What was the Star of Bethlehem? Many Christians speculate about the Christmas star and how it led the wise men to Jesus.
We first read about the Star of Bethlehem in the beginning of Matthew 2. The wise men came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2, ESV).
After speaking with King Herod, the wise men saw the star again and followed it, as Matthew 2:9-10 (ESV) tells us:
“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
So what was this Star of Bethlehem and how was it able to move as Scripture describes? Was it an exploding star? A conjunction of planets? Or an entirely supernatural event?
Let’s look at each of these possible explanations and see how they line up with Scripture.
Was the Christmas Star a Supernova?
First, we need to understand that the Star of Bethlehem may not have been what we scientifically describe as a star—that is, an enormous mass of hydrogen and helium gas creating nuclear fusion.
In biblical Greek, the word for “star” is aster. Aster could be used to describe any celestial object or point of light, such as stars, comets, planets, or supernovae. (Interestingly, that’s where we get the word “astronomy,” which is the study of celestial objects and space as a whole.)
The traditional rendering of the Star of Bethlehem fits the description of a supernova (an exploding star). A supernova shines brightly for several months—so brightly, in fact, that it tends to outshine all the other stars.
Exploding stars are quite rare. And it might make sense for such a beautiful and rare event to mark the birth of Christ.
But if we look at Matthew 2, we see that a supernova doesn’t quite fit the Bible’s description of the Christmas star. After all, King Herod and his men didn’t seem to notice the star until the wise men came and told them about it. But with how brightly a supernova shines, Herod should have noticed it.
Was the Star of Bethlehem a Planetary Conjunction?
Another common explanation is that the Christmas star was an alignment of planets in the sky.
The wise men certainly studied astronomy extensively, so it makes sense that they would notice and find meaning in a conjunction of planets while others (like Herod) wouldn’t.
Dr. Jason Lisle says several planetary alignments occurred around the time of Jesus’ birth.
“Two of these were triple conjunctions,” he says. “This is when a planet passes a star (or another planet), then backs up, passes it again, then reverses direction and passes the star/planet a third time. Such events are quite rare.”
One of these triple conjunctions occurred in 7 B.C. with Jupiter and Saturn. The second was with Jupiter and a bright star called Regulus in 3 B.C.
But only one of the conjunctions at that time would’ve appeared as a singular star—the alignment of Jupiter and Venus in 2 B.C.
The first problem with this explanation is that Jupiter and Venus only aligned once on June 17. Yet the wise men saw the star appear twice (see Matthew 2:2 and 9).
The second problem is that none of these conjunctions could’ve moved or “[gone] ahead of” the wise men as Scripture describes. And it certainly wouldn’t have “come to rest over the place where the child was” (Matthew 2:10, ESV). That verse indicates that the star pinpointed a specific home or area, not an entire city or nation.
Was the Christmas Star a Supernatural Sign?
God can certainly use natural laws (including those that govern stars) to accomplish His will and to guide people.
But God isn’t confined by natural law. He also uses supernatural signs to fulfill His purposes.
For instance, Jesus was born of a virgin. That kind of birth completely contradicts the natural laws of sexual reproduction. But God supernaturally made it happen!
Scripture is full of supernatural events that can’t be explained by the laws of nature:
Parting the Red Sea
Healing fatal diseases
Keeping the sun still in the sky (see Joshua 10)
Causing the sun to go backward (or the earth to move the opposite way—see Isaiah 38:8)
Guiding the Israelites by a cloud and a pillar of fire
God wasn’t afraid to use supernatural signs to confirm His Word throughout Scripture. Certainly He could do the same thing with the Star of Bethlehem to herald the birth of His Son.
Learn More about the Star of Bethlehem on Answers TV
How do we explain the Christmas star? Let’s look at this celestial phenomenon from a scientific and biblical perspective!
What was the star? How did it lead the magi to the Lord? The apostle Matthew records that the birth of Jesus was accompanied by an extraordinary celestial event. Let’s take a closer look at what that star could be.
To really understand the significance of Jesus’ birth, we need to start at the beginning of Creation as well as look at His Second Coming. The baby in Bethlehem is first our Creator, then our Savior, and then our coming King and Judge.