In just a few days we will celebrate the feast of Epiphany, when we commemorate the magi traveling to the town of Bethlehem to pay homage to the Christ child, thus revealing the incarnation of God to the gentiles. Read the biblical account. But who are these mysterious men?
The term “magi” is translated as “wise men” in the NRSV–the translation of the bible we, and most Episcopal Churches, use. The magi were likely astrologers and mystics, people who were thought to have special abilities to interpret astrological events and dream prophetic dreams—perhaps even perform magical feats. They may have also been religious leaders in their native lands. And though they were considered to be wise, the original Greek of the biblical texts refers to them with the title “magi” rather than “wise men”.
Whoever the magi were, they are not identified as kings in Matthew’s Gospel (nor are we told how many there were). The magi were likely referred to as kings at a later point in Christian history, not because of Matthew’s account, but in order to tie Old Testament prophecies about the messiah being worshipped by kings into the narrative. So the magi being kings has become part of tradition, though it is not part of the Gospel of Matthew.