Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (2024)

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (1)


Wise Men

Three Wise Men, by MinervaK. Teichert


Photograph by iStock/Thinkstock

Gold may have been the first metal that human beings encountered, because it can often be found in its pure natural state (for instance, nuggets in streams) rather than mixed in ore, which requires smelting. People have always valued gold for its luster, beauty, malleability, and resistance to corrosion and tarnish. These attributes also led ancient civilizations throughout the world to associate gold with royalty, immortality, and deity. It was first used in minted currency in the seventh century B.C.


Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (3)



Photograph by iStock/Thinkstock

Originating in Arabia and northern Africa, frankincense is a dried resin (from trees of the genus Boswellia) used in perfumes and incense for thousands of years. Historically, frankincense was a highly valued commodity. When burned as incense, it was often valued for its aroma as well as for its reputed ability to disinfect and repel insects and other pests.


Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (4)



Photograph by Neil Fletcher & Matthew Ward/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Myrrh is also a dried resin from Arabia and northern Africa (from thorny shrubs and trees of the genus Commiphora) used in perfumes, incense, and medicines for thousands of years. The word comes from an Arabic word meaning “bitter.” It has been valued for its aroma as well as for its use as an antiseptic, analgesic (topical painkiller), and other medicinal qualities.

Bible Facts

Gold from the Wise Men has frequently been mentioned as possibly being very useful in helping Joseph and Mary pay for their flight to Egypt to escape Herod. (The other gifts could have been sold for a very good price as well.)

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (5)


Joseph, Mary, and Jesus flee to Egypt

Frankincense was used in ancient Israelite temple worship as:

  • An ingredient in the perfume of the sanctuary (see Exodus 30:34).

  • An accompaniment to the meat offering, which was part of all burnt and peace offerings (see Leviticus 2:1, 16).

  • An accompaniment to the shewbread in the outer compartment of the tabernacle (or holy place) and burned as a memorial before the presence of the Lord (see Leviticus 24:7). Burning incense in the temple represented prayer (see Psalm 141:2).

Myrrh was used in ancient Israelite temple worship as an ingredient in the holy anointing oil for consecrating priests, the tabernacle, and kings (see Exodus 30:23–25). It was used in the purification of Queen Esther (see Esther 2:12), and it was also used in embalming (see John 19:39).

The Wise Men did not come when Jesus was lying in the manger. They may have come anywhere from a couple of weeks to two years later (see Matthew 2:1–18). The word for “wise men” used in the Bible is magi, which refers to an ancient group of astronomers and priests belonging to the Zoroastrian religion in Persia. We also don’t know how many Wise Men there were. Because there were three gifts, people have traditionally imagined there were three Wise Men.

What We Can Learn

The Wise Men’s gifts were:

Useful. Some of the best gifts we can give the Savior are our time and talents, which we can put to use in the service of others. As disciples who want to give good gifts to the Lord, we may sometimes yearn, “More used would I be” (“More Holiness Give Me,” Hymns, no. 131).

Precious. In their offering to the Savior, the Wise Men gave Him things that were both rare and valuable. They offered Him the best gifts they knew to give. As we approach the Savior with our offerings—of time, service, and material means—we can remember to always give the best we can give.

Respectful and worshipful. The gifts the Wise Men brought were the kinds of gifts they would have brought to a king. Jesus Christ is indeed our King—and much more. As we contemplate what He has done for us and what He offers us, we are filled with awe, gratitude, and reverence. We should always honor and revere Him for His atoning sacrifice, His grace, His mercy, and His love. We show our love for Him by giving our best gifts—following Him and keeping His commandments (see John 14:15).

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh (2024)


What is the symbolic meaning of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? ›

Each of these precious gifts has a symbolic meaning. Frankincense was used for worship in the Temple; it is symbolic of Christ the High Priest. Gold is symbolic of Christ the King. Myrrh a perfume, was used to anoint dead bodies, it is symbolic of His death for the sake of truth, and therefore of Christ the Prophet.

How much gold did the wise men give to Jesus? ›

In metric terms that means 1.3 kilograms of gold, valued today at a shade over US$34,000; generous certainly, but not beyond the bounds of possibility for those anxious to curry favour with a god-king. Of course, values were different then and unfortunately price data for First Century Palestine are sketchy.

What did Jesus' family do with the gold, frankincense, and myrrh? ›

An alternative tradition holds that Mary and Joseph used the gold to pay for the stable, the frankincense to perfume it and the myrrh as an ointment for the new-born baby.

