Orthodox Christian Questions about the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 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 ... [Mat 2:1]

What does Bethlehem mean? Why is this name apropos?







Bethlehem means "House of bread".

And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. [John 6:35]

Rightly is He born in Bethlehem, which signifies the house of bread, who said, "I am the living bread, who came down from heaven." [Gregory, Hom. in Evan., 8, 1]



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 ... [Mat 2:1]

Why does Matthew mention Herod? Hint - this has to do with Herod's ethnic origins and a very important prophesy.







Herod was not of the line of Judah, but was an Idumean the son of Antipater an Arab woman. He was King because of bribing the Roman government. Since the king of Israel was not from the line of Judah (an event that had never happened before), and Jesus was born during his reign, an important prophesy, known to all pious Jews, was fulfilled:

"The Sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a Lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come. [Gen 49:10]

Since Matthew was primarily trying to convince Jews concerning Jesus, he mentions the historical details that prove the prophesy.

"Herod was an Idumaean, of noble birth, and that his father Antipas was governor of Idumaea under Alexander Jannaeus.] He was instructed in the law and customs of the Jews, and acquired the friendship of Hyrcanus, king of Judaea, who sent him as his deputy to Pompey. He succeeded so well in the object of his mission, that he laid claim to a share of the throne. He was put to death, but his son Herod was under Antony appointed king of Judaea, by a decree of the Senate; so it is clear that Herod sought the throne of Judaea without any connection or claim of birth. " [Euseb. Hist. i. 7. Antiq. xiv. 1. n. 3. de Bell. Jud. i. 6. n. 2., quoted in the Catena Aurea]



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 ... [Mat 2:1]

Why did the Magi come? Why did they mention a star?







It is most probable that the Magi were descendants of Balaam, who having his prophecy, "There shall rise a Star out of Jacob," [Num 24:17] as soon as they saw the star, would know that a King was born.

"Behold the Man whose name is the East." [Zechariah 6:12]



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 ... [Mat 2:1]

What does the coming of the Magi forefigure?







What were these Magi but the first fruits of the Gentiles? Israelitish shepherds, gentile Magians, one from far, the other from near, hastened to the one Corner-stone. [Aug., Serm. 202 Serm. 202, quoted in the Catena Aurea]



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. [Mat 2:2]

There are many types of stars in the heavens. Our sun is a small star. Other stars are red giants, white dwarfs, etc. Discuss the nature of the star the Magi saw, and cite verses in Matthews gospel to support your opinion.







The "star" was not a naturally occurring star, but an Angel.

The Magi followed it - from North, in Persia, to Jerusalem, which is South. In the Northern Hemisphere, stars never move from North to South.

They saw the star by day. Travel at night was difficult and risky.

When they arrived at Jerusalem, the star disappeared from their sight. This is evident because of their inquiries, which would not have been needed if the star had continued to guide them, and their "exceeding great joy", when the star reappeared:

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. {10} When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. [Mat 2:9-10]

When they arrived in Bethlehem, the star stood over where the young child was, that is, it descended from the heavens to point out the house where the family was living.

No natural star shines during the day, or moves from North to the South, let alone moving at will and to pointing out a location. This star was an Angel.

This was manifestly not one of the common stars of Heaven. First, because none of the stars moves in this way, from east to south, and such is the situation of Palestine with respect to Persia. Secondly, from the time of its appearance, not in the night only, but during the day. Thirdly, from its being visible and then again invisible; when they entered Jerusalem it hid itself, and then appeared again when they left Herod. Further, it had no stated motion, but when the Magi were to go on, it went before them; when to stop, it stopped like the pillar of cloud in the desert. Fourthly, it signified the Virgin's delivery, not by being fixed aloft, but by descending to earth, shewing herein like an invisible virtue formed into the visible appearance of a star. [St John Chrysostom]



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. [Mat 2:2]

Why did the Magi stop in their journey and inquire of Herod? Give two reasons.







By God.' providence the star, that is, the angel, hid itself for a little while, forcing the Magi to make inquiries. The inquiries showed the true nature of the Jews, and their hardness of heart and unbelief.

