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The Christmas Star ^

Posted on 11/30/2006 7:59:42 AM PST by truthfinder9

The Christmas Star By Dr. Hugh Ross

For centuries scholars and laymen alike have speculated on the nature of the star that led the wise men from the east to seek out the Messiah that had come to the Jews. The only reliable account of this event is found in Matthew 2 of the Bible. Three controversial questions arise out of a study of this text:

1. Were the wise men led by astrology?

Some people have used the story of the advent of Jesus Christ, specifically the Matthew 2 portion, to suggest that astrology might be okay, at least sometimes, since it led the wise men to the Christ child. Or did it? Let us take a look at the passage.

In some English translations, notably the New English, the Living, and the Phillips, the Greek word MAGOS is rendered “astrologers.” While MAGOS can mean astrologer, a study of Thayer’s Greek lexicon (similar to a dictionary) shows that the word derives from Babylonian origin and means “oriental scientist, wise man, astrologer, or seer.” That Babylonian word would have been used to describe Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who served as wise men/advisors in the royal court of Babylon, with Daniel in charge of them all (Daniel 2:48). Daniel retained that position of authority even after the Persian conquest.

Consider this: there is one passage, and only one, in the whole of the Bible that foretells the time of the Messiah’s coming (his first coming, that is). The passage is Daniel 9:24-26. Daniel received and recorded this prophetic revelation while serving in the Persian court. Given Daniel’s boldness to speak about his God, we can safely guess that the sages of Persia heard about it. Notice, however, that Daniel received no other details on the subject. This fact fits the picture we see in Matthew 2: “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem” knowing the identity of the one whom they sought, and the time of his arrival, but not much about the place. And God used a spectacular stellar event to get their attention and to get them moving.

Can we conclude that the Magi were astrologers? It seems more likely that they were part of the legacy of Daniel and his three friends—though trained in all the “wisdom of the East,” responsive and submitted to the one true God.

2. What was the Christmas star?

The first thing that needs to be said is that the Greek word ASTER in Matthew 2:2-10 is a much more general term than our English word star. It can refer to any kind of heavenly body—a star, a planet, an asteroid, a comet, or a meteor. The three most widely accepted explanations for the star of the magi identify it as (1) a conjunction of planets, (2) a comet, or (3) a supernova. More imaginative suggestions include flying saucers, Satan (as an angel of light), and the Shekinah glory.

Although we see ASTER used in Revelation 1 as a symbol for a personal messenger, there is nothing in the Matthew 2 passage to indicate a symbolic or metaphoric usage. So, we will assume that ASTER refers to an astronomical object or phenomenon. The problem with the supernova explanation is that supernovae are so spectacular that nearly all observers would have noticed such an event and recorded it; yet it receives no mention anywhere but in the Bible. The Jewish leaders certainly seemed oblivious to the “star.”

Comets, too, are unsuitable candidates, for they are so common as to warrant no special response from the magi. Further, comets are so well documented through history that if one did occur, especially an unusual one, at the time of Christ’s coming, it would show up in the records.

Neither do we find any noteworthy conjunction of planets at that time. Besides, the Matthew text specifically describes one star, and even for a close conjunction (none at that time were any closer than the diameter of the moon) the eye can distinguish the different planets.

What possibilities are left? One that seems plausible is a phenomenon called a recurring nova. An easily visible nova (a star that suddenly increases in brightness and then within a few months or years grows dim) occurs about once every decade. Novae are sufficiently uncommon to catch the attention of observers as alert and well trained as the magi must have been. However, many novae are also sufficiently unspectacular as to escape the attention of others.

Most novae experience only a single explosion. But a tiny fraction have the capacity to undergo multiple explosions separated by months or years. This repeat occurrence seems necessary, for the Matthew text indicates that the star appeared, disappeared, and then reappeared and disappeared sometime later.

Let me emphasize that my suggestion represents a possibility only. Matthew provides the only record of this star, and what he records does not give us sufficient information to make a definitive conclusion.

3. How did the star guide the wise men to the place where the child was?

The King James translation of the Bible (Matthew 2:9-10) states that upon leaving Jerusalem the wise men saw again the star they had seen in the east, and “lo, the star went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.” This wording has led many to conclude that the Christmas star actually was some kind of beam of light pointing out the pathway to the dwelling where Jesus and His parents were staying; or, that the star was moving relative to the route from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to the house of Joseph and Mary. No known astronomical phenomenon could do either of these. This is one reason for the suggestion that the Christmas star must be a manifestation of God’s Shekinah glory.

Other Bible translations, like the New International Version, say that the star “went ahead of them (the wise men) until it stopped over the place where the child was.” This suggests that the star simply may have become visible again as the wise men approached Bethlehem and faded from visibility when they came to the house where the child Jesus lived.

So, how did the star actually guide the wise men to Jesus? The literal Greek reads, “Behold the star, which they saw in the east, went before them until coming it stood over where was the child.” The key word in this phrase is the Greek word HISTEMI. It means “to cause or make to stand; to appoint, place, put, or set; to make firm, fix, or establish; to cause something or someone to keep its place; or to sustain something.” Hence, the text is not specific enough to distinguish between a guiding along a geographical route and a supernaturally timed reappearance and disappearance. Evidence in favor of the latter, however, is that the star in its first appearance did not geographically guide the wise men.


Only one text in the Bible describes the visit of the wise men to the child Jesus. The information given here is not sufficiently detailed to unequivocally identify the wise men and the nature of the star that led them in their search for the Messiah. However, the recurring nova hypothesis is perhaps the most reasonable one for the star and eastern scholars familiar and submitted to the teaching of Daniel; the most reasonable for the wise men. Certainly, this interpretation is consistent with all the facts presented.

What strikes me most about the passage is the hope the magi placed in the coming Messiah. Consider their sacrifice of time, energy, and treasures in seeking Him out for the sake of bowing in worship to Him. I pray that my response and yours would match theirs.

TOPICS: Apologetics; History; Religion & Science; Theology
KEYWORDS: archaeoastronomy; bethelhem; bethlehem; christmas; godsgravesglyphs; johanneskepler; star; starofbethlehem; staroftheeast; wisemen

1 posted on 11/30/2006 7:59:45 AM PST by truthfinder9
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To: truthfinder9

Arthur Clarke's "The Star" is an interesting take on this biblical event.

2 posted on 11/30/2006 8:07:30 AM PST by Young Werther
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To: truthfinder9 provides a good analysis of the subject.

3 posted on 11/30/2006 8:39:26 AM PST by texgal (end no-fault divorce laws return DUE PROCESS & EQUAL PROTECTION to ALL citizens))
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To: truthfinder9

Interesting. Thanks for posting.

4 posted on 12/01/2006 2:40:37 PM PST by Irish Rose (Will work for chocolate.)
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5 posted on 11/30/2010 5:38:01 PM PST by SunkenCiv (The 2nd Amendment follows right behind the 1st because some people are hard of hearing.)
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