Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Matthew/Chapter 2

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Basic introduction to the passage


Contextual notes[edit]

Chapter 2 of Matthew the author skips past the birth of Jesus, which is only announced in chapter 1. The chapter opens "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem" (2:1 NIV) with the visit of the Magi by restating the prophecy of the Messiah's coming.


Structural notes[edit]

Chapter two is broken up into six parts:

1. Magi arrive in Jerusalem (vv. 1-6)
2. Herod summons them (vv. 7-8)
3. The Magi find Jesus and worship him (vv. 9-11),
4. dreams of magi and Joseph warning them (vv. 12-15)
5. Herod’s killing of the children (vv. 16-18)
6. The return to Israel then Galilee (vv. 19-23)

Chapter Synopsis[edit]

  • After Jesus had been born in Bethlehem magi from east of Judea came to Jerusalem and asked “Where is the child who was born ruler of the Jews? Was saw the star and have traveled here to worship him.” When King Herod heard them he was worried along with the rest of Jerusalem. Herod gathered all those who knew the scripture to find out where this child was to be born. They told him in Bethlehem. It was written by the prophet that out of Bethlehem the ruler over Israel will come. Herod gathered the magi and asked when the star had appeared to them then he sent them saying “Go find the child and after you have come back and tell me where he is so that I may go and worship him as well.”
  • After this the magi left and found the star that they saw in the east and were happy. They went into the house of Mary and Joseph. When they saw the child the bowed down in worship and gave gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
  • After leaving the wise men were warned by God to not go back to Herod. And they returned through a different route.
  • An angel came to Joseph in his sleep and told him to take his wife and son and flee to Egypt. They lived there until Herod was dead.
  • When Herod realized that the magi were not coming back he sent his men out to kill all boys who were two years old and younger. After this the, prophesy that had been spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled.
  • After Herod died and angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his family back to the land of Israel because those who wanted him dead had all died.
  • On their way back Joseph heard that Archelaus was ruler after his father, Herod, had died and Joseph was scared. God told Joseph to take his family to Galilee and he did and they settled in Nazareth.

Paraphrase[edit]

1 Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, while Herod was king. After his birth, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem.

2 They were asking people, “Where is the one who has been born to be King of the Jews? We saw his star in the East and have come to worship him.”

3 Herod heard about the Magi and what they were seeking. Since he was the reigning King of the Jews, of course, he was disturbed by the news.

4 He gathered the chief priests and scribes together to find out what the ancient prophets had to say about the coming Messiah. He asked the religious experts where the Messiah was to be born.

5 They replied, "He is to be born in Bethlehem of Judea. This is what has been written by the prophet Micah:

6 ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, are not unimportant at all. In fact, a ruler who will lead my people Israel will be born in Bethlehem.’"

7 After this meeting, Herod called the Magi to ask them exactly when the star they had seen in the East first appeared.

8 Then, he sent them on their way to Bethlehem. He told them, "Search carefully for the child. When you have found him, come back ant tell me, so I may go and worship him as well." --

9 They went on their way and found where the star came to rest over the place where the child was.

10 When they saw the star they were filled with joy.

11 They saw the child with his mother Mary; they fell in adoration and worshiped him and gave their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 God then warned them in a dream to not return to Herod, so the magi returned home a different way.

13 After they left and angel came to Joseph in a dream and told him to take his family and go to Egypt until it is safe.

14 Joseph woke them and they fled.

15 They stayed in Egypt until the death of Herod.

16 Herod realized he had been tricked and sent his men out to kill all boys the age of two and younger in the area of Bethlehem and around there.

17 Then Jeremiahs prophecy had been fulfilled

18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.”

19 When Herod died and angel came to Joseph in Egypt and told him,

20 “Go take the child and his mother and go to Israel; those who wanted to kill him are dead.”