The star that guided the Magi to the spot where was the Infant God with His Virgin Mother, might have conducted them straight to the town; but it vanished, and shewed not itself again to them till the Jews themselves had told them "the place where Christ should be born;" Bethlehem of Judaea. [Aug., Serm. 374. 2, 373. 4]

The Magi, judging as men, sought in the royal city for Him, whom they had been told was born a King. But He who took the form of a servant, and came not to judge but to be judged, chose Bethlehem for His birth, Jerusalem for His death. [Leo, Serm. 31, 2]



When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. [Mat 2:3]

Why was Herod troubled?







Herod was a foreigner, a so-called "client king". His hold on power was tenuous, and he could be replaced by any clever fellow with enough money to sway the allegiance of Rome. He was therefore paranoid about any real or imagined threats to his power.

As the Magi seek a Redeemer, so Herod fears a successor. [Blessed Augustine]

At the birth of a King of Heaven, a king of earth is troubled; surely, earthly greatness is confounded, when heavenly greatness shews itself. [Gregory, Hom. in Evan., 1, 10]



And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall a rule my people Israel. [Mat 2:5]

Which prophet? Is the quote they gave Herod absolutely accurate? Speculate why.







But thou, Bethlehem 2 Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. [Micah 5:1 ]

The scribes changed the quotation slightly for Herod, so he would understand it better.



And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. [Mat 2:6]

What does the prophet mean by "...out of thee shall come A Governor"?







Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but grew up in Nazareth.

Observe the exactness of the prophecy; it is not He shall be in Bethlehem, but shall come out of Bethlehem; shewing that He should be only born there. What reason is there for applying this to Zorobabel, as some do? For his goings forth were not from everlasting; nor did he go forth from Bethlehem, but was born in Babylonia. The expression, "art not the least," is a further proof, for none but Christ could make the town where He was born illustrious. [St John Chrysostom]

The following is the sense of the prophecy. Thou, Bethlehem, of the land of Judah, or Ephrata, (which is added to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee,) though thou art a small village among the thousand cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall be born Christ, who shall be the Ruler of Israel, who according to the flesh is of the seed of David, but was born of Me before the worlds; and therefore it is written, "His goings forth are of old. In the beginning was the Word." [St Jerome, in Mich. v. 2]



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. [Mat 2:11]

What does this verse tell us about the day of the birth of the Lord Jesus?







Our Lord Jesus Christ was born in a cave, a manger for animals. Since the Magi worshipped him in a house, they obviously did not see him on the day of his birth, Christmas Nativity scenes notwithstanding!



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. [Mat 2:11]

What are the symbolic meanings of the gifts of the Magi?







  • Gold - for a king
  • Frankincense - as befitting God
  • Myrrh - forefiguring His burial

Gold, as to a King; frankincense, as sacrifice to God; myrrh, as embalming the body of the dead. [Greg., Hom. in Evan., 1, 106]

Gold, as paid to a mighty King; frankincense, as offered to God; myrrh, as to one who is to die for the sins of all. [Blessed Augustine]

Something further may yet be meant here. Wisdom is typified by gold; as Solomon saith in the Proverbs, "A treasure to be desired is in the mouth of the wise." [Greg]

By frankincense, which is burnt before God, the power of prayer [p. 77] is intended, as in the Psalms, "Let my speech come before thee as incense." [Ps 141:2] In myrrh is figured mortification of the flesh. To a king at his birth we offer gold, if we shine in his sight with the light of wisdom; we offer frankincense, if we have power before God by the sweet savour of our prayers; we offer myrrh, when we mortify by abstinence the lusts of the flesh. [Greg]

Psalms 72:1 Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son. 2 He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment. 3 The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. 4 He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. 5 They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. 6 He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth. 7 In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth. 8 He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. 9 They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. 10 The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.

Isaiah 60:1 Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. 2 For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. 3 And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. 4 Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side. 5 Then thou shalt see, and flow together, and thine heart shall fear, and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be converted unto thee, the forces of the Gentiles shall come unto thee. 6 The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come: they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the LORD.



[Mat 2:12] And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

There is almost always an outer and inner meanings to scripture, and this verse is not an exception. Elucidate both meanings.







The Magi returned another way in order to avoid Herod.

