What was the Star of Bethlehem? Is it possible for us to know?
UK Apologetics Reply:
Let us start off by consulting Matthew 2:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him." After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. (Matthew 2:1-9, NIV).
While some scholars have thought that this star was a comet (an object traditionally connected with important events in history, at least, according to some), records of comet sightings do not match up with the Lord's birth. It is known that Halley's Comet was present in 11 B.C., but this is a few years too early for the Lord's birth.
Others have suggested that the Star of Bethlehem was possibly a conjunction of planets in the night sky. Planets orbit the sun at different speeds and distances so - just occasionally - they might appear to approach each other closely, though this is an optical illusion. Scripture, however, seems to suggest just one light source. There was a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 6 B.C., but this was surely too early.
A shooting star, or supernova, has also been proposed to explain the Christmas Star, but this seems a poor explanation. Truthfully, all of these explanations for the Star of Bethlehem in the nativity story as recorded in Matthew 2:1-12, fall short.
- The text implies that only the Magi saw the star. However, comets and astral conjunctions would be visible to everyone on earth.
- The star went before the Magi and apparently led them directly from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. This is a distance of about 7 miles, in a direction, more or less, running north to south. However, stars and constellations in the night sky would appear to move from east to west due to the earth's rotation.
Surely the only sensible conclusion is that the Star of Bethlehem was a temporary miracle, possibly only intended to be observed by the Magi - it was a supernatural guiding light, very possibly an angel. There is no need to find any other explanation.
Robin A. Brace. August, 21st, 2013.