21 Joseph took them to the land of Israel

22 When they arrived Joseph found out Herod’s son Archelaus was ruling and was afraid and warned by God. He left for the region of Galilee

23 They lived in the city Nazareth. It fulfilled what was said “He shall be called Nazarene.”

Historical context of the Magi (verses 1-6)[edit]

The word ‘magi’ has four general meanings

1) members of Persian priestly class;
2) possessors of supernatural knowledge and power.
3) Magician; and
4) deceiver or seducer.[1]

Although the word "magi" in the New Testament has come to mean "a man of wisdom," in Matthew 2 it almost certainly refers to Zoroastrian "astrologers." In later Christian usage, they began to be called kings. That there were three Magi was based on the number of gifts.[2]) When there was most likely a caravan of magi and servants. The reason we have come to call them kings is because of what the gifts were. The offering of gold and precious spices is not extraordinary but does suggest that the magi who could give these gifts were of some wealth(Hagner2[3]) we have also added that the three magi have names: Melchior, King of Persia; Gaspar, King of India; and Balthasar, King of Arabia. They are thought to be descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Yet, none of this has been proven . (Douglas Hare, Matthew, Interpretation6[4]). see page 80 [[1]]

Verse 1

The Bible states “magi from the east arrived…(NASB)” this gives us four possible places that they could be from: 1) Parthia; 2) Babylon; 3) Arabia; and 4) Egypt.(add citation) To narrow this down it is most likely that the magi were from Babylon because they had to have some form of Jewish thinking. This could have occurred in Arabia or Parthia but Babylon had a settled Jewish community. (Hagner2[5])

Verse 2

The magi were also gentiles, they knew of the coming king for the Jews; yet, did not know where he was to be born. This explains why they went to Jerusalem to look for him. Jerusalem was the big capital city where anyone who did not know would think that the king would be born. The only way that the readers would be able to conclude that the magi were Jewish would be if Matthew clearly stated so.

Verses 3-6

This verse states that King Herod heard about the magi and what they were looking for and he was “troubled (NASB)” so he gathered his priests and scribes to find out where the child was to be born. These verses show Herod’s insecurities. This is not the first time Herod killed many people for political reasons including his own sons when he feared that they were plotting to kill him. (Marshall3[6])however this story of Herod sending his men out to kill all the small boys in not recorded anywhere else the thought of a new king of the Jews is bound to bring out Herod’s worst fears and paranoia.

Verse 7-8

Herod “secretly called the magi” this tells us that the magi never went to ask Herod where the child was. Even though that is what most people think. He summoned them with evil intent. This also shows how cunning Herod could be. They were in private, Herod asks them when they first saw the star to find out about how old the child should be, and he tells them to go find out more i.e. where he is and covers himself by adding “so I too may come and worship him (NASB).” (citation henry online commentary)

Verses 9-10

The magi left Jerusalem for Bethlehem of Judea where they came to Jesus’ house and “The star that they saw in the east went before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was (NASB).” There has been a lot of study into what the star was that they saw in the east. In some versions of the verse the star is seen as ‘at its rising.’ Other things that have been thought of and taken into consideration are that ‘the star’ could have been a natural phenomenon. Saturn and Jupiter were in line in 7-6 B.C. and Halley’s passed in 12-11 B.C. it could also have been a supernova.(Hagner2[7]) however, this verse (9) makes these a little difficult to explain because it says that “it went before them” and “stood over” the verse must be understood either as a romantic myth growing out of the historical kernel or else as referring to something actually experienced by the magi and interpreted in terms of the leitmotif of the star that first ‘led’ them from the east to Jerusalem. The real point is that by divine guidance they were able to complete their quest and find the child.(Hagner2[8]) some have said that the magi believed it was an Angel, some Jews believe that it was the star of Jacob. We have not been able to identify the exact star and probably never will. Marshall3[9])

