Why Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh?

Copyright © 2003
by Tim Roach


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As we know with the story of Christ's birth the wise men/mages gave to Jesus three gifts: Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. But of all the possible gifts why these three gifts?

One common conception of the gifts is that they symbolize various phases of His life:

Gold for His royalty
Frankincense for His divinity
Myrrh for His suffering and death.

While there is nothing wrong with this interpretation, I would like to suggest another possibility.

Let me start by asking this question when giving a gift would you give something for what a person will become or something for what the person is at that time?

Personally I think the wise men were giving gifts to represent what Christ was at the moment they found him, not what he would be in 30 or so years. Not to mention, would it not seem a little rude to give a gift which says, "your child is going to go through much suffering and eventually be killed"?

Let us start with the Gold.

The Gold is fairly obvious if one is giving a gift to a king the ultimate gift of the day was Gold.

Frankincense was used primarily by the priests of the day for religious ceremonies and was very expensive. Thus, if one were giving a gift to a priest the ultimate gift was Frankincense.

Myrrh, while granted was use for embalming as referenced in the bible (which is likely why most people assume that it refers to Christ's death). Myrrh was and is also used as a medicine.

According to the 'Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine' by Clare Hanrahan 'The Ebers Papyrus, believed to have been found in the necropolis outside Thebes, provides evidence of Egyptian medicinal use of myrrh. This ancient document contains as many as 800 medicinal recipes using such plants as myrrh, peppermint, aloe, castor oil, and numerous other herbs in common use today.' Other sources suggest that myrrh was used heavily for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties for healing wounds, boils, and sores, as well as for healing some internal problems and in some cases as a pain killer.

Thus it was one of the primary and most expensive items which a healer of the day would have, which means if one wanted to give the ultimate gift to a healer in those days the gift would likely have been myrrh.

While there are many interpretations of the symbolism regarding, the gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh, I like to think of them as what they likely represented at the time of His birth:

Gold A gift for The Greatest of Kings
Frankincense A gift for The Greatest of Priests
Myrrh A gift for The Greatest of Healers

Of course no interpretation of the symbolism is any better or any worse than the others, simply different. For to the best of my knowlege there is no record of why, or for what reason, these gifts were chosen only that these were the three gifts given to Christ after he was born.

However, there is another very simple possibility which was once pointed out to me, it could be that there is no symbolism to the gifts, nor any reason for the gifts other than the items were simply the most valuable of gifts which the wise men/mages had to offer to the child which they believed would one day be the ruler of all the world.



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Copyright © 2003 by Timothy Allen Roach All Rights Reserved.
No part of this document may be reproduced, published, etc.,
without written permission from the author.
Updates: 2003,2017
Page Last Updated: 9/22/2017