We may learn much from this return of the Magi another way. Our country is Paradise, to which, after we have come to the knowledge of Christ we are forbidden to return the way we came. We have left this country by pride, disobedience, following things of sight, tasting, forbidden food; and we must return to it by repentance, obedience, by contemning things of sight, and overcoming carnal appetite. [Greg., Hom. in Ev. i. 10. 7]



[Mat 2:13-15] And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. {14} When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: {15} And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

How did the flight into Egypt fulfill TWO prophesies?







When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt [Hosea 11:1 ]

The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. [Isaiah 19:1]



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. [Mat 2:16]

Why did Herod pick this time period?







O blessed infants! He only will doubt of your crown in this your passion for Christ, who doubts that the baptism of Christ has a benefit for infants. He who at His birth had Angels to proclaim Him, the heavens to testify, and Magi to worship Him, could surely have prevented that these should not have died for Him, had He not known that they died not in that death, but rather lived in higher bliss. Far be the thought, that Christ who came to set men free, did nothing to reward those who died in His behalf, when hanging on the cross He prayed for those who put Him to death. [Aug., Serm. 373, 3]

In this death of the children the precious death of all Christ's martyrs is figured; that they were infants signifies, that by the merit of humility alone can we come to the glory of martyrdom; that they were slain in Bethlehem and the coasts thereof, that the persecution shall be both in Jerusalem whence the Church originated, and throughout the world; in those of two years old are figured the perfect in doctrine and works; those under that age the neophytes; that they were slain while Christ escaped, signifies that the bodies of the martyrs may be destroyed by the wicked, but that Christ cannot be taken from them. [Bede, Hom. in Nat. Innocent]

Revelation 12: 1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the 1sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: 2 And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. 3 And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. 4 And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to 1devour her child as soon as it was born. 5 And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. 6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days.



Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, {18} In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not. [Mat 2:17-18]

Rachel is both a metaphor, and a historical reference, and Ramah is a metaphor. Explain.







This passage of Jeremiah has been quoted by Matthew neither according to the Hebrew nor the LXX version. This shews that the [p. 84] Evangelists and Apostles did not follow any one's translation, but according to the Hebrew manner expressed in their own words what they had read in Hebrew.

By Ramah we need not suppose that the town of that name near Gibeah is meant; but take it as signifying 'high.' A voice was heard 'aloft,' that is, spread far and wide. [Jerome, In Hierem, 31, 15]

Rachel's son was Benjamin, in which tribe Bethlehem is not situated. How then does Rachel weep for the children of Judah as if they were her own? We answer briefly. She was buried near Bethlehem in Ephrata, and was regarded as the mother, because her body was there entertained. Or, as the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin were contiguous, and Herod's command extended to the coasts of Bethlehem as well as to the town itself, we may suppose that many were slain in Benjamin. [Jerome]



But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, {20} Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life. {21} And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. {22} But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judaea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee: {23} And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene. [Mat 2:19-23]

What is peculiar about this prophesy, and how we may infer that it is genuine?







The text of this prophesy is nowhere found in Scripture, but the Jews absolutely believed in it's sense, as the following scripture show:

[Mat 21:11] And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee.

[Mat 26:71] And when he was gone out into the porch, another maid saw him, and said unto them that were there, This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth.

[Mark 1:24] Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God.

[Mark 10:47] And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.

[Mark 14:67] And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, And thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth.

[Mark 16:6] And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him.

[Luke 4:34] Saying, Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know thee who thou art; the Holy One of God.

[Luke 18:37] And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.

[Luke 24:19] And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:

[John 1:45-46] Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. {46} And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.

[John 19:19] And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross. And the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.

[Acts 2:22] Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:

[Acts 3:6] Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.

[Acts 4:10] Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.

Had he meant to quote a particular text, he would not have written 'Prophets,' but 'the Prophet.' By thus using the plural he evidently [p. 90] does not take the words of any one passage in Scripture, but the sense of the whole. Nazarene is interpreted, 'Holy,' and that the Lord would be Holy, all Scripture testifies.

Otherwise we may explain that it is found in Isaiah rendered to the strict letter of the Hebrew. "There shall come a Rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Nazarene [branch] shall grow out of His roots." [Isa 11:1] [St erome]


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