What Was The Bethlehem Star?
Astronomers have made careful studies of the celestial decade of 14-4 BC, and three candidates have been proposed as possible stellar phenomena that might fit into Matthew’s description. Johannes Kepler of the 17th century argued that the star was possibly a nova or supernova, a stellar explosion giving out a tremendous amount of light for several weeks or even months. An alternative theory is that Halley’s Comet, which made an appearance in about 12-11 BC, might have been what the Magi saw. Somewhat more plausible is the suggestion that the star was a planetary configuration of Saturn and Jupiter which had three high points of conjunction in May/June, September/October and December of 7 BC. The latter possibility might also bear upon the translation of the Greek in 2:2, which can be alternatively rendered “star in the east” or “star when it arose” (see NIV text and margin). The rising of a particular constellation in the zodiac at the time of a person’s birth had from ancient times been interpreted astrologically as a sign. Some theologians hold that the star was supernatural and unrelated to any natural phenomena and/or that it was seen exclusively by the Magi, though the text does not require either of these conclusions.
When the Magi appeared before Herod and then left for Bethlehem, the star they had originally seen when they were still in their homelands once more appeared to them (Mt. 2:9-12). It is traditional that the Magi “followed the star” all the way from the east to Bethlehem, an idea that is familiar from Christmas carols, such as, “The First Noel”, “O Holy Night” and “We Three Kings.” Such an interpretation is not strictly according to Matthew’s text, however, since the star apparently was not visible to them during their journey from the east. They came to Jerusalem, no doubt, because as the capital it was the natural place for a king to be born. It was only upon leaving Jerusalem, however, that the star reappeared to them once more. This reappearance was a powerful confirmation, and when they saw it they were overjoyed. Incidentally, Matthew does not say that the star actually indicated to them which house was the residence of the newborn child, and it is likely that they made inquiries of the local people in order to find it.
Pastor Dan LewisDecember 1, 2014