What Does the Bible Say About Frankincense and Myrrh?

Answered on



A frankincense and myrrh tree with its resin-filled pods

Frankincense and myrrh are, arguably, two of the most influential scents in the history of humanity. Their importance, particularly in religious and spiritual contexts, dates back thousands of years. Let’s delve into the world of these ancient aromatics to understand their significance in the Bible and their impact on our world today.

Understanding Frankincense and Myrrh

Frankincense and myrrh, revered for their distinctive aromas and healing properties, have been utilized by countless civilizations. Though they are most commonly associated with the Biblical era, their origins and uses extend far beyond.

Let us delve deeper into the fascinating world of frankincense and myrrh, exploring their origins, uses, and significance in ancient times.

The Origins of Frankincense and Myrrh

The history of frankincense and myrrh is deeply intertwined with the history of civilization itself. These items were among the first to be traded in the Arabian Peninsula, dating back thousands of years. The ancient civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Persia were captivated by the enchanting properties of these precious substances.

Frankincense, also known as olibanum, is derived from the resinous sap of the Boswellia tree. This tree, native to the arid regions of the Middle East, is known for its ability to withstand harsh climates and produce the aromatic resin. Myrrh, on the other hand, is obtained from the Commiphora tree, which thrives in the arid landscapes of Africa and the Middle East.

The extraction process of frankincense and myrrh is an art in itself. Skilled harvesters carefully make incisions in the bark of the trees, allowing the sap to ooze out. The sap is then left to harden into resinous tears, which are later collected and prepared for various uses.

The Uses of Frankincense and Myrrh in Ancient Times

The ancient civilizations held frankincense and myrrh in high regard, recognizing their immense value in various aspects of life.

In religious rituals, these fragrant resins were burnt as incense in temples, creating a mystical ambiance and filling the air with their heavenly scent. The rising smoke was believed to carry prayers and offerings to the gods, symbolizing a connection between the earthly and divine realms.

Medically, frankincense and myrrh played vital roles in ancient healing practices. These resins were used as antiseptics, known for their ability to cleanse wounds and prevent infections. They were also used as analgesics, providing relief from pain and inflammation. In fact, myrrh was often employed as an anesthetic during surgical procedures.

Furthermore, frankincense and myrrh were regarded as powerful antidotes to poison. Their medicinal properties were believed to neutralize toxins and promote healing, making them indispensable in ancient antidote recipes.

Beyond their religious and medical significance, frankincense and myrrh found their way into the realm of beauty and self-care. These resins were prized components in perfumery and skincare, valued for their soothing properties and enchanting fragrances. Ancient Egyptians, renowned for their beauty rituals, utilized these resins in face masks, creams, and cosmetics, enhancing their natural beauty and indulging in the aromas of the divine.

As we unravel the rich tapestry of history, it becomes evident that frankincense and myrrh have left an indelible mark on ancient civilizations. Their aromatic allure and healing prowess continue to captivate and inspire us, reminding us of the enduring legacy of these precious resins.

Biblical References to Frankincense and Myrrh

Frankincense and myrrh hold a distinctive place in the Christian Bible, appearing in numerous verses spanning both the Old and New Testaments.

Frankincense and Myrrh in the Old Testament

The most frequent references to frankincense and myrrh in the Old Testament associate them with religious rituals.

Frankincense, for example, was an integral part of the sacred incense prescribed for use in the wilderness tabernacle (Exodus 30:34). The fragrance of frankincense filled the air, creating a sense of reverence and holiness. Its sweet and woody aroma was believed to symbolize the prayers of the faithful rising up to heaven.

As for myrrh, it was a component of the holy anointing oil used to consecrate the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the priests (Exodus 30:33). Myrrh, with its bittersweet scent, represented the purification and sanctification of the sacred space. It was also used in the anointing of kings and prophets, signifying their divine authority and calling.

Frankincense and Myrrh in the New Testament

In the New Testament, the most notable mention of frankincense and myrrh occurs in the story of the Nativity. According to the Gospel of Matthew (2:11), the Magi, or Wise Men, brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the baby Jesus. This act of presenting these precious substances to the newborn King symbolized the recognition of Jesus’ divinity and the honor bestowed upon him.

Myrrh is notably mentioned again in the narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion. It was offered to Jesus, mixed with wine, as an anesthetic; and after his death, it was used to anoint his body (Mark 15:23, John 19:39). The use of myrrh in this context highlights its association with suffering and death, as well as its role in preparing the body for burial.

Beyond these specific instances, frankincense and myrrh continue to hold symbolic significance in Christianity. They represent the offering of ourselves to God, the sweet aroma of our prayers and worship, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Just as these precious substances were valued and treasured in biblical times, they serve as reminders of our devotion and commitment to God today.

