First of all, we don’t know exactly how many wise men visited the newborn king! This is one of those assumptions made by people throughout the ages that is not specifically mentioned in the Bible (just as the Book of Genesis never mentions an apple!). It is presumed that since they offered 3 gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2:11) – that there were 3 wise men. However, we really don’t know how many there were. Having said that, the story of the Magi is an example of a biblical story whose historicity remains unclear. Whether or not their absolute historicity can be verified or not, the Magi do indeed exist as an integral part of a rich story that reveals God’s Word to us. In other words, even if the story is not based on factual historical events, it is a true story, meaning that it reveals something to us about God’s truth.
Matthew’s story of the Magi is completely unrelated to Luke’s story of the shepherds and the manger. Each story is making its own unique point. Matthew is concerned with emphasizing Jesus’ birth as taking place in Bethlehem as predicted by Scripture. Matthew is also concerned with emphasizing Jesus’ kingship since he will be proclaiming the Kingdom of God. This sets the stage for a clash between 2 kingdoms. The Magi, representing the Gentiles, get it right: this newborn king is indeed the king of the Jews. Herod, the king of the Jews, represents the resistance of this world to Jesus’ kingship. The Magi find their way to recognize Jesus’ kingship through revelation (the star) and Scripture. All three gifts that are offered are appropriate offerings for royalty. As Gentiles, the Magi represent those who seek fulfillment – what they were looking for can ultimately be found in Jesus, the Messiah of the Jewish people. Finally, the Magi represent all nations to whom the Gospel is intended to be proclaimed. Matthew does not see this as an eventual reality but as a reality that begins with the birth of Jesus – he is revealed to all the nations. God’s ultimate purpose is already being realized.
So, the Magi, whether or not their historicity can be verified, most definitely exist because this divinely inspired story exists as part of Sacred Scripture. God gives us this story of the Magi to reveal his truth: that his Son Jesus is the King of kings whose message is to be proclaimed to the entire world.