MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Frankincense and myrrh are often presented as part of the Christmas story. But what are frankincense and myrrh? And when were they given to Jesus by the Magi, or wise men?
Chapter 2 of the biblical book of Matthew details the story of the Magi who came from the east seeking “the one who was born king of the Jews,” to worship Him.
That worship included presenting the child gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Each of the gifts symbolizes a part of Christ's mission, scholars say.
After following a star to Jerusalem and appearing before King Herod, Matthew’s account says the Magi again followed the star to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was predicted in the Old Testament book of Micah as where the ruler would come from who would shepherd the people of Israel.
Matthew’s verse 11 of Chapter 2 says that the Magi came to the house of Mary and Joseph and saw the child and his mother, and bowed down and worshiped Jesus.
Matthew writes that “they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”
Pastor John MacArthur writes that gold had for centuries been valued as the most precious metal, and a symbol of royalty and kingship. The offering of gold signified that the Magi believed they were in the presence of a king.
Frankincense was a costly incense that had been mentioned in the Bible previously in the books of Leviticus and Song of Solomon as a part of offerings in the temple, and a perfume included in King Solomon's royal procession. In the temple, frankincense was kept in the front of the center of worship, and was sprinkled on offerings to please the Lord, MacArthur said.
Frankincense also signifies Christ’s role as a priest, biblicalarchaeology.org says.
Myrrh, also a perfume, is suggested by some to represent a gift for a human, emphasizing that Jesus was an actual man, MacArthur says.
Biblicalarchaeology.org says that myrrh was a sign of Jesus' eventual sacrifice and burial. Myrrh was used to prepare Jesus' body for the tomb, the apostle John writes.
Were frankincense and myrrh given in worship to Jesus while he was in a manger, as is often depicted?
Matthew writes that the gifts were given to the child in the couple’s house. Christ was no longer in a manger, the Bible says.