The Symbolism of Frankincense and Myrrh in the Bible

Frankincense and myrrh carry rich spiritual symbolism in the Biblical context. They represent a multitude of powerful themes—divinity, humanity, suffering, and salvation, to name a few.

The Spiritual Significance of Frankincense

Frankincense, with its heavenly scent and role in worship, often symbolizes divinity in the Bible. When the Magi brought frankincense to Jesus, it symbolically acknowledged His divine nature and purpose.

But what exactly is frankincense? Derived from the resin of the Boswellia tree, frankincense has been valued for centuries for its aromatic properties. Its sweet, woody fragrance has long been associated with the sacred and the divine.

In ancient times, frankincense was used in religious ceremonies and offerings to gods and deities. It was believed to bridge the gap between heaven and earth, connecting mortals with the divine realm. The smoke from burning frankincense was seen as a means of communication with the gods, a way to send prayers and offerings to the heavens.

This symbolism is carried forward in Christian tradition, where frankincense continues to be used in liturgical practices, capturing the essence of divinity in its ethereal scent. The burning of frankincense during religious ceremonies creates an atmosphere of reverence and spirituality, inviting worshippers to connect with the divine presence.

The Symbolic Meaning of Myrrh

Myrrh, by contrast, symbolizes suffering, mortality, and the human condition in the Bible. When Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh on the cross, it foreshadowed his death and humanly suffering. The application of myrrh to his body after death likewise encapsulated its poignant symbolism.

Myrrh is a resin obtained from the Commiphora tree and has a bitter, earthy fragrance. In ancient times, it was used for medicinal purposes, particularly for its antiseptic and healing properties. It was also used in the embalming process, as it helped preserve the body and mask the odor of decay.

In the Bible, myrrh is often associated with the fragility and transience of human life. Its presence during Jesus’ crucifixion emphasizes the reality of his suffering and the sacrifice he made for humanity. By accepting the wine mixed with myrrh, Jesus willingly embraced the pain and agony of his crucifixion, demonstrating his deep love and compassion for mankind.

This bittersweet symbol resonates deeply with numerous Christian traditions, where myrrh-infused rituals underscore our shared human journey of suffering and redemption. The scent of myrrh serves as a reminder of the fragility of life and the need for compassion and empathy towards one another.

In conclusion, the symbolism of frankincense and myrrh in the Bible goes beyond their physical properties. These precious substances embody profound spiritual meanings, reminding us of the divine and human aspects of our existence, the reality of suffering, and the hope of salvation.

Frankincense and Myrrh in Christian Traditions

These potent Biblical symbols continue to pervade Christian rituals. They are used in everything from Christmas celebrations to sacred liturgies.

Frankincense and Myrrh in Christmas Traditions

The gifts of the Magi have a prominent presence in Christmas traditions around the world. Many churches incorporate frankincense and myrrh in their Advent and Christmas liturgies, recalling the gifts of the Wise Men to the Christ child.

Moreover, both substances have also found their way into popular culture. From hymn lyrics to Christmas decorations, the tale of the three wise men is a staple of the holiday season.

The Use of Frankincense and Myrrh in Christian Liturgy

Outside of Christmas, frankincense and myrrh are staples in Christian liturgies. Frankincense, with its symbolic links to divinity, is used as incense in many Eastern and Western ceremonies. It serves to sanctify the space, accompany prayers rising to heaven, and remind congregations of the sacredness of the ritual.

Myrrh, with its deep echoes of human suffering, is an essential part of Good Friday liturgies. Its use in these somber services emphasizes Christ’s suffering and humanity.

Modern Uses and Benefits of Frankincense and Myrrh

While frankincense and myrrh may evoke images of ancient times, they are far from obsolete. They remain highly valued for their therapeutic properties and potent symbolism in modern contexts—from aromatherapy to health and wellness.

Frankincense and Myrrh in Aromatherapy

In aromatherapy, frankincense and myrrh are used to quiet the mind, reduce stress, and promote wellness. When inhaled, these resins are believed to help induce a feeling of mental peace and calm. Used topically, they can support the health of the skin.

Health Benefits of Frankincense and Myrrh

Beyond their aromatic advantages, Frankincense and Myrrh offer numerous health benefits. Modern research has shown that these ancient resins possess anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antimicrobial properties. They are used in a variety of natural remedies, such as salves for skin ailments and oils for stress relief.

So, we see that frankincense and myrrh are far more than just relics of biblical times—they continue to be part of our lives, imbuing our rituals, traditions and everyday habits with a touch of ancient wisdom.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Currently powered by GPT-4 AI