What Was the Star of Bethlehem?

Star of Bethlehem

What was the Star of Bethlehem? There have been many attempts over the years to identify this star. Here are the four most common explanations:

  1. A comet: The early church father Origen was the first to suggest that the star may really have been a comet. Halley’s Comet made an appearance in 12 B.C., but that is much too early for Christ’s birth. Another comet appeared for about seventy days in March and April of 5 B.C. That is closer to the time frame of Christ’s birth, but it does not explain the miraculous movement of the star toward Bethlehem. Also, comets were generally considered bad omens rather than bearers of good news.
  2. A conjunction of planets: Others suggest that the star was a conjunction of planets. Johannes Kepler, one of the fathers of modern astronomy, pointed to the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C. (later joined by Mars in February of 6 B.C.). However, the timing is still not right, nor does it explain the movement of the star. Also, planetary conjunctions are relatively brief events, lasting at the most for several nights and in their most compact configurations for only a few hours.
  3. Planetary Conjunction | Star of Bethlehem | Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn as they would have appeared over the western horizon in the constellation Pisces during Feburary of 6 B.C.
    (Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn as they would have appeared over the western horizon in the constellation Pisces during Feburary of 6 B.C.)

  4. A supernova: Kepler preferred a different explanation – that the Magi saw a star that had gone supernova. A supernova is basically an exploding star. It is a spectacular event as the star suddenly flares up in brilliance and maintains that brilliance over a period of time due to a series of internal explosions. The last supernova that occurred in our own Milky Way galaxy took place in 1604. The star was so bright you could see it in the daytime. The ancients sometimes got comets and novas confused. They often called novas “comets without a tail.” There are reports of a tailless comet in the year 4 B.C. which may actually have been a nova. The timing is close, but once again it does not account for the movement of the star.
  5. A manifestation of God’s glory: Some suggest that the star was a manifestation of God’s glory, similar to the shining cloud that led the Israelites through the wilderness, except higher in the sky. The advantage of this suggestion is that the cloud in the desert is an actual example from the Bible of a shining object that moved and stopped and guided those who followed. This is a good possibility, but then you have to wonder why the Magi called it a star. Perhaps that was the only word they had available to describe what they were seeing.

We cannot really explain the Star of Bethlehem, but when all is said and done, we have something better than an explanation. We have a mystery. We have a miracle. And the miracle of the Star of Bethlehem is one of the many wonders of the Christmas story that draws our hearts to worship the Lord each Christmas season. What do you think about the Star of Bethlehem?

This post was adapted from part of a sermon on the Star of Bethlehem.

Recommended Gifts and Resources for Christmas:

Related post: God’s Purpose for the Star of Bethlehem


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  1. Sharon Gamble says:

    If we could explain everything, we would be as smart as God. We are not. It is easier for me to believe in God because I can’t explain everything. He is so much bigger and grander…of course some things are mysteries!

  2. Michael Goodwin says:

    Check out starofbethelem.net. If you are going to write about the star, you should really check out this presentation.

  3. Noah Braymen says:

    Check out Dale C. Allison, Jr.’s chapter in “Studies in Matthew: Interpretation Past and Present” on this. I think it’s the first or second chapter. He comes to the conclusion that it’s an angel (I think). Anyhow, he gives a bunch of conclusions people have come to in his discussion as well.

    In Christ,

  4. Ray Fowler says:

    Noah – Thank you for pointing out the angel theory. I am not familiar with Dale Allison’s book.

  5. michael says:

    1 on bethlehemstar.net

    I saw him speak and was amazed at the information presented. His lecture/talk can bought on dvd. It’s worth looking into!

  6. Ray Fowler says:

    Michael and Michael – Thanks for providing the link to bethlehemstar.net. I am familiar with the site and with the theory that the star was a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus, but I do not agree with the author’s conclusions.

    I have several problems with the theory. The first is the date of Herod’s death. The website claims that Herod died in the year 1 B.C., and states that “Excellent scholarship confirms that date.” However, the one footnote to support this assertion is a single self-published book by author Ernest L. Martin, who wrote a number of books with sensational views. (Martin’s book on the star is called The Star That Astonished the World.) Most scholars accept the date of 4 B.C. for Herod’s death, which would eliminate the Jupiter/Venus conjunction of 3/2 B.C. as a viable explanation for the star.

    Secondly, I believe Matthew’s gospel indicates that the star directed the Magi not only to Bethlehem, but to the very house where Jesus was. So for me, none of the planetary conjunction theories provide a satisfying explanation.

    I guess those are my two main objections. I also disagree with the website’s interpretation of the symbolism in Revelation 12. It is a beautifully designed site with many interesting facts, but it seems very much influenced by Martin’s book which, as I stated before, seems to make some questionable claims.

  7. Scott C says:

    There are interesting details in Matthew’s account (chapter 2) that are often not considered. For example, vs. 2 calls it “His star” refering to the one “born King of the Jews.” How did the magi know it was His star and what knowledge did they have that would lead them to think that in following this star they would find this King to worship Him? Did God speak to them? He did in vs. 12 (this is an inference since the word “God” does not actually occur in the verse).

    In reading the account carefully, it appears that only the magi saw the star. It also seems to have dissapeared when they came to Jerusalem, indicating that it led them first there and not Bethlehem. It its initial appearance the star only led them to the general location of the King’s whereabouts. The star “went before them” again while in Jerusalem “until it came and stood where the Child was” (vs. 9). At this point, vs. 10 says, “And when they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” This suggests that it had disappeared while in Jerusalem and then reappeared to lead them to the specific location of Jesus which according to vs. 11 was a house where He and Mary resided. That suggests to me that the star hovered over the house low enough that it was clear that this was the precise location of the child.

    I believe it was a supernatural light source with the appearance of a star that was similar to the glory cloud of the OT. Whether its source was angelic or directly divine (like the glory cloud) is immaterial. It was God’s doing nonetheless. I infer from God’s communication to them in verse 12 that they were similarly informed by Him to make the journey in the first place.

  8. Ray Fowler says:

    Excellent thoughts, Scott. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Barb says:

    I have always believed that the star was a demonstration of God’s Glory – whether an actual celestial body, or something unique, like the cloud and pillar. But it was there, and it declared His glory. Whatever we cannot understand will some day be answered when we sit at Jesus feet in heaven. Amen.

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