What does the Bible say about gold, frankincense, and myrrh? ›

As per the Biblical tale, as recounted in Matthew 2:1-12, an infant Jesus of Nazareth was visited in Bethlehem on the eve of his birth by Magi bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. To our modern sensibilities, these three gifts don't seem quite even. Gold, then as now, is a highly valuable treasure.

Why did Jesus get myrrh? ›

Commonly used to embalm bodies, the gift of myrrh foreshadows Jesus' death. We see in John 19:38-40 that Nicodemus brought myrrh at the time of Jesus' burial: After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it.

What does myrrh symbolize in the Bible? ›

Myrrh was used in ancient Israelite temple worship as an ingredient in the holy anointing oil for consecrating priests, the tabernacle, and kings (see Exodus 30:23–25). It was used in the purification of Queen Esther (see Esther 2:12), and it was also used in embalming (see John 19:39).

How much is myrrh worth today? ›

However, it is agreed three gifts were brought. The gifts, which the three men carried, were fit for a King. Equivalent to today's prices, a pound of frankincense was worth $500 a pound, and a pound of myrrh was $4,000. Today, each are priced at approximately $15 a pound.

Which is more valuable, gold, frankincense or myrrh? ›

Frankincense is a milky white resin extracted from species of the tree genus Boswellia. Myrrh is a reddish resin that comes from species of the tree genus Commiphora. Today an ounce of gold will cost you approximately £745 per ounce, frankincense £10 per ounce and myrrh £12 per ounce.

Were the three wise men rich? ›

These luxurious gifts indicate that these visitors from the East “are people of great wealth and power, that's kind of obvious based on the things they bring,” says Swenson. “They are called Magi in the Greek, which was a term that referred to a kind of subclass of Persian priests.

What does myrrh smell like? ›

In perfumery, myrrh lends a subtle, earthy tone pitched halfway between soil and stone. It has a sepulchral quality, leading some to categorize it as Gothic or moldy. Some facets of myrrh are intensely bitter, while some smell like sweet licorice, anise, or rubber.

What does myrrh mean in Hebrew? ›

The word myrrh corresponds to a common Semitic root m-r-r meaning "bitter", as in Arabic مُرّ murr and Aramaic ܡܪܝܪܐ mureera. Its name entered the English language by way of the Hebrew Bible, in which it is called מור mor, and also later as a Semitic loanword.

What is the spiritual meaning of frankincense? ›

Used in religious and spiritual rituals for thousands of years, frankincense is a symbol of holiness and righteousness. Because it is so fragrant when burnt, it was used by ancient people as a religious offering. In Christian symbolism, frankincense can represent Christ's sacrifice.

What does gold, frankincense, and myrrh symbolize? ›

The favorite preaching point about the gifts is their mystical meaning. The preacher will tell us that gold stands for the Christ child's kingly status, frankincense for his divinity, and myrrh for the anointing at his sacrificial death.

Why is frankincense so powerful? ›

Frankincense or Boswellia serrata has been used traditionally as a medication against inflammatory diseases for a long time. Besides α- and β-boswellic acid, it contains other pentacyclic triterpenic acids, which inhibit pro-inflammatory processes via 5-lipoxygenase and cyclo-oxygenase.

Why was frankincense and myrrh so valuable? ›

Gold was valuable then as it is now, a precious metal. Frankincense was a perfume and spiritual incense, burned in temples throughout the East. Myrrh was a sacred anointing oil. Frankincense and Myrrh are both mentioned in the biblical book of Exodus as sacred articles in the early Jewish and Christian faiths.

What did the 3 Wise Men's gifts represent? ›

Their gifts had special symbolic meanings as well: gold signified Jesus' status as "King of the Jews;" frankincense represented the infant's divinity and identity as the Son of God; and myrrh touched upon Jesus' mortality.

What is the purpose of frankincense and myrrh? ›

In the West, frankincense and myrrh have been used as incense in religious and cultural ceremonies since ancient times; in traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, they are used mainly for the treatment of chronic diseases. The main chemical constituents of frankincense and myrrh are terpenoids and essential oils.

What was the value of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? ›

However, it is agreed three gifts were brought. The gifts, which the three men carried, were fit for a King. Equivalent to today's prices, a pound of frankincense was worth $500 a pound, and a pound of myrrh was $4,000.

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