Why the Star of Bethlehem Was NOT a Natural Astronomical Phenomenon

In Matthew 2:1-10, we read:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, 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.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
For out of you shall come forth a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. Emphasis mine

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This is why so many Christmas trees are adorned with a star on top and why we see so many Christmas cards and nativity scenes with a bright shining star above the manger.

Secularists and skeptics continue to say that there are natural explanations to explain away the star in their effort to bash the Bible and the existence of a real and historical Jesus. For instance, a 2012 posting on BBC News was titled: Star of Bethlehem: The astronomical explanations.

In that post, they try to explain away the star of Bethlehem by saying:

“The three kings were religious scholars known as the Magi – revered Babylonian astronomers and astrologists. They studied the stars and planets, interpreting the meaning behind cosmic events.”

“Anything very unusual was considered an omen, so the star must have been both rare and visually spectacular. And, says Hughes, it would have had a very clear message for the Magi.”

“This leads the astronomer to conclude that the star of Bethlehem was probably not a star at all, and that it was more than one single event…”

“Hughes’s best explanation for this series of events is something known as a triple conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn – with the two planets coming close together in the sky three times over a short period.”

As a Bible believing Christian, is there a way to counter this secular and skeptical discounting of the star? Dr. Jason Lisle is holds a PhD in astronomy. I knew Jason while he was in graduate school and worked with him for several years at Answers in Genesis. Jason wrote the following refutation of a secular explanation that is worth considering and covers some points that many Christians miss:

“Contrary to what is commonly believed, the magi did not arrive at the manger on the night of Christ’s birth; rather, they found the young Jesus and His parents living in a house (Matthew 2:11). This could have been nearly two years after Christ’s birth, since Herod—afraid that his own position as king was threatened—tried to have Jesus eliminated by killing all male children under the age of two (Matthew 2:16).”

“It may be that the star first appeared over Bethlehem when the magi were in the East (Persia).5,6 From that distance, they would not have been able to distinguish the exact location but would certainly have known to head west. They went to Israel’s capital city Jerusalem, a likely place to begin their search for the King of the Jews.”

“It seems that the star may have disappeared by the time the magi reached Jerusalem but then reappeared when they began their (much shorter) journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, approximately 6 miles (10 km) away. This view is supported by the fact that first, the magi had to ask King Herod where the King of the Jews was born, which means the star wasn’t guiding them at that time (Matthew 2:2). And second, they rejoiced exceedingly when they saw the star (again) as they began their journey to Bethlehem (Matthew 2:10).”

“After the magi had met with Herod, the star went on before them to Bethlehem and stood over the location of Jesus. It seems to have led them to the very house that Jesus was in—not just the city. The magi already knew that Christ was in Bethlehem. This they had learned from Herod, who had learned it from the priests and scribes (Matthew 2:4–58). For a normal star, it would be impossible to determine which house is directly beneath it. The star over Christ may have been relatively near the surface of earth (an ‘atmospheric’ manifestation of God’s power) so that the magi could discern the precise location of the Child.”

“Whatever the exact mechanism, the fact that the star led the magi to Christ is evidence that the star was uniquely designed, made by God for a very special purpose. God can use extraordinary means for extraordinary purposes. Certainly the birth of our Lord was deserving of honor in the heavens. It is fitting that God used a celestial object to announce the birth of Christ since ‘the heavens declare the glory of God…’ (Psalm 19:1).”

I hope this helps provide a biblical response to the skeptics. It’s important that you share this with you family and friends because we are commanded to always be ready to give a defense of the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:14b-16a).


The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

R.L. David Jolly holds a B.S. in Wildlife Biology and an M.S. in Biology – Population Genetics. He has worked in a number of fields, giving him a broad perspective on life, business, economics and politics. He is a very conservative Christian, husband, father and grandfather who cares deeply for his Savior, family and the future of our troubled nation.

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