Wise Men HeaderMagi, or Wise Men.

By Rev. Phil Greetham. © Copyright 1996. This Version, 2012.

4: Were the Magi astrologers?

Some Bible translators such as the New English Bible or its new version, the Revised English Bible, translate 'Magi' as 'astrologer'. Is this a good translation? I don't believe that it is. It gives the modern reader a totally false picture of what the Magi did. Modern Astrologers choose to adopt a system of prediction, regardless of our present knowledge of science. The Magi, on the other hand, were interested in all verifiable knowledge. Of course they did not have sufficient understanding of the universe to realise fully the links between one event and another. Therefore they saw nothing wrong in bringing together, science, poetry, art and religion to explain and to understand the universe and what was happening in it. To them observing nature - including charting the stars, noting the movements of other objects and making predictions based on the chart, were all one and the same. Today we have a better understanding. Today we would say that observing the night's sky was astronomy because it was recording observation which could be used to support (or not support) theories to explain what was happening. We would also say that making horoscopes from those observations was astrology because it was responding to a system of handed down 'laws'. In other words astronomy uses observation to refine ideas, astrology uses observation to respond to fixed ideas. To the Magi, however, the idea that the positions of stars and planets have special meaning was not a fixed idea but one in which they were actively working on. In future centuries, with more scientific information, Magi had to decide whether to continue the search for knowledge and become scientists or to continue to respond blindly to handed down teachings and become astrologers. Therefore our Magi are neither astronomers nor astrologers in the modern sense. Scientific understanding had not progressed sufficiently for them to know the difference between the two. They were 'searchers of wisdom'. If you must have a translation for 'Magi', I think that 'Wise Men' is as good as any.
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