanuel, came and publicly acknowledged the Lord and spoke of him to all who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. {Lu 2:25-38}


6063. When Joseph and Mary had performed all the things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee to their own city of Nazareth. {Lu 2:39}


6064. The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him to flee to Egypt to save the life of the child and escape the machinations of Herod. When he awoke, he took the young child and his mother by night and went into Egypt where he remained until the death of Herod. {Mt 2:13-15}


6065. Herod thought the young child was still at Bethlehem. He killed all the children who were in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding area who were two years old or less. This was according to the time when the star first was seen in the east and when the wise men enquired about the child. {Mt 2:16}

So, what about Matthew 2:16?


Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth,
 and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem,
and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under,
according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.


Herod waited a long time for the Wise Men to return. Two years old and under does not mean Jesus was two years old. It shows that Herod was taking no chances of missing his victim.


Wise Men Still Seek Jesus


Was Jesus born in the downstairs stable portion of a house? Probably not.


Luke does not say because there was no room in the inn, they went to a private house. Jesus was born in the stable of the inn. And there the Wise Men found Him and bowed down and worshipped Him.


Who were the Gentile Wise Men from the East?


The Bible tells us in Matthew 2:1,2...

 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king,
behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

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.


Some say they were astronomers.


Some say they were kings. If they were kings, the Bible would have clearly stated this fact.


The Bible doesn’t tell us why these men were called wise.


But the Wise Men were seeking the King of the Jews.


Rev. B.C. Caffin writes in The Pulpit Commentary...


Their question. " Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" They had not the Scriptures, the Word of God, which is "a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path." But they had seen the wondrous star; the voice of God speaking in their hearts told them its meaning. Then they arose, and went their way, seeking the King. We shall find the Christ if, like them, we are earnest seekers. Scripture, study, the promptings of our own heart, will lead us to him. For he is seeking us. He called the Wise Men from the East by the leading of a star; he calls us now by his Word, by his works, by his Spirit. We could not find him were it not that he first loved us, and sought us in his love. He was hidden from the eyes of sinful men in the unapproachable light which no man hath seen or can see. But he loved us; he draws us to himself by the attractive power of his constraining love. But we must seek him. It is he who seeketh that findeth ; we must not sit still in spiritual idleness and take it for granted that all will be well. We must seek him as the Wise Men sought him, coming a long journey, offering our gifts, our hearts, ourselves, our earthly goods. We must come asking, " Where is he?" Every one that seeketh findeth. "


Where is he that is born King of the Jews?" It is a great question—a question of deep meaning and very solemn interest. He is born King of the Jews—King by birth, by Divine right ; King not only of Israel after the flesh, but of the Israel of God, the Church of the Firstborn. We all owe him our allegiance, for he is our King, the King of the nations. King of kings and Lord of lords. Where is he? We must find him; for he is our Life, the Life of our souls. To know him is eternal life ; we must seek until we find, seeking earnestly, like the Wise Men from the East, grudging no pains, no cost.


Like the Wise Men, we must diligently seek Christ, offer Him heartfelt adoration, and present ourselves to Him living sacrifices.




Karen Pansler Lam, J.D.
Liberty Advocate
February 2024