In some translations, such as the KJV, we have "when" Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In other versions we have "after" Jesus was born in Bethlehem. When I looked at an interlinear to learn more, I don't see either word spelled out. Are these words added by the translators to keep the sentence grammatically correct? The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament by Alfred Marshall is also vague on this. Would this page be a more accurate translation?

Personally, I believe the sentence, "Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea" belongs at the end of the previous chapter, not in chapter 2 with the wise men, because it misleads the reader into thinking the birth was quickly followed by the wise men. The men visit a "young Child," not a baby, in a "home," not a manger.

  • When or after It is not reflected as a translator addition since it comes from the verb γεννηθέντος literally "having been born." What can be said in one word in Greek requires 2 in English. You make a good point about the chapter divisions. As it stands it creates the mistaken picture that the wise men arrived at the time of birth and not 1-2 years later when the family was back in Bethlehem probably at the time of Passover (Luke 2:41). Nov 20, 2016 at 16:08
  • Beware of saying the verse format 'misleads' the reader into thinking the birth was quickly followed by the wise men, because there are no grounds for saying that this interpretation is misleading. Unfortunately, the Greek does not specify how much later, but 'soon after' is quite consistent with the grammar and arguably consistent with the author's intention. It is only because of a different account in Luke that we often look for a 2-year time gap. Nov 21, 2016 at 4:28
  • 1
    @DickHarfield That's a very good reason to look for the gap, especially if the Greek could go either way.
    – Steve
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:16

2 Answers 2


In Matt. 2:1, the Greek text states,

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας, ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρώδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, TR, 1550

The Genitive Absolute

The first clause actually contains a genitive absolute. Regarding the genitive absolute, Daniel Wallace wrote,1

Structurally, the genitive absolute consists of the following:

  1. a noun or pronoun in the genitive case (although this is sometimes absent) [e.g., Τοῦ Ἰησοῦ]
  2. a genitive anarthrous participle (always) [e.g., γεννηθέντος]
  3. the entire construction at the front of a sentence (usually). [e.g., Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας, ἐν...]

He also wrote,2

Semantically, there are again three items to notice, once the structure has been identified (note that the above stated structure is not limited to the genitive absolute construction):

  1. This construction is unconnected with the rest of the sentence (i.e., its subject—the genitive noun or pronoun—is different from the subject of the main clause);
  2. the participle is always adverbial (circumstantial) or, at least, dependent-verbal (i.e., it cannot be an adjectival or substantival participle);
  3. the participle is normally (about 90% of the time) temporal, though it can on occasion express any of the adverbial ideas.

He then provides several examples of translating the genitive absolute (one of which is provided below):

Matt. 9:18
Ταῦτα αὐτοῦ λαλοῦντος αὐτοῖς...ἄρχων ἐλθὼν προσεκύνει αὐτῷ
while he was saying these things,...a certain ruler came and bowed down before him

The Translation of the Participle

However, all his examples have a present tense participle in the genitive absolute, which would warrant the translation “when” or “while.”

Regarding the present participle, John Taylor wrote,3

As we saw in the English examples above...the [present] participle often replaces a clause: a when or while clause (temporal, telling you when), or a who clause (relative, describing further, or specifying which one).

On the other hand, the participle γεννηθέντος in Matt. 2:1 is conjugated in the aorist tense.

Regarding the aorist participle, John Taylor wrote,4

The aorist participle is used to indicate a single action (rather than a process), and normally one which has already happened at the time of the action described in the main verb of the sentence.

If the main narrative is in the past, it will often be appropriate to translate the aorist participle like a pluperfect: having done X, they did Y comes out as when they had done X, they did Y. This is comparable to the way a present participle is often translated like an imperfect: (while) doing X, they (suddenly) did Y comes out as when they were doing X, they did Y.

Most importantly, he wrote,5

The uses of the aorist participle, the effect of the article, and the possible introductory words in translation (when..., who...etc.) are similar to those of the present participle, except that while... is replaced by after...

Returning to Matt. 2:1,

Τοῦ δὲ Ἰησοῦ γεννηθέντος ἐν Βηθλεὲμ τῆς Ἰουδαίας, ἐν ἡμέραις Ἡρώδου τοῦ βασιλέως, ἰδοὺ μάγοι ἀπὸ ἀνατολῶν παρεγένοντο εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, TR, 1550

The Greek text may be translated into English as follows:

After Jesus was born in Beit Lechem of Judea, during the days of King Herod, behold, magis came from the eastern regions to Jerusalem.

The Greek text suggests that the magis came to Jerusalem to visit the Lord Jesus Christ after he was born in Beit Lechem of Judea, not precisely when he was born, which nativity Luke narrates as occurring in an inn with the Lord Jesus Christ being placed in a manger (feeding trough) and being immediately visited by shepherds.

It is not stated how long it was after the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, but certainly the Lord Jesus Christ had been born.


Taylor, John. Greek to GCSE, Part 1. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar, Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.


1 p. 654
2 p. 655
3 p. 88
4 p. 109
5 ibid.

  • 1
    Why are some translations "when" and others "after"?
    – Steve
    Nov 21, 2016 at 0:29

I would render the verse this way:

Furthermore, upon the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, there were seen present in Jerusalem, wise men from the east.

Reasoning: enter image description here

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