Featured Hymn: We Three Kings

“We Three Kings of Orient Are” by John Hopkins

John Henry Hopkins wrote this Epiphany carol in 1857 and first published it in his own Carols, Hymns, and Songs in 1863. The first line of the song contains two historical inaccuracies. First, the visitors from the East were magi, not kings. Second, though Matthew 2:11 says there were three gifts, the Bible does not say that there were also three magi, one for each gift; that is a matter of tradition. It is a longstanding tradition, however, and the rest of the song focuses on the three gifts without mentioning their bearers.

There are five stanzas and a refrain. The first stanza describes the journey of the magi, following the star. The next three stanzas elaborate on the significance of each gift, and the final stanza summarizes the song. The only significant textual variation is the last line of the fifth stanza, which is given several renditions with the same basic meaning: the whole creation echoes the joy that Christ has come.

The opening stanza is about the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem. The middle three stanzas explain a meaning for each of the three gifts. Gold signified royalty, and frankincense, deity. Myrrh foretold that the Christ child was born to die. The last stanza summarizes the song, calling Jesus the “King and God and Sacrifice,” and ending in a peal of alleluias.


View this Featured Hymn at Hymnary.org.

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