The Greek word magos is translated “wise men” and “sorcerer” in the King James Bible. This is where we get our word magic. Not a little controversy exists over the translators using the term “wise men” in Matthew 2. The argument is, “why would they translate this word to ‘wise men,’ when it more commonly refers to sorcerers and magicians?”
I used to wonder the same thing until I studied the actions of these men and in particular, God’s interaction with these men. Now, I think the King James translators got it right, and here is why.
I think this situation is much like Abram when he is called out of Ur. He was steep in pagan culture and religion when he lived there. But God called him out of Ur and out of paganism. I believe the same thing happened with these wise men.
These men (there were at least two, the exact number is not known) studied astrology as part of the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. It is not certain how they came to the knowledge of the Jews religion, perhaps they had some writings left there from the captivity. Regardless, we can clearly see through their actions that God has called them to worship Him.
These former Zoroastrians, traveled for several months over a thousand miles to worship Jesus. I believe this is clear evidence that this is much more than simple civil devotion to an earthly king. Perhaps, more abundant evidence is found in the fact that God communicated with them. He led them with a miraculous star, and He spoke to them in a dream, warning them about Herod.
Moreover, they ignore Herod’s direct instruction to go to Bethlehem. They follow God’s leading in the star which takes them to Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph went immediately after the dedication in the temple. That was the opposite direction!
When these men see the young child, they immediately fall on their faces in worship. Since Jesus held no official earthly office, these men are showing reverence to Him as God.
Isn’t it amazing that the nation that once held Israel captive, now has some of its finest religious leaders bowing down before the King of the Jews?