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The article Why Did The Magi Worship Jesus? from OneGodWorship.com argues that the magi in Matthew 2 were worshipping Jesus as King, and had no intent to worship him as God.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” [...] After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Does Matthew 2 support the magi worshipping Jesus as God, King, or both?

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    Kings are not to be 'worshipped'. They are to be 'honoured'. 1 Peter 2:17. Yet God warned the Magi in a dream (after worship) and they were delivered from evil. Hence their worship was not blasphemy. Thence, we can draw a conclusion . . . . . . . .
    – Nigel J
    Apr 15 at 18:44
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    @NigelJ Thanks for this comment - hammer it out into a full answer? Might be worthwhile for future readers. Apr 15 at 18:52
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    The word "worship" in the bible does not always mean sacred service. Apr 15 at 18:58
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    Given your title name, are you open to the text leading you wherever it wills or are you set on a theological presupposition that God is singular one even though both the Hebrew and the Greek use the words echad and hen which carries the understanding of united as opposed to yachid and monos which would solidify your title avatar name and leave no ambiguity? Thank you Apr 17 at 17:55
  • @NihilSineDeo I'm just asking a question. Also my title name is just quoting St. Paul - what are you inferring from that line from St. Paul? Apr 17 at 22:36
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The operative word here is STRONGS NT 4352: προσκυνέω.

Thayer's Greek Lexicon

1 aorist προσεκύνησα; from Aeschylus and Herodotus down; the Sept. very often for הִשְׁתַּחֲוָה (to prostrate oneself); properly, to kiss the hand to (toward) one, in token of reverence: Herodotus 1, 134; (cf. K. F. Hermann, Gottesdienstl. Alterthümer d. Griech. § 21; especially Hoelemann, Die Biblical Gestalt. d. Anbetung in his 'Bibelstudien' i., 106ff); hence, among the Orientals, especially the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence ("to make a 'salam'"); Latinveneror (Nepos, Conon. 3, 3),adoro (Pliny, h. n. 28, 5, 25; Suetonius, Vitell. 2); hence, in the N. T. by kneeling or prostration to do homage (to one) or make obeisance, whether in order to express respect or to make supplication.

It is used
a. of homage shown to men of superior rank ...

Particularly outside of the Bible the word "worship" was used often as meaning paying homage to someone superior.

b. of homage rendered to God and the ascended Christ, to heavenly beings, and to demons

The word is ambiguous.

Pulpit's argument is rather convincing:

To Worship him. Not as God, but as Lord and King (Matthew 4:9, note). The prostration of themselves bodily before him (προσκυνῆσαι; cf. also ver. 11) was not a Greek or Roman, but an Eastern, and it is said especially a Persian, form of homage.

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  • Could this be disambiguated by examining the religious practices of the magi, using sources on their religion from outside the Bible? They were Zoroastrian priests, right?
    – nick012000
    Apr 16 at 2:31
  • Sorry, I do not know.
    – Tony Chan
    Apr 16 at 13:05
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    The gospels say only that they came from the east. There are competing traditions of their names and we do not even know how many they were - everyone assumes three. The most supported guesses are that they came from Babylon, Persia or Nineveh - all places where learned and privileged Jews lived in that time. It is safe to assume, in my opinion, that they were faithful and well studied Jewish astrologers who came to meet the promised Messiah when they saw evidence of his birth in the stars. Not Zoroastrians.
    – wberry
    Apr 16 at 14:01
  • Thanks for the helpful info.
    – Tony Chan
    Apr 16 at 14:03
  • @wberry μάγοι (magi in Latin) of Matthew 2 was precisely the title given in Greek to Zoroastrian priests and astrologers, though it later developed into a more general word for magicians (which linguistically derives from that Greek/Latin source)
    – Henry
    Apr 16 at 15:15
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Kings are not to be 'worshipped'. They are to be 'honoured'. 1 Peter 2:17.

Fear God ; honour the king [KJV]

But the wise men from the east worshipped when they saw Jesus :

... they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him ; [Matthew 2:11 KJV]

Yet God warned the Magi in a dream (after worship) :

And being warned of God in a dream ... they departed into their own country another way [Matthew 2:12 KJV]

Thus, having worshipped the infant Jesus, they received warning from God in a dream. Indisputably, these were not blasphemers who had wrongfully worshipped. They were faithful and true and God spoke to them in a dream, for their wellbeing.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that this worship was offered to God, the Son, as manifested after the birth of Jesus Christ, the virgin having received this child after the Holy Spirit came upon her and the power of the Highest overshadowed her, Luke 1:35.