Verse 11

At this time the magi have arrived at the house and saw the Child. Later in Verse 16 it states that Herod sent them to kill those who were two years and younger. Off of this it is safe to assume that Jesus was probably a toddler and was learning to walk, and was standing next to his mother when the magi arrived. The magi “fell to the ground and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (NASB)” these, again, are some of the reasons Christians call the magi kings. They are very valuable and expensive gifts. One of the definitions of gold according to Dictionary.com is a precious yellow metallic element, highly malleable and ductile, and not subject to oxidation or corrosion. Gold is a form of currency, and could reflect Christ’s kingship(Hagner2[10]), frankincense is an aromatic gum resin from various Asian and African trees of the genus Boswellia, esp. B. carteri, used chiefly for burning as incense in religious or ceremonial practices, in perfumery, and in pharmaceutical and fumigating preparations. (Dictionary8[11]) and is thought to describe his deity(Hagner2[12]). Lastly myrrh is defined as an aromatic resinous exudation from certain plants of the genus Myrrh is, esp. M. odorata, a small spiny tree: used for incense, perfume, etc. (Dictionary8[13])and represents his suffering.(Hagner2[14])

Verses 12-23

Dreams/slaughter of Children/prophecies fulfilled

In these next chapters there are three dreams that occur to warn the magi one to warn Joseph and the one to tell Joseph to take his family back home from Egypt. These are also the chapters where the great slaughter of young boys happens because Herod realizes that the magi were not coming back. Thus prophecies of the messiah coming out of Egypt and later Nazareth and so on come to be fulfilled.

Verse 12

This is where we first hear of God appearing and warning people through dreams, as he tells the magi “to not return to Herod” so they did not and went back via another rout. Some could speculate that the magi knew Herod was a ‘bad guy’ or would harm the boy. Herod’s reputation was pretty well known and if the magi were from a surrounding city it would be hard for them to not have heard of him. Herod probably knew of his reputation and is another reason why he added “so I too may worship him” to put the magi at ease and since he was the king of the Jews he would want to go worship the real king of the Jews.

Verses 13-15

“An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream…(NASB)” this is the second dream that God uses to warn his people about Herod’s wrath. Joseph is told to take the child and his mother and go to the land of Egypt and to stay there until those who want Jesus dead are themselves dead. This then fulfills what was said by the prophets “out of Egypt I called my son.” The historical exodus is not prophecy about the future. How is it then that Matthew has fulfilled one? The fulfillment is central the Matthews whole perspective. The eschatological significance, of the Christ, God’s unique son. The son of God, Israel, and the Son of God, Jesus, both in Egypt of necessity and both delivered(Hagner2[15]). Also note in Matthew the author does not call Jesus Josephs son. He is always referred to as “the Child” (New Interpreters4[16])

Verses 16-18

At this time Matthew tells us that Herod has become aware that the magi were not coming beck. We are never told how long it took Herod and it is difficult to be able to know for sure. The author also uses this as another parallel to the story of Moses. First the escape to Egypt (unlike Moses escape from Egypt). The slaughter of young boys, with the demand coming from Herod instead of Pharaoh.(New Interpreters4[17])The story can be interpreted and a beautiful, action, escape story. Historically Herod would not have been fooled so easy, he most likely would have sent people to follow the magi. Also Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had enough time to escape. This is when the author writes that “then what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: a voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning…” Ramah is our world, when it says that the cry heard in Ramah goes to mean the voice of the world is weeping. It is not something of comfort but a way of saying that the sadness is double. Which is understandable with Herod’s “children’s Crusade.” (Buttrick[18]

Verses 19-21

After Herod died in 4 B.C.(Hagner2[19])God sent an angel to Joseph to tell him that those who wanted to kill the child were dead. This goes back to verse 13 at the end of the message the angel said “…remain there until I tell you…” Not only did the death of Herod mean that the ‘holy family’ could return but those who had fled from Herod. Joseph is told to take them to the land of Israel which is an echo of the exodus.(Hagner2[20]) Also moving forward to the next dream that told them to go to Galilee is necessary to underline the exodus typology.(Hagner2[21]) when the angel says “the land of Israel” it is a pretty broad area including Galilee, and Judea, it is assumed that Joseph took this to mean to go back to Bethlehem. (France7[22])This explains why that is where they return to, and then are given further instructions in the next verse.

