My home church always put on a Christmas play with the children of the church. And one evening, I was being especially disruptive downstairs as some of the younger children were getting ready for their parts in the play, and my pastor came downstairs to try and bring us under some sort of control. I was playing one of the wise men that night. I had borrowed my father’s robe and I had a crown on my head. So rather than yelling at us, he saw a teaching moment in the midst of the chaos of the Christmas program. He found an ingenious way to get the wise men to settle down. He told us that the first one to find the place in the Bible where it spoke of the three wise men would get the $100 bill he flashed before us out of his wallet.
I am not nearly so brave as to put that much money on the line just to make some children calm down, but he was. And so I ran around the church looking for the first Bible I could find. I knew it was in the New Testament, but I wasn’t sure where. I also knew that it was in one or more of the first few books in the New Testament. Luckily, I turned to Matthew 2:1-12 and saw the heading printed on the page that read, The Visit of the Wise Men. I read on through the story and I knew I had found it. The other wise men weren’t nearly so wise as I was. I proudly exclaimed that I had found it first and that I would happily accept my $100 bill.
But you see, my pastor went to Duke, and he wasn’t nearly so dim-witted as to put $100 of his own money on the line knowing that he might lose it to some smart-alecky kid who got lucky in finding a passage of Scripture. He reminded me of the terms of his challenge. He said that I had to find the section in the Bible where it spoke of the THREE wise men. Once again, I pointed to the section that our gospel lesson came from this morning and said, “Give me my money!” He asked me to read it to him. And so I did. And you know what I discovered? I discovered that the Bible never mentions that there were three wise men. It only says that there were wise men from the east and doesn’t include the number of wise men that were there. All that is said is that there was more than just one. I had been had! And when I learned Greek, I realized that the masculine plural could also include women in the group. In Greek, if you have a group of 100 women and only one man, you must put that word in the masculine plural.
What my pastor taught me that night has stuck with me ever since. It is of supreme importance that we read what the Bible actually says and not just what we think it might say.