What Was The Star Of Bethlehem?

A common question and often times debated topic for most Christians and non-Christians alike during the holidays is, “What was the Christmas star that the wise men or “Magi” saw?” Much speculation has been centered around this mysterious object with theories being promoted via documentaries and books with explanations ranging from the conjunction of planets to a comet to a supernova. And now, with this year’s conjunction of planets that includes both Jupiter and Saturn, something of which has not transpired in over 800 years, the speculations on the origins of this common holiday spectacle are rising. Could the Christmas star that guided the wise men really be something of astronomical proportions? Or is it something much more profound? In this article, I am not seeking to persuade anyone either way, but merely laying out evidence to help reveal an alternate explanation that has a more profound meaning behind this Christmas phenomenon.

The Birth of Christ

To help start us off in the right direction in our investigation of the data, we must first look at the initial birth of Christ Himself found in the Gospel of Luke. As much as we love the iconic nativity scene, to most Christian’s surprise, the Magi were not present during the birth of our Savior, only the shepherds were there. The appearance of the wise men did not occur until Christ was approximately two years old, something of which we will touch on here shortly. First, let us look at the shepherds encounter with the angelic being who told them about the birth of the Redeemer.

“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.'”

Luke 2:8-15 NKJV

Here we see that the angel of the Lord appeared unto the shepherds by night with the glory of the Lord shining forth, which is a similar motif that we see in the story of the Exodus and the glory of the Lord being described as a intense, brightly burning and consuming fire. The Greek word for glory is “doxa,” which is translated as glory, splendor or brightness. And the word for shone all around is the Greek word “perilampo” that which is literally translated as to illuminate all around. This appearance and brightness caused the shepherds to become “megas phobeo,” which is to say they became exceedingly petrified. Now, since this transpired at night, you could only imagine the stir this caused throughout both the local and regional vicinity, especially in the absence of artificial light.

Following this startlingly appearance and message of the angel, this angel is immediately accompanied by a multitude of heavenly host praising God, all of which are “gone away from them into heaven.” Looking at the Greek word for “heaven,” it becomes clearer as to what the Magi saw that prompted them to make their way towards this particular region. Heaven in Greek is “ouranos,” and is translated as being both the realm of heaven, as well as the universe itself. Several times throughout scripture we see this notion of going away into heaven, or “up” into heaven. Now, I am not suggesting that God, Christ or the angels are aliens from within the universe, as nothing that originates from within the universe could create it, although those who chose to create might choose to dwell within our universe from time to time. Not including the fact that since the realm of heaven would be hyperdimensional, something of which we know very little of scientifically speaking, we do not know exactly how they might travel to and from this realm into our own. But, this notion that the angelic beings ascended into heaven surrounded by the glory of Lord, seems to imply that this ascension of great light would be seen for hundreds of miles, that which the Magi would have seen and that would have prompted their long journey westward.

Now, I would like to examine the correlation of the timing between that of the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi. In Luke chapter 2 we see the story of the birth of Christ unfold, and as I said earlier in the article that the only the shepherds were present during this awe inspiring event, and not the Magi. The particular word of focus here is that of the “Babe” found in verse 12, which is the Greek word “brephos,” translated as babe, infant, or unborn child, and is used 8 times throughout the New Testament, all of which are translated as infant. To better understand this correlation between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the Magi, we need to examine the story in the Gospel of Matthew.

Guiding The Magi

Before proceeding further with our investigation, we must now examine the text found in Matthew chapter 2.

“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, ‘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.’

Matthew 2:1-8 NKJV

At this point, we can see that the Magi came from the East, and thus witnessing the “star” coming from this particular region towards the west. Now, this star had to be something of unique proportions to have caused these wealthy men to journey a long ways westward in hopes of finding a king-child, especially due to the fact that these prominent men knew, according to the text, little or nothing of the Bethlehem prophecy. It is also beneficial to note here the fact of the parallel between angels and stars often being referenced throughout both the Old Testament and New Testament alike (Job 38:7, Rev. 12:4).

The journey that the Magi took was a great risk for these wealthy men to take as thieves and dangerous wildlife bordered the roads that led them to the men’s desired location. And as implied by the text, these men were no fools to say the least. Not including the fact that most ancient cultures up to this point knew quite a bit about the movements of the stars and planets, and thus it would seem that a simple phenomenon like the conjunction of planets would have not been enough to prompt prominent men such as the Magi to risk traveling great distances. Examined thus far, we can see how the mere conjunction of planets, or a comet, or a supernova would have probably been far too less of a spectacle to prompt these prominent men to journey a long distance.

To help connect the dots and conclude this examination, we need to observe a few more verses and Greek words found in the proceeding verses.

“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. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Matthew 2:9-11 NKJV

As implied in verse 9, the star was seen once in the East by the Magi and did not reappear until they departed Jerusalem, which of course cancels out the notion of a comet, conjunction of planets, or supernova event. Not only does this mysterious star or light reappear, but it actually guides them to house in which the young Child lived. Now, correlating this back to what we examined in the gospel of Luke where the Babe was dwelling the stable with that of the story in the gospel of Matthew where the young Child is now living in a house, implying that there was somewhat of a significant time difference between the stories.

What helps shed even more light on this issue is when you examine the Greek word being used for young Child in the text, “paidion,” meaning young child, little boy or girl, or toddler. In the New Testament this word is used 51 times all of which are translated as child, little child, and young child. Now, correlating this with verses 7 and 16 in Matthew wherein Herod determines the age of the child derived from the story told by the Magi, one can easily conclude, and that which most biblical scholars do, that the Christ child is approximately 2 years old upon the arrival of the Magi. Why is this so important? Because if the Magi did in fact see a conjunction of planets that was so significant to prompt their journey westward, then the likely hood that the planets would have conjoined two separate times within a two year time span is little to none.

To continue our path down the rabbit hole towards a more plausible conclusion, we must now examine the star that guides the Magi more closely. At this point in our analysis, we see that the star has now reappeared and begins to guide them to the Christ child’s home. The interesting thing to note here is that a conjunction of planets or any other celestial body would not guide anyone anywhere meaningful, generally speaking. When you look at the Greek word for guide, “proago,” which is translated as to lead forward or to go before, one can easily see the correlation and similar motif of that of the story of the Exodus found in the Old Testament wherein the angel of the Lord, a pillar of fire and cloud, leads and goes before the children of Israel.

Following this encounter with the “star,” this mysterious object not only guides them to the desired location, but also comes to a stand still over the house of the Christ child. The Greek word used for “stood” in the text is “histemi,” which means to cause or make stand, to make firm, stand still, or abide; all of which imply a pause in the motion of the object, that which natural celestial objects do not generally do. To make things even more interesting, one must then examine the Greek word used for “over” in the text which is “epano,” meaning above, over, on, thereon, and is used 20 times in the New Testament, each of which are in reference to something that is in close proximity to another object, and never something that is far off like that of planets or stars. This being said, the object not only leads the Magi to the Christ child, but seems to hover above that exact part as the Magi enter in.

With all the data in and examined, it seems as though the same angelic being that the shepherds saw and that told them about the baby Christ in the gospel of Luke is the same “star” or light that guided the Magi to Christ child, a divine interaction and not that of a natural celestial body far above the sky. But rather this light source was something that was in close proximity to the Magi, and that guided them before coming to a stand still and hovering directly above the house of Christ, representing a similar motif found in the story of the Exodus and the guidance of the angel of the Lord in the pillar of fire. Hope this helps shed light on the issue of the Christmas star and Merry Christmas.

-Michael Thacker

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