Verse 22

When returning to Bethlehem they found out that Herod’s son Archelaus, he was ruler over Judea/Samaria, while his brother Antipas was ruler of Galilee, and Philip. Historically none of the sons were granted the title ‘king’ and Archelaus and Antipas tried to gain the title. Archelaus was not popular, even hated by some. Eventually in A.D. 6 He was removed from power. This is when Pontius Pilatus then took over. (France7[23]) With Archelaus’ reputation it is not hard to believe that Joseph would not think it was any safer under him than it was under his father. (France7[24])It was recorded by Josephus that at the beginning of his rule Archelaus killed about three thousand Passover celebrants. (France7[25]) This could have prompted the next dream that was a vague and gave direct instructions that took them to Nazareth.

Verse 23

Nazareth was not a big town. It is believed to only have had a maximum of 480 in the beginning of the 1st century. (France7[26])and was most likely smaller than Bethlehem. There is no talk about Nazareth in the Old Testament except for the prophecy that was to be fulfilled. (France7[27]) It is most likely that Matthew took a collection of sayings from many prophets. “He shall be called a Nazorean” is not in the Old Testament or in any other form of literature.(France7[28])it is a good probability that this thinking came from the Hebrew word nezer which means branch and sounds somewhat like “Nazareth” this all referring to the branch of the Davidic line. Matthew would have had this all in mind (New Interpreters4[29])however this does not explain the “he shall be called” part. In Judges the phrase “he will be a naziraios” is used which in translation could have come to the phrasing “He will be called a Nazorean” (France7[30])

Word Study: “Dream”

In the New Testament dreams and visions are not always clearly distinguished from one to the other. The most common word for dream in Greek is onar which is only used in Matthew. The New Testament and Old Testament and the Greco Roman world, see dreams as the way that God chose to reveal himself. The New Testament also expresses little concern with the problem of false dreams and visions.(Freedman1[31]) The central message of the New Testament is Chris coming and God only goes to dreams as a secondary source and in revelation. (Freedman1[32])


  1. Donald Hagner, Matthew 1--13, Word Biblical Commentary, 33a (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, 1993), 31.
  2. Hagner, 31.
  3. Hagner, Donald. Word Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1993), 33.
  4. Interpretation a biblical commentary for teaching and preaching. XXVIII. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1984. Print.
  5. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  6. Marshall, Howard, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Wiseman. New Bible dictionary. 3rd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1996. Print.
  7. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  8. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  9. Marshall, Howard, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Wiseman. New Bible dictionary. 3rd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1996. Print.
  10. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  11. Dictionary.com
  12. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  13. Dictionary.com
  14. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  15. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  16. New Interpreters Bible. VIII. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, Print.
  17. New Interpreters Bible. VIII. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, Print.
  18. Buttrick, George. The Interpreters Bible. VII. Nashville, Tennessee: New York Alingdon Press, 1951. Print
  19. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  20. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  21. Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print.
  22. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  23. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  24. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  25. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  26. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  27. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  28. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  29. New Interpreters Bible. VIII. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, Print.
  30. France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print.
  31. Freedman, David. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 2. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Print.
  32. Freedman, David. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 2. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Print.

1Freedman, David. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 2. New York: Doubleday, 1992. Print. 2Hagner, Donald. World Biblical Commentary Matthew 1-13. 33a. Dallas, Texas: World Books, Publisher, 1993. Print. 3Marshall, Howard, A.R. Millard, J.I. Packer, and D.J. Wiseman. New Bible dictionary. 3rd ed. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1996. Print. 4New Interpreters Bible. VIII. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, Print. 5Buttrick, George. The Interpreters Bible. VII. Nashville, Tennessee: New York Alingdon Press, 1951. Print 6Hare, Douglas. Interpretation a biblical commentary for teaching and preaching. XXVIII. Louisvill: John Knox Press, 1984. Print. 7France, R.T. The New International Commentary on the New Testament The Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Print. 8dictionary.com