The chorus of the 1857 American Christmas carol
We Three Kings of Orient Are
by John Henry Hopkins is
O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light.
(Go to 2. We Three Kings? to see a YouTube video with a good vocal rendition of the We Three Kings carol.)
What was the star that the magi called “His Star” (Matthew 2:2) and that people today call the Star of Bethlehem?
The Star was not a typical star. It must have been extraordinary to hold the magi’s attention and inspire the arduous expedition to Jerusalem. The grueling 1500-mile journey lasted many months and involved crossing deserts, mountains, and rivers as well as political, cultural, and class boundaries.
Most planetariums present the Star as a comet or a planetary conjunction. Both ideas are surely mistaken. The Bible and the magi call it a “star.” Neither a comet nor a conjunction is a star; neither one even looks like a star. Neither would have fooled the magi-astronomers, after their months of careful observation, into thinking it was a star.
Some believe the Star was a supernatural light that only looked like a star. They envision the Star leading the magi six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, moving north to south. Since this is contrary to the motion of stars which move from east to west, it could not have been a genuine star according to this theory.
Moreover, in crowded Bethlehem with its adjoining houses, no true star could identify a specific house as some think the Bible indicates: “the star…came and stood over where the Child was.” (Matthew 2:9) But a light that looked enough like a star to be called a star could not single out one house either.
“Looked like a star” is not what Scripture says. Four times Scripture identifies it as a “star.” Scripture never says the magi followed the Star but only that the Star appeared in the East, seemingly disappeared, and then reappeared after the magi left Herod. Matthew simply reports two appearances of unspecified duration.
One possibility that matches the Biblical description is that the Star was a supernova (exploding star). A supernova star could have been too dim to see while a regular star, but would present a vivid display after exploding. Then as the earth orbited the sun, the Star moved into daylight and was not visible. It “went on before them,” (Matthew 2:9) gradually moving back into the night sky, until the magi saw it again over Bethlehem.
How could the Star identify Christ’s location? “Stood over where the Child was” (Matthew 2:9) could mean the town instead of the house. One ancient tradition says the magi saw the Star’s reflection at the bottom of Bethlehem’s well and therefore knew the Star was directly overhead. Anyone in the tiny town could direct them to Joseph’s house.
The divinely-appointed Star of Bethlehem was probably a supernova star, radiating more energy than an entire galaxy of stars. What a majestic proclamation of the Creator born to be the long-promised Savior!
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the fifth of a series of six Christmas blog posts on the Magi and the Star of Bethlehem.
Read the prequels:
1. The Magi and The Star
2. We Three Kings? (with YouTube video)
3. Born A King!
4. His Star
Read the concluding Christmas blog post on the Magi and the Star:
6. Glory Hallelujah! (with YouTube video)
Read my December 2007 Bible-Science newspaper column: Christmas Animals.
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Sunday December 23, 2007 A.D.
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him.” (Matthew 2:1,2)