A couple of times around Christmas I’ve seen a video called “Re-Tooning the Nativity. In it you have two different narrators. One presents the Nativity as it is traditionally seen: some shepherds and three kings kneel before the manger in a stable. But every time he tries to present the traditional version, someone else comes on and presents the story as it really was: there was most likely no stable, Mary and Joseph most likely did not travel by donkey, etc. One thing that stands out is the revision of the three kings: there were no kings, there were Magi, (which means “wise men,”) and although the Bible mentions three gifts, there may have been more that three Magi.
That kind of makes you re-think the song “We Three Kings.” The first verse is definitely inaccurate. However, if you go on in the song, the true emphasis is put, not on “the kings,” but on the gifts they gave: “Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain, gold I bring to crown him again…” “Frankincense to offer have I; Incense owns a Deity nigh.” “Myrrh is mine; it’s bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom…” The song then goes on to explain the significance of each of the gifts: gold because Christ is King, frankincense because he is God, myrrh because he is the Sacrifice.
Therefore, the conclusion I come to is that, while the song did get the number and office of the Magi wrong, it did accurately and potently present the meaning of the three gifts the Magi brought to Jesus, and, biblically, that’s the most important thing of all.