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What was the Star of Bethlehem?

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Three wisemen.Matthew 2:1-9: Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. So they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet: 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also." When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. (New King James Version)

There have been many attempts to explain the Christmas Star scientifically, and three ideas will be mentioned here.

  1. Some scholars think this “star” was a comet, an object traditionally connected with important events in history, such as the birth of kings. However, records of comet sightings do not match up with the Lord's birth. For example, Halley's Comet was present in 11 B.C., but the first Christmas took place around 5 to 7 B.C.

  2. Others believe that the Star of Bethlehem was a conjunction, or gathering of planets in the night sky. Since planets orbit the sun at different speeds and distances, they occasionally seem to approach each other closely. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) preferred this view. However, multiple planets do not look like a single light source, as described in Scripture. Also, planet alignments are rather frequent and therefore not that unusual. There was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 6 B.C., but an even closer gathering in 66 B.C., much too early!

  3. Finally, an exploding star, or supernova, has been proposed to explain the Christmas Star. Some stars are unstable and explode in this way with a bright blaze. However, historical records do not indicate a supernova at the time of the Lord's birth.

All three explanations for the Star of Bethlehem fall short of the nativity story as predicted in Numbers 24:17 and recorded in Matthew 2:1-12.

Two details in Matthew are of special interest:

First, the text implies that only the Magi saw the star. However comets, conjunctions, and exploding stars would be visible to everyone on earth.

Second, the star went before the Magi and led them directly from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. This is a distance of about six miles, in a direction from north to south. However, every natural object in the sky moves from east to west due to the earth's rotation. It also is difficult to imagine how a natural light could lead the way to a particular house.

The conclusion is that the Star of Bethlehem cannot be naturally explained by science! It was a temporary and supernatural light. After all, the first Christmas was a time of miracles.

God has often used special, heavenly lights to guide his people, such as the glory that filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38) and the temple (1 Kings 8:10) and that shone upon the apostle Paul (Acts 9:3). Such visible signs of God's presence are known as the Shekinah Glory, or dwelling place of God. This special light is a visible manifestation of divine majesty.

The great mystery of the first Christmas is not the origin of its special star. It is the question of why the Magi were chosen to follow the light to the Messiah and why we are given the same invitation today.

A skeptic asks: "The Bible makes a lot of claims about Jesus' miraculous feats. But if all these amazing things really did happen, why didn't reputable contemporary historians write about them? You'd think that phenomenon like a great darkness at Noon (crucifixion), or a bright star moving across the sky toward Bethlehem (Christmas), would have been reported by other historians. Yet we only have the biased claims of Christ's supporters." ANSWER

Also read

  • Is it LOGICAL to believe that the biblical miracles really happened? Answer

  • MIRACLES, more information and list of biblical miracles and related articles - Read

Author: Dr. Donald DeYoung, Ph.D. (Physics), mostly excerpted from Astronomy and the Bible, pgs. 65-66, published by Baker Book House.
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