It is not the worship of a mere human king which is blasphemy, as noted in Acts 12:23 :

And the people gave a shout saying It is the voice of a god, not a man. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote Herod because he gave not God the glory. [KJV]

It is the worship of the Promised One, the King who shall rule all nations with a rod of iron. Which King is the Lord himself, named both Lord and Christ in his resurrection and ascension.

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  • Before extremely recently (i.e. its modern meaning is wrong in Biblical research), the word "worship" meant both divine service and paying homage. It is in this sense that the Israelites "worshipped [prosekynesan] God, and the king" (1 Chron 29:20). And that it is used in older English literature with respect to kings, royalty, masters etc. Apr 16 at 21:26
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Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.

They worshipped him as King of the Jews.

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There is some information relevant to this question with regard to the Magi’s beliefs about stars in Did the Wise Men see the Star of Bethlehem at the east? I will copy some points I made in my answer to that question, and seek to apply them to this one.

The Magi were astrologers, likely of the Zoroastrian tradition. They believed that Jupiter represented a new king; Saturn the old king. When both planets came together in planetary conjunction, that would signify a change of ruler to them. This happening in Pisces would speak to them of Israel as they associated Pisces with Israel. An article on this was in 1 September 2009 ‘Weekend’ magazine, reviewing a BBC2 documentary on Christmas Eve that year. It gave an explanation to that effect, by David Hughes, Professor of Astronomy at Sheffield University, about a rare triple conjunction, three years before Herod the Great’s death. The first conjunction, he said, was in May, giving them plenty time to plot the next two conjunctions (in September and November) and travel the very long distance to Jerusalem (over which the second conjunction appeared) at the time of Jesus' birth. The Bible shows a time gap between Jesus’ birth and the arrival of the Magi. There was also a little-known census that year, written about by 5th century historian Orosius. This triple conjunction seems to tick a lot of boxes.

The significance of this with regard to whether the Magi had an attitude of worship towards the infant lies in their belief that the planetary alignments that year heralded the birth of a new king of Israel. They knew Herod the Great was the current king and – given his gruesome track-record with real or imagined rivals – knew that to present gifts fit for a king to this infant could put them at odds with Herod. Yet they set out on a huge trip with gifts for a king. They believed that following the conjunction would lead them to this new king of Israel. Quite possibly at that stage, they had no thoughts other than to render homage to a new-born king.

Yet, by the time they’d diplomatically negotiated Herod’s territory, paying him a courtesy call (to ensure he didn’t suspect them of being spies, no doubt), they had learned from the Jewish wise men at court of ancient prophecies about a Messiah to be born in Bethlehem. One could suppose that knowledge of prophecies would up their view of this new king. No ordinary king this! A Messiah-King! Herod sent them to nondescript Bethlehem. That was when the final stage of the conjunction gave them the most accurate non-sat-nav pinpoint destination location, possibly in all history. The exceptionally bright heavenly light stood still above one particular house. That sight caused them to “rejoice with exceeding joy” (vs. 10) as they found the child with his mother.

But it was after they had rendered obeisance to this new Messiah-King that the full impact of the divine hit them. Then they were “warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod.” Surely that would convince them that they were dealing with the divine? They obeyed God and returned to their country by another way (vs. 12).

It seems that although they set out intending to honour a new king of Israel, by the time they left Herod they knew this was a prophesied Messiah-King so a sense of worship may have been gripping them once they were miraculously directed to the actual spot, and once God had spoken to them in a dream, they would be convinced of the divine nature of this one.

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  • "they would be convinced of the divine nature of this one" By divine, do you mean = God, or divine instead in terms of having divine attributes, or ...? Apr 17 at 17:39
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    The scripture text does not provide any such details. You would have to investigate Zoroastrian beliefs about the nature of deity, as you ask about the views of the Magi. But they were informed by the Jewish religious scribes about what the Hebrew prophecies said - to what extent, we do not know. The trouble with your additional question here is that interpretations of doctrines will arise but we cannot know what was in the mind and hearts of the Magi. God blessed these men, however, protecting them and Christ Jesus from satanic intents via Herod, and recorded this in scripture.
    – Anne
    Apr 17 at